Bjarki is the third DJ in recent memory caught in the midst of controversy regarding bigoted comments. Following a comment by Bjarki’s label mate on transgendered artist Octo Octa’s Instagram reading, "Better to make it as a DJ to be a she than a he. She-man!", Bjarki has removed Johnny Chrome Silver from the label and cancelled his own upcoming tour. But this came after NYC’s House of Yes immediately responded to the news by cancelling the bbbbbb record July 20 showcase.
Last month, Konstantin was outed as a sexist in a Groove Magazine feature, which was followed by his swift removal from the Sunfall Festival lineup. And of course, Ten Walls will be forever remembered for some pretty atrocious things he said about homosexuals. Believing women don’t DJ as well as men and calling gay people “the other breed”, respectively, may be different degrees of incredibly misguided. However, in a world filled with prejudice and reactionism, is the dance music community’s outrage at and response to these people’s viewpoints proving to be a microcosm of the political climate at large?
If we, as a community, claim to be proponents of tolerance and open-mindedness, why is our first instinct to demonize and ostracize these individuals? Perhaps we should be on the front lines of educating and encouraging them to reform. Here are a few ideas on how to change our response methods.
Wait until the prepared statements before reacting
Prepared statements are a PR best practice following controversy, and they are expected in a timely manner. House of Yes cancelled bbbbbb’s label showcase before a statement was even issued, so we know in this instance, the venue wouldn't tolerate even a hint of transphobia. Sticking to your organization's values is admirable, but so is giving someone the benefit of the doubt or assuming innocence until proven otherwise. What if “She-Man” had been a typo … which seems possible given the English this guy used in his prepared statement. Come to think of it, naming your label bbbbbb should be a dead giveaway of a loose grasp on both the English language and on reality.
In the Ten Walls case, there was no confusion, as his statements were plainly made by him on his own page. As for Konstantin — half of what he said wasn’t even a direct quote, and some news outlets took liberties with “quotes” from his Groove interview. It's safe to say that waiting before acting can be a valuable tactic.
Understand where they are coming from
First, it's important to note the context of these comments, and then the sentiments behind them.
When I read Konstantin’s remarks in full, I didn’t bat an eye, and not only because the majority of the words people found inflammatory were not actual quotes. Some guy out there believes no woman is as good at DJing as he is, shocker. Rather than taking Konstantin’s words as scripture of a future utopia free of female DJs, we could opt to see his statements as a reminder that the world of sexism is still in a sorry state.
Let’s face it: People are not treated equally across the globe. Ten Walls may be white and European, but for those who have not traveled east of Berlin, there are huge swaths of the world where entire groups are still institutionally denigrated. In a Ten Walls feature, XLR8R provides informative contextual stats on how Lithuania isn’t the most open-minded towards homosexuality. If years of touring in various countries alongside progressive DJs isn't enough to change the habits of a homophobe from Lithuania, we are left with the fact that prejudice is difficult to overcome.
In one way, isn’t it good that people are making these types of comments so it's all out in the open? There are sexists behind the decks, and transphobes on the dance floor next to us, and perhaps acknowledging this and talking about it is the only way to for change to start.
Force diversity on them
If we know that one of the best ways to ease anxiety across groups of people is to spend meaningful time with them over long periods, such as colleagues and teammates — the best solution to Konstantin’s anti-woman remarks would be forcing him to spend time with women. Let his penance be hosting female-friendly parties, be featured at pro-woman events or feel obligated to have more women on his label. In the long run, mixing the genders would be a more logical way of having he and other sexists in his environment come around.
Rather than never booking Ten Walls again, wouldn’t it be more valuable to the community if he started DJing benefits for the LGTBQ community, collaborating with artists of different sexual orientations, or speaking about his experiences on podcasts, etc. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying give the bigots more gigs — but what if they knew their standing in the community could only be upheld through continued charitable work and public progress? Ten Walls' track with transgendered artist Alex Radford took 6 months to come to fruition; let's shorten the timeline and amplify the intent if something like this happens again.
Change the conversations we have about artists
A recent Princeton study examined how women are represented in different areas of academia. The quandary was that we are told women are underrepresented in STEM subjects, but this isn't uniform across all subjects, and there is even variance within the social sciences: “in 2011, 54% of U.S. Ph.D.’s in molecular biology were women versus only 31% in philosophy.” Electronic music production and performance bridges the gap between art and technology, and is purported to be a male-dominated industry, so some of the hypotheses are potentially applicable.
The findings echo what we know about stereotyping that starts in schoolchildren as young as six years old: Brilliance is seen as a male trait. "Our data suggest that academics who wish to diversify their fields might want to downplay talk of innate intellectual giftedness and instead highlight the importance of sustained effort for top-level success in their field." Music composition (not even a STEM subject) has the lowest mix of females of all the social sciences or humanities, even at the Ph.D. level.
In dance music, it’s possible clubs, labels or individuals focus on the art versus the craft and are biased toward artists who fall within what is traditionally seen as "brilliant". Not to mention, as a culture we routinely fetishize the bedroom producer who’s cracked into the elite’s good graces before the age of 20. This could skew our conversations to those with an innate talent, instead of those who have been putting in the hours behind the decks for years.
Keeping holding people accountable
By no means should the background or physical attributes (male) of these artists excuse them from being called out, because they certainly know better. Dr. Rupert W. Nacoste makes an interesting note in, “Sometimes Bigotry Is Just Bigotry” in relation to white privilege. Johnny Chrome Silver’s comments about how being a woman will make things easier for Octo Octa in the music industry doesn’t make him a victim of straight privilege, or even make him a representative of straight people — it makes him an asshole.
Part of holding them accountable doesn't have to be removing them from the picture entirely. In fact, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a proven method for dealing with prejudiced feelings. This is where someone recognizes their negative feelings, acknowledges them, and chooses to progress with valued behavior, all after first being made aware that those feelings exist. So, the first step may be to call them out ... although we should have a licensed therapist confirm that assessment.
While ACT is not the only proven cognitive-behavioral therapy to reduce prejudice (shunning can work!), it may be time we take a more pragmatic approach to dealing with people in our community who hold viewpoints we do not value.
In an ideal world, we in the electronic music community would behave like the leaders we are. After all, many of us have disposable incomes, a flair for the international, and according to science, we’re a pretty healthy bunch. Instead, we often fall into the trap of reacting similarly to consumers of mainstream media upon hearing someone we admire has bigoted views. This turns the conversation into an Us-vs.-Them argument and completely shuts out the artist in question.
If we, as individuals whose gender and orientation classify as non-hetero-male, have struggled with being marginalized in the past, we know what being outcast feels like. Let's choose to be better than those who have excluded us in the past by working to enact actual change. It will be a lot harder than deleting people from lineups, but real progress is worth the added effort.