With the ever-growing presence of social media in our lives, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid both politics and the expression of political opinions by those around us. Given these mediums of mass reach, it sometimes seems like the temptation of the widespread extend of one’s words can be too much to resist. Increasingly, individuals choose to divulge their own thoughts, political alignments and opinions online, often as divisive as the current political climate.
Our Facebook news feeds are filled, Instagram and Twitter feeds plastered. Previously unknown thoughts and sentiments become public. All of a sudden we are faced with a situation, in which our favourite artists, DJ’s, performers, and producers use their platforms to advocate for causes, or express their opinions.
We are left to either agree or disagree, irrevocably now slightly wiser of the person behind the music, a person we potentially at times do not agree with, whose politics don’t align with our own.
In the wake of Donald Trump winning the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, Dave Clarke announced that he would not be renewing his U.S. work visa and perform in the country. Citing both bad experiences with U.S. agents, and the politics of Donald Trump he wrote in a lengthy Facebook post that he “simply cannot consider coming to the US professionally when there is a Misogynist Narcissist Racist President in office”. While many of the almost 400 comments did support Clarke in his decision, the tirades of angry comments were unmissable, questioning Clarke’s authority to make this statement with comments like “How about you take your own self-centred political views out of the equalition and keep playing the music to those that love it?!!”, “I like your music, really. But people like you, who always believe that their opinion is the only one that matters are often worse than the person they criticise”, or particularly harsh “…do not ever feel that you know what you are talking about when it comes to our politics and positions. We have plenty of great entertainment here already and believe me, no one will miss you. What arrogance to think you’re that important”. The sentiments in these comments was clear, Clarke should stick to music and stay out of politics.
More recently, in 2018, a series of artists felt the anger of the online masses in response to the hashtag #DjsForPalestine. Kicked off by Ben UFO, and quickly followed by artists including The Black Madonna, Four Tet, Caribou, the Discwoman collective, Peder Mannerfelt, Rrose, and many more, the hashtag was the official declaration that these artists would no longer be playing in Israel until the Israeli government had stopped their “brutal and sustained oppression of the Palestinian people”. Here, in the thousands of comments, wedged between the support and the opposition, were the same dismissive comments. “How virtue-signalling and pathetic do you have to be..”, “Why don’t you stick to music Dan (Caribou) and leave the politics to the politicians?”, “I think I will never listen to you ever again without thinking what a stupid person you are. Really sad, because you have some good music.” or the simple “Oh ffs get over yourself”
These are not the only examples of the collision between politics and music in recent years, but they are nonetheless good ones as the artists themselves have willingly chosen to discuss their political stance online, as opposed to have them leaked à la Konstantin, and, though diverging in political sentiments, the pattern is clear. Beyond the comments agree or disagreeing with the politics on its own a large part of the fans are criticizing the artists use of their platforms for a political agenda.
It begs the question, is there a place for this type of political discourse by artists at all in modern day electronic music? Should artists be engaging with political topics on their official professional social media pages?
Or, in today’s polarized political climate, would artists serve their audiences best by providing a non-politically charged space where the conflicts and struggles of everyday life are forgotten, not forcing fans to acknowledge the thoughts of the artists behind the music, and the scene can be an escape for people of various backgrounds to coexist in harmony and simply get lost in the music?
Glaringly, in this discussion is the long-standing history between politics and art of any kind. Of course there is merit in the sheer beauty of art alone, but art inspired by rebellion, anger, revolt, and a desire to impact on the world around oneself has been present throughout history, ranging from artists using art as a form of resistance against the Nazi regime in German during the mid-20th century, or feminist art in the 60s and 70s. Electronic music itself has undeniably been impacted by the political forces around it, from its roots at underground house parties in the U.S., to Berlin becoming the techno capital of Europe with its hedonistic attitude as an act of rebellion against the various forms of oppression and control surrounding the city’s inhabitants, and its past.
This seems to be something the social media commenters forget. Wilfully ignoring in a bid for music to be the great unifier, a sweet escape in which the struggles of everyday life disappears.
On the dance floor it is not so important who is dancing next to you, at a particularly intense moment you might even make eye contact and smile that knowing smile, and in that moment does it really matter what the person preaches in everyday life, if they voted or not, what they vote for and what they stand for. Perhaps not to some, but to others shared political alignment is vital for a good party, a fun night, or a spiritual experience. To the latter the political discourse online weeds out those who oppose their way of life, or might even have actively tried to push for policies and legislation that would limit their freedoms and rights.
Perhaps a catalyst in the changing rhetoric of artists political engagement is that the political issues now are no longer opposing one greater evil, against which revellers can unite, dancing in defiance, but now the issues are divisive. Fans do live in Israel, perhaps some even voted for Trump. When we are suddenly faced with our favorite acts expressing sentiments we cannot get behind a certain anger can arise, you feel duped, the music becomes less magical. At times we might not even be so opposed to the political message, but we believe the expression and thoughts behind it are shallow or uneducated, and sometimes that can be enough to disillusion the most avid listener. We hear the person behind the decks speak, and they become less mythical, and more real, a real person like any of us.
Undeniably, as much as we might be in awe of our favorite acts, they are simply that though – a human.
With thoughts and opinions, rights to speak their mind and voice their concerns, and to take stances on issues important to them, fully independently of how that impacts their audiences. There is not some grand tradeoff that takes place once people starts consuming your art, where an independent voice is lost. To try to police what artists can speak on, or not, would be to impose limitations that are experienced by only a few in society, specifically though in public offices or in the judicial system. Arguably instead, there is an increased responsibility that comes with the increased audience size.
Perhaps an issue is the spread of a certain luxurious privilege to not be bothered with politics throughout electronic music consumers, in which they feel empowered to reject any part in it, and actively oppose those who impose political discourse in their life when they would be just as happy to throttle along without it. It is difficult to deny that electronic music is largely consumed by people in developed Western democracies.
But this sentiment comes from privilege, and if anything that makes the artists use of their platforms all the more essential. Artists certainly played no small part in the international highlighting of apartheid in South Africa from the 60s to the end in the 90s through their boycotts. It is an easy life in which you live in a safe country, your rights is objectively well protected by the government, and you can consume music without much worry of anything. The imposition of various political issues infringes on this and it seems much of the online opposition objects to that, you are forced to consider things you would otherwise have the liberty to ignore, despite the massive impact many of these topics have on other people around the world.
With this in mind, it does seem difficult to justify the silencing of musicians as anything other than a desire by consumers to not have to face the consequences of an artists words. Be that a desire to seclude oneself from the ongoing issues in the world, or an unwillingness to be confronted with opposing ideologies. And with that, another question rises:
If we accept that artists have the same rights to express their political opinions, and instead you suddenly become aware that those of our favorite artists no longer match our own, what do you do? It begs the age old question, to what extent can you separate the art from the artist?