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Where does charity begin in the DJ community?
Why aren't there more charity initiatives within the dance music community? Dance music has always been attached to the underdogs, having begun its roots in gay and ethnic minority culture. When many of its musical showcases take place in darkened rooms at night, with an undeniable connection to hedonistic culture, all manner of criticism can be directed towards it. “Going out to a dance event can be a temporary escape into a different world; people are often looking to have a few hours away from the normal reality of their lives and perhaps therefore don't want to be confronted with issues that might detract from that escapism”, says JD Twitch. There is an element of truth in this. But there is no way that its artists can be accused of lacking in social awareness – particularly recently with the amount of artists criticising the homophobic laws in Russia. If they have displayed so much support and contributed so much against these backward and cruel laws, where is the concern for other world issues?
For the electronic music community, the nature of performance is different. When a performance depends on a charismatic frontman to mobilise the crowd, such frontman has more ability to influence and publicise his or her support for a charity, and lyrics can be used as a vehicle for social and political criticism and commentary surrounding such issues. In rock bands, there is more focus on the figure as an idol – they are musicians who perform and sing on stage. A lack in performance flashiness does not mean there can't be alternatives. Simple music events with entry fees where proceeds go to charity would work fine, but the fact that there aren't more of these events is inexplicable. The flagship Live8 of electronic music doesn't exist yet, and there's no good reason why not.
Providing an exemplary blueprint for smaller events is It's Bigger Than, a Berlin-based collective of DJs and producers which works in collaboration with Mercy Corps to raise money for victims of crisis. The initiative organises electronic music events to try to engage and raise awareness within the community. The next event is on the 1st of September in aid of Syrian refugees. Deutsche Welle describes the organisation as 'doing its bit to raise awareness about the crisis and to raise money to help those in need. Their method? Putting on a party with some of the finest DJs and electronic producers around'. A winning idea, but why aren’t more people doing this?
Curious is the lack of large names releasing widely known charity singles. For the vast amount of small-scale artists who aren't well known this is understandable, given the fact that they struggle to get by themselves and often do not have the element of performance to fall back on.
"I also hope that some
people who come
across the record will
think about some
of the issues..."
Earlier this year, a series of singles from big musical names including Loefah and Four Tet were released for Oxfam's Syria Crisis Appeal in collaboration with the Independent Label Market. 50 copies of each record were sold, for £10 apiece. For this collection, founder of seminal labels Swamp81 and DMZ, Loefah, donated the first track he'd made in five years. Undoubtedly one of the biggest names in electronic music, such a release was bound to have people queuing up at 5 in the morning to get their mitts on one of theis scarce release. His ten copies alone would have raised £500.
Another such rare instance is the work of JD Twitch, one half of Optimo, with his Autonomous Africa release series. Through hypnotic rhythms, his intention is to highlight the beauty and independent spirit of Africa, and provoke thought against interference from global corporations who take resources from the continent for selfish gains. “The fund raising is the main focus but I also hope that some people who come across the record will think about some of the issues regarding corporations and governments interfering in Africa and realise that we are not powerless to change things. If the record inspires one person to go on to take some sort of action, be that thinking about buying fair trade produce or some other form of action, then to my mind the project has been a success,” says Twitch. Midland and Auntie Flo have also made contributions to Volume 2 of the series, out now. Money from the release go to the Mtandika Mission in Tanzania, a charity run by Midland's parents.
Another question worth asking is why large festivals do not support, advertise, or involve more charities in their running. Many largely rock-based festivals such as Glastonbury, Coachella and those run by Festival Republic (Reading, Leeds, etc.) publicise the fact that they support various charities, with stalls from Oxfam, Water Aid and many others. But why is this not the case for Outlook, Creamfields, Sonar and the like? Should it not be the responsibility of such large businesses to do so? It's a two-way street where opportunities of the sort should be offered to the artists playing the festivals. Given the socially conscious attitudes of many producers, at least a few would be more than happy to play once in a while for a reduced fee. Or would they?
One exception this year is the project of The Beat'n'Trail Crew, a group of four cyclists who aim to raise over £7500 for The Steve Reid Foundation and The Back Up Trust by doing a sponsored cycle all the way from Dalston in London to Dimensions Festival in Croatia. The Steve Reid Foundation was founded by BBC Radio 6's Gilles Peterson, who recorded an exclusive mix for the initiative. One such project came after Hurricane Sandy in the USA to aid musicians who lost homes, creations and other valuable assets during the storm. The journey was supported by Dimensions Festival – one of the few open endorsements of a charity by an electronic music festival.
It could take just one or two important figures in the dance music community to take the initiative to start a larger-scale charity project. After that, there will be momentum and a bandwagon to jump on – thus more trends could begin. Pride, publicity and involvement are the key. For an industry worth billions with undeniably large amounts of key figures, there's no excuse to sit on the wealth purely for profit.