Somethings Gotta Give — Cultural Idealism
The vast majority of material I write for this project is researched, quotations, and analysis. Occasionally the odd opinion might slip out but generally I try to stick to the facts as they purport themselves to be.
This time I want to talk from the heart. I feel like if there's a good time to express these sentiments it's now. The dust has settled and we're poised on the brink of something new that has a lot of people worried. This will get overtly political (I'm a bleeding heart pinko lefty after all), it'll talk about race, about sexuality, and about music. If that confluence of things sounds like it'll irritate maybe give this one a miss? I promise I'll try to not get too ranty and keep it vaguely concise.
Read on if you dare...
1971. David Mancuso's Love Saves The Day parties at The Loft laid down the blueprint for dance music culture, and they happened against a backdrop of republican scandal and cultural denigration stemming from Nixon and later Ford, not to mention New York's state of social and cultural decay, the curse of drugs, riots, rolling power cuts, gang violence, and all the other stereotypes the established narrative throws at us thanks to innumerable documentaries on the histories of disco, house, clubbing, hip hop, punk, CBGBs and whatever other NYC institutions you'd care to dredge up. "Drop dead!" shouted Gerald Ford to the city when it asked for financial support (well he didn't but it's close enough a quotation). The city, the culture, and the political pall that fell over the country were suffocating artistic output. The big apple was rotten to the core (according to BBC's Once Upon A Time documentary).
Skip forward 15 years from 1971, and jump 700 miles to the east and you're in Chicago in 1986. House happened. The Warehouse, The Muzic Box. Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy. Trax, DJ International. And swirling around the city is a fug of political pressure and discontent. This time around? Reagan. And the city in decay isn't NYC anymore, it's Chicago, and it's Detroit. The two are collapsing as the support of industry is pulled from beneath them as the Eastern markets open up and manufacturing is done by other people in other places.
The same happens in 1989 in the UK. Thatcher. The final jerking death throes of the unions and nationalised industry. Rave. People in fields on a cornucopia of drugs flailing around to music made by computers.
Can love save the day?
It's feasible to argue that the innovations of disco, house, techno etc. all came from a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo on the part of the marginalised masses. Black people, Latino people, LGBT people, and anyone with leftist sensibilities. Their way of life, their images, their cities were under attack! And what do you do as a response to that? You organise around something. For some people that rallying point happened to be music. It was there in disco, hip hop, punk, metal, even rave! Those same confluences of circumstances that caused the pressure, adversity, and perceived threat that inspired such beautiful music in times past are here again.
The west is more divided between left and right than any time since the second world war. There is the rise of fascism in France, the refugee crisis sweeping Europe where half the people don't want to help because they have the wrong accent and the wrong skin-tone, the American right has seen the rise of the "alt-right" (just say nazi and be done with it), and the UK has seen a rise in hate crime since announcing Brexit.
Donald Trump. Mike Pence. Theresa May. Marine Le Pen. Brexit. It seems hopeless. Pressure to conform, denigration of culture, diminishment of the arts and creativity, hatred of otherness. The left, the creative, the different all have their backs against the wall with little room to manoeuvre. It's enough to make me weep. You wanted your country back? I want my future back!
But I've decided that it isn't hopeless. I'm buoyed up by the examples of Mancuso, and Siano, and Levan, and Hardy, and Knuckles, and Forest, and Grasso, and DePino, and all the innumerable others who created some form of protest or backlash against the oppressive, dark, hopeless zeitgeist of periods of extreme conservatism. People created parties in lofts, apartments, parking garages, old industrial buildings, disused churches, basements, and anywhere where people could come together and celebrate uniqueness and otherness. Music from everywhere, people from everywhere, where the lines that divide become irrelevant, and music is the tie that binds. We need this again. We all need something like Love Saves The Day in our home towns. We need somewhere that's a home and an escape at the same time. We need to be able to express ourselves, and flounce, and bounce, and prance, and dance, and hold hands, and kiss people without the fear of having the shit kicked out of you on a street corner because of someone's gender, sexual preference, skin colour, religion, or clothes. Colonel Abrams (who sadly also just passed away) and Danny Tenaglia both offered tracks called "Music Is The Answer". It's not surprising given where the music came from and why it was made in the first place!
Beautiful things came from the oppressive atmosphere of New York in the 1970s. Three entirely new cultures were created there (disco, punk, hip hop) that have irrevocably changed the world for the better. That wouldn't have happened if everyone was content. No one needs to escape utopia.
Idealism, optimism, and the death of cynicism is what we need to aspire to. We need to create something new, something beautiful that can start an entirely new artistic and cultural revolution in the same way disco did. Imagine how rejuvenating that could be, not just for music, but for a world that's weary of itself and it's constant bickering. Something unifying like real disco is what we need. So every time a wall is built or a government signs away another part of my privacy view I'm going to view it as another catalyst, another call to action, a rallying cry, a lighthouse to sail a ship by. And when we achieve a point of saturation something will change. There is a line in the sand somewhere. This far you shall come and no further. We need to create something beautiful. If someone doesn't do it soon I'll have to do it myself.
Something's gotta give.
I honestly believe love can save the day.