In communities with much to fight for, music can be a refuge and a tool for progressive change.
Six artists who represent pockets of the resistance offer insight into how they promote action on their home turf.
DJ and producer Zeina is shaping a space for women in Cairo’s electronic music scene
Coming to Cairo after having lived in Europe and North America for a significant portion of my life, it felt glaringly obvious that women were almost non-existent in dance music here. From the bartenders, to the promoters and DJs, women are still far and few between. Through the Unfamiliar party that I put on, all the elements of the event are women-run, from the artwork and promotion to visuals and music. As a music community, we have an unspoken pact to come together in a meaningful way, already bound by a certain love for music and freedom.
The Cairo scene is currently in the phase of options. While quality and consistency is still maintained by Nacelle, Cairo’s biggest dance music promoter, post-revolution Cairo meant new offers of more gritty clubs and experimental line-ups, with promoters taking a more out-of-the-club, out-of-the-box approach to parties. Despite this feeling of growth, going out at night can often feel like a segregated experience reserved for the rich. With a pretty much non-existent middle class, life in Egypt has always operated in polar extremes. The devaluation of the Egyptian pound in November of 2016 by 50% meant that it now costs double for promoters to book headliners from Europe and North America, making club entry and alcohol prices even more prohibitive, deepening the reality of exclusivity at parties.
Within the past year, Egyptian society has been also at heads with the issue of the rainbow flag. After the Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo, the rainbow flag was raised by a small number of the people in the crowd, who were later arrested for ‘practices of debauchery’ and ‘promoting sexual deviancy’. In the past year, the risk of parties getting shut down by authorities has been extended to include these potential threats to ‘public morality’, which has added another layer of both financial risk and general unease. It often feels like music needs to fight for its right to exist.
Of course, Cairo dancefloors have come a long way from alcohol and macho-fuelled brawls. It has become a somewhat more inclusive space – however, this inclusivity still seems fickle. A more meaningful fight for inclusivity is the way forward. The future of music not only includes more women at the helm, but also champions femme attributes that have the power to transform dancefloors into more peaceful places.
The Maracaibo-born DJ and producer raising political awareness by throwing radical queer parties
I started DJing when I was around 20. I got my first “serious” DJ gig at a party and just never stopped. A couple of years later I opened the first and only electronic music club in my city, Maracaibo, Venezuela. I opened it with my three best friends and we called it SOLO as it was the only one of its kind.
SOLO became a prominent space for musicians and DJs around Venezuela to showcase their work. We threw parties for four years with the intention of making electronic music more present and accessible for everyone. The scene was growing and becoming very strong, but with the complicated political situation getting worse, we eventually had to end it.
I relocated to Berlin in 2012 where I’ve been working with music and sound. I run a series of parties called MESS (Mindful Electronic Sonic Selections) at OHM, where I tend to the necessities of the electronic music scene that I feel are being overlooked. MESS has a focus on women, non-binary and transgender artists from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Coming from Venezuela I have strong political opinions. I’ve experienced what corruption and terrible politics can do to a country, to families, to people. I guess in many ways I was not what my culture expected me to be. It can be very intense to try to overcome pre-established cultures. Being queer and into electronic music is basically synonymous with terrible things in Venezuela, so I spent a lot of time and energy creating my bubble where I could survive. There wasn’t much outside interaction; it was more me creating my own world where I could live and experience what I loved.
Providing a space for everyone not only to showcase their work as artists, but also a space to try to break the patriarchal structures that create struggles for women, queer people and people from different cultural backgrounds. We still need to build spaces for the celebration of diversity. To me, the future of music sounds like one voice that brings us together to celebrate; to give us the energy to keep pushing and reminds us why the fight is worth fighting for.
The techno-punks bringing Russian grit to dance floors around the world
The relationship between the art community and politics in Moscow – and Russia in general – is the same as in other countries. Generally, innovative artists and musicians are sceptical, at best, of the current government. It just so happens that any working authority in Russia slips into corruption with all its consequences.
Basically, music in Moscow sounds apolitical, but here is the thing: all musicians and artists in Moscow are the political power whether they want it or not. Because we transmit – not only by means of music, but by all means possible – some new ways of thinking and acting, and somehow we lead our listeners without calling for anything specific.
For a very long time no one’s been taking direct calls in music seriously, except the Department of Extremism. Even during the most unstable times, Russians just want to hang out and relax rather than listen to slogans. Maybe it’s a peculiarity of the mentality of people who got through the oppression of Soviet times, of royal police before that, or slavery and poverty, which preceded all of that. We still manage to hang out even in the most hideous situations.
I see Moscow’s scene as a huge community consisting of very different musicians. Of course, there are diverse, genre-based sub-communities, but as far as it goes, they get more and more mixed. Techno musicians go to conservatories to listen to contemporary classical music; rock bands collaborate with free-jazz musicians.
We act as the illustrators, witnesses, chroniclers; we absorb the reality and somehow reflect it in our tracks and videos. We transmit the nerve of our generation into our live performances. We seek to look for the Russian nerve in art, to form the musical language based on our local background, and strive to keep our own identity.
In the future, we hope that genres will cease to exist and more strange music with non-linear development will be created; that people will finally ignore the market dictatorship and listen to their hearts and minds.
Dope Saint Jude is a South African queer artist keeping rap intersectional
My musical identity and political identity are inextricably linked because I can’t divorce my country’s history from my experience. Everyday in South Africa, I am reminded of my position in the South African landscape and that is bound to seep into my music. I feel that it is important to be authentic in my story telling, so I talk about my experiences in my music.
South Africa is about 25 years out of apartheid and, to be honest, the same structures still exist. I don’t think all music needs to be political, but I do believe that we need to change the structures that exist around the entertainment industry. While we have black artists dominating the charts in South Africa, it’s important that the capital that funds and platforms artists is also diverse. It is important that the agencies that deal with artists are diverse. We need to use our art to change and dismantle structural racism. Not just with the content, but in how we conduct business.
Inciting a political and social conversation through my music happened pretty naturally. I belong to a movement of young people of colour who are queer, radical and hungry for change. Everything we do is to dismantle structural racism, so naturally, the music, art and videos speak to that.
I am hoping to change consciousness by being totally unapologetic and unashamed of what I stand for. We are definitely headed in
a more inclusive direction. The future of music is radical, queer and black, and it’s exciting that these marginalised voices are finally
Shanghai’s community-run radio station giving electronic music a platform for the 21st century
Our platform is a place for discussion. We started last year as a bunch of friends with the idea to build a streaming platform. We aimed to build a living archive of acts in Shanghai – it’s an important time to record history in Shanghai from Shanghai.
It’s not really about what we are saying but it’s more the act of holding a space for voices that would otherwise go unheard here. We work to make sure that our guests and people around us are able to speak their truths. We started from a political place by proxy when we lost our old space due to authoritative powers beyond our control. We tried to function as a floating entity but it didn’t work. There is a challenge to serve a community if you don’t have headquarters; you can’t have guests if you have no home.
Shanghai is under a drastic cultural change. It’s a place, probably more so than the rest of China, of extreme contrasts. It is hyper-capitalist yet still firmly communist. It’s where you see massive Gucci billboards underneath hammers and sickles. This development is happening at a fast pace, which leaves many people behind, either materially, spiritually or both. It has resulted in this city being hyper-advanced technologically and underdeveloped in many other ways.
Underground is not just a physical space, it’s digital. We’ve been positioned as straddling “two internets” so it’s another challenge not to make it about this East vs. West binary. There is no need to spend too much time on this tired narrative; we can prove that international does not mean Western and there’s a lot more to our lives than this.
Shanghai doesn’t have a scene as big as some cities in Europe – it’s a close quarter. Everybody knows each other so it feels familial. Clubbing wasn’t a thing back then but now it’s definitely a main force shaping the music scene in Shanghai or even China.
Music can be used as a weapon to fight against injustice. But not necessarily everything is about fighting. Sometimes it’s about reflecting on the situation. Sometimes it’s about finding an escape or release from this hyper-speed, sometimes it’s about fighting time. We are already living in the future, just observe it with us.
The Lahore deep house duo at the front line of underground Pakistani rave culture
It’s important to encourage people in Pakistan to have a dream again and strive towards making it a reality. We remember how hard it was for us in the start, without any direction or anyone to guide us, so we want our people to express themselves freely and stay true to their identity. We hope our music plays a part in removing social barriers and ranks so that everyone has an equal right to access good, quality dance music. We try to incorporate these values in each of our gigs, by opening the barriers to access as much as we can.
We have a lack of promoters, teachers and sponsors in the scene. The whole scene is highly underground so it’s hard to get permission to organise any parties. Security threats at a national level may have died down over the years, but cultural inhibition and political hurdles still make the act of holding a gig an arduous task.
Raves are especially tough to put on because of the things associated with it like drugs, dancing and the mixing of genders. There have been instances where large events with international artists have been shut down because of extremist threats. So, these things are a reality and part of the risks of being a DJ in a country like Pakistan.
During the war on terror, Pakistan experienced a huge rise in depression. Music and art in general saw a dampening phase for a period of time. With such a high population of young people not being able to express themselves through music or any other form of art, it gets frustrating. 80% of Pakistan’s population consists of the youth, and they’re in a vulnerable position in society.
Despite all that, there’s still a huge interest in electronic music and people in Pakistan want to see this scene flourish. People have continued to pursue their art, which has seen a revival in Pakistani music and art in all forms right now. Our people have been strong in rejecting the pressure and have stuck by their will to express themselves freely and live as Pakistanis in the 21st Century.
The future of music is very bright, inclusive and unpredictable, thanks to the nature of the digital world. We plan to travel the world and play our part in clearing misconceptions about Pakistan by delivering the message of love and peace through our music. We’re optimistic.