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Dance Pride: It’s Bros Before ‘Mos in Mainstream Dance Music

A culture once defined by its gayness now revels in its broification. But why?

In her 2011 screed against the lack of women on their annual Top 100 DJ poll, musical provocateur Peaches posted the memorable line on Facebook, "DJ MAG! Your Top 100 DJ boy club list can eat a dick! Where the ladies at???"

The questions might as well have been "where the dick-eaters at?" Because while female stars in the celebrity EDM DJ world are clearly lacking, equally notable for their absence are any gay stars in the multi-billion dollar scene. This, despite the fact that dance music historically offers an abundance of gay heroes, dating all the way backs to the earliest days of club culture.

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The simple fact is that like women, gay performers of both sexes are for the most part left out of the current EDM superstar explosion. One need look no further that the line-up of any mainstream EDM festival to confirm that not a single out performer is being booked for these events. Given the ample participation of gays in both historical and contemporary dance music scenes—as well as the growing acceptance of homosexuality in the wider public sphere—this discrepancy is shocking. The question is, why?

"The basic vibe of EDM crowds is made up of a lot of people new to the scene who want to a) embrace the spirit of mainstream dance culture, and b) prove that they are adequate or 'cool' enough to stand their ground," supposes Dennis Sebayan, a New York-based DJ who has DJs under the moniker Bass Control and counts Ultra Music Festival as one of the many festivals he's performed at. "This results, to a degree, in a level of aggressive, macho and defensive behavior." However, the openly gay Sebayan is quick to point out that he has never "felt threatened or unwelcome by the bros" at EDM events he has attended, like Ultra.

DJ Dennis Sebayan

In fact, even anecdotal reports of homophobia at large-scale EDM events are few and far between. Nevertheless, the "broification" issue is certainly a major factor in the absence of gay performers in the mainstream EDM scene. Seemingly, the threat of homophobia, whether real or perceived, is significant enough to merit caution, as the aggressive posture of "raging" has come to outwardly define much of the EDM fan population.

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"There is an emotional difference between saying 'let's party' and 'let's rage,' wrote Tony Schiappa Pietra, in his article "The Bro-ification of Dubstep" for the Harvard Political Review. "The latter invokes an image of something much more chaotic, hectic, and destructive. Whether or not this is an overcompensation made by certain male fans to preserve their masculinity is up for debate, but it is hard not to think about the reasons behind the selection of buzzwords blasted across festival attendees' clothing, and why this attire is worn specifically to EDM-based events."

Sign at "Disco Demolition Night" in Chicago, 1979

Against this backdrop of adrenalized male behavior, along with the hyper-sexualized female presences at most EDM events, there is certainly precedent to cause gay participants to approach with caution. Consider the heyday of disco, when macho straight men embraced the culture, a la Saturday Night Fever, only to pull a 180-degree reversal at the insistence that "Disco Sucks" when it became too strongly identified with gay and outsider cultures. There are also the sonic signifiers of hard rock and metal found etched across much of the music that currently dominates the EDM charts. Subtle reminders that while the PLUR spirit might make for a convenient affect for neon-clad shirtless straight boys to adopt, head-banging and fist pumping have never played nicely with the gay agenda in the past.

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Reacting preemptively to these red flags, it is entirely plausible that the gay community is simply choosing not to participate in the larger EDM sphere.

"If you are a gay DJ, you may not wish to be under the scrutiny of a demographic for which you may have little or no predilection or interest," explains Sebayan.

It's easy to wag fingers at the bro demographic that has come to embrace EDM in recent years, this new generation may in fact be damned as guilty for the sins of previous decades more than their own.

This fact, combined with the existence of an ever-growing network of gay-friendly dance events that the LGBT community can choose instead, means that there is little incentive for gay artists to shoot for mainstream success, and risk being exposed to the potential backlash.

Sebayan points out that events such as Pride have grown along with the overall EDM wave, giving gay artists a plethora of opportunities to practice their craft without having to be exposed to mainstream scrutiny. "Gays have upped the ante with the production level of festivals and Pride events, where innovative DJs can showcase their stuff. New York Pride and San Diego Pride are two great examples. I DJed at S.D. Pride in 2013 and Morgan Page was a headliner."

Morgan Page at San Diego's Pride Festival, 2013

With this in mind, it seems as if the gay and straight EDM camps currently co-exist as separate but (almost) equal. It may not even be possible to force the two tribes together in any meaningful way, regardless of any well-intended outreach key from either side. As mainstream EDM becomes more corporate in it's business structure, and the gay community becomes more entrenched in it's own commercialization, the odds of any meaningful crossover become even less likely.

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Working against this scenario of segregation is the inevitable march towards increased acceptance of sexuality and gender in all facets of modern life. Perhaps as integration continues, the rise of an LGBT EDM superstar is just over the horizon.

"Anything can happen and all it takes is a hit to see a certain demographic gain influence over EDM culture," Sebayan explains. "For now, artists in gay dance music continue to push the limits of EDM and dance music as a whole, although in the underground."

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Header art by Dersu Rhodes