It's been a weird month for the dance music community. Yesterday, DJ Tanner Ross was called out for sending sexually harassing tweets to music writer Andrew Ryce of Resident Advisor in response to Ryce's unfavorable review of Jamie xx's album. As a result, Ross was dropped from Soul Clap's Crew Love event in Barcelona today and there was word that he would be delisted from the Crew Love roster all together. Many in the industry and media compared his behavior to that of Ten Walls, whose own homophobic rant effectively ended his career just a few weeks ago.
Marooned in Eastern Europe, separated from the English-dominant western dance music media and industry, Ten Walls didn't have many defenders. Ross does, however, and several of them voiced their support for their friend on social media, declaring that he is not homophobic but was simply "talking mad shit," that "it was a joke," and for people to "get over it." It recalled the time when Jodie Foster and Robert Downey Jr. defended Mel Gibson after he was caught on-camera making outrageous anti-semitic remarks during a 2006 drunk driving arrest. Nobody came out of it looking good.
There is no defense of Ross's words and no apology so soon after that can be construed as meaningful. As we all know, for many public figures, "I'm sorry" comes as a perfunctory knee-jerk response rather than a thoughtful demonstration of understanding about how one's words or actions were wrong. At minimum, Ross was cyber-bullying but in reality, he was expressing homophobic hate speech. Those who have defended it as otherwise are misinformed. To take elements of an identity—in this case, gay sex, a defining feature of homosexuality—and use it to degrade someone is to support the belief that there is something wrong or shameful about that identity in the first place. It is the very definition of homophobia.
The fact that a negative album review set Ross off in the first place bears some discussion. (For the record, Ryce wasn't terribly thrilled with the new Hudson Mohawke album either, but that hasn't made him the subject of any Twitter-hate thus far.) While many would bluntly categorize criticism in all forms as something expressed by "haters," there is a distinction between a critical opinion and hate speech. The former is an essential component of the ongoing dialogue about art and culture. The latter is language that promotes violence or intimidation towards a protected or minority class of people. That the individual target of Ross's words is gay or not doesn't matter. That Ross may or may not be homophobic doesn't matter either. His words weren't just smack talk, as some of his apologists have said; they were hate speech.
On THUMP's Facebook yesterday, one reader commented "you can't spew homo hate in dance music." In truth, you can't spew any hate in dance music. That is not who we are and that is not what we are here for. As recent events around Ten Walls and Tanner Ross have shown, while we may be an imperfect community, we are also one that will not tolerate intolerance, at least not when it's overtly expressed.
Writer and dance music academic Luis-Manuel Garcia noted following the Ten Walls fiasco a few weeks ago: "Don't just be satisfied with the social/professional punishment of one obvious bigot in a world full of silent exclusions and micro-aggressions. There is still sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, etc. that exists in club culture in more subtle, indirect ways. This shit is all around us, including inside our clubs, on our dancefloors, and even in our own hearts."
That's a point worth acknowledging. It's not just gay people who are maligned in dance music culture and bigotry isn't always called out when it happens. As dance music has grown from David Mancuso's Loft to a worldwide movement, it has expanded to include more people than ever. That growth means the dance music community reflects our larger society, phobias, -isms and all. Just as exiling Ten Walls hasn't solved homophobia, admonishing Ross won't either. That's not to excuse their behavior nor is it to say those with privilege or power should enter the club each night with their heads hung in shame. Rather, it should motivate us all to stand together with our eyes wide open.
Speaking on the artists panel yesterday at EDMbiz in Las Vegas, Krewella's Jahan Yousaf pointed out how influential today's DJs are to their young audiences and how important it is for them to consciously demonstrate positivity rather than cockiness. "Kindness needs to be shared," she said. "We've forgotten it in this scene."
It's a simple concept but it's hard to argue with. Admittedly, dance music's positivity can appear as a caricature of itself. It's easy to roll our eyes at the insipidly simplistic notion of PLUR or mock anyone who makes heart-hands from the DJ booth. While those symbols may hold meaning for some, they are hardly the defining elements of our culture.
When we talk about dance music's origins in black, Hispanic, and gay communities in America's cities, we do so to demonstrate how amazing it is that people who were excluded elsewhere in society created a space where they could be included and make something beautiful happen. Even today, the dance music community is meant to be a refuge from the harshness of a cruel world. In its finest moments, it is a home for everyone—for the freaks and the weirdos, the dreamers and outcasts. For those who feel left out everywhere else, there is a party, a club, or a festival where a group of people is waiting to welcome you on the dancefloor. There is an online forum where you can bond over the love of your favorite artists with people from anywhere on the planet. Most other music scenes don't have that, but we do. At its best, dance music is the thing you can turn to when the rest of the world has turned its back on you.
Still, to be part of this community is to agree to a covenant of inclusivity. When that covenant is violated, the community will respond by pointing to the door. We don't do it to be punitive or to retaliate but to protect ourselves from that which we have all come here to escape.
Artists like Ross and Ten Walls should know better. There is hardly anyone who has turned their passion for dance music into a career who hasn't experienced the beauty of the dance music community. It is many things to many people, but above all it, it is one defined by love—love for other people, love for a world we wish to be more perfect, and of course, love for music. Rather than thinking about what divides us, be that gender or genre, age or taste, sexual orientation or preferred BPM, we need to focus all that we have in common.
This weekend, whether you're greeting the sun at Panorama Bar in Berlin, chasing the dawn at EDC in Las Vegas, or jumping on your bed with your earbuds blasting at a dance party for one, just remember what brought you there in the first place. Hate can be a powerful emotion. Love in the dance music community is stronger.
Zel McCarthy is the editor-in-chief of THUMP. He is on Twitter.
Photos courtesy Juliana Bernstein.