Last night saw the 18th instalment of the baldly named DJ Awards. Held in the Ibizan branch of global clubbing superpower Pacha, it was a no doubt glam and glitzy affair. I wouldn't know because I was sat at home in the grim outer reaches of London sorting out a blocked drain, but I imagine everyone there got to drink nice cocktails and eat a few mini burgers on stick while women in feathers and heels wandered around with trays of more of the same. There was probably a lot of fur and leather, too. I'm seeing lots of red, lots of faux-classical ornamentation, lots of aspirational furniture and fittings.
Anyway, enough of me unleashing my inner Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. Time for the serious bit: the only reason that an event as astoundingly irrelevant as the DJ Awards is worth mentioning is because it — and others like it — highlight a fundamental problem within the dance music industry. The problem's a simple one: in 2015, "dance music" is still somehow synonymous with white, male, heterosexual mediocrity. You don't need me to explain how far removed from dance's origins this structural system is. Hopefully.
Last night's winners were — aside from Black Coffee, Carl Cox and Hannah Wants — white males who, largely, make and/or play incredibly mediocre music. The likes of Luciano (winner of the best tech-house DJ award), Hardwell (the world's best electro/progressive house and international DJ, as of last night) and Armin Van Buuren are almost painfully irrelevant, the kind of ditchwater dull DJs that coast from club to stadium, riding on a wave of apathy and cold hard cash. These are names that don't need the recognition and signal boosting that awards can offer. Put bluntly, it's the same old shit.
Scroll down to the bottom of the results listings and things make a tad more sense. The 18th DJ Awards were sponsored and partnered by a motley crew that included (deep breath) Cafe Mambo, Ocean Drive Ibiza, Pacha Multimedia, Moet, Absolut, Pioneer, Mixcloud, and Vicious Magazine. Award ceremonies pretty much always have backing of this kind but that doesn't alter the fact that as soon as brands and business are involved in prize giving that purports to some kind of artistic meritocracy, if not flat out objectivism, then things will — as they have done here — reek of inauthenticity. Why would a night thrown by a series of brands, held in a club that itself is a brand — there is, as any fule kno, a Pacha shop in Ibiza airport hawking all sorts of tawdy tat — do anything other than support the kind of DJs who, presumably at least, see themselves as brand? It's the same old shit that sadly makes total sense.
While I'm not expecting to see the best deep house DJ award at the DJ Awards get doled out to, I dunno, Larry Heard or Rick Wilhite rather than Solomun, or an actual electronica act walking away with the best electronica DJ act rather than Disclosure, it's still incredibly disheartening to see the literal whitewashing of culture taking place in front of our very eyes. You could argue that things like the DJ Awards, in the grand scheme of things, mean less than fuck all, and you'd be right, but they are sadly indicative of the way the industry works. Originality, in all media, in all artforms, counts for less than saleability. Every award winner at last night's ceremony, everyone now sat in a hotel room staring blankly at a figurine of a DJ or whatever the winner's receive, is a sellable commodity that represents the safe, anodyne, depressingly dull side of dance music. That's not a value judgement on them as artists — finding the energy to actually have an opinion on Hot Since '82 is beyond me. It's a judgement on an industry that seems happier than ever — now it's making a bit of money again — to trade on mediocrity. Fuck that.