This is a transcription of 'Branding In Dance Music', a podcast by Resident Advisor for their RA Exchange series.
It features the voices of Yuko Asanuma, Michail Stangl, Mat Dryhurst, and Will Lynch, discussing the topic of corporate branding within underground club music culture.
I am not affiliated with Resident Advisor, or any of the voices you hear on this podcast.
My name is Louis Center. I am independent software developer with an interest in independent dance music culture. I often share my views online about corporate-branded music platforms, and I thought this podcast was worth transcribing for other people to read if they were unable to listen to the podcast.
If you find any errors in this transcription, please reach out via email (transcription at louis dot center), or Twitter (@louiscenter).
Hello, and welcome to Resident Advisor's Exchange, our series of conversations with the artists, labels, and promoters shaping the electronic music landscape. My name is Mark Smith, and I'm the tech editor at Resident Advisor.
This week's exchange is a recording from the Amplified Kitchen, which is a series of talks organized by the club ://about blank with assistance from Music Board Berlin. The topic for this edition was the changing role of branding and dance music.
Corporate involvement in dance music is certainly nothing new, but it remains a prominent talking point around the communities in which it operates. This is partly to do with how marketing in the club scene has changed in recent years, with brands taking more active roles in influencing and financing the culture.
Artist and educator Mat Dryhurst, Boiler Room curator Michail Stangl, and Yuko Asanuma, a long-term journalist and jack-of-all-trades industry figure trade their views on the pros, cons, and potential futures of brands in dance music, with RA's Will Lynch moderating the discussion.
The talk shows that the questions at hand are much larger than whether a given electronic artist should or should not associate with a brand. We hear how the death of authenticity and the harsh realities of platform capitalism compels to look at the issue in a structural way.
As always, you can find our full archive of exchanges at residentadvisor.net and follow us on SoundCloud, at ra-exchange.
The Exchange on branding and dance music is up next.
Hi everybody, thanks for coming. Thanks to Music Board Berlin for making this thing happen. My name's Will Lynch, I'm one of the editors of Resident Advisor, and we're here to talk about one of the most interesting topics facing, not just electronic music, but independent music in general, which is the role that brands now play in our community.
To start, I guess I'd like to have the three panelists introduce themselves. Just your name and what you do, starting with Michail.
My name is Michail Stangl, I am the curator-at-large at Boiler Room TV, also one responsible for music programming, one of the hosts and run things in Berlin and east of London, which involves not only music programming, but also project management and also which I think fits to this conversation, a lot of strategy and implementation, execution of commercial collaborations and projects. Yes.
I'm Mat. I mostly make artwork. I teach a class at NYU on tech and art. Yeah, that's about it.
I always have hard time describing what I do, but I've been a music journalist for 12 years or so, but I'm doing less journalist work these days. I do artist management and I'm a booking agent. I also promote some events and yeah, I had a past of working for an advertising agency at one point too.
So, I think the main reason this is even an interesting subject to talk about is because for, I guess you can say, in recent memory, I'm not sure exactly when you would identify the starting point or how many years it's been, but brands have played a new role in independent music where there was a time when a partnership between a brand and an artist might mean an artist having a track licensed for an ad or something like that. Something quite clear and direct.
Now brands have much more innovative ways of getting involved in our community, and kind of influencing our community. Maybe the most clear example would be Red Bull Music Academy. But another would be Boiler Room I would say. Basically we have cultural institutions in electronic music which, correct me if I'm wrong, but kind of wouldn't be possible without brand partnerships, and kind of a modern form of brand partnerships.
So, I guess to start, Michail, do you wanna kinda walk us through what Boiler Room does and what role brands play in that?
I mean, to get back to your point where you said to look at historically when brands got involved. Funny enough we had, a couple of months ago we had, with the music commissioner, similar conversations of how he and I was involved, a couple of other people. Also people who used to work at the Red Bull Music Academy.
There was a researcher named Lawrence Grunewald (note: seeking name correction?) who presented his PhD, which was actually looking at that, when did brands step into culture. And funny enough, you can basically trace the history and rise of jazz music with these sponsorship, a career relation with the sponsorship of soap brands in the US. So a lot of jazz music would have not been able to exist or to find a bigger platform without the patronage of bigger brands.
So this is actually something that's deeply embedded into music culture even before radio, and about the beginning of recorded music. So that has always been present, I think just the visibility and the way brands engage, which is from a very distinct way of advertising.
Let's imagine that it's the difference between ... well there's different stages. I think, an arena named after a brand, a stage with a brand logo, or the artist wearing the attire of the brand. There's like various qualities to that.
And to get back to you how we work with Boiler Room, I mean, you have also to look a little bit into the history of what we do. So basically when we started it, we didn't really know what we were doing. There was no business model, there was no money, there was nothing really except the idea of building a platform for music, but how we did not really know. We had two webcams, a laptop, and an idea.
And it was very clear from the very beginning on that what we do at the core of it, which is providing a platform for electronic and documenting the growth and then the culture is completely unsustainable, it's like there's no way we will be able to either pay for it, or pay ourselves. Which is a fundamental problem which a lot of electronic music has. The audiences want the music, they want the diversity of it, they want to lift the culture. But fuck no, they will not pay for it, unfortunately. From recorded music to quite a lot of content, this is a real life issue.
So, it was also from the very beginning for us, clear that we need to obtain some sort of funds. At that time it was not really a company, so we could not structure it in such a way. And it was ... also I mean, you must also understand 2010, 2011 is basically prehistoric times when it comes to culture marketing.
The only really, really established culture marketing concept that was a unique difference, scalable, and interesting was Red Bull Music Academy at that time. In 2010, the majority of culture marketing activities of brands would be logo on a stage.
Then Creators Project came, and around 2012 this is like the famous story when Vice Magazine managed to get out some ridiculous $300 million out of IBM and created a quite interesting platform. But for us it was clear we have something that is very dear to us, which is a music culture that needs visibility, that needs a platform.
We have a deep understanding of those communities and this culture. So we know what are the things that make it work, but also that need to be protected, that need to be amplified. But we also knew that there are brands that kind of want to get involved with this demographic in one why or the other.
So for us it was clear, we cannot do advertising, because this is not the way we want this to be.
Sorry, when you say, "do advertising," what would that-
Advertising would be classical advertising, visual advertising, like banners on your homepage, banners on a stream, banners on my T-shirt. You know, that kind of ... it was clear, we do not want that. From the very beginning, we wanted to be smart about it, because at that time there's also a lot of hostility towards any kind of corporate money in underground culture.
But we had not really a choice, but we knew that if you understand what the culture is about, and you can lead on an equal eye level, the brand to understanding what this culture is about, you can create something that is both interesting for the culture and the brand, which means you can amplify what this artist, this group, this club, whatever is about.
Give the brand access to the demographic, but you don't give the brand much more ownership about that then that. So you amplify it, you create a discourse, you create opportunities that would not exist otherwise. But you also create boundaries, which are really, really important, which was always the most important thing for us, because ... and some people doubt it, but authenticity and the credibility of that.
I mean we are some of the most cynical, or we were at that time, some of the most cynical underground music people that there were, but we had to face the reality, what we want to do, we have to do.
So we set up a very smart way, we basically re-thought how we approach brand, how we talked to them, how we work with them, who the gatekeepers and facilitators that we let into this conversation, on which level they ... it's getting very complex, by the way, already right now because I'm now on an agency level, but you had to look at it and decide, what is the process that we want to shape. What are we, and what can we offer?
And this is basically our strategy ever since. Which also allows us to create actually quite exceptional things that I'm very, very proud of, that would not be possible with any other money than third party funding that comes unfortunately or fortunately from brands that are willing to provide that.
Yeah, and I mean, to your point that brands have always kinda been a benefactor of music culture, I think maybe what's strikingly different today is that Boiler Room books some pretty avant garde artists, which in another era might not have seemed to have much commercial potential. But, I mean last night you did the Pornceptual ...
It was so sick.
But I mean if you were able to do things like that then it's natural-
Yeah, but this is the thing. We could not do, we could not amplify. Because if you look at what happened yesterday, any kind of body discourse of the last 20 years, and the struggles and the successes were on display yesterday. We could not pay for that if I wouldn't have done the Valentine's Boiler Room two weeks ago in Valencia with KiNK, because one thing ultimately you need to look at: What is your end goal? What are you trying to achieve? What is literally the overall picture?
And what the fact is, that of course if our intention would be to rake in as much money as possible, sit on it and be happy, of course. But that's not what we're trying to do. We try to finance 85% of content that is so obscure and so left-field that even like Resident Advisor would maybe write an article about it, but you would never send five, 10 camera people to the end of the world to create four hours of footage around it that is not even monetizable, You know what I mean?
So what is the end goal? And ultimately what are the tools to get there? So this is, one thing pays for the other. That's the reality of it. We are very proud of it, to be honest.
Yuko, over the course for your career, and the various things that you've done, you've worked inside and outside this sphere of brand-world. I guess, take being a music journalist, doing a freelance gig for a regular magazine or newspaper or website versus a freelance gig for RBMA, what are the key differences there?
Well you definitely get paid more if it's corporate sponsored program, and I actually, I didn't mention before, but I did work for Red Bull Music Academy for, I would say full time for half a year when they had the academy in Tokyo. I'm from Japan, by the way.
It took me a minute to decide whether I'd take this job or not because I kind of started my involvement with the music scene by publishing fanzines, approximately 20 years ago. And I was totally, I was a hip-hop head, and I was totally against all these mainstream music press and I thought they were all commercial, all promos, boring stuff. We should talk about real music and real artists, and I was really, fuck industry kind of, you know, had that attitude.
Seems after I quit advertising job I've been working freelance, independent and I wasn't sure if I was ready to commit myself to work for Red Bull.
Yeah, and it took me a while to think about it, but in the end I did the job, not because I wanted good pay, but I realized with the funding ... I was working as a chief editor of the Japanese language website, that the online magazine. And so I was the editor and I was able to commission so many great journalists I admire to ... basically I could go up to them and say, "Just write whatever you wanna write, we have this money," and just pick up any topic and you're free to do what you want. And I never had such an opportunity, and it was a great experience.
So I have to say I really enjoyed the opportunity, and yeah, it's not possible without ... like nobody else I know is paying to do that. And I actually wanted to ... I've been thinking about this topic and I wanted to bring up, I wanted to bring attention to the context of the current kind of environment because I think from my perspective, the reason that the corporate sponsorship became so important is also due to the fact that record companies, well because they have smaller business now, they're not able to invest in new artists.
So, for example, 20 years ago when I got myself involved in music industry, it was still the kind of traditional record industry structure where big record companies, or even like big independent labels such as, I don't know, Warp or Ninja Tune, they had the financial resource to invest in artists that they think have the potential, and advance the budget to make great records and they sell records, and they can tour them around and they can make profit out of it.
Whereas now because music don't sell you can't actually ... well, people still do, but you can't really make living, especially if you're an underground independent artist. It became so important, performance income became so important, and too, you have to basically keep creating the content to, yeah, be ...
To survive, basically.
Yeah, yeah. So I think this is why that people started to notice the involvement, because it's not a classic advertising, as you mentioned, that the corporate sponsorship became so important, and artists became much more dependent on that, I think.
And you just kind of touched on something that I think is an important piece of context here, which is record labels, including not even huge majors, but just successful independent labels, used to have the ability to sustain their artists or give them a living wage. Now they can't, and it feels like brands kind of stepped in a bit, or they filled that void.
Mat, I've heard you speak very compellingly in the past about basically the structures of like a music community and which things are healthy for them and which things aren't. I guess when you look at this landscape that we're discussing now, how do you feel about it? Which things do you like, which things are you worried about? If any?
I think the thing for me, not to bring into question the nature of this talk, but I was saying to you earlier, my most recent thinking about it is I think that independent music actually won. And I think it won but there were a bunch of romantics, myself included, who missed the point.
So, if you go back to the 80s or 90s, the message from the independent musical community was, you outside of this kind of hulking mainstream marketplace ... by the way, mainstream doesn't exist anymore, because we're all marketed to as individuals. So, you outside of that can have the agency with a group of supporters to run a career.
And the message of independence there was very much one of individuating people. And I question from time to time whether or not, had the tools available to people now been available to the pioneers of electronic punk music, whatever it might be. Had they actually formed ... was it necessary for them to actually form collectives.
'Cause at the time you were shipping around physical objects, you needed a distributor, you needed this, and they put together a lean operation. But at the protocol level, I always try and think of things at like a protocol level. Ultimately the message was: You in your bedroom, outside of a centralized support system, can make it on your own. Which to me is the dominant language of the economy now.
And so in a sense, we've seen ... people don't like it, but I talk about DJs being kind of like the ultimate kind of manifestation of platform capitalism in a sense, of like a curator's market. It's like if you can bring the most eyes to you through observing the brilliance of your individual tastes, then you will win, and screw attribution or redistribution of payments to the people who put work into making that music or whatever.
And so, what I'm really interested about is when I see brands come in, and I'm actually way more agnostic about this than most people, I think Boiler Room do a great job, I think that RBMA do a great job. The thing for me is I like the idea of there being alternative logics competing in that space. And I see no inconsistency between kind of the law of independent music and where we are today.
In fact, if anything, it's just become hyper-efficient. Brands have spotted the possibility, which is very pragmatic. Artists have pragmatically noticed that, by the way, as you put rightly, this would be a lot less complicated if people were willing to pay for culture, which they've ... then they've made that decision, that's not something that's been forced upon them.
So what I'm more interested in is saying, first off, avant garde, you mentioned Red Bull and so on putting on avant garde things. Avant garde is not a fixed term. So being avant garde is not sticking a comb filter on a synthesizer. I mean it's represented as such, but that's ... I mean, techno's what? 50 years old?
30? It's fairly ...
Red Bull Music Academy is doing actually a celebration party in September, 30 years of techno.
Okay but it's a little peculiar to describe the avant garde as identifying with a musical movement that's been around for decades, and has weathered multiple economic shifts. So this idea of the avant garde as this fixed thing is kinda crap, it's bullshit.
So the question for me is to say, well, it's not necessarily like are brands coming into disrupt avant garde, radical club culture. Or the alternative question is saying: Are we really that radical if a shoe company is interested in us?
And what ... no, it's true, it's true. Because those are the margins by which we determine these things. Which is saying nothing of the fact that I support a lot of people, and I perform with a band, and we think that money and we do it with no real, no huge concern, because we understand what we're getting into, and we understand the role of the market.
But if you're talking about avant garde, or radicalism, I'm particularly curious at what logics could not be supported by brands. Not to defer what you guys are doing, not at all. But simply to present an actual alternative at the protocol level, at the ideological level.
And there are certain things that brands cannot support. For example I'm particular interested in group equity. I'm particularly interested in the idea of decentralizing ownership. You'd have a hard time convincing Red Bull of that. I think they'd actually be more amenable to it then some people would describe, but these are the ideas that I would consider to be actually on the avant garde, and these are the ideas that I find are very rarely supported in these ecosystems.
And I'll just finish with this. So I was just at Sonar talking on a panel about the future of the internet. I was talking about China almost exclusively because there's a whole other conversation to be had which music tends to lag honestly in these conversations, and sitting next to me was Ian Rogers, who used to run Apple Music and is now the head of marketing at Louis Vuitton ... very powerful person in branding, super gracious guy. I got along with him really well. But it's super clear; he grew up in skater culture. This guy, there is no logical inconsistency between the ideology he grew up around that was this radical individualist self expression, look at me, like that. There is zero inconsistency between that and Instagram, or that and a shoe company.
And that's just a maturation of the market, and a reality that particularly under platform capitalism, and I'm just quoting my tweets now. The more niche your interests are, the happier it is. So we see a movement away from the mainstream, 'cause the mainstream's boring, they have all that data. I have a mouse fetish, and I enjoy hanging out with 15 people in barns somewhere, such that my ... that's expanding their model. So when you move away from kind of market segmentations of mainstream, outsider culture, independent, it's all bullshit. It doesn't mean anything anymore.
We're now in a time of individualized, personalized targeting, where if you have something that you think is special, and you are advertising it through those platforms, they are stoked. Which is to say nothing of the value of identity or any of these kind of issues being kind of milked or within the commercial realm, that say nothing of the value of that.
But we have to reframe our understanding of what radicality is, and what will be supported and what won't be supported. And naturally there's going to be people on the margins who are experimenting, and I can talk more about this at some other point. Experimenting with things that could not be supported, fundamentally, because brands will not want to.
But the interesting question for me, and a lot of people gripe about brands and music, when I come and say that to people, and I say, "Well, would you want to do this?" They don't. So, then you have to ask yourself, exactly, is what I'm doing or what I'm associating with really that radical if the shoe companies are interested in it?
I feel like a subtext to a lot of what everyone's saying is there's an idea of mainstream versus underground that is maybe dated at this point.
But kinda before we venture off into more philosophical questions, in terms of how this stuff actually works, one question I often ponder, especially with regards to Red Bull Music Academy, is what's in it for them? How is it possible that spending has to be tens of millions of dollars or more over the decades, and these incredibly elaborate events, flying people from around the world to attend these academies. Which as Yuko pointed out to me earlier, is actually one of their smallest projects, in a series of similar projects that are even bigger and more expensive. How does that help their bottom line?
And I think maybe a place where some of the suspicion of this comes from is that most people couldn't tell you. There's a feeling that, Red Bull's official line is; oh, we just love independent music. And any rational person will be thinking: You're not telling me the real reason.
And I think there's that, it introduces an element of doubt which that sort of ill-defined punk DIY ethic flares up, being like, "You're full of shit, I'm not down with this." And so I guess sort of my honest question to you guys is: How do brands actually benefit from projects like these? How does it help them sell their product?
We need to talk a lot about the things that you just said. I'm going to get back on China in particular, but it's very easy, there's a thing called market and partnership activations. A brand does not only have a relationship to its customers, it also has a partnership to its clients, which means the venues, the markets. If you look at how brands activate certain markets, it's usually always driven by some sort of strategic interest that might be ...
I mean drinks business is that if you sell a certain amount of drinks by a particular brand, you amass a bonus. Some brands paid out. Every club gets that from the ... most clubs in Berlin even get started with a pre-payment from a big brewery, because they get like 300,000 euros in advance or 200,000 euros in advance, because then they will for five years exclusively selling Astral or "Plurboys"(?) or whatever, whatever's being on tap.
And this can also be fragmentized and be used for individual activations like hosting an event, that is part of a campaign that this brand is running that creates additional revenue for that club that is not as monetary, like giving you 3000 euros. It gives you a lineup, it gives you the ticket revenue, it gives you a good relationship with that particular venue, which will now only stock then this particular drink for the next five years to come.
And the audience comes and it's like, "Oh, this is a sick place, this is a sick lineup, oh this drink is actually quite tasty." So it's a combination of ideological but also hard monetary and relationship goals and values.
I mean, I'll be honest. I kind of personally lost you in there, with, I trust that what you're saying is totally sound, but just as a person not that well-versed in how this all works, I still don't completely get it in terms of something like fragmentation, market activations, things like that.
I guess I think me personally, and I think many people feel the same way as me, I still feel there's a kind of fog of the actual transaction, the specific dynamics of where the money's going and where it's coming, and how these artists are instrumental to it. I can't actually explain it.
It's completely arbitrary, it's completely arbitrary. To be honest, if at that time, I think ... for example, the founders of Red Bull Music Academy towards money, money. Two of the most unique individuals you will find in the sphere of music and in brands, they're geniuses, and they're committed to underground music culture.
If their thing would have been in 1998, not techno, but contemporary classical music, and it would have had the right sales pitch, then half of us would now listen to completely different music. A lot of this stuff is really, really arbitrary, and what one mistake that's a lot of ... when you look at it, is being made is, you detach it a little bit from the people behind it, because ultimately any kind of conversation is in the greater scheme of things complete random exchange. We talk about the thing because we happen to be in the situation where this thing is appropriate, but if you shift one parameter to the left or the right, we would be talking about a completely different thing, so the outcome would be a different one.
So a lot of it is really, really arbitrary because somebody in a position of power, decision making has the right sales pitch to steer the conversation into that direction that happens to be resonating with what's at the moment hip in culture, amplifying it, and taking it in the same direction.
But I feel quite often that kind of interest is really, really, really arbitrary of why some brands get involved with techno and some brands get involved with Bayreuther Festspiele even though you could switch it. There's no reason why Audi is supporting the Bayreuther Festspiele and Red Bull Music Academy techno, and not the other way around.
Yuko, you worked for RBMA. How does that project result in cans of Red Bull being sold? Or does it?
I can't really say much about Red Bull, but I think I can give you a simpler answer to your question from my experience of working for an advertising agency. Because at the time, I mean, by the way I only worked for two and a half years, and I worked for a very big cigarette brand. I was assigned to a very big cigarette brand at the time, not by my choice, but I was doing that.
And what really kind of fascinated me was that a packet of cigarette costs something like 20 cents to make, and I don't know, of course they, there are a lot of taxes and everything added on top, but they sell it for much higher price, and the profit these companies make is just enormous. And I think you can say the same with Red Bull, because there's not that much in the can. It doesn't cost a lot of money to make a can of Red Bull. And if you think of it, a lot of these really big brands that are already very successful tend to spend a lot of money into promotion, basically because they make too much profit.
And they have to ... well they don't have to, but unless they spend it on expenses, this profit will be just taken away as tax. So, typically they seek for something they can spend their money on towards the end of fiscal year, and they hire a creative agency or advertising agency to come up with something that they can spend. I don't know, $3 million.
And it could be anything, as long as it maintains the image of the brand, that's fine. And a lot of the times these marketing brand managers are quite clueless about culture, or music, so they often hire a third company that specialize in that, whether it's creative agency or production company, event promotion company.
And this is like the basic kind of financial reason they do, as far as I understand.
Yes, also to go maybe back to the practicalities of it, one of the main reasons why we, for example, decided, as you said, a lot of brand managers, bless them, but they are very clueless. I mean, you can't know everything about everything, so you need to give it to someone.
Unfortunately the process is traditionally structured that the clueless brand manager gives that budget to a very clueless advertising agency that then gives it to a even more clueless sub-agency, and they then find the person on the ground, and then when it trickles up back to the brand, a distorted monster of the original idea arrives, and this is why we get a lot of really awful event concepts.
So for one of us was it's important to exclude as many of those gatekeepers, because in the end we felt very protective about the original idea. We didn't want that our idea of a really dope get together of artists becomes just a branded shit-show where basically between every transition a jingle has to be played. Which is the extent of what some brands think they own a culture, when they give their money, is sometimes frightening.
So the job of a lot of the kind of players that understand the process is basically this expectation management, but also the boundary, the kinda setting boundaries to protect the ... to give of course, they paid for it, they should get what they got promised, but also to protect those who don't know how to protect themselves. Which is quite often artists, which is audiences, which is just to help them to protect, not to get sucked into something they might not understand, because it's a very complex process.
One of the kind of more ideological things we've brushed up against earlier is I guess you can call the notion of authenticity. What is it that we feel is being compromised when independent artists works the brand? And to me, when I really drill down to that idea, I guess is the artist's kind of original message being compromised in some way?
That's certainly has happened kind of in the old school, in the days of MTV and major labels and things like that. Do we think that this world of brand partnerships is friendlier to authenticity, or is more tolerant of the artists unvarnished ideas than that old world?
Yeah, but for the reasons I tried to articulate. It's no longer about one hulking message that's gonna convince everybody. It's about establishing territory or establishing new territories and getting the jump on other people.
I mean there's something arbitrary about this too, but there's also probably a very competitive environment where people are saying, "We better fund this because we don't want them to fund it." And so there's a degree of flexibility there and people get away with some interesting things in that context, but I don't think that large companies in the context of our niche culture are particularly, they're looking for that. They're looking for something else. They're looking to get in early and that most likely justifies the investment.
Yeah, but in terms of authenticity, I mean, as I say, authentic to what? That's the question that I'm curious about with this, is I do believe that there are many ideologies one could espouse that would come into conflict with taking money from a drinks company. But I don't see that many of them, actually.
And so, that's why I find the framing of this question to be somewhat confusing or sticky, because I don't see there to be too many inconsistencies there. Past a certain point, obviously. There's obviously a line that's been established and things now are more flexible in that way, but they're flexible for a reason, it's not that people are just chilled out. There's benefit to that.
I think maybe the change that took place. Sorry.
I mean, there's a certain authenticity. For example, let's say it's an event based collaboration. You can do events in various ways. You can on one hand try to create, not reproduce but basically maintain the structure, the kind of social interaction, the kinda experience of let's say club night. Or you can do a red carpet, a photo wall, a VIP booth, a table service, tables next to the D- ...
For sure, but the thing is where I think things changed, I think they change inexorably, is that my understanding of authenticity at one point, and this is like pre-globalization, this is pre the flattening of the earth where everybody plays the same music in different cities and we try our best to go further and further out and set up the servers so that we can convince kids in Egypt to make trip-hop too.
This flattening of the earth. Before that authenticity meant, I'm going into Mississippi and there's people who have agency and equity in this area, and we are aliens to this. That over time, and this is a conversation way bigger than music, that over time is eroded across the board.
So authenticity now is, okay, these kids have a Facebook group, and every now and then they get invited to play in a club that is owned by someone who's 50 years old who bought it with their parents' money or something like that. Like authenticity in that context is a very low bar to jump, whereas authenticity in the classic context was like, no, you're coming on our turf.
And what I think's interesting, I mean this is a bigger conversation about territory generally, but what's interesting about this is, who has turf anymore to claim? And on the protocol level this is what I think's super interesting. Like Berghain for example. Berghain never comes up in these conversations. Why? Because they have core protocol, they stick to it. They're against the kind of, the dominant ideology of the web, which is that of the image. They don't let you take pictures in there, and it works super well. That is an example of something that would be very, very resilient to, and people try their best, you see advertising campaigns that like allude to it, or they get the band to sort of participate or whatever 'cause they want a piece of it, but they can't want a piece of it, but they can't quite get access to it. It's possible.
But there's very, very few examples where there will be something that will be classically authentic, not to overvalue that term, to corrupt or ... an element of that has more to do with just the way in which cities have gone. I mean, people don't have territory to claim anymore. So, it's kinda shooting fish in a barrel. And people are looking for opportunities for visibility or for ... to make a career for themselves.
Well, then, if we abandon the concept of authenticity, let's say, protecting the interests, I guess. Maybe authenticity's not the right ... it's a very philosophical and very thinly spread term nowadays. But in the end it's about understanding what are the interests of the people involved with the stakeholders, and how can you protect the interests of those who have less power and that are never reached in that conversation, over the interests of those who have that leverage. That have the money, that have the platform, that could technically ... Luckily we're gone, those days are gone where like a drink or cigarette brand can put the Holly Herndon ensemble into glitter suits, and hunt you down like some TV show stage play, playing samba versions of your tune.
Yeah for sure, but that would also be bad business practice for exactly the reason I articulate.
Well there used to be in the 70s, 80s, that was like-
Yeah, no, absolutely, absolutely.
-that's the way that it was.
But that's the tricky way in which these things work, and this is for better or worse. But the tricky way that these things work as I said, is that the stranger you are the more benefit. And I don't think that we've metabolized that. I don't think that we've ... these conversations haven't quite metabolized the idea that things ... and prior traditions, that I identify with, and have identified with for a long time, they aren't resistant in this way. There is something there that allowed for them to be co-opted in this sense, and many people might well be happy with that, so long as they lose the critical reflex of immediately thinking that this is a bad thing.
And I just keep coming back to it, is like what are the lines of things that can't be supported? And how do we focus time on supporting those? Because you learn a lot from that, irrespective of ... you know.
You mentioned earlier something about — I forgot exactly how you put it — ideological inconsistency, or logical inconsistency of a skater ending up running the branding department at Louis Vuitton to whatever?
Look at Vice. What is Vice but skater hardcore culture manifest through new tools.
Sure, yeah, and I guess to me I feel that it's rooted in a time where having a big platform or being on a major label, or being on TV or something like that necessarily meant watering down anything but the most vanilla offering, the advent of the clean version of a single, things like that. Maybe that's over, and that logical inconsistency is no longer there, or you can be a former skater branding for Louis Vuitton without being a hypocrite, basically.
I guess my question is when the conversation is, what's the catch? What's the thing that we need to be wary of, if anything, or is ... I mean, one thing I've thought about is, I guess for me, what I mentioned before, it's not a clear threat or anything, or a risk. But it makes me uneasy that if I see a celebrity on an ad hawking a product, I pretty much understand how this works. I still don't get how RBMA works, or what is really going on back there. And I feel that that kind of disconnect in information, even if there's nothing wrong in the end, makes me uneasy.
And I've thought before about, interestingly enough I'd heard this quote and I researched it yesterday. It turns out it was actually just a comment someone left on MetaFilter that built up steam and has been quoted many times, which is, "If you're getting something for free, you are the product."
And so when I think about the crowds on Boiler Room, that they're the actual product, that you're serving up to the brand. And the cameras and the DJs are the tools, the same way a farmer uses tractors and whatnot to harvest his crops or whatever. And maybe there's nothing wrong with that, but I guess part of me has a feeling like there's something about it, or there's a lack of awareness on the part of the role of the people in the crowd aren't completely clear on what their role in this transaction is. And I wonder if, maybe that's fine, but I'm not sure.
Usually they are aware because you have to have a disclaimer at the entrance of the venue that kinda states what the intent is, and what the usage of the content is intended for. But before we get too positivistic and start to hang up banners, Budweiser banners all over about blank, there is actually quite a big danger.
You mentioned China, and I've spent quite a lot of time in China in the last couple of years, because we've done a few shows there that were actually pretty awesome. And what I saw there was that the brands have tried out all the strategies in Europe and America, they learned how to market music in new ways. And China, which is a emerging music market, like traditional music industry did not exist there for, unless, like 20, 15 years ago, really. Still doesn't really exist.
What happens now is that audiences are being built up by brands, which means perform underground music culture, and this what we ultimately talk about. It's all those wonderful places for all the wonderful weirdos that we call fans. Before the infrastructures can grow naturally and organically, the brands come in and dictate the terms.
So the audiences are used to the fact that the Budweiser logo's bigger than the actual stage itself, and that creates realities. And it absolutely creates realities, you see in especially Beijing, Shanghai that the way the audiences relate to club spaces, but also to the brands within the club spaces, quite completely differently, just because they got educated by the brands to accept their presence before the music culture itself could do this education. You know what I mean?
So, and this is a da- ... I mean, I'm not, I don't know. I mean, it's similar on a lot of the growing African music markets, so for example, MTN, which is a very big mobile phone brand that basically takes in a lot of that, because they have the network, they have the platform, they have the money, and they kinda determine what is music culture across east and central Africa, really, because there's no infrastructure for that.
And that is the danger, really, because there's nobody who protects the interests of music culture because music culture doesn't have the leverage yet, it doesn't have the spokespeople, it doesn't have the boundaries, the gatekeepers. Nothing, there's only brand money, really, because nobody else cares. And that is not cool.
What is something, I mean, one argument I can get down with about the value of music, particularly live music, is this idea that it's a relatively cheap and efficient way to prototype congregation. It has a history of being a meeting place for different ... it's a place to find the others, that's what always why I became interested in weird music, I mean, it was like a dating service or something, where you can kinda like, "Okay, just cut the crap, I know that there's going to be some people I can talk to about some things."
There's a complacency that sets in. I get frustrated a awful lot, you'll go on Twitter. And I'm like, there's a correlation between the number of mixes, just infinite mixes, just everyone mix- ... I always mix. I don't know when people get the time, but I'm like, oh no, I do know where people get the time. It's 'cause they're not working.
There's this kind of like, the leisure industry. This hulking leisure industry of people constantly ... offices of people, you don't know what they're doing necessarily, but they're listening to some techno or some whatever it might be, is in some way displacing a sense of real agency in the world. And you can kind of be lulled, and there's big articles about this with the video game industry, like how the video game industry saved the US administration from all this pain, because the number of people under 30 who just spent all their time playing video games are not complaining, is ridiculously high, it's like jaw-droppingly high.
So this role of culture is being somehow just a salve to kind of smooth things over, and it's like, well, what more do you want? And again, this comes back to the protocol level. What more do you want? If you want to ... if your idea of expressing yourself or of manifesting something in the world is to go into a room and dance with a bunch of people, then that protocol does not discriminate such that the people with the most money and the most interest are going to win that game. Period.
Because after all we're talking about counterculture. I mean ...
Yeah but, I mean, and are we talking about counterculture is the thing, I don't think it's necess- ... I think this is like actually the common thread. This is the common ideology espoused by most people now. It's not necessarily a departure. I don't know what we're countering in that context.
And the only question for me, and I don't know whether it ... I don't know necessarily how I feel about it, but really is this sense of agency, where you say, look, centralized market capitalism is a hyper, hyper-efficient thing. Over time it will find ways ... it doesn't care, it doesn't have an ideology. That's what brilliant about it, it's parasitic in this way. It will change and mutate to its environment, to satisfy the demands of its environment, and it will ultimately win.
Where this gets really interesting in the context of China, that's adopted this kind of hybrid capitalistic model, is ... and many people have talked about this in the tech world. The West will lose in a centralized internet war, which is happening, by the way, right now. In the developing world, the WeChat, WhatsApp wars are very real. There is very real territorial conflict happening right now, to try and get the developing world to use either a Chinese app or a Facebook app.
With the logic of that being is you have these developing economies, they haven't quite matured. It's all to play for. And as you say, these are people who don't necessarily have a background of cultural institutions to refer to in terms of their own agency. They don't have a background of deep, kind of musical subcultures. They have a musical folk tradition, perhaps, but there's a lot to play for there. There's a lot of eyes.
Now, the attitude from the Chinese government ultimately is that everything ... 'cause the Chinese government and Chinese corporations are basically one in the same thing, it's a centralized kind of capitalist system. Those eyes are going direct to Beijing.
So they're looking to put in place the One Belt One Road, for example, right now, where you have a new Silk Road. They're looking to take over vast territories of the Earth to establish their dominion. This is a new empire that's being established. And in that their understanding of individual agency is a very, very different tradition. It's a completely, completely different tradition. And the individual human rights of people involved are not necessarily at the forefront. It's not necessarily something at the forefront.
The reason why they will beat the Western internet is that the Western internet has been very slow to develop, actually, for many myriad reasons. The main reason, really, is that the West had to negotiate with incumbent institutions, so you can't just pay for everything on your phone, 'cause banks exist. If you go to China and you hang out on WeChat, they didn't have to negotiate with anybody to push this forward. Centralized capitalism, very, very efficient system.
And so, if you bring this down to music as being ... if we can all maybe, part of the reason we're here is that we place some faith in music as being a kind of Petri dish, or a prototyping environment to think about how we want to be. Then that issue comes up, of are we complacently consuming something to pass time because our 20s aren't what we were told our 20s would be. And this is ... and we're also being told that this is a manifestation of our individuality and our political beliefs and all this kind of stuff. Or are we saying, wait a second, like what kind of protocol or structures do we want to put into place to establish a very, very concrete set of demands that can allow for us to develop equity in the world and push that message?
And you can still do that in parts of the world, but I don't see that necessarily being evoked much in these conversations. And generally speaking most people wanna go out, listen to techno, hook up, whatever, go back to work, get a promotion, if they have a job. So there isn't really a conflict there to reconcile, I don't think.
I mean, you asked, for example, you wanna try to inject counterculture! Counterculture! You know, we people of ideology, we're dreamers. You will very agnostically said, what are countering. So, that would maybe a question to you what if you would perceive yourself as somebody, and I perceive your art as countercultural, in a very meta way sometimes. I don't want to ask a question about your values, I'm not gonna do that.
But in the example of China, for example, since there is no plat- ... there are no pl- ... we got in with Boiler Room, we subverted ... we were the first company that managed to send out of the great firewall of China, because I found a media company that has service in San Antonio, that was half-government owned, found the loopholes within that company. I could basically send a bunch of Chinese kids celebrating music and values that are completely against what the majority of Chinese society accepts as decent, and show that to the world, and also to at the first show, 5 and a half million Chinese viewers.
Which gave a lot of those artists the first national exposure they have ever had, because there's no SoundCloud, because SoundCloud was forbidden because the Uyg- ... What's the English word for the Uyghur minority? Is that ... Uygur? Because the Uygurs minority was using SoundCloud for their kind of religious podcast, so no SoundCloud for the Chinese audience. And then in the end, what ultimately, what you counter is that. And ultimately you maintain an element of subversion. I mean, in China it's particularly quite, quite real, because there is not much room to breathe for a lot of those kids.
And I think that's a very compelling argument. I think that's a compelling argument for existence is saying the counterculture is actually something that happens elsewhere, and I do think that that's to a degree, true. So I support that.
Yuko, you looked like you had something to say.
This discussion just reminded me of this book I read a few years ago, I think the title was Rebel Sells, and it basically argued how rebellious ... being a rebel, or rebellious counterculture became the tool of marketing over the years.
And I think Ian Rogers is a prime example because he comes from, I think he was ... I read his like interview a while ago, and he was basically supporting Beastie Boys, built their website, helped them publish Grand Royal. He was like the very key individual in the emergence of Beastie Boys, whom at the time was seen as subculture heroes. And they were skaters, they were rebellious, and everybody loved them.
And over time this skate culture ... so brands like Vans or Converse, whatever, they started using, for example, on the cover of this book it had the portrait of Che Guevara. So, having Che Guevara or Bob Marley became such a popular thing and everybody wanted to be rebellious, and everybody wanted to be alternative, and I think it relates to your argument of authenticity or how radical you can be, because being a fan of skater culture, or being a techno raver is no longer anything alternative. Like everybody does that.
And I think it's important to acknowledge that we live in the era that being alternative is actually mainstream.
Or in the absence of a clear- cut mainstream, it's unclear what it means to be alternative.
I guess, I'm sort of interested in honing in on whatever flaws there might be in this current arrangement, because basically the general consensus seems to be broadly quite positive. I'm curious, do we think that ... is anyone unfairly left out in this situation, or is other voices that aren't being given the same platform as others or are there threats to legitimate forms of art that there wouldn't have been in the previous paradigm.
Mat, you mentioned something earlier in passing I didn't quite catch, about collectivism I think, or group equity?
Yeah yeah. Yeah, well this ... well, no, I mean the hippies like created the internet as we know it. I mean there's good books about how that particular ideology was vulnerable to extreme capitalism. Yeah, I think my bigger point about this, I think market capitalism generally is primed for dominion, it's primed for monopoly, we've seen that with the web. Things ... when you allow people to be beautiful little flowers to go out and express themselves, ultimately they coalesce into something that can be purchased by a bigger flower. That's kinda how market capitalism seems to have worked.
Someone said something about Zalando earlier, and this kind of greater dominion scenario, where there's this core tension between what you're sold as individualism as being the ability to branch out for yourself and then what you see over time is that rampant individualism leads to these clusters and monopolies.
And so, if you were to connect this to greater ... I'm on a political level, there's more stakes for me when it comes to the ownership of the internet then there is to club music, particularly. It's important to always establish that to, of not conflating the two. Like one is more grave than the other. Democracy is more grave than clubbing.
But you do see that market capitalism and democracy is also a little bit at odds. And you can see this kind of more accelerated in the United States, where they have more of a free market capitalist system, and you see the more that you protect the interests of individuals or companies as individuals to express themselves, over time that starts to butt up against the freedom of information, the accuracy of information, the ability for people to vote with clear mind.
And so if you were to connect it to some kind of political project, the thing that I'm particular interested in is in equity, and this doesn't necessarily have to be in a hippy way. I just simply like the idea. I see resilient, very important institutions — take Berghain for example, and their model is really quite simple, which is we're going to own the space, and we're gonna determine what happens in it. And I think that, I'd love the idea of they're being a hundred spaces, also for aesthetic reasons, that would make that step.
Because the aesthetic reasons is also ... you could have said it earlier, but if you look back to the golden era, the halcyon days or whatever of independent music, there was a lot of money to come in to fund these little factions. So you had Warp 4AD, there's a million you can talk about. And using that cash, they got to, over time, like established a fairly distinctive ideology. They supported certain things over others, and over time that clustered into something that you would consider to be of aesthetic importance 'cause you got to see an idea mature over time, because it had the confidence of its convictions in a sense, 'cause it wasn't dependent on saying, "Oh yeah, I'll take that gig, I'll do this."
There's something good about that. And what I'm particularly interested in now — I've done some work in the kind of crypto-decentralized internet for a number of years now — is how much easier it is, and there's still legal issues that need to be finagled. There's actually a bunch of work happening in Berlin around this. How much easier it is to contemplate a scenario where a group of people who were all in cahoots over a particular ideology might be able to share equity over space — virtual, physical space — and that group of people, the coop system exists here and is actually fairly mature here, there's people I know here who know more about this than I do.
But I'm particularly interested in that being decentralized beyond location. So this idea of saying, people aren't willing to pay for music, I've kind of given up on that. I was never, honestly, I've been dragged into conversations 'cause I know a lot about it. I don't care about selling music, that has never been something that I'm particularly fetishistic of. But I do care about supporting resilient organizations, and I do wonder if with new frameworks in place to distribute equity and give people a different logic by which they could participate and support culture.
I do wonder what could be done to create a few resilient organizations that might playfully antagonize the dominion of the RBMAs and the Boiler Rooms. And as I say, I'm actually far less angry about that than many people because I don't see they're being an inconsistency there, and I think they do about as good a job as they could do in those circumstances. I think they do enforce and make sure a line isn't crossed. They do support weirdos that wouldn't be supported otherwise, and so ...
But in the spirit of agency, of this idea of saying, no I actually quite like the idea of coming up with something with a group of people, and having control over it, and making it weather-resistant, I think there's more that could be done.
I wanted to make a comment about your question. I've been thinking about it: What the danger could be in the current arrangement, or the landscape of things?
And this is something I've been feeling working as a booking agent recently, and related to what I've said, everyone wants to be alternative, everyone wants to find their own niche. And because of that I think a lot of the platforms or the curators tend to jump on something new, and maybe something extreme.
And as a result of that I see a lot of artists get like instant hype for maybe a year, and then just completely forgotten the next year. And I feel like it's possible that this climate of corporate sponsorship is accelerating this trend or changing of the trend, much faster than it has been, so that a lot of the artists who have probably been around for a long time and get this instant hype and then completely forgotten and it's very difficult for them to come back. And yeah, I know a lot of artists like that and I don't know how we could help them in the current ...
Well, it's about sharing knowledge. And this is for example, as I refer to the Berlin Music Commission panel that we've had, there was actually a more hands-on panel with artists providing strategies, how to get involved, how to protect them to basically understand your own interest and how to engage.
It's a learning process, because ultimately there's a lot to be discussed about possible futures, but at the moment it is the reality that there's very few revenue streams for a lot artists. They have to find new revenue streams. But a lot of artists are not very knowledgeable about how to play that. So actually it would be the role of those knowledgeable to ... there's no 2018 type of guidebook of how to work with brands if you're a musician. There's nobody has written such a thing. We have discussed on knowledge database, but unfortunately we couldn't find the funding for it.
But this is actually, this is a reality, that there are strategies. It is a reality, you can provide artists with knowledge, know-how and strategies how to protect themselves. Utilize it for grow, so you don't burn out. By the way, there's also, I can tell you ... I get a lot of agencies and brands pitching me, asking me, and I can tell you the moment a Fact magazine set goes up. Within the next two weeks I will get a request.
And strange enough this really, for an obscure artist, all of a sudden front, left, and center for a really basic marketing agency, "Oh yeah, this somebody, they're really cool! We really want them!" It's like yeah, because your intern listens to Fact magazine, and this is how you get you know how.
And this creates very unhealthy dynamics, which you said. And we can actually do a lot to protect the music community against it if we kinda share that knowledge, unfortunately this doesn't happen too often. Not at all really.
Yeah, and I think Yuko raises a really good point, and I feel for this, 'cause I say this, I mean, Holly and I say this sometimes, I feel like, having like Mission Impossible or something, there's a door closing, and you like slide under the door just at the end. I think, I feel like when we caught a bit of a break with the music, we just literally slid under that door.
I have two big concerns about this kind of turnover. One big concern is, it basically turns into a monarchy. If you were famous in the 90s, you will be the most famous person until you decide you quit. Because you had this long-tail effect of like, here comes everybody or whatever.
The second part is, there's, again, a core conflict and a contradiction, where on the one hand we talk about individualism and everyone has an Instagram account, you're out there to define yourself from everybody else who happens to have Ableton, let's be real. And there's crazy interesting subcultures within EDM, like whole other base music communities of really weird, interesting things happening around the creation of music.
The virtue is not at all to distinguish yourself. The virtue is to meet an arbitrary level that can help you access something else. So sharing production packs, sharing production tools. There's something quite beautiful about it and like non-proprietary. But on the other side there's this odd kind of shift of emphasis from doing something that perhaps is not common, to having a clear guideline, ambiently kind of derived from just participating in culture, of exactly what you need to do to get here and there.
And so I see a weird conflict where ... and perhaps now I'm old. I mean, perhaps this is like an antiquated way of looking at things. But I see the most professional 18 year olds, period, who having grown up in this and with — and I teach a lot of them, actually — super smart, super switched-on, not stupid people in the slightest, very aware. I know what to wear, I know who to talk to, I know where to turn up. I mean, and again, maybe I was an idiot, but I certainly wasn't like that at that period of time, and I'm fucking grateful for it.
Because, in that, the peculiarities that led to things that I think are particularly interesting about the work that we do, were incubated in that environment of people not being like, "Hey, you're cool." Similarly, you see a trend of people, and I say this with DJing, 'cause I give DJs hell. I mean, there's good DJs, whatever, but like, this idea of immediately zeroing in that being the path, where the music itself is now pretty much ... and this is economically derived. This is the way the economics of the music industry went. The music itself lost value, the value is you turning up. It's your specialness. If you're a bit taller than the next person, you'll when.
Of immediately, of creating music simply as a means of accessing opportunities that have all kind of other benefits. And I think that in that you lose a bit of a thread of the value of music as ultimately kind of the genesis of our culture and language, the idea of music as an evolutionary tool. The idea of music changing and challenging things. You lose a little bit of that, because in a sense that there's a lot ... and again it comes back to answer this idea of the avant garde, of this being this kind of fixed thing. It's a fixed sequence of things that you can do in order to qualify yourself as an artist of note. And I do worry about that. I don't worry about them, because most of these people are super switched-on, very savvy, know exactly what they're doing.
But I worry more about the cultural or aesthetic fallout of that. Are we just like permanently in this kind of zombified 90s state in which the radical artists sound like Autechre or Aphex Twin, and the ones that make connections with people make house music, and theses forms just become very, very codified, and solidified also by the monarchy of these characters who are basically gonna be headlining festivals 'til the day they die, because the long-tail of the internet led to a scenario in which nobody else can sell as many tickets as them. So even the whole festival structure, most of the things we understand to constitute the music industry as we know it is wholly dependent on this kind of, there being someone at the top, and yeah, anyway.
So there's all these kind of issues, and not to also forget about this, but we live in a culture of very, very depressed people who don't feel necessarily like they do have a sense of purchase on their future, and I think those two things are coupled. Not to say that anyone has kind of malevolent intentions, but if you have a source of money, and there's a kid out there who's talented, who wants to access that money, they might communicate that they're happier with circumstances than they actually are.
So that's another kind of meta responsibility of everybody being like, are we providing opportunities for them to what they want, or are we providing opportunities for them to do what we think they want. And that's where the avant garde line stands.
Yeah, to pick up on this avant garde thing, you mentioned a few times the idea of the avant garde as a fixed thing that at this point, that term could describe legacy acts like Autechre or something.
Someone mentioned something about if a shoe brand is interested in what you're doing, how radical is it, really? Is there a musical movement that is genuinely avant garde in the sense that it's too new, too hard to understand, to fit into this world? Is that possible? Or if there was the next iteration of young Autechre, would Ray Ban be happy to throw them on Boiler Room, or would you guys would even be happy to have their logo in the background on Boiler Room?
Or basically my question is: Is anything too advanced, too new, too weird for brands today?
I think that has less to do with the brands but you said of the sequence of things that one has to go through to become a accomplished artist is basically what you decide ... basically, you can actually create art, you can create culture, and keep the brands out if what you expect from creating art is not connected to money.
Look at, for example, at the free techno scene in France. There's festivals, there's like sound systems, there's like 10,000 people, there's people writing music, everything wonderful. There's no brands, there's no money, nothing. Everybody's still happy nonetheless because they have decided that this is the way they wanna live, create culture, and create the environment and also their life according to that, because this is how culture-creation is perceived.
Or like psytrance. The other day I was at the — the first time in years — again at a big psytrance event. And just the way this scene is structured, not like commercial tail-end, like Infected Mushroom, we're talking about like ... what do they call now? Hi-tech! Hi-tech is the new thing in psytrance. It's a very wonderful, it's very radical. It's completely not accessible, I think, to brands. Well also, because the people don't really perceive the community and what they live and how they create music, and what they create this music for, is applicable or compliant, or compatible with that.
So we're discussing actually something where everybody has decided, well I need to make music as a DJ, I need to make money with this, I need to tick those boxes, I need to on this platform, I need to play this festival. It's a choice. We're discussing our system that we've opted into knowingly, and now we have to find a way how to deal with it.
You can as well opt-out, and there's plenty examples of musicians who create magnificent works, pieces of work, would have never spoken to anyone about it. But they were very happy and content with the fact that they created music because it happened on the terms they agreed with themselves on creating this music, or is this art, or literature, also, so forth and so on.
So, actually what is the sequence of things that you agreed for yourself on. We're discussing at the moment a very particular sequence of things, which is market capitalism, and how do we survive within that. We could also addendum, I think, about giving a space tries to navigate that in a very unique way, how you can actually try to survive outside of that, in an utopian type of way.
But we should also not glorify the virtue of the artist, "Oh my god, they're struggling." Many, at least in Central Europe, have decided to live a certain way with certain goals. There's a lot of opportunity to live in a different way. And for example, look at how a lot of art was creates in the Soviet Union. You worked as an engineer in like a missile factory from Monday, 8 a.m., to Friday, 10 p.m., and then on the weekend you wrote songs, and this was the reality. There was no money in it, it was just whatever you did with your free time.
So we should also not over-glorify a few things that we talk about right now, because ultimately there's decisions that are made consciously. I made the conscious decision to play this game because I want to create a platform that creates visibility for people who don't have a platform yet, but nonetheless I have to play that game in the rules that are set, laid out of me, and also accept the consequences of that. But I don't really have to, I could also run a stream out of my living room that nobody fucking cares about, but at least my friends that I like play it, and then that's the goal that I set myself.
So, we should not over-glorify a lot of those processes, that's what I'm trying to say, and go to more psytrance parties, as I found out two weeks ago.
I guess what I'm wondering is if you take hip-hop in the 80s, there was a period of time when hip-hop had fans, had essential artists, was popular, but the mainstream as it was then wasn't ready for it. It was too threatening to the audience of MTV, too threatening for brands to get on board with.
Would that happen now if there was some modern iteration of hip-hop, would there be a quicker learning curve? Would people still think like, "Ooh, that's too dicey," or is the difference that today, they would've gotten behind it straight away just because they could sense that it was vital?
Somebody who I really, really admire, and I think that shows how strong and how powerful we actually positions of — not counterculture, not the right word — but how strong one can build a platform of agencies. Munroe Bergdorf for example, the way she got into, as a black trans woman, she got into a very commercial space. But how she took an incredibly, incredibly hard, radical and very, very sincere position about what her interests are, what the interests of her community are, how she stands in for that. And how she made brands long for that, to be part of that conversation, to amplify that, to adhere to her terms, changed for many people their situation for the better.
She is for example, an example of somebody who I tremendously respect, how she basically alone, managed to change a whole conversation around I think the rights of trans women, their visibility, and also their voice. And she did it playing that particular game, but nonetheless also creating, in a very smart way, just like the kids that you said, knowing how this works, how this media landscape works. But still had her interests in her mind and protected them, and utilized the platform.
In a way that's kind of what I'm identifying where with her is L'Oréal is like, "Yeah, we can get on board with this," and then she said basically that all white people are complicit in racism, and they're like, "Woe, that was way more than we bargained for, nevermind." So to me, that's sort of is, but maybe it's different now [crosstalk 01:22:54]
-the fallout from that. What's happened, where she's present, of kind of fashion and also ... not only fashion icon, she became also advertising persona, but also a political activist. Because there was a brand, that was like didn't understand what they were getting into because they saw only on the surface, "Well yeah, that's what like people like right now, right? Diversity. Let's throw some female DJ collective into that and we're fine. Right?" No, but that's not how it fucking works, and people are luckily much smarter than that, and now the conversation has changed. It's way more awareness for that, the world became slightly a better place because of that.
To answer your question of do I think things that people aren't touching. Yes, I mean, I think one awful way in which this has gone in a sense is the rise of online fascism, spawned from 4chan. I mean, that is one of the defining subcultures of our time, let's not be ...
Yeah, unfortunately, yeah, but it-
Wait until the brands get on that.
Yeah, but it meets all of the criteria, and that is something that ... I mean, I'm sure there are people trying desperately to capitalize on that, but that's a real ... but then on a more positive end, using similar tools, the point is, is that people who feel disenfranchised in some way, particularly young people, will find ways. People are very pragmatic, they will find ways.
Again the reason I keep coming back ... I'm a lefty materialist, for my sins, I keep coming back to the politic of space. The scenario you have now is that you have many, many people developing what could be understood to be ideologically driven utopian or dystopian in that particular circumstance, communities online. The challenge is that's the only space that they have dominion over. Online space is virtually infinite.
And so, part of the reason I'd like the idea of emphasizing congregation and being in a room with somebody is that then you actually have equity in the world. Then people actually give a shit, then you actually have a say. If you sit on a piece of land, sad to say that this is the world we live in, then you have a horse in the race. If you don't, you're kind of a serf, a serf within this new economy.
And so I'm particularly interested in this idea of saying, well, what would it look like to see spaces that we're manifesting, the different potentials of interactions, or the different kind of reward mechanisms, or incentive mechanisms, or different forms of creativity that aren't being explored online. But you actually own a space, and you can see them manifest in a way in which people go out.
And so, for example, myself and a group of people were jokingly talking about crypto-raves. Yeah, which it was kinda like a dinner table conversation that turned into a real thing. But the whole idea there ... the initial kind of manifestations of that were super easier ... just like, okay, let's have a party and let's have people mine their tickets, and then the more work they do the more tickets they get, and it's all totally anonymous, and then you turn up and you assume a character, and so the whole idea is to keep it somewhat cryptographic, and so nobody ... you aren't exposing your identity in those environments.
That was one super cute, easy way to do it. But where it gets really, really interesting is the idea of, again, on protocols, this idea of saying: How would you imbue a ideological system into the structure of how we go out? What is the user experience, so to say, of clubbing? 'Cause people pretty much congregate in exactly the same way as they did for a really long time, and now you have bigger screens, and there's graphics in the background. But generally speaking it kind of looks the same.
And so the idea of manifesting a different way of interacting with one another, a different way to exchange value, and a way to also encode the aesthetics into the way in which places work, and the way in which things work, feels like a new frontier for me. And I think a part of that could also be spawned from the fact, I mean, this is Holly's point, but something we thought about a lot around platform area was ... there's sort of a poverty of the gesture.
We've got to a point where we discovered, lo and behold, loads of people are talented. People just didn't have the tools or the time in the past to share that, but loads of people can make decent music, or take a decent picture, particularly if you democratize those tools. So you have this abundance of stuff that has the sad counter-effect of it just becoming kind of bland. Everyone can make decent trap music now, it's kind of a folk music of its time. Techno is a kind of folk music of its time. Everyone can make it.
But do we value any one of these people anymore than the next person, to support them for a career of experimentation? Probably not, because why wou- ... I got a hundred decent techno mixes today in fucking perennial mixes. But, so in that circumstance, the point being that the gesture for a particular period of time of rampant individualism and subcultures was: I'm going to be like Hendrix, like mutating the American national anthem in protest to this thing, and all the press is going to be looking at Woodstock, or whatever festival it was, because there was an essentialized music industry and there was essentialized dominion over people's attention.
And so that gesture went really, really far, and resonated really, really far. And now we're in a weird scenario where it's kinda like, that tradition, what would the contemporary equivalent of that be? And Holly's argument, which I think is fairly sound, is we live in a time now where you could make tracks on your computer, by all means, if it's therapeutic or if you get pleasure from it, and if other people get pleasure from it, absolutely.
But if you have genuinely transgressive aspirations with this, you can also do lots of other stuff with that machine. And in fact, the material impact of people navigating and mastering a laptop, particularly a laptop connected to all the computers in the world, in order to manifest a particular vision, whether it be a good one or a bad one, kinda has a more powerful recent track record than the idea of someone making a protest song.
And so, a protest song, there is a period of time in which that had this kind of great potential, by a very select group of people, hand-picked by a very, very kind of central authority, and now you have a bit of a crisis of narrative, because we still talk about these things, when ultimately really in terms of social issues, or things that actually do cause a huge fuss ... my order of operations pretty much is the hacker community is almost always at the top. Whatever they're dealing with in five years time, everyone else will be talking about, you just have to kinda stake it out.
The gaming community, which is the ascendent moneyed industry, the game industry weathered the financial crisis. There's a lot of money and attention, so you have things like Gamergate, and all these kind of issues that were forebearers for other greater issues that have happened through culture.
And music finds itself once being this kind of source where people at the dinner table would talk about the record and the gesture that Janet Jackson made, and this kinda stuff, almost relegated now to a less kind of powerful political device. But don't think that necessarily need be the case, because the one thing that music has really going for it, and why I keep coming back to it, is congregation.
And that as a political actor is a space of potential, has the jump on all these other atomized fields like gaming or whatever. So that's ... I'll leave it there, 'cause I want to.
To answer your original question, I can't really imagine anything that can escape the reach of brands. How new or revolutionary that their expression is, because as long as it's considered cool that there's a value to it. And this is what the brands want to benefit from.
I was also going to say, the only exception I can think of is when something is obviously politically incorrect. That's what any companies, corporations want to distance themselves from, and I think we've seen the example of Red Bull, for example, and I was thinking of Radar Radio, with the scandal, how you could see that a brand, no matter how big it seems, is actually quite fragile to this kind of scandal.
And if you associate yourself with one brand, or two brands too much, then if the brand goes down, this could also bring you down as your artist image, because of the affiliation, and maybe that's something that artists need to be a little bit conscious about when they associate themselves with brands.