The Importance of Honoring African American Music Appreciation and Pride Month in the Electronic Industry

The world, at last, seems to be awakening to the injustices that have plagued African Americans for centuries. It is part of our civic duty, not only as participants in the electronic music industry but, as human beings, to recognize the impact this community has had on our industry. The dark times that are upon us have also led us straight into Pride Month, another community that has whole-heartedly shaped the music we dance to today. For some reading this, the systemic hardships these groups have undergone is unimaginable and something many can never fully grasp. That is why it is so important to educate yourself, stand up, and have a voice in the fight against inequalities and injustices faced by P.O.C. and LGBTQ+ communities.

We here at Electric Family wish to stand in solidarity with African American Music Appreciation Month and Pride Month by showcasing some of the integral ways in which both communities have influenced the electronic music genre. In short, dance music would not be what it is today if it weren’t for these communities. However, it seems that this pertinent fact continues to get lost in translation through ongoing appropriation by non-P.O.C’s and music labels who continue to perpetuate this appropriation.

"I realized there wasn't a lot being said about the innovators of color. I mean black and brown people are the creators and founders of disco and house music and those two [genres] are the foundations of what we hear now. That's not celebrated. That's f---ed up," Manchildblack told NBCBLK in a telephone interview.

Dance music stems from the disco sounds made popular in the late ‘70s, which was founded by the aforementioned groups. 

The urban and gay subcultures birthed the movement in New York City and popularized it through underground nightclubs. These nightclubs not only served as places of dance, but were also safe havens for attendees who needed a sense of escapism from the social issues plaguing the decade (issues that are still in existence today). Championing the genre were greats such as Donna Summer, Diana Ross, CHIC, Sylvester, George McCrae, MSFB, and more. Naima Cochrane explains, “What we overlooked for years in disparaging convos about disco is that it was our music. Disco evolved from black and Latin sounds; funk and soul with driving rhythm and layered instrumentation and production.” 

Soon this would all come to a crashing end on July 12th, 1979 when the Chicago White Sox and radio DJ, Steve Dahl, hosted “Disco Demolition Night,” widely referred to as the night disco died. Steve Dahl lost his job at spinning rock records when Disco started to take over the radio. This angered him and he began to hold ‘Death to Disco’ rallies at nightclubs. White Socks’ assistant business manager, Mike Veeck, caught wind of these rallies and asked Dahl to hold, what we know today as, Disco Demolition Night at White Socks Stadium. During this event, many were granted entry for only $0.98 if they brought a disco record to get rid of.  At the end of the game, Steve Dahl came out and proceeded to blow up a large box of records that they had collected upon entry. Soon, many people began flooding the field, throwing records around, and setting fire to banners.  The truth behind this, however, is this genre was “ended” by roughly 50,000 predominantly young, straight white men, which many perceived as a racist and homophobic act against the mostly black, Latino, and LGBTQ+ community that popularized the genre in the underground scene. 

"Disco Demolition Night"

From there came the house music of the early ‘80s. Rory PQ of Icon Collective writes, “house was born from the ashes of Disco,” with players like Frankie Knuckles, known as the “Godfather of House,” Larry Levan, Todd Terry, and The Jungle Brothers leading the way. The sense of inclusion was booming in this genre and succeeded at democratizing the dancefloor. House lyrics embodied this mentality; they encouraged unity and called for people of all ethnic and social backgrounds to come together and support freedom of expression beyond racial or sexual differences. Frankie Knuckles once said that the Warehouse club in Chicago was like "church for people who have fallen from grace". Those deemed as social outcasts had a home at places like the Continental Baths, Paradise Garage, and Warehouse, all of which are said to have set the stage for modern club culture, propelling the club DJ to rock star status.

Paradise Garage

As the ‘80s went on, techno began its rise; emerging from the inner-city of Detroit, Michigan. This genre cannot be acknowledged without first and foremost mentioning The Bellville Three. Composed of Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, the three high school friends made music that was shaped by the harsh, gritty reality and industrial sound of the city they were born into. May’s track “Strings of Life” is still recognized as a classic house and techno record that has defined the techno genre in the U.S. The scene continued to flourish off the foundation of these three at clubs like Cheeks, and later The Music Institute. Their tracks and those of artists like Inner City’s “Good Life,” soon crossed the Atlantic and flourished in the European club culture and especially in the rave scene of the UK. It’s said that Atkins “christened the sound of techno to both encapsulate its futuristic sound and to also separate it from house music.”

The Bellville Three

As is history, the ’90s, and 2000s continued to build over the previous generations' work. Fast forward to present day and we have seen emergence of artists such as Black Coffee, Green Velvet, Carl Cox, Carl Craig, Jeff Mills, Underground Resistance, Kenny Glasgow, Idris Elba, Kenny Larkin, Stacey Pullen, Chip E, Steve Hurley, Little Luis, Kerri Chandler, Ron Trent, Honey Dijon, and many, many more. Even with all of these talented producers and DJs of color, the appropriation of black culture continued. Famously, Madonna got credit in the ‘90s for igniting the “voguing” craze, which originated from the gay, black, and Latino ballroom scene. So often these stories are pushed to the curb and left out of mainstream history.  An article by Hassan Ghanny summarizes it perfectly by saying this “is an indictment of the electronic music industry at large. How else do we explain phenomena like Swedish singer Robyn releasing a reggae-inspired song dubbing herself the “Dancehall Queen”? Or colonizer du jour Diplo becoming the world’s ambassador for trap music?” It’s time to give credit where credit is due.

Honey Dijon and Frankie Knuckles

Honey Dijon and Frankie Knuckles 

Now that you have this information, what can you do with it? Support African American and LGBTQ+ artists by purchasing their merch, going to their shows (when they start back up again), educating your friends, and doing your part to spread awareness about the roots of where our music comes from.