Cheque your privilege

In the early/mid nineties I got into a decent university in my home town when I was 17. I couldn’t handle the responsibility though and dropped out after a few months. The combinations of: meeting people on similar musical wavelengths to me, increased autonomy with my time, not constantly being around people who I was only linked to by geography, nearly reaching the legal age for pubs and clubs, and the ready availability of ecstasy and LSD (honestly, so much acid…), meant that I was destined for middling mediocrity rather than the heights of academia. But I shed no tears, I made my choices. When I went to this university (briefly) though, I realised I had never met anyone from a huge swathe of postcodes of my home city, even though we weren’t that far apart as the crow flew. I did feel slightly out of place at times but people were always open and welcoming. I was listening to the big acts of the time as well as the niche, the likes of Leftfield, Orbital and so on. Thinking back, the amount of people who were into this end of the spectrum that I knew on campus ran at most into double digits.

The outer suburb I was from has a bad name but I lived in a nice part of it, and my both working parents had decent stable jobs on or slightly over the average industrial wage. We were never poor, but after emigrating twice and being in a rental trap for two years, as a teenager my parents had very little discretionary spending cash and a large mortgage. If I wanted anything for myself I had to earn it. I had some transient, temporary manufacturing jobs to make a bit of spending money which usually went on records and going out, but I never had the capital to sink into something like decks or production gear. There was one guy who I became friends with at the university, not very close, who started taking an interest in the music and the scene I was in. He was from a fairly wealthy enclave of the city and iirc up until this point he had been listening to REM and other american “college radio” rock outfits. We got chatting about music a good few times.

And then one day, it seemed like it happened very suddenly, although maybe I wasn’t paying close attention – he was a DJ with a very high end set of decks and a mixer, and an enviable record collection. And next he was getting gigs playing in bars and clubs, warming up, after putting on some nights of his own. I remember having a pang of jealousy at the time. Not so much about the rapid accumulation of snazzy equipment. More just that his entrance into the scene – which I would love to have been part of – at a young age seemed a bit too … well, too fucking easy! That record collection I had was built up over time (“curated” I might even say), with hours of standing at the listening deck and deciding which ones I could and couldn’t afford. I wanted a chance to learn how to DJ! I wanted to live in my own flat and play music at night even though my family home was a bus ride away. I wanted to be able to talk to promoters and say I could do this.

I hadn’t thought about this for years until recently. If you missed out on the recent issue of Faith Fanzine it should be available for digital download soon (edit: Yep, here is it). It came into my orbit as there is an excellent trainspotter article about the February ALFOS at Phonox, which had an enormous picture of my Weatherall poster as the lead art. The zine itself, professionally but not over- produced, is a great read, and a wonderful antidote to the misery of covid era isolation. Relentlessly positive, life-affirming articles featuring all shapes and stripes of house music producers and DJs, from the “classic” era (e.g. Ron Hardy, Mike Huckaby, roller discos) and Chicago featuring heavily, up to the modern sounds of Eats Everything and Black Girl White Girl. What I enjoyed about it was the amount of content in it – it took me a few weeks before I was sure I had read every word between the covers. A satirical piece on “How to create your own Lockdown DJ Set” had me laughing and embarassed at myself with its accuracy; but another skewering piece called “The History of House and Housekeeping” was what jogged my memory of being jealous of my university friend and his new DJ career.

Here is the Quietus article documenting the Housekeeping DJ collective and their actions around Brixton Market. Read it before you go any further with this blog post. I’ll admit up until I read the Quietus article that I had never heard of them. I’ve listened to some of their tracks as research and I can see why. It’s not the sort of thing I would enjoy or consider engaging, but each to their own.

I’ve generally tried to adhere to some sort of credo in life. The edges of it tend to blur, it’s changed over the years, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t end in conflict with others, but at its core I guess it’s something along the lines of Do No Harm. I guess the central tenet these days is being vegan, pushing on for nearly seventeen years. If I was an animal then I wouldn’t want to be treated like that. You could easily label it as Treat Others Like You Would Want To Be Treated, but that whole Do Unto Others terminology has too much Abrahamic heavy bad luggage in my head that I can’t drop off. The bottom line is fairly clear though. Just leave other people and beings alone, and if any situations that you can control in any way are going to end in further harm or conflict then just walk away from it as much as possible.

I’ll openly admit to not quite understanding the complexity and nuance of the British class system and how it manifests itself in modern society, beyond schools and the upper echelons of the Tory party, despite living here for a long time. Poking fun at double-barrelled names in the Faith Fanzine struck me as a slightly unpleasant low hanging fruit, after all the sins of the father are not those of the son. But the skewering piece rightly lampoons: the antics of braying gangs of quaffed rugger fans; VIP and table service in clubs (although I assume this was written pre-lockdown, whereas now we’re all the victims of table service); and Housekeeping’s own Cummings-esque logic of trying to disentangle their actions as DJs By Night and predatory property developers By Day.

The wealth level of the members of Housekeeping is just beyond my comprehension in terms of what that does to your every day existence. It’s so far removed from my conceptions of what life is and how you have to grind through it, that I simply cannot fathom what you would do with that amount of money – and particularly how or why you would choose to exercise that wealth in a confrontational manner, when you could just live the rest of your life on a permanent holiday. Housekeeping’s sitting on both sides of the fence is indefensible – you can’t claim with any credibility to be valiant inheritors of a culture stemming from communities of colour and poverty with the right hand, while the left hand is gentrifying those exact communities out of business in profit-driven property development. The apolitical nature of (most) dance music means that it can be left open to interpretation. If the sparse lyrics are just about loving each other and dancing and having a good time, then it’s easy for anyone to access it and become part of it, and not see any hypocrisy.

Ultimately the campaign to save the Nour wholesale in Brixton was successful, but part of me wonders what happens next. What’s been learned from the experience? Surely in a global music scene, with participants of all classes and backgrounds, another situation analogous to this one will surface. Given the size of their UK property empires and wealth, its entirely possible that Housekeeping themselves might be in a similar situation again, where what they see as improving a neighbourhood with development might be in stark contrast to the views of others.

If love, respect, and tolerance are credos that house music believe in, then part of me thinks that this has to be followed through, beyond the dancefloor and the parties. Or at least an attempt made. Not to satirise or mock, but to seek genuine engagement and answers for the sake of the communities we all live in. And that this might involve some difficult choices, like taking a higher road, trying to be the better or bigger person, and rising above low level conflict. In an attempt to build collective understanding and consensus.

What would that look like in this situation, with Housekeeping? It could take the form of something like a mediated round table discussion, perhaps facilitated by someone like Resident Advisor, or even just a trained moderator, with an equal amount of participants on both sides. For a mediation to work, both sides have to want something from it, and also lose something from not doing it. I’m basing this on the assumption that Housekeeping want to, in the first instance, repair their brand and not have a credibility black mark against their name when/if normality ever returns and they want promoters to book them for gigs. And the other side (not sure who this could be, possibly the #SaveNour campaigners, do they like house music?) would want to engage with them on a serious, deep level, beyond a protest or humour article, and talk with them about what responsible development for the benefit of established communities looks like, so that someone else doesn’t find themselves at the sharp end of it again. And this meeting would have to be confidential, not live streamed, and decisions reached about what could be said and not said afterwards, to build respect and empathy, beyond a PR press release or zoombombing a stream.

It might be excruciatingly awkward for the participants to begin with, but there might be light rather than just heat as it progressed. Redemption and second chances make great stories; and just maybe something productive and mutually beneficial might come out of it. And maybe the mediation would fail, and neither side came to an agreement about the future, sometimes not everyone can get along with everyone else all the time. But that would be alright. At least there was an attempt to build a bridge, and make a more positive statement about the potential for the future. Both sides go into it with the knowledge of what happens if it doesn’t work. The credos of the music shouldn’t start and stop at the entrance to the venue.

I’m aware that this might seem hopelessly optimistic and naive, fully accepting I don’t fundamentally understand very much about inherited status and privilege here. But I still see a chink of light coming through the cracks, a smidgen of hope. I’m trying to keep it positive and suppress my inner anger voice wanting me to scream OH JUST FUCK OFF YOU STUPID TWO FACED RICH WANKERS. My university friend went on and established a regular venue with an LGBT / poly slant, where he still occasionally plays to adoring crowds and a great community built up over many years. Even if the music there was never my thing I could respect the space that it became. After all, I would prefer that rich people would do this sort of thing – build spaces, help communities, organise accessible parties – than just doing whatever it is I think rich people do, such as driving around in limos and generally being shitheads. But to return to my own credo, not being a shithead also includes Doing No Harm via reprobate activities such as evicting established businesses, paying minimum wage to your workers, and needlessly slaughtering animals (I’m aware this last one won’t cut much ice in an anthropocentric music-driven subcultural world, but it’s something I try to hang on when making my own decisions).

AN ASIDE: This Saturday morning (31/10) I’ll be on Aaja from 6am to 8am as part of their 48 hour marathon live broadcast from around the world. Might not be as chaotic as the usual Lido shows given the time of it but hope you can join in.

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