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Welcome to Blackout Week

Mixmag presents a week of editorial dedicated exclusively to Black artists, issues and stories

  • Mixmag
  • 19 October 2020

A message from Mixmag

Earlier this year the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests in support of the Movement for Black Lives were an overdue reckoning for the world to answer for the systemic racism and mistreatment of Black people that has been entrenched into our societies for centuries.

Dance music is Black music. Prominent styles such as house and techno started as outsider countercultures for people from Black, Hispanic and LGBTQ+ communities to create their own spaces to enjoy and express themselves. But as the culture has grown to the point where it’s now a multi-billion pound industry, the power has been taken away from the original communities and co-opted by hegemonic interests. Although the industry prides itself on ideals such as acceptance, love and resistance that are knitted into the fabric of the music, these have been used as meaningless platitudes to deflect from valid criticisms and the insidious impact of structural racism in whitewashing the culture.

An overview of the state of the dance music industry at the start of this decade puts this in stark terms: club and festival line-ups are overwhelmingly white, white artists dominate best-selling charts, and most prominent institutions such as labels, venues, booking agencies, platforms and publications are owned and controlled by white people.

Since launching in 1983 with Shalamar as the first ever cover stars, Mixmag owes its existence to Black music culture and has been proud to cover many Black music scenes and artists that have developed around the globe. But over the past 37 years, we recognise our complicity in a music industry that has diminished the importance of its Black and LGBTQ+ origins. There have been gaps in our coverage, following of mainstream trends, and racial disparity in our workforce and writer base that has contributed to this.

We are now committed to working harder to redress these imbalances and refocus attention on the Blackness of dance music. This week we’re running a Blackout Week editorial series guest edited by Houseology founder Funk Butcher dedicated exclusively to Black artists, issues and stories, and moving forward we will increase the support and attention we give to Black history, artists, communities, voices and writers. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made this a disruptive year for Mixmag, including forcing the recent hiatus of our print magazine. As we adjust, these commitments will inform the way we operate our platforms and company.

We have set up an email for comments, questions and feedback: community@mixmag.net

A message from Kwame Safo

Language is important. It’s Saturday June 13 2020 and I’m on the phone with Marcus Bronzy when he says that if you removed the word Trump completely from the lexicon, he would literally be forgotten about. I thought about this for a while and replied: “You’re right, because the omission of the word Black from the music conversation has made us invisible too.”

Black music is inherent to popular music. It’s actually easier to identify genres not influenced by Black musicians. Caribbean and African communities in the United Kingdom and United States especially have developed some of the most groundbreaking musical legacies using generational pain and frustration as a motivator.

The socio-economic circumstances that produced sounds like house, hip hop and techno in the States would do the same thing for jungle and grime in the United Kingdom. Black youth channeling frustrations into expressive art forms seems to be the most popular and profitable aspect of the music industry. But have the fruits of this cathartic process been manipulated and exploited over the years?

It’s hard to accurately quantify the space that Black music occupies within the music industry. But it would be extremely difficult to prove that it could be described as the “minority”. Blackness within music ultimately gives the product its authenticity. It's the cadence, the aura; what James Brown referred to as “funk”. It is infectious and very marketable.

An inability to present statistical data surrounding the impact of Black music means that Black experiences and testimonies of working in the music industry can be quickly discredited. Sometimes the penalty for speaking out on inequality is being blocked from potential opportunities. After doing the maths and considering career suicide to be not an option, Black musicians abandon their complaints and play it safe. The emotional and mental fatigue from having to continuously prove our experiences can ultimately lead to burnout and a premature end to a career in the music industry.

Marcus Bronzy runs a very successful Black podcast called How To Kill An Hour. I joined as a guest with him and DJ Ace, another Black radio broadcaster from BBC’s 1Xtra radio station, before becoming a co-host. The prospect of diversifying my portfolio was attractive against the backdrop of a very difficult and racist music industry. It was as if I was already aware of the perception of my industry by the likes of Rishi Sunak and also my place in it as a Black contributor. Fast forward to today and I’m still thinking about what Marcus mentioned about Trump's visibility. It reminds me about the lack of visibility of other Black professionals in the UK music industry (let alone globally) and how tiring it is to be constantly fighting.

The “race card” is at the hip of many non Black people who would opt to draw it out like a western gunslinger and fire away, diminishing this argument in an instant. So I open a new tab on Safari and head casually to DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJ list of 2019. Carl Cox is at 35. Black Coffee sits at 90. House music is Black music right? This isn’t the Politics of Envy at play. This can’t be fobbed off with the very dismissive trope “just work harder”. Not this time. What will be revealed is a series of practices, existing for so long that they become convention and then lazily termed as The Game. But the rules aren’t written down anywhere. You just pick them up along the way. And ultimately these practices distort and shape the very expectations of your experience within the music industry especially as a Black musician or professional.

Industry practices stop Black people from progressing. Whether it be via the inability to access venues as Black promoters, media coverage via white-run music magazines, to more specifically Black female vocalists who are simply wheeled in and out as a form of “aesthetic garnish” providing required authenticity to white artists operating in Black music spaces. You are left feeling that Black autonomy in the music industry is an unattainable dream.

Mixmag’s Blackout Week is a response to the brilliant work of Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas. Tough conversations must continue to be had and real change from this point has to happen.

This week of editorial features should serve to prove that institutions can and must assess themselves and the wider working landscape of the music industry and that they must engage with anti-racism from here on in.

Kwame Safo is a DJ, broadcaster, label head, producer and music consultant. He is the Editor of Mixmag's Blackout Week and you can follow him on Twitter here

A message from Naomi Ray

The rationale around the Blackout identity was about graphically expressing the multifaceted nature of Black music and how varied it is. The mixture of bold font sizes, styles, weights and combinations all express this, echoing the many unique voices and individual perspectives of the Black talent who have all contributed to Blackout Week.

Naomi Ray is an art director and senior creative. She created the Blackout Week logo and visual identity. Check out her website here

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