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Dance music is art

Dance music has been gradually evolving since the 1970s, embedding its influence across generations. Dance music is continually changing, uniting multiple genres, cultures, nations, and histories to create a single art form.

Therefore, not only should electronic music demand its own recognition within the arts, but it should be recognised as the one unique musical art form that acts as a conduit for all other music genres as it constantly reinvents itself.

Electronic music does not discriminate, rather it brings together, regardless of age and background. It has long been established that club and festival dance culture is a vital part of British heritage, as well as generating millions of pounds in revenue for the economy, it adds to the ever-growing nightlife tourism figures boasting 300 million visits a year across the UK.

Given the investment of many European countries in the arts sector specifically supporting and recognising the value of classic and contemporary art forms, the UK government has been under immense pressure to follow in the footsteps of their counterparts by properly funding a sector that generates significant revenues for the exchequer.

On 5 July 2020, an announcement was made by the UK culture secretary highlighting a £1.57billion (€1.73bn) arts and culture fund.

Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said, “Our arts and culture are the soul of our nation. They make our country great and are the lynchpin of our world-beating and fast-growing creative industries. I understand the grave challenges the arts face and we must protect and preserve all we can for future generations. Today we are announcing a huge support package of immediate funding to tackle the funding crisis they face. I said we would not let the arts down, and this massive investment shows our level of commitment.”

“Electronic music has always been a popular art form that reaches a diverse number of communities, but which now finds itself excluded, even if only by narrative”

But when asked about potential support for music venues and festivals on the 9 July during Parliament, he announced the fund would “cover grassroots music venues, concert halls and indoor arenas… those wholly or mainly used for performance of live music for the purposes of entertaining an audience,” with no mention of clubs or festivals.

Sector trade bodies have continually asked for clarification from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, on whether dance music clubs, festivals and events will be included, but the department has so far failed to provide assurances or clarity, so we await the details of eligibility in the coming weeks.

The industry is astounded at the government’s failure to recognise dance music clubs and events within its narrative as part of arts and culture, and continues to drive a clear message regarding its eligibility to apply for the funding in line with the live sector.

What the government fails to understand is that much of the sector operates venues that house both live and dance/recorded music events, and in many cases, they survive symbiotically in support of each other with many successful examples within the market place.

Electronic music has always been a popular art form that reaches a diverse number of communities, but which now finds itself excluded, even if only by narrative!

Surely the Government can recognise the importance of this sector to youth culture, and through the rise of the illegal rave scene recognise the value of professional regulated spaces where people can enjoy themselves and the music safely.

The industry has to now drive the agenda, as we see the tide turn between removal of risk to management of risk, it’s time to get the science to work for us.

Dance music is the world’s third most popular music genre, with an estimated audience of over 1.5 billion. But, despite the global influence and economic importance of British dance music and culture, government support and clarity on the future of the sector has so far been very limited.

 


Michael Kill is CEO of the UK’s Night Time Industries Association.

Fire Festival: the rise of the virtual music festival

Last weekend, Fire Festival provided a musical experience for a digital age. Thousands of festivalgoers wandered the grounds, listened to music across two stages and interacted with fellow attendees, all from the comfort of their own sofas.

More than 5,000 fans “attended” the event from 12 to 13 January, with 6,500 people also joining the festival’s live Discord chat.

Over 50 artists performed at the event, with headliners Ekali, Hudson Mohawke, ARTY, and Luca Lush playing along with many other underground acts and unsigned artists.

The world of Minecraft supplied the setting for the festival, which fans could attend free of charge, provided they owned a copy of the game on PC or Mac.

“Anyone with a [Minecraft] account could join and explore the festival grounds we built, fight ‘boss battles’ to gain festival merch, or watch the artists ‘perform’ at either of the stages,” festival organiser, Max Schramp, tells IQ.

Those without a copy of Minecraft did not have access to the virtual landscape, but could still “attend” the festival by tuning into the music stream on the festival website and joining the live chat rooms.

“In the end we had over 6,000 people playing Minecraft and over 80,000 people tuning into the audio stream!” says Schramp.

“Anyone with a Minecraft account could join and explore the festival grounds”

The festival proved a great success, but did not come without its obstacles. Minecraft is not optimised to have servers of hundreds of players, so the festival’s development team had to create a custom network for their servers in order to spread the load of the players, explains Schramp.

Another major obstacle faced by the team is much more familiar to organisers of traditional festivals the world over: the coordination and handling of artists. Leading up to the festival, “there were a dozen iterations of the posters, videos, and various promotional material, with some artists sending us their sets hours before they were due to play.”

Schramp tells IQ that the origins of the festival sprang from a birthday joke, after he announced that he would throw his 21st birthday party inside Minecraft. He and his friends formed a team to create Coalchella 2018, the precursor to this year’s Fire Festival.

Since then, the joke has evolved into a much bigger platform for music lovers and gamers alike, as well as developing an important social cause.

The festival organisers donated US$1750.97 – all profits from the event – to the Trevor Project, an organisation focusing on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth. “I hope that this might be a significant step in pushing the music and festival industry towards inclusivity for LGBTQ+ and underprivileged people,” says Schramp.

 


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Drugs deaths could signal end for Oz Defqon.1 fest

State authorities in New South Wales are calling for dance festival Defqon.1 to be banned after two people died from suspected drugs overdoses and hundreds more had to seek medical help for drug-related problems.

Joseph Pham, 23, from Sydney was named as one of the victims, while an as yet unnamed 21-year-old woman from Melbourne also died. There have been other deaths at the Sydney festival in 2013 and 2015.

Police in the state report that 13 people required hospital treatment, with three people still in a critical condition, while on site, 700 revellers were seen by medics at the festival. The situation prompted NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to brand the event as unsafe and call for it to be banned from ever taking place in Sydney again.

Organisers Q-Dance Australia say they are cooperating with the authorities. The company’s website outlines its zero tolerance drug policy and carries warnings such as, “We want to make you aware that the use of illicit substances carries a range of health risks including the possibility of death, and is strictly forbidden at this event.”

Despite this and informing the 30,000 visitors that there would be “a strong police, drug dog and security presence upon entry into the event to ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing,” the warnings apparently went unheeded, prompting drug testing advocates to slam government officials for their ‘head in the sand’ approach to dealing with drugs use.

“We still have young people dying needlessly because we’re doing the same old thing over and over again and we have the mechanisms that we know keep people alive.”

“I’m absolutely aghast at what has occurred,” Berejiklian said in a statement. “I don’t want any family to go through the tragedy that some families are waking up to this morning. It’s just horrible to think about.” She added, “This is an unsafe event and I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure it never happens again.”

However, Berejiklian’s ‘just say no’ stance on drugs has been criticised as dangerous, while the government’s policies on drugs has been labelled as ineffective by doctors and campaigners.

Kieran Palmer of the Ted Noffs Foundation, told morning TV show Today the deaths made it clear the government’s approach of “just say no” is not working. “The difficulty now that we face is that we’ve been handling this with the same approach for such a long time,” said Palmer. “We live in one of the most privileged countries in the world and we still have young people dying needlessly because we’re doing the same old thing over and over again and we have the mechanisms that we know keep people alive.”

Advocating on-site drug testing programmes, he added, “We have the evidence. Shutting down festivals, getting tough on drugs, telling kids to ‘just say no’ doesn’t work. It doesn’t change behaviour.”

 


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Japanese clubs caught in crossfire of ‘war on dancing’

Around a dozen small Japanese venues are thought to have been affected by a recent police crackdown on unauthorised late-night dancing.

Official attitudes to public dancing in Japan are governed by the so-called fūeihō law (fūzoku eigyō-tō no kisei oyobi gyōmu no tekiseika-tō ni kansuru hōritsu, or ‘businesses affecting public morals regulation law’), a piece of legislation that dates to the post-Second World War US occupation and primarily regulates sex work.

While some of the fūeihō’s provisions were relaxed in 2015 – allowing clubs with dancing to open past midnight, after approval from local authorities – the revised law still requires venues to apply for a nightclub licence, the granting of which is conditional on the club’s size and location. The 2015-spec fūeihō requires that clubs have more than 33 square meters of uninterrupted floor space, as well as be located in a designated dancing area.

Among the unlicensed venues to have been raided by Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department since the start of 2018 are Aoyama Hachi, a small club in the Shibuya neighbourhood which has been throwing parties for more than 20 years, and the expat-friendly Geronimo ‘shot bar’ in Roppongi, according to the Japan Times.

Most of the affected venues are believed to be small dance music clubs with live DJs.

Reports the Times:

So we’re back to the dark days of the early 2010s, where venues have to post notices advising customers that “excessive dancing will be prohibited,” and police can march up to anyone swaying to the music and demand to know if they are harbouring more sinister intentions. It’s a silly place to be, and a drab, depressing one too.

Similar laws regulating dancing are in force in Brussels, albeit in the form of a tax: venues can be charged €0.40 per person dancing per night. “At first I thought it was a joke, but it is apparently real,” Nicolas Boochie, of the 170-cap. Bonnefooi venue, said in November 2016. “The city has several times sent people round incognito to count the number of dancers.”

 


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Coalition Talent, Ministry of Sound join forces

London-based booking agency Coalition Talent has entered into a joint venture with dance music colossus Ministry of Sound for a range of new live events and brand partnerships.

The “wide-ranging” JV, which sees the two companies partner to “share their resources and expertise”, additionally sees the Ministry of Sound events staff relocating to Coalition’s central London offices. It follows a recent focus by Coalition on building events brands alongside its roster, with recent projects including the Coffee House Sessions concert series and club nights Pure Music Live and Just Can’t Get Enough ’80s, the latter a joint venture with DJ Sara Cox.

Coalition, from 2014–2015 part of The Agency Group (now UTA), represents artists, radio DJs and TV personalities, including Sara Cox, Charli XCX, Pixie Lott, Nick Grimshaw, Trevor Nelson, Edith Bowman, Scott Mills, the Wombats, the Hoosiers and Kodaline.

“Ministry’s brands and reputation, coupled with Coalition’s talent relationships, expertise and newly expanded team, will deliver a whole new range of world-class music events”

“I couldn’t be more proud to enter into this joint venture with Ministry of Sound,” says Coalition Talent CEO Guy Robinson. “This iconic brand has been a huge part of my journey in the music industry, from working with them on talent through to more than a few lost nights at the club.

“We look forward to welcoming the Ministry of Sound events staff into our brilliant team here at Coalition. Our joint focus will be to maximise opportunities for their current offering, and develop additional products to reach new markets, as well as more extensive partnerships with touring DJs and live artists.”

Jonathan Bevan (pictured), CEO of Ministry of Sound, adds: “We are delighted to be launching this new partnership. Ministry’s brands and reputation, coupled with Coalition’s talent relationships, expertise and newly expanded team, will deliver a whole new range of world-class music events.”

 


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Dutch dance music festival scene ‘under pressure’

There are signs the Dutch dance music festival scene is feeling the pressure of growth, as the number of events increases, but ticket revenue drops, according to the semi-annual Dance Festival Monitor (DFM).

In the first six months of 2017 DFM says there were 145 dance music festivals in the Netherlands, up 25% on the 111 in the same time the previous year. The increase is down to a rise in the number of events under 5,000-capacity.

As well as more events, the study says there’s been a 5.5% increase in unique festival visitors from 541,000 to 571,000. On average, people visited three to four festivals, an increase of 23% over last year.

However, revenue from ticket sales dropped 0.8% due to falling ticket prices. DFM says in 2016 average ticket prices were €30 in the first half of the year, falling to €28 this year. The price of early bird tickets dropped from €22 to €20.

“There are more festival but declining ticket prices”

DFM predicts the entire volume of the Dutch market will shrink by 2.4% and total ticket sales will amount to around €142.5 million this year.

The pressure on the dance festival market is visible,” says Dance Festival Monitor’s Denis Doeland in a blog post. “A declining ticket price and an increase in the number of festivals are the first signs.”

He says falling ticket prices at a time when DJ fees and security costs are rising will make competition between promoters even fiercer.

The Dance Festival Monitor is compiled by dance music business consultancy DDCMA, Jibe Company and Fanalists, based on data from a large number of online sources.

Pill testing: the cure for music’s drug problem?

The issue of drug deaths at dance music festivals was thrust once again into the spotlight this week following a spate of misfortunes for the Hard Summer event in California.

First, relatives of a 19-year-old woman, Katie Dix, who died after taking designer drugs (‘bath salts’) sold as ecstasy at the 2015 festival – one of two fatalities, along with 18-year-old Tracy Nguyen, who died from MDMA “intoxication” – announced they are suing promoter Live Nation for “turning a blind eye to the known risks” of drugs “in order to capitalise on teenagers and young adults who believed they were attending a safe party environment.”

Then news broke that three young people (Derek Lee, 22, Alyssa Dominguez, 21, and Roxanne Ngo, 22) had died at Hard Summer 2016 last weekend, held in the city of Fontana for the first time after being forced out of Los Angeles following the deaths of Dix and Nguyen. Although Hard published a long list of safety precautions prior to the event – and, it should be noted, the causes of death are still undetermined – the fatalities are likely to spark further discussion about what more can be done by festival promoters to keep patrons safe at their events.

While banning drugs at EDM events is a good first step, it’s fast becoming clear that a more radical approach beyond prohibition is needed if the industry is to tackle its growing drug problem

Representatives of a number of major electronic dance music (EDM) festivals, as well as a spokeswoman for Amsterdam Dance Event, were keen to highlight to IQ their events’ zero-tolerance drug policies. However, while banning drugs at such events is a good first step, with close to 30 deaths at EDM festivals since May 2015 others believe that a more radical approach beyond simple prohibition is needed if the industry is to effectively tackle its growing drug problem.

At the Ibiza International Music Summit (IMS) in May, ‘The Future of Our Industry’ panel discussed just that, and the delegates’ consensus was that promoters should work with governments to focus on harm reduction in addition to enforcing drug laws. CAA agent Maria May criticised what she sees as a “double standard” towards drugs in EDM, which she acknowledges are “part of our culture”, and said she’d like to see an “industry standard for things like crowd control, free water and cool-down areas. I’d like to know that if I’m going to a club there are some measures in place for if people get into trouble.”

Tommy Vaudecrane, production director of the Paris Techno Parade festival, blasted France’s “terrible drug policy” and called for a “more mature approach” to preventing drug deaths, including facilitating the testing of drugs to ensure they don’t contain any potentially fatal adulterants. “We don’t have any testing at events,” he explained, [and] you have to be careful in what you say, because if you give information about a specific drug you can be [prosecuted] for inciting people to take it.”

Front-of-house drug, or pill, testing is already in force at events in the Netherlands, Austria and Spain, explains Jon Drape, managing director of Ground Control Productions, whose clients include the Parklife Weekender, Kendal Calling, Live from Jodrell Bank, Lollibop, Festival №6, The Warehouse Project and Snowbombing, and is a “no-brainer” for dance music events serious about minimising the risk of drug-related deaths, he tells IQ.

“I’d like to know that if I’m going to a club there are some measures in place for if people get into trouble”

“Unfortunately, I’ve had to deal with the aftermath and effect of having a drugs fatality” – there were two deaths from PMA-laced ecstasy in 2015 at The Warehouse Project – “and all you want to do is make sure it never happens again,” he says. “I’m sure everyone in the industry will be looking at it [pill testing].”

Kendal Calling, which took place last weekend, was one of two festivals to introduce pill testing this year, following a similar trial a week earlier at Cambridgeshire’s Secret Garden Party (SGP). Both festivals, with the full cooperation of local police forces and public health authorities, partnered with drugs charity The Loop to allow festivalgoers to test drugs at the gate to establish their content.

“We’ve been working for six or seven years with [The Loop co-director] Professor [Fiona] Measham, who has been researching the use of illegal drugs for three decades,” Drape continues. “We started by interviewing festivalgoers about what they consumed, and also did some testing of urine samples to see what drugs they had consumed. It gave us an interesting picture about what festivalgoers were up to, but didn’t give us any way to reduce risk.”

Drape says around 25% of those who tested their drugs at both Kendal Calling and Secret Garden Party opted to bin them after discovering their content. There were 80 “substances of concern” discovered at SGP, including extremely high-strength ecstasy, ‘ketamine’ that was actually an antimalarial and ammonium sulphate – used as a soil fertiliser and insecticide – sold as MDMA.

“Drugs will get onto the site, so it’s our responsibility to make sure people remain safe”

“Drugs will get onto the site, so it’s our responsibility to make sure people remain safe,” says Drape, who adds he’d like to see a similar system introduced at dance music-focused Parklife.

Prof Measham says its Multi Agency Safety Testing (MAST) can “help people make informed choices, raising awareness of dangerous substances in circulation and reducing the chance of drug-related problems occurring” and describes it as “an important innovation that we know can reduce risks and potentially save lives.”

She adds that “other countries in Europe have had testing services like this at events for years; the UK is just catching up, and we are pleased to be part of that evolutionary process”.

While pill testing is, as Prof Measham says, well established in much of Europe and gaining ground in Britain, groups pushing for similar schemes in other major touring and festival markets – notably North America and Australasia – have run into stiff opposition.

“Other countries in Europe have had testing services like this at events for years. The UK is just catching up, and we are pleased to be part of that evolutionary process”

Melissa ‘Missi’ Wooldridge, the director of Denver-based charity DanceSafe, estimates that her organisation tests drugs at fewer than ten US festivals each year (with Backwoods in Oklahoma one of the notable exceptions), and Insomniac CEO Pasquale Rotellas said in his Reddit AMA that it is unlikely to change any time soon: “Unfortunately some people view partnering with DanceSafe as endorsing drug use rather than keeping people safe, and that can prevent producers from getting locations and organising events.

In Australia, meanwhile, the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation is risking prosecution by pushing ahead with plans to introduce pill testing at a number of upcoming Sydney festivals, despite the New South Welsh government declaring the project to be illegal.

In addition to its testing advocacy, DanceSafe is currently lobbying for the scrapping of the US Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act (formerly the Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy, or RAVE, Act), which it says dissuades many event promoters from providing “basic safety measures (ie free water, cool-down space, drug education materials, even the presence of DanceSafe!)” for fear that their presence “prove[s] that they know drug use is present, and make them vulnerable to prosecution”.

Speaking at IMS, Mark Lawrence, CEO of the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM), says a priority for his organisation is to “lobby for change in the legal and political environment for promoters to raise the level of harm reduction they can publicly achieve”. “For the first time in the two years I’ve been at the association, everybody has realised that poor standards of harm reduction and lack of ability for promoters to be open about drug testing or education impacts the entire industry,” he commented.

“I think we need to show drug use exists, and it’s a problem, but that it’s not linked to music or culture – it’s linked to government policy”

There is, of course, no silver bullet – pill testing included – to stop drug deaths at live music events: a significant minority of festivalgoers, especially those at EDM events, are always going to take drugs, and everyone reacts differently to their effects. But pushing for positive change at a governmental level and fostering a culture of openness between promoters, patrons and police and local authorities, as exemplified at Kendal Calling and SGP, is a start.

“I think we need to show [drug use] exists, and it’s a problem, but that it’s not linked to music or culture – it’s linked to government policy,” said Vaudecrane.

“We need to work with organisations to set up a global electronic music policy that includes harm reduction, by saying, ‘Yes, we have drugs, here’s how you take them if you’re going to take them’, and warning people: ‘This is a bad product, don’t take it.'”

 


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First Dance Music Conference set for Dubai

Dubai is to get its first dance music conference, courtesy of events and management company Blue Leaf.

Taking place on 21 and 22 April at the confusingly named Pacha Ibiza Dubai nightclub (from hereon in ‘Pacha Dubai’), the Dance Music Conference (DMC) will feature debates and workshops by dance music industry experts and a music festival including both international and local DJs.

Panels highlights are ‘The trials and tribulations of holding a successful dance event’, ‘The power of social media and the magic of marketing’ and a Q&A with club owners and managers including representatives from Pacha Dubai, Shibuya and Billionaire Mansion, while performers include EDX, Toolroom Records’ Mark Knight, Sister Bliss (pictured), Prok & Fitch and PACO.

Tickets cost Dh800 for the whole conference (£153) and are available from the Dance Music Conference website.