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"... at the core of an imperial mode of living."
Libertarian logics, "existing in harmony" and two years of the newsletter
[Si vous souhaitez que je traduise cette newsletter en français, merci de répondre à ce mail.]
September edition today! Who else is enjoying the virgo season? As I spent most of my weekend in trains, I was rejoicing on the rhythmic parade of autumn colors through the window.
Thanks so (so!) much to those of you who shared their climate anxiety in response to the last edition. Grateful too, for those who sent pictures of their pets bathing, pooping or even giving birth ?!
Two years of the newsletter and some things I've learnt:
This summer, it's been two years since I started this newsletter. Some things have changed in that time, both inside and around me. Others haven't at all. I'm grateful for everything I've learnt in the process of writing it. I've learnt a lot about facts and I've also learnt about framing - thanks Stay Grounded! I still have a lot of learning to do. Here are some thoughts-in-progress.
Destination festivals: "existing in harmony" or imperial modes of living?
After my trip to Croatia last year, I felt ambiguous about some summer festivals that happen there. Their ecological impact is a disaster, yet "they support local communities", I thought. I wouldn't be content with that anymore. Too much is wrong with encouraging mass tourism in general—including the imperial logic of it.
So when RA interrogated the growing phenomenon in Albania, it wasn't just the silence around the gargantuan transport emissions of these festivals (?!?!) that made me uncomfortable. As I argued here, I am skeptical that these destination festivals can "exist in harmony with local communities." Here’s why:
1/ How can we, in the face of climate catastrophe, promote an event which requires the vast majority of its attendees to fly? The piece did not address at all the impacts of transport to and from such festivals (which are rarely marketed at the local population). For the sake of proportion, here's the carbon footprint of a return flight for one single person between London and Tirana according to Atmosfair:
The return flight emits 1+ ton of CO2 (the top line, in red). According to the IPCC budget, if we wanted to limit global warming to 1.5°C, every human on this earth should currently emit a maximum of 1.5 tons of CO₂ per year—for all activities, not only flying (the bottom line, in green). And this graph doesn’t even consider the other types of emissions or impacts caused by flying.
Some journeys to festivals require layovers, meaning a DJ or dancer will take 4 flights within a week, when 80% of the population has never set a foot on a plane. And this isn’t to blame individuals, this is because the scale of a festival is collective!
When it comes to flying, Stay Grounded notes that it is at the "core of an 'imperial mode of living' (Brand and Wissen, 2018), a form of production and consumption that is only possible because it is at the expense of others: residents exposed to noise and particle pollution from planes, local ecosystems, future generations and those in the Global South who are already bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate change. People do not enjoy this lifestyle out of malice or ignorance, but because it has been ingrained in the institutions and infrastructures that surround us. Such conditioning is hard to overcome, especially because the effects of such a lifestyle are not obvious." (Degrowth of Aviation, Reducing Air Travel in a just way, p. 5).
2/ The construction of Vlorë International Airport was presented by RA as "the dream come true for every Albanian." Is that really how local communities feel? A very quick search on my part led me to sources stating that "a large group of Albanian and international NGOs appealed" against the project and that "not everyone is celebrating.”
3/ There is a legitimate concern to "create income" in a country such as Albania. But does mass tourism really bring 'development' and social well-being? This is something I addressed in the first part of my train trilogy on Fictions. The short answer is no.
There is concern that mass tourism potentially instigates displacement of local communities, precarious labour and poor working conditions. In this context, could destination festivals be considered a form of what DJ Sprinkles calls "audio imperialism"? As Rici Lake from Flight Free Perú argued: "In many ways, mass tourism is an extractive industry: it seeks to extract economic value from some attraction, and in doing so it modifies the resource in ways which make it unrecognisable."
4/ If destination festivals (or mass tourism) did bring income, how stable would this income be? We can't pretend upcoming pandemics might never happen. We can't pretend that the price of fossil fuels or energy (or anything at all, in fact) will remain constant. We can't pretend, either, that Albanian summers will forever promise hospitable weather. On that note, it feels particularly uncomfortable that this piece was published with glossy beach pictures amidst an unprecedented heat wave during which Albania, too, was fighting wildfires. Plot twist, though: Caroline Whiteley authored an interesting feature on RA last week about how “Extreme Weather Threaten(s) the Future of Festivals.”
Why does this matter? In “Who is tomorrow?”, I mentioned the storms I witnessed when playing in Croatia. These events now obviously seem frivolous, as Pakistan’s floods death toll has recently passed 1,400. And clearly, those festivals are rarely being organised in and for MAPAs (Most Affected People and Areas).
But the point is: events organisation will have to shift “by design - or by disaster.” If the way we gather and enjoy music changes by design, this change can happen in a fairer way, towards a “safer landing.”
Taboos: from liberal hegemonies towards humanness and responsibility?
A slight reassurance to see some trying to bring the topic to attention. Interestingly though, when I made this twitter thread, several people reached out to me whilst avoiding speaking out. Is there a taboo and if so, what exactly is it?
In general, a lot of private conversations around climate still end up in a “what can we do, people are simply selfish/stupid/don’t care?” Honestly, I don’t think that’s true and more importantly, I don’t think that’s constructive. In the context of dance music, I wonder what we mean by “people” and which groups, institutions, dynamics or values prevent discussion.
Two years ago, I thought some obstacles to a democratic debate included precarity, interlocking crises (not least mental health crises), lack of access to sustainable infrastructure, and especially lack of information. These may still strike us as major issues, but we also need to interrogate the underlying values and narratives of our scene that create inequalities. I’ve been reflecting on the imperial and sometimes libertarian logics that often underpin the hedonist urges in our communities.
The issue seems disproportionate when it comes to internationally touring DJs. When asked why they didn't share the Clean Scene report, at a panel almost a year ago, a DJ replied that it simply wouldn't have benefited them. I've come to recognize the courage behind that answer. Musicians often argue that they have no choice. This was different. Most confusing about this situation: almost no one in the audience made an audible twitch. We all collectively admitted our fears of sharing difficult information.
There is a southern African concept called "Ubuntu" that can be translated as 'humanity' or 'humanness'. It is an understanding that an individual can only realise their humanity in relation to other human beings, as well as to the non-human world. Ubuntu suggests that it is our responsibility to care for others. Why would artists not care for us? Does it really benefit one if it doesn't benefit others? Or even all? Couldn’t we work together for the benefit of something bigger than ourselves? As Jay Jordan & Isabelle Fremeaux asked when writing about extractivist art: "Do you love art (...) more than life?" (Jay Jordan & Isabelle Fremeaux, We Are Nature Defending Itself).
Gathering data from musicians about their experiences and the obstacles they’re facing towards a more sustainable career has proven to be a struggle. At conferences or panels, I’ve often felt uneasy about representing a profession. Not only does DJing, in my case, rarely pay the rent but how much are we bound by a sense of solidarity?
In the piece "Focusing club activism on club workers", Mathys Rennela reflected on the "liberal hegemony which prioritises maintaining the status quo." The point was made that: "(...) the issue here is not that the DJ’s material reality is precarious and/or volatile. It is that (touring/full time) DJs are not class conscious and tend to commodify class-based struggles–most recently, the bastardisation of Black radical theory which followed the 2020 Minneapolis protests."
I couldn’t agree more and admit that I still have so much more to learn from this perspective.
Apologizing to the 1%, or what do we mean by privilege?
At Whole last month, I initially felt ambiguous about bringing a sustainability conversation to a queer festival. As a musician, I’ve performed in a lot of very cis-, straight, white and wealthy places who have way more historical and contemporary responsibility for climate injustices. Whist Whole’s line-up was an inspiration in terms of diversity, once I arrived on site, I realised that its crowd was still relatively privileged (currywurst and some fries for 9 euros). However, it still stroke me that one of the rare festivals which was actually willing to host a sustainability conversation with more than a vague greenwashing intention was a queer one!
In the last two years, dipping in and out of different kinds and scales of music communities, as well as activist circles, has re-shaped my reflections on intersectionality. When I started the newsletter, I had already committed to a flight-free lifestyle. Because I could! Since then, I’ve met numerous groups and individuals with way less privilege than me who'd unapologetically taken their actions, interpretations and responsibilities way further than I had yet imagined. Recently, I've also seen close friends, often queer, sometimes with working class backgrounds and/or histories of immigration, striving hard to—amongst other things—reduce their flights and to travel more sustainably. Some are creatives who have begun envisioning their relationship to making and sharing art in a radically grounded way. Humbling.
Meanwhile, in my wider and less intimate sort-of-successful-and-sort-of-based-in-gentrified-Berlin social circles, it's—yet again—difficult to even have these conversations in the first place. When it is pointed out that 1% of the world population is currently responsible for 50% of aviation emissions, no one wants to believe that they may belong, or nearly belong, to that 1%. We think of private jet owners—who, in all fairness, should be cornered first. But here's the thing: who's cornering them? Or rather, who isn't? I have a sense that a lot of the most powerful and visible faces of dance music are using the rhetoric of the marginalized whilst promoting the lifestyle of the super-rich.
The 1% may refer to slightly different groups of powerful people according to the context and perspective with which it is used. In Oneness vs. the 1 per cent, Vandana Shiva writes: "The blindness of the 1% to the potential life, to the rights of people, to the destructive impacts of their 'constructs', has ensured that going over the precipice is inevitable. They define their destructive, colonising power as 'superior' while the creative, nonviolent forces of nature, and of women, indigenous people, and farmers, is perceived as 'backwardness' or 'passivity'. In their constructed narrative of linear progress, there is only one way–forward. But when you are already standing at a precipice, going forward means hurtling down. […]
Our common and indivisible freedoms, through our diversities, are being threatened by the freedoms that the 1% have created for themselves through free-trade agreements, tools of mass manipulation, and the enclosure of the commons through patents. They are consolidating further by enforcing uniformity and monocultures, division and separation, monopolies and external control, centralisation and coercion, and imposing their paradigms and narratives undemocratically on the world. The economically and politically powerful 1%, disconnected from the earth and humanity (including their own), are trying to control every sphere of our lives." Vandana Shiva, Oneness vs. the 1%, p. 8.
We need everyone on board against fossil-fuelled capitalism. This can’t happen in a fair way if the 1% are co-opting us with silences and false excuses.
Opposing scales or community accountability?
One concept that is often deployed by the 1% as an excuse for inaction is that of the "systemic issue." Oh dear, do I agree with this!! Of course, as Angela Davis wrote, it is the “neoliberal ideology [that] drives us to focus on individuals.” And in the case of climate justice, the solutions should, of course, never be based solely on individual behaviour. But it's a whole different story depending on who uses the line and what they use it for. Stay Grounded's approach on the system vs. individual issue is that "it should never be either or. […] The urgency of the climate crisis, and the scale of change that is required, means that the privilege of choosing one over the other has long since passed, especially for those in the Global North.” Stay Grounded, Common Destination. Reframing aviation to ensure a safe landing and lay the tracks towards a fair planet
Since I started this newsletter, I've also been reflecting on the numerous connecting scales. Aren't there more systems between me and the system? And can't we develop accountability within them?
In April 2022, I attended a series of workshops in Paris aiming to devise concrete measures and steps towards a more sustainable music industry. “If you seriously want to tackle the climate crisis,” someone said at the event, “you kind of have to leave your ego on the side.” This speaker was part of a collective that mutualizes equipment between different music organisations. Several members reported that this practice was “sometimes difficult, because you have to share with people that aren’t easy to work with.” Yet it pays off, not least because they consequently spend less money on material.
Of course, during the workshops, we heard the usual skeptical questions. As we discussed transport, someone attempted an: “Ok, but why should we make all these efforts when the biggest companies are responsible for …” before they were cut off by someone else. “It’s too late for what-about-isms!” And we got back to work. Later, someone suggested we should “reach out to politicians.” But again, another participant cut them short, referring to the latest IPCC report: “We only have three years ahead of us! Three years for emissions to peak and decrease! We’re nowhere near on track. Yes, political change, absolutely, but in the meantime what can we do right now?” The workshop took place a few days before the French presidential elections which, sadly but unsurprisingly, offered a second mandate to Emmanuel Macron, whose agenda is far from sustainable.
When thinking about communities’ roles in systemic change, I’ve kept on coming back to Angela Davis’ Freedom Is A Constant Struggle: “What has kept me going has been the development of new modes of community. I don’t know whether I would have survived had not movements survived, had not communities of resistance, communities of struggle survived. So whatever I’m doing I always feel myself directly connected to those communities and I think that is an era where we have to encourage that sense of community particularly at a time when neoliberalism attempts to force people to think of themselves only in individual terms and not in collective terms. It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.” Angela Davis, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle, p. 49.
It does make me nervous that, increasingly, community work seems to be financed by brands and I do wonder, yet again, who/what will benefit from this exchange? But that’s probably a conversation for another day! I don’t know much, but I do know that our time is short. Let's not waste it on fake alternatives and greenwashing initiatives!
Let’s degrow(th) dance music?
When I started this newsletter, I was excited to engage in practical steps towards a more sustainable (dance) music scene. The tasks were, and are, so numerous, yet so absolutely doable. Two years later, I’ve realised that none of this is going to happen if we don't also interrogate the underlying values in our communities, including imperialism and liberalism. There’s a risk—but perhaps a necessary one—that these conversations may lead us to question the structure of the whole thing in a profound and radical way. Who’s in?
In other news
15.09 - Quincé, Rennes, FR
24.09 - De Pip, The Hague, NL
30.09 - ДРОБ at Renate, Berlin, DE
13.10 - Fictions show at Cashmere Radio, Berlin, DE
22.10 – Fictions party at Sameheads, Berlin, DE
03.11 - TBA, Dublin, UK
05.11 - TBA, London, UK
28.11 - TBA, FR
11.02 - TBA, FR
Little note: last month, I had announced that I would play at Popkultur Festival in Berlin but I decided to pull out due to ethical concerns. I’m still picking up on these issues and open to receive thoughts or ressources.
That same weekend, I visited Whole Festival at Ferropolis, where I heard the very moving panel “Free Palestine as a queer issue.” I was, myself, hosting a discussion on “Climate Crisis and Post-Growth Raving.” The panel allowed me, too, to process my journey through climate justice and especially how to frame it in the context of the dance music industry.
Fictions on a train, pt. III:
I’m collecting audio samples about flight-free travel. Have you travelled by land or sea for holiday/work/other on distances that are usually traveled by plane? Would you like to share your experience? You can help me by recording yourself :)
ps: a special hug to Thomas and Angus for their support and help.
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