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How the Northwest music scene responded to #BlackoutTuesday

Photo Credit: @theshowmustbepaused

For those who logged into social media this past Tuesday, black squares filled feeds. The tags #TheShowMustBePaused and #BlackoutTuesday referred to a campaign initiated by two black, female executives in the recording industry.

“Our mission is to hold the industry at large, including major corporations + their partners who benefit from the efforts, struggles and successes of Black people accountable. To that end, it is the obligation of these entities to protect and empower the Black communities that have made them disproportionately wealthy in ways that are measurable and transparent.”

– A statement from Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas

The point of the campaign was to disrupt “business-as-usual” in the music industry. Instead of producing, promoting, and profiting, the initiative asks music industry professionals to pause and engage with the social justice issues facing society today. Namely, police violence and systemic racism, issues that have been at the forefront of worldwide protests following George Floyd’s death.

What happened on #BlackoutTuesday?

What started as #TheShowMustBePaused quickly turned into #BlackoutTuesday. The trend of posting black squares, which was never advocated for by Agyemang and Thomas, quickly spread from the music industry to, well, everyone else. The rapid growth of the movement caused confusion, especially amongst non-music professionals.

Inside the music industry, big corporation did heed the call to action. Streaming platforms got creative with their engagement. For example, Spotify blacked out the cover photos of popular playlists such as Today’s Top Hits and RapCaviar. Additionally, Spotify included an 8 minute and 46 second moment of silence to select playlists – the same amount of time George Floyd was held in an illegal chokehold by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.

Some artists postponed the release of new music indefinitely, such as a Baauer who postponed the release of his highly anticipated “Planet’s Mad” LP. At the same time, certain virtual events were rescheduled for a later date.

Digital Mirage, an online dance music festival from Proximity, was postponed from June 5-7 to June 12-14. Organizers also announced that funds from the festival would be redirected to Equal Justice Initiative and Color of Change. Seattle-based record label Sub49 suspended all virtual streaming events for the time being.

How did local venues get involved?

Venues large and small paid tribute to the black communities that enable them to thrive. Recognizing the inarguable impact black creatives have had on their business, venues pledged to support them now and heed calls to action.

As a music venue, we host, promote, and ultimately benefit from black art & culture on a regular basis. Whether it be rock, jazz, punk, hip hop, soul, house, and beyond – Neumos would not be the venue it is today without the contribution of all the black artists who have supported and created in this space. This community is vital to our identity and we couldn’t be more proud.

– Neumos, Seattle WA

Music, film, and other popular art forms can be powerful forces in exposing and undermining systems of oppression.

– MoPOP Museum, Seattle WA

Events like these are not isolated. They are a culminated reaction to the countless injustices that Black Americans have endured, survived, and overcame since the beginning of our country.

– Wild Buffalo, Bellingham WA

As a nightclub that shares the love of music rooted in African American culture, it is our responsibility to support and fight alongside them for justice. Please join us in being better, doing better, and creating a better world for all of us.

– Q Nightclub, Seattle WA

Other venues even took the message beyond social media, using their physical platforms to advocate for change.

Did #BlackoutTuesday work?

Blackout Tuesday served a few purposes. On one hand, many artists, venues, and labels took the opportunity to share resources. They made statements of solidarity, supporting black communities in their fight for civil justice.

One thing proved clear: our collective voice is loud. We have the power to distract, or the power to tune in. On Blackout Tuesday, the music industry acknowledged that we have a responsibility to tune in.

On the other hand, the event also served to spark education of history and diversity within electronic dance music. Artists were publicly sharing the history behind their music, or highlighting the black artists who directly contributed to their projects. While this was a great start for many, it’s important to remember that one day won’t be nearly enough. This ongoing culture of education needs to continue within the industry for any deep understanding to be achieved.

In addition, the event sparked some controversy. Mass postings of black squares clogged social media channels with less-than-crucial information. Some folks posted blank black squares with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter which caused tension. Since that particular hashtag has been crucial for sharing protest videos and resources, critics urged posters to use the hashtags #BlackoutTuesday or #TheShowMustBePaused instead.

When inaction and action can both cause unintended harm, how can we proceed forward? Listening to criticism and responding to it kindly and quickly is one of the most powerful ways the EDM scene can contribute positively to the conversation. Many fans and artists engaged in dialogue, interacting as equals. This kind of attitude shows the true humility, vulnerability, and understanding needed to grow and change.

Where do we go from here?

One thing we all know for sure, is that racial inequity in the United States is neither a new problem nor a temporary one. We all have work to do, not just processing what has happened, but figuring out where we go from here.

The organizers behind #TheShowMustBePaused are working behind the scenes to propose next steps for the music industry, and we will stay tuned to see what’s next. You can also follow @TheShowMustBePaused on Instagram for updates.

In the meantime, Dance Music Northwest will be advertising local funds you can donate to. We encourage you to consider donating or spreading the word.

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