I can’t resist posting about this one question interview with Theo Parrish because it’s just so contentious.
From the piece: “The curtain that supposedly hides all this is the bullshit illusion that dance music has no race, no gender, that its about the celebration of some sort of utopian concept. This mere notion wasn’t even circulated until some white folks were made to feel uncomfortable at a party they had no business being at, and came face to face with the fact that this music like all other music is originated on african/black experience, and that perhaps they were very much like every other Elvis and Eminem that ever came or went, That perhaps they too, are tourists, but they still want to be superstar-dj-such-and-such”
I think the first thing to say is that as a white person I generally feel I have no real right to talk about racial discrimination against black people with any authority, at least not in a field as ambiguous as popular culture.
It’s one thing if somebody racially abuses someone on the street, or if a neo-nazi party are running a candidate in my local elections, but I personally feel unable to stridently argue the cause for stolen cultural property.
Afterall, as a white person, what gives me the right? The cultural property was never mine to begin with. How dare I define what was black music? How dare I define what was theft? What would I say if a black person disagreed with me? How would I look?
What’s interesting in Parrish’s comments is that after the initial dissection of the music industry, a fairly hackneyed series of points which make no provision for artists themselves choosing to make music in a particular way, or the public choosing to buy their records, there are no musicians named.
For instance: “There are a few non black underground dance artists that simply have gravitated to the form because its as free a musical form as you can get. They don’t even care who their music sounds like, they are just trying to express themselves honestly and truthfully. I’m not talking about them. They are rare and appreciated. They are original. Whatever success they garner is deserved.”
We can only wonder who the few hallowed individuals that escape Theo’s wrath are. And hence it’ll be very easy for people to agree with him, safe in the knowledge that they know exactly who is doing the stealing, and who is expressing themselves honestly and truthfully. That Theo knows too. That everyone agrees it’s not themselves. And hey, it’s not their favourite acts either!
But everyone doesn’t agree. Barely two people who might agree with Parrish’s points above would have universally the same view on which white artists are frauds and phonies and which are okay. As with any political debate a view which villifies a nameless other can tempt people into believing they share in a consensus view that actually doesn’t exist.
Similarly, I wonder which black artists are co-opted by the money men of the music biz, and which are just choosing to release a gangsta record? What about black artists who make dance music that doesn’t conform to the Detroit ethos? There must be hundreds. I mean, does anyone honestly think that garish or cheesey or tacky music is solely the preserve of white people? This is an age old slice of madness.
Theo Parrish is right to point out that race matters in dance music. Race matters everywhere, and there are racial matters everywhere. But I don’t hear many people arguing otherwise. In fact I’m imagining some hippy-dippy 90s strawman when I hear it suggested that white people eulogise about how race doesn’t matter in dance music. I’ve never heard this argument expanded on much. The other point is that Theo Parrish has a multitude of white fans. Are these exempt from his anger? What if a white person agrees with Theo here? Is that part of the solution or part of the problem?
And why is racial militancy so much more a part of dance music discourse than sexual militancy? Wouldn’t it be quite easy to construct similar arguments about gay people in the music industry? About the theft of disco? Then we’ve left race behind and things become even more bewildering. But surely gay culture has filtered into vast swathes of pop music for aeons? Where are dance music’s militant gay people to muddy the waters a bit further?
Above and beyond all of that, I can’t help but feel that there are much more serious issues of prejudice in the wider world than in the world of techno. Okay, so that’s easy for me to say, I’m not a black techno musician. And sure, making the world a better place is less about making prioritised lists of goals and more about a series of them being achieved in tandem, but still. Is the music industry really the first place you think of when you think of injustice? Of racial injustice?
In the end, like other Parrish interviews, the piece is so very scriptural, so biblical. It’s a cryptic guarded sermon that doesn’t really pin the blame on anyone or anything in particular. It leaves just enough get out clauses, including a nice big one for his white fans and buddies at the end. Mind you the question is pretty leading to begin with.
When the dust settles, Theo Parrish could be ranting about you, me, his own fans, or the crowd at a Tiesto concert, provided they’re white. Or he could be ranting about all of these! But then if he got specific the impact would be lost as people argued about whether they liked a producer he blasted or didn’t like him. How enfeebling nuances can be eh?
In this piece, forget nuances. The essential ingredients here are hellfire and brimstone, and what a unifying force they can be. Thousands of people might agree with this article, yet none of them will agree with each other. Bolshy bluster is inspiring, if you doubt it, look at who’s the US president.
The only climbdown from all this relativism is that I think a black person really does have more of a right to comment on cultural appropriation or discrimination than a white person. So as Theo Parrish’s view of the world, this tells you some interesting stuff about Theo Parrish.
Beyond that, as soon as a white person begins to talk about or agree too keenly with the idea of white people “stealing” music of black origin, you must ask what right a white person has to define such a theft? Isn’t that once again seizing the controls?
I wonder which race invented the idea of cultural appropriation in the first place. If you know the answer, please tell me.