As we slide into the sixth month of the global pandemic, the cure still out of sight, ravers are getting antsy. With the recent relaxation of lockdown protocols in many places, some promoters in dance music’s biggest hubs are beginning to throw parties again. In New York, the promoter Outlaw held a ‘protest rave’ behind an IKEA deep in Brooklyn. But with clubs shuttered and events like Outlaw’s still unviable to many, live-streaming has become the DJing platform de rigeur, as gig-less artists work for tips amid the impending collapse of the contemporary dance music industry.
Community Bread is a new site and stream series aiming to prioritise queer artists of colour in the techno scene’s nascent reconstruction. Over the past few months, many figures in New York’s dance music scene have rallied their digital constituencies around an ethic of mutual aid, leveraging their Zoom and Twitch streams to raise money for cash-strapped artists and community organizations.
In addition to original stream shows, Community Bread aims to provide a digital hub for this activity – hosting streams from partnered collectives alongside a list of resources to help US-based artists secure grants and relief funds. Without the municipally funded relief packages, affordable healthcare and housing, and, as of this week, livable unemployment benefits available to Europeans, artists in New York have been especially hard-hit by the financial toll of the pandemic.
According to creative director Paul Bui, solidarity is the MO: “When COVID came, the rave community became disconnected – we weren’t [seeing each other] on the dancefloor anymore. [Community Bread] is a way to bring everyone together, to have a sense of unity.” Bui, who’s been raving since he was 15, has been a familiar face on New York dancefloors for years. After managing director Arthur Kozlovski and tech director Angela Fan revealed a prototype for the site in April, Bui joined the team, connecting his peer group of promoters and DJs from around the world to the initiative.
Community Bread has announced partnerships with two dozen queer techno organizations, including many New York promoters as well as groups from other hotspots around the world, like Berlin’s Herrensauna and Bogotá’s Íntimas. The group has also brought on board Brooklyn drag collective Bushwig, and HECHA /做 X MTBA (Make Techno Black Again), a Brooklyn-based clothing company with a sibling campaign higlighting the erasure of dance music’s Black origins.
HECHA /做 X MTBA members Ting Ding, Luz Angelica Fernandez and DeForrest Brown Jr. will speak during Community Bread’s inaugural stream this weekend, along with acclaimed video artist Andrew Thomas Huang, a member of Eternal Dragonz, a pan-Asian artist collective also affiliated with Community Bread. DJ sets from Xiorro, Mike Servito, Jasmine Infiniti, and others follow the panels. Proceeds will be split between the participants and the Trans Women of Color Collective – Community Bread does not plan to extract any money from its activities. “It’s a labour of love. I have no job right now, but we’re putting whatever money we have into it,” Bui says.
For Ding and Fernandez, the streaming paradigm has served as a balm for the lock-in doldrums, as well as a political tool. “I’ve been really inspired by the ways in which local artists and friends have been using live-streaming to talk about important issues [and] support and raise funds for disenfranchised artists as well as the organisations and mutual aid projects out here doing productive work,” Fernandez says. “When we were in deep quarantine it was also super comforting for me to be able to tune into a friend’s set and feel that sense of connection to them and the people watching.”
However, it remains clear to them that the dance music industry must acknowledge its more problematic aspects. “Considering the dance music industry’s part in the exploitation of marginalised bodies and the appropriation of Black culture, there’s a lot that needs to be talked about before fighting in the name of the very people that have been hurt for the sake of our nightlife pleasure,” they add.
Speaking to the artists on the bill, I found all were similarly keen of the present opportunity to reshape the dance music industry. “With the commercial engine of dance music taking a big hit [in the pandemic], I think that this will be… an opportunity to tear down the previous system and build a new one with more racial equity,” Xiorro says. “This is the perfect time to take out the garbage and rebuild a less capitalistic, less opportunistic and less racist scene.”
Mike Servito, a Brooklyn-via-Detroit DJ and longtime resident of The Bunker, one of the longest-running contemporary techno parties in New York, adds: “The main objective is to smash this mould that has been shaped to work against the Black, queer, trans and gay communities. I would like to think we are all fighting on the same side of history. Otherwise maybe this music, this scene, isn’t meant for you.”
Initiatives like Community Bread will keep the passion in this culture alight while we wait until it’s safe to gather outdoors again. Until then, streaming will have to suffice. “There was a learning curve at the beginning, but I bet, especially during colder months, [streams] will be really big,” Jasmine Infiniti says. “I don’t really like them but I recognise the importance… Nothing beats hearing a sickening track on a sickening club sound system.”
Check out the livestream from 12am GMT /7pm ET on Saturday, 25th July here.