For Dance Music, 2015 Was the Year of Dumb Free Speech

Levon Vincent, one of several DJs over the past year who found himself in hot water after inflammatory online comments
Levon Vincent, one of several DJs over the past year who found himself in hot water after inflammatory online comments
Uzuri Recordings

2015 was a banner year for DJs and dance producers making dumb statements online. It was almost as if certain DJs had just learned of social media and did not understand the rules of engagement or the consequences of public speech.

Ten Walls went on a rant equating homosexuality with pedophilia. GFOTY of PC Music (irony’s a bitch) made a racist remark. Boddika said something xenophobic. Tanner Ross berated a gay journalist on Twitter. Felix Da Housecat essentially called the people behind Berlin techno institution Berghain Nazis. After the Paris attacks, Levon Vincent made several comments calling for everyone to "arm themselves" to prevent further attacks, or at least "Throw your 750 euro iPhones at them as hard as you can!"

Of course, not all of these statements are equivalent. Some cost the artists involved fans and gigs. Some blew over pretty quickly. But the artists’ responses to their initial gaffes — deleting their comments and/or issuing half-assed apologies — consistently proved that they lack both self-awareness and the basic instinct of impulse control.

What’s even more surprising is that a large number of writers and commenters in the dance-music press are indirectly backing such comments by decrying the so-called "outrage cycle" they engender. The sentiment can be summed up in this comment to a recent, heavily high-fived Resident Advisor op-ed on the subject: “What I find really interesting about the levon [sic] Vincent incident is how it seems fan bases no longer will tolerate any out of the norm opinions from the artists they follow.”

This myopic expression has become the prevalent copout for those who yearn to live in a consequence-free world. But it is arguably just as offensive as what these DJs said in the first place.

The truth is that there are still a lot of dense individuals out there, in dance music and beyond, who do not comprehend the concept of free speech. These people are easy to spot. They love tossing labels like “PC Police” at anyone who dares criticize their views. It’s a derogatory term aimed at anyone who expresses outrage or even mere disagreement.

But the truth is, all of these DJs embroiled in these controversies, large and small, are responsible for their own actions. Because social media companies have abdicated any responsibility in moderating their content in a timely manner, it's up to the individual users — especially public figures — to self-regulate.The words they typed are their own. Being active on social media is their choice. And criticizing an audience for not reacting how you want it to is in the same ballpark as victim blaming.

So for anyone out there who comes online with hot takes — especially public figures — the only adult thing to do is to take some responsibility. If you're going to scream variations of hate speech or racism or homophobia, at least mount a reasonable defense. Or have the conviction to leave your posts up — like DeadMau5, who never seems to apologize for or delete his provocative posts and, tellingly, remains wildly popular — if you believe that strongly in your views, paranoid conspiracy theories or cryptic incitements to violence.

Or here's an idea: Have a discussion with your followers who disagree. There’s the possibility of finding common ground or clarifying an impetuous statement with something more reasoned. Rage-deleting or non-apologizing, trying to wriggle out of making a bold statement or blaming your audience for disagreeing with your stupid posts are the lamest — if most common — choices a person could make.

Anyone who claims that the PC Police have ruined free expression or confuses the outrage cycle with actual censorship doesn’t understand that we live in a culture where we can openly disagree with one another (or the government) without being arrested. The police or Facebook didn't take down Levon Vincent’s rant. He did. If a talent buyer decides not to book Vincent or Ten Walls or whomever, that’s her prerogative. It’s called freedom. On the flip side: Don’t like what you’re reading? Go somewhere else.

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Unfortunately, DJs and pundits are still confused about what "freedom of speech" means. Freedom does not absolve us from consequences. It’s actually the opposite.

But that's just my opinion. Feel free to explain to me why I’m wrong. That, after all, is what free expression is about. 


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