Dance music has, and always will be, inherently political. It’s something we sometimes forget in recent years with all of the cake throwing and pool partying, but it’s true. It’s political because dance music’s legacy came from a political place. It came from the black community, the queer community, the nerd community; dance music evolved from an otherized, underground hub of outsider culture before eventually becoming the mainstream behemoth it is today. Dance music and clubs and their culture was derived from a need to express one’s individuality within a safe space wherein persons could be who they wanted to be, love who they wanted to love, and experience, if just for a night, the feeling of personal freedom. To be unabashedly weird, gay, black, queer, loving, or free. To say, “We are who we are and we’re gonna be that way, somewhere, anywhere, regardless of what you think we should do.”
Early on a Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, that sense of solace was violated. During a Pride event at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a gunman killed over 50 individuals and injured countless others in an attack which would become the worst mass shooting in US history. It’s been a little more than 24 hours and it’s still difficult to comprehend the level of violence and even harder to write about as words cannot summarize the feelings of pain, agony, confusion, and disgust I have been feeling let alone the feelings of countless others. So, in this instance, I feel like I can only speak for myself.
From a music writer’s perspective, this event cuts incredibly deep into a culture whose roots are coiled in the soil of the LGBTQIA community; dance music has always been about release and basking in the glorious light of the energy from the vibes. Even in the early days of disco, there was a queerness to it; a level of camp, if you will, which happily invited gay culture to participate. This would eventually lead to subgenres like Hi-NRG which would lead to other dance genres such as techno and house. If not for the queer community or the black community, dance music wouldn’t have taken off the way it did because there used to be a time when Pride was at the club and not in the streets.
As a DJ, I try to respect this legacy. I understand where my roots come from as someone who embraces house, disco, and techno. And I respect the haven of the club space: clubs were designed for people to explore themselves and express their individuality out of a need for safety. Again, this ties into the early days of disco and house and techno where the queer community could find the kind of refuge in a club they may not necessarily have out in the streets. For me, this is what terrifies me about what happened in Orlando. The desecration of an environment which, to many, is one of the few places where individuality is celebrated. It’s like violating holy ground. To turn a place meant for so much love into so much pain is excruciatingly macabre, sacrilegious, and horrifying.
But it’s from a queer person’s perspective where, I feel, this resonates with me the most. Sure, as a DJ it scares me because the club environment is like a home for me. Sure, as a music writer, it hurts because of where dance music comes from. But as a queer individual living at a time where it felt like so much good was happening for my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters? This haunts me. It haunts me because I know how hard things have been in the past for the community and it looked like the worst days were behind us. All I can think about is, “It was at a Pride event.” The worst mass shooting in US history was at a time where messages of love were supposed to prevail. In an environment where those in attendance could feel safe with others cut from the same cloth. At a time where I felt like there was no danger in being true to who I am with my friends and loved ones in the type of place where I spend most of my free time, and as a professional, enjoying the kind of culture I cherish so much.
It hurts that this happened. It hurts to know that this event is now a part of my legacy: as a writer; as a DJ; and as a member of the queer community. It’s devastating to even think that it could have been any of us at any club at any Pride event – all because of one person’s intense hate for a group of people. It hurts to think about the media frenzy my queer brothers and sisters are going to have to experience in the wake of such tragedy as biased outlets begin to break down the individual links of this horrendous, perturbed chain. It just simply hurts.
And I feel like that’s why there’s been such an outpour of love since yesterday morning. It resonates with everyone in a way which transcends their personal identity because even if you’re not queer, in this modern day and age, chances are you have a loved one who’s in the LGBTQIA spectrum. Someone who’s proud of who they are. Someone who could have very well been in that position, alongside their queer brothers and sisters, in a space of love, peace, hope, and pride for everything they are and everything their community has had to overcome – only to have that taken away in an instant.
But as I said: dance music is inherently political. It’s legacy is a political legacy. This makes the club a political space and political spaces are where we can make a stand and speak up for what’s right. The right thing to do, now, is to say, “We’re not scared.” The same way our ancestors stood up at Stonewall. The same way our ancestors demanded representation on Castro Street. The same way our ancestors fought against AIDS. And we can simply do that by saying, “I’m going to dance tonight with the ones I love because I can be me on the dancefloor.” Let’s show that the club is a safe space, it’s our space, and not even an act of terror can take that away from us.