Music tech makers are donating a day – or more – to funds that could make a difference

Black lives matter. Just posting slogans isn’t going to help – and people are dying. What can make a difference? Music tech makers are proposing an actual plan of activities.

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A fresh electronic sound for the Netherlands, and urgent work to fight racism

In the Netherlands, electronic music isn’t just a sound, but a rallying cry. And you can answer that call from all around the world.

Racial discrimination can make people feel like outsiders in their own home, and can stand in the way of displaced people trying to make a new home. This time of year in the Netherlands and Belgium, that reality is as stark as ever, in a country that still celebrates Christmas with blackface and racial caricatures. (See reporting on Zwarte Piet from just last week, if you’re not already familiar with the phenomenon.)

Here’s where music comes in – it’s an expressive response, an organizing tool, a way of bringing people in to learning more and interacting on the issues, and can even support people working to create solutions on the ground. Music can have a role even without being explicitly containing a political text – the musical album around this effort is just a fantastic compilation.

And that seems to open the door not only to directly support our friends and colleagues in Amsterdam here, but also to see a model for music making a tangible difference. Okay, so before moving on, let’s get a soundtrack:

This story starts with that compilation – place: the netherlands is the latest in a series from New York’s Air Texture label, pairing musical compilations with local social causes. The Dutch edition is the work of Axmed Maxamed, self-described “queer diasporic Somali activist, organizer, and music nerd,” and DJ and radio host Jasmin Hoek (“Jasmín”), host of shows on Utrecht’s Stranded FM and Red Light Radio in Amsterdam.

The music already tells some story, but where this goes further is that the music is becoming a jumping-off point to activism. That means tackling twin issues – dealing with the worst aspects of Dutch immigration for its most vulnerable entrants, right as the country ramps up a tradition that mocks people for their skin color.

Axmed and Jasmin talk to CDM about what that means.

Axmed, Teddy, Jasmin – photo by Teddy Lyon, center, co-founder of Open Closet LGBT Netherlands.

CDM: Since this is a club music response – apart from the compilation and this activism, is there interaction now between the club scene and some inbound refugees? Is there a way that there could be more space in the club environment for that interaction?

Axmed/Jasmin: It’s important not to only welcome refugees, but go the extra mile to make sure they feel comfortable being in the space and to have people available at the club who they can approach if necessary. In addition to that, it’s important to make spaces available for refugees or people from other marginalized communities to host their own events. 

Zwarte Piet is a literal face of racism in the NL, and maybe one that’s tough for outsiders to come to terms with, too. What would you want people from the international community to know? What can we do to respond?

Axmed: The Netherlands and Belgium are inherently racist countries, and during this period – which goes on for about two months – it really comes to the surface. It is important to amplify the voices of people who are fighting this racist anti-black tradition called Sinterklaas. Ask your white Dutch and Belgian friends what they are doing to speak up against this racist tradition, especially those that have a platform, whether they be a DJ, label, venue, promoter, etc. Even in a city like Amsterdam, there are still a lot of stores decorated with racist imagery, so it is on white people living in the Netherlands who say that they care about change, to talk to shop owners. White people in the Netherlands and Belgium chose to make this into racist tradition in 1850, so it is now their responsibility to get rid of it. As a Black person, I do not want to be confronted with it anymore. 

Reforming how immigration works could build better and fairer societies; refugees occupy this especially difficult situation where they’re unable to work because of how the law is set up. Is there a way for us in creative industries to find some solutions there and work together? Definitely, reach out to initiatives such as Open Closet [ Open Closet LGBT Netherlands] that are for and by newcomers and set something up together with them, such as workshops, parties, dinners, and so on. Offer structural support and involvement within the work you’re doing, not something that’s just one-off. 

Ed.: This is obviously a deeper issue than we can cover here, as the situations vary country to country and have different organizations for responding, but – now with this out there, I hope we’ll hear from some of those specifics from our international audience.

Check DutchAfro’s music – she’s making amazing noises from deep in the Dutch underground. You heard her here first.

What’s next; what you can do

The easiest thing for readers of this site to do is to go buy the compilation, which supports active work on helping LGBTQIA+ refugees navigate a hostile immigration system – and gets you some great music, too:

https://musicandactivism.bandcamp.com/album/place-the-netherlands?

For the minority of readers in the Netherlands, there’s a launch party running daytime to nighttime on December 21. (Hey, maybe you lucked out and even have a transfer at Schiphol then.)

https://web.facebook.com/events/1885211238290392/

That event is itself a compelling model. Of course, local contributing artists play (Accuraat, Blusher, Cuboid Kiss, Dim Garden, DJ Bone, DutchAfro, Jarlentji, Loradeniz, Global Mind Surveillance, Pasiphae, Raj, Ranie Ribeiro, Rural Juror, and Zohar). But there’s also discourse, film, and food – a chance for interested music lovers to better understand the issues and get involved.

You can attend virtually and lend more support by buying a ticket:

https://thegreyspace.stager.nl/web/tickets/380668

For any criticism of club culture simply criticizing from the sidelines in a filter bubble/echo chamber, here are people getting out and doing something concrete, making a difference in the lives of refugees.

What these challenges can mean: essential reading

Axmed is a great example of how someone can be both a figure in the music scene and in activism, simultaneously. That energy he shares in bringing people together in nightlife he has channeled into rallying people behind making an impact on the larger community. A refugee of the Somali civil war at a young age, he says he’s now connecting with LGBTQIA+ refugees as he works in that community as they go through the asylum procedure.

As with so many people working on immigration worldwide, though, his stories about the system can be infuriating and heartbreaking. As he tells Glamcult:

In my work as an interpreter and translator, I have first-hand knowledge of how refugees in general are treated in the Netherlands, which is mostly from a starting point of not believing refugees. And in addition to that, LGBTQIA+ refugees have a specific burden of proof—together with having to prove that they are from their home country, they also have to prove their sexual and/or gender identity to the interviewer from the IND (Immigration Office). This process has been criticized as being too invasive and lacking important sensitivities needed to ask such personal and sometimes traumatizing questions. 

Yeah, you read that right – for anyone who has dealt with immigration, imagine having to prove who you are sexually or what your gender is. (Heck, it’s unpleasant enough doing that outside an immigration process.) More on this topic:

So much for Dutch tolerance: life as an LGBT asylum seeker in the Netherlands

By connecting with Open Closet, the music scene here supports volunteers dealing with that, but also a great deal more:

Open Closet not only ensures that incoming LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers are properly registered, but also provides help with food, support towards the procedures required, counseling and a family where everybody is welcome. They provide a place to come together and cover for traveling costs if needed. By organising meetings regularly, they create a sense of community and belonging for queer asylum seekers in the Netherlands. Open Closet also ensures that asylum seekers are properly informed of their rights and options.

Axmed Maxamed to Glamcult

This isn’t just another compilation to raise awareness – by connecting to an in-person event, Axmed and Jasmin are also bringing more people in to engage with the organization itself.

But clubland does network people. In the same Glamcult piece, there’s also a checklist for how clubs (and clubgoers) could better include refugees in our community. You should read the whole piece, but here’s a summary of what Axmed advises, for quick reference (to paste on your wall or whatever you like):

  1. Hire and empower the people affected to make decisions about dealing with unsafe spaces and exclusion.
  2. Have an awareness team people can go to directly.
  3. Make gathering spaces outside of clubs, too.

See the full story:

Music is an art built around listening. So we can use that power to listen to queer activists and – well, electronic music is all about amplification, so we can make that sound louder. For a place to start, Axmed keeps a running list of links of great reading:

linktr.ee/axmed

By the way, to look beyond the Netherlands – artists like Meklit are bringing together activism and music practice, both on immigration and even water issues (with some data sonification thrown in so – some of your CDM reader bingo cards just got filled). Meklit has also worked with the excellent Bay Area activist group Women’s Audio Mission.

And just in the past few days, artists have pulled music from Amazon to protest that company’s work with discriminatory US immigration practices.

Local efforts in your area? Questions? We would love to hear them.

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Don’t miss bangers from DutchAfro, more, in compilation for Dutch LGBTQIA+ refugees

When it comes to activism, talented music producers still speak best in music. And now hear this – the Netherlands might be a different place than the one you imagine, starting with this killer cut from DutchAfro.

Let’s listen to “Time to Trip” in entirety first, as it’s just massive stuff, and from an artist largely unknown in the larger scene. “DutchAfro, Anna, is 24 years old and lives in Utrecht. Music has always been one of her big interests. Growing up in a cultural mixed family, she got stimulated to discover and explore music from the West (mainly Jazz and Motown) and Angola. “

That’s the kind of track I want to throw money at with or without a cause, but – yeah, there’s a cause, too. Place: The Netherlands is the latest in a series of electronic music compilations from industry heavyweight Kompakt, together with Air Texture from New York. The pitch: present music from a locale, not just as a sonic flavor, but as a platform for making real social change.

The series already knocked out must-hear gatherings of tracks from Colombia and Georgia (the European one). But its latest installment moves to the Netherlands – speaking of European politics. And it gives you a portrait of the Netherlands that might defy all kinds of biases, aesthetic ones included.

Among other cuts, get lost in the stacatto rhythmic fire of “Fibonacci Konnakol” by B C Manjunath. Or go deep into DJ Bone – the featured track on Bandcamp. Enter the abstract disorientation of blusher (an artist I’ve generally been finding lately). Dim Garden’s “Only You” seems it could drop in the middle of an EBM set for some catastrophic melodramatic theatrics. Or other brain ticklers and muscle stimulants… I could go on.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that political compilations lately have been so good. We’re in a generation of artists who feel urgency to their political cries, and whose outward spiraling production chops need outlets that aren’t only commercial and conformist.

Stream and buy the whole compilation on Beatport —

https://www.beatport.com/release/place-the-netherlands/2752631

or go preorder on Bandcamp:

Preorder now to get this when it arrives on the 15th. I mean, now is the time to do that – others are coming later.

Speaking of DJ Bone and the impact these sorts of benefits can have, Mixmag recently covered his epic ADE fundraiser:

DJ Bone and the power of charity through raving

More on this release – it is also a really special collaboration of two individuals:

Created in collaboration with Jasmin Hoek and Axmed Maxamed.
Jasmin Hoek is a DJ who plays under the name Jasmín. She was born and grew up in the east of The Netherlands, Enschede, and has now made her way to Amsterdam through Antwerp and Utrecht. In Utrecht she still hosts her own radio show on local radio station Stranded FM, as well as on Amsterdam’s Red Light Radio. Since her first club appearance two years ago, she has quickly made her way to the booths of Dutch clubs and festivals. In the past year, she started paving her way internationally with gigs in Berlin and New York.Next to djing she writes about music and club culture for various platforms, using her Gender Studies background as a framework.

​https://soundcloud.com/jasminhoek

Axmed Maxamed is a Queer Diasporic Somali activist, organizer and music nerd. Axmed was born in Xamar, Somalia where he also spent his early years until his family had to flee during the civil war and ended up in the Netherlands via other countries. He spent his formative years in Breda in the south of the Netherlands until he moved to Amsterdam some years ago. In Amsterdam Axmed co-founded Dance with Pride, a queer initiative which aims to re-unify dance music with its queer roots and raise money for grass roots queer initiatives with their fundraiser parties and sales of the Dance with Pride T-shirt. In addition to that Axmed is involved in other queer initiatives, with focus on QTIBPOC. Together with Ladan Maandeeq, Axmed started working on ‘Queer Somali Pasts and Presents: A Storytelling and Archival Project’ which will focus on the lives of Queer Somalis in the diaspora and Somalia, both in the present day and the past. As someone who came to the Netherlands as a refugee and is queer, this cause touches Axmed on a personal level.

Link: ​http://linktr.ee/axmed

Social Cause

ll over the world people from the LGBTQIA+ community are in danger. They are discriminated, persecuted, or worse in many parts of the world, forcing them to leave their homes to seek safety and protection in more socially accepting countries. People travel far from home without family or support systems.

In the Netherlands, many come seeking safety, but confront a difficult system where the process is confrontational and arbitrary. The Immigration and Naturalisation (IND) treats LGBTQIA+ refugees very poorly. Many have to prove they are Queer with detailed sexual and personal history – an invasion of privacy forcing the burden of proof on the individual at risk.

Many don’t get granted asylum and scared they will be sent back, are forced into a situation where they become undocumented. Outside of the system even basic needs like health care are not available.
The Netherlands positions itself as progressive and open but to People of Colour and other minority groups it is very different. LGBTQIA+ refugees are the most marginalized and the most at risk.

For Place : Netherlands we wanted to bring attention and funds to organizations that help Queer refugees get advice, find an extended sense of family and belonging, get legal work, and reenter society.

Partner Organization

Open Closet LGBT Netherlands

The Open Closet LGBT Netherlands was co-founded by Teddy Lyon as a response to the difficulties of his personal experience with the local immigration authorities (IND). Having decided that he is here to stay, the South-African born activist wanted to make sure that what happened to him does not happen to others.

Open Closet not only ensures that incoming LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers are properly registered, but also provides help with food, support towards the procedures required, counseling and a family where everybody is welcome. They provide a place to come together and cover for traveling costs if needed. By organising meetings regularly, they create a sense of community and belonging for queer asylum seekers in the Netherlands. Open Closet also ensures that asylum seekers are properly informed of their rights and options.

Link: ​https://www.facebook.com/2017radio.nl/

Go for it:

http://musicandactivism.bandcamp.com/album/place-the-netherlands

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Techno to terraforming: this ex-Berlin collective is planting 27,027 trees in Portugal

Could techno makers wind up shifting to rural landscapes from the usual urban ones? One collective imagines “terraforming … a sustainable green oasis.”

Liquid Sky and ringleader Ingmar Koch aka Dr. Walker began life in Germany, but recently migrated to southwest Portugal. They are reforesting the land, as Ingmar joins with local architect Carina Guerreiro and others, planting and maintaining some 27,027 trees.

It could at least be a novel way for frequent-traveling DJs and producers to acquire carbon offsets, as the project needs significant investment in time for weekly maintenance of the trees. But once planted, these trees not only suck carbon out of the air, but will provide some fruit (for humans and animals), shelter for indigenous wildlife, and resistance to brush fires.

That promises a more self-sufficient, ecological, pleasant environment for the Liquid Sky collective, but Ingmar also says he plans working with neighboring areas in the future.

You can track the project here:

https://www.facebook.com/liquidskyproject27027/

It’s a small project, but it could also be an early sign that the techno scene of the future might have new associations, not just its perpetual post-industrial, toxic cliche.

More environmental projects we should know about? Let us know.

All photos courtesy Liquid Sky.

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Poland’s electronic underground called for support; the world answered with this music

In Poland, as queer groups and allies face a rising threat of violence and hate, the Oramics collective chose to respond with music. The result: a sprawling compilation of 121 tracks and international outpouring of support.

I definitely want to encourage you to grab the compilation, but also want to take this opportunity to give you a tour through some of the music here – including from some lesser-known and underground and Polish artists. So alongside some known international figures, like Peder Mannerfelt, Object Blue, Borusaide, Lee Gamble, Electric Indigo, and Rrose, you’ll get an excellent sampling of artists involved in Poland’s underground and queer communities. We’re fortunate that in dark and challenging times, we have music and emotion and celebratory and powerful sound, and not just, you know, the news.

A hypnotic video for this irresistible track – Bartosz Zaskórski and Rufus (animation) for Mchy i Porosty’s “not many friends.” (One of my favorites!)

This is not an abstract battle or “culture war”: in Poland as in an alarming number of places, basic rights of expression and safety are under assault, backed even by mainstream media and religious and governmental leaders. That’s put artists who I’ve worked with personally under real pressure and danger, among many others. It’s something you feel on a visceral level not only in Poland but in the fabric of the electronic music scene outside of the country, as well.

Out now, the “Total Solidarity” compilation gives sonic, musical form to a growing chorus of solidarity and protest. That network has brought together collectives, artists, curators, press, activist organizations, and concerned friends in a network inside and outside of the country. Total Solidarity demonstrates how deep that network is, and how many people have been touched by the political struggle and by these artists.

Over 100 tracks from the Polish underground and international electronic music scene come together on the digital release, available for fifty bucks on Bandcamp (or individually, by track). Poland’s Oramics collective joins Tilburg, Netherlands’ Drvg Cvltvre, who runs the label New York Haunted. The funds raised go directly to organizations battling homophobia and supporting queer communities.

http://oramicspl.bandcamp.com/album/total-solidarity-benefit-compilation-for-grassroot-lgbtqia-organizations-in-poland

“I think it is very important to show that music scene and culture will never accept hatred,” Justyna from Oramics tells us. “This was one of the main goals of this compilation – to gather people from all over the world and show support,” she says. “This symbolic support, kind of artistic / curatorial gesture of solidarity was the main goal I guess – all this which lies beyond fame, mainstream, underground and genre borders. This is the biggest success.”

Here are some highlights, and places to find more.

Justyna also shared some picks. “It was one of the goals to combine artists from literally everywhere,” she says. “Of course, it is important that we have so many amazing internationally acclaimed artists, because they are giving us all the incredible press — but how amazing it is to give some more visibility to those less known, but also super-talented.” Hell, yeah.

Here are a few of those picks – and I have to second these nominations.

Astma:

Duy Gebord:

Calum Gunn:

Kaltstam:

Mchy i Porosty:

Ostrowski:

Satin de Compostela:

Warrego Valles:

Wojciech Kurek:

I have listened to the whole compilation and love the whole thing, but to highlight even some more people, particularly those close to this scene, whose tracks really moved me:

Doc Sleep’s work I wrote about recently:

ISNT has this dirty, noisy beauty:

3-3-3 is a punk-ish banger from Dyktanto of Brutaz:

FOQL’s aptly named “Colony Collapse” is some delicious oddball mayhem from Justyna herself:

There’s some genius, futuristic apocalypse going on in the music of Oramics’ Mala Herba:

RSS BOYS and Eltron will be familiar to anyone following the Polish scene, but if not – know them!

Electric Indigo added a smartly constructed electronic opus that CDM readers shouldn’t miss – Susanne being both a legend in the scene as an artist and founder of female pressure, which has been a template for many female/femme/activist groups since:

Isabella’s chimey, crystalline creation sounds a bit like that cover art looks:

Dr. Rey mastered over a hundred tracks to make this compilation happen, and their contribution is eerie and beautiful:

Oh yeah, and I’m in there, too.

https://oramicspl.bandcamp.com/

Do go buy it whether by individual track or the whole compilation if you can. It reaches people in need:

All proceeds from the digital sales will support Polish queer organizations: Kampania Przeciw Homofobii and Miłość Nie Wyklucza, who monitor homophobia, provide all kind of support for queer people and have agreed to help us redistribute the proceeds throughout LGBTQIA+ organizations in smaller cities and towns of Poland, who need them the most.

We will be in touch with Oramics to hear how these organizing efforts are going, and what else the electronic music community can do there – and worldwide – to support people’s safety. It’s expressive freedom that has brought us to music and music technology, so if that’s not what we’re in the business of supporting, I’m not sure what we are doing.

For those near Berlin – Polish-born Rey for their part will also be leading their project The Womb, with a summer symposium for female-identified, non-binary and queer creatives and entrepreneurs, on 31 August. Kudos to Rey for this epic mastering job; see Uferlos Studios for more.

For more Oramics action, here’s the latest Behind The Stage podcast, with Szkoda:

More reading:

I got to write about Oramics a couple of times before:

And see also my chat with Dyktando, who also contributed to this compilation, from when I got to play with him last summer:

https://oramicspl.bandcamp.com/

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Climate crisis, shown directly on power plant, in guerrilla projection

In the Czech Republic, one artistic intervention made the invisible visible, by laser “tagging” a coal-fired power plant with the damage it does to our planet’s fragile climate.

Live visuals are in many ways the perfect protest – visible, large scale, and able to intervene from a distance without harm. That opens radical and political possibilities for their message, even as media art tools are often the domain of corporate gigs.

The scene here takes us to the industrial central Czech Republic, and the Chvaletice power plant, where North Bohemia’s brown coal is burned for power production. Coal, of course, is dirty stuff. That makes this power plant a major carbon emitter and climate change contributor, as well as a devastating threat to health, belching mercury and other toxins into the air. And while Europe may seem a haven for environmental policy, Czech is set to fail its Paris Climate Agreement obligations, if it can’t kick the coal habit.

There’s reason to single out this plant. The Chvaletice plant was given an exemption that lets is continue to operate even with a coming 2021 cap on carbon dioxide and mercury. Those caps in turn are necessary to incentive alternative energy sources for meeting Czech electricity consumption. So this isn’t just a random target – it’s on the front lines of breathable air and climate change policy in a material way.

Media artist Gabriela Prochazka and Lunchmeat Studio (who also produce Prague’s Lunchmeat Festival) made statements by running lasers on top of the cooling towers and its exhaust. That included messages like “STOP COAL”, “#NOFILTER”, “NOT COOL”, and, in a reference to rising planetary air temps, “+2°C.” (If those cooling towers remind you of nuclear plants, not coal, well, that’s because both methods basically run on steam – but I digress, you can go to Wikipedia for that.)

http://gabrielaprochazka.com/
http://www.lunchmeat.cz/

Sponsors:
Limity Jsme My (We Are The Limits)
Greenpeace CZ

Photos:
Petr Zewkak Vrabec, Martin Janousek

Something like a power plant can easily fade into the background of the world around us. This seems an effective way to use our tools to transform that perception.

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It’s time for music and music technology to be a voice for migrants

From countries across Europe to the USA, migration is at the center of Western politics at the moment. But that raises a question: why aren’t more people who make music, music instruments, and music tech louder about these issues?

Migration – temporary and permanent – is simply a fact of life for a huge group of people, across backgrounds and aspirations. That can involve migration to follow opportunities, and refugees and asylum seekers who move for their own safety and freedom. So if you don’t picture immigrants, migrants, and refugees when you think of your society, you just aren’t thinking.

Musicians ought to be uniquely qualified to speak to these issues, though. Extreme anti-immigration arguments all assume that migrants take away more from a society than they give back. And people in the music world ought to know better. Music has always been based on cultural exchange. Musicians across cultures have always considered touring to make a living. And to put it bluntly, music isn’t a zero sum game. The more you add, the more you create.

Music gets schooled in borders

As music has grown more international, as more artists tour and cross borders, at least the awareness is changing. That’s been especially true in electronic music, in a DJ industry that relies on travel. Resident Advisor has consistently picked up this story over the last couple of years, as artists spoke up about being denied entry to countries while touring.

In a full-length podcast documentary last year, they dug into the ways in which the visa system hurts artists outside the US and EU, with a focus on non-EU artists trying to gain entry to the UK:

Andrew Ryce also wrote about a visa rate hike in the USA back in 2016 – and this in the Obama Administration, not under Trump:

US raises touring artist visa fees by 42%

Now, being a DJ crossing a border isn’t the same as being a refugee running for your life. But then on some other level, it can allow artists to experience immigration infrastructure – both when it works for them, and when it works against them. A whole generation of artists, including even those from relatively privileged Western nations, is now learning the hard way about the immigration system. And that’s something they might have missed as tourists, particularly if they come from places like the USA, western Europe, Australia, and other places well positioned in the system.

The immigration system they see will often come off as absurdist. National policies worldwide categorize music as migrant labor and require a visa. In many countries, these requirements are unenforced in all but big-money gigs. But in some countries – the USA, Canada, and UK being prime examples – they’re rigorously enforced, and not coincidentally, the required visas have high fees.

Showing up at a border carrying music equipment or a bag of vinyl records is an instant red flag – whether a paid gig is your intention or not. (I’m surprised, actually, that no one talks about this in regards to the rise of the USB stick DJ. If you aren’t carrying a controller or any records, sailing through as a tourist is a lot easier.) Border officials will often ask visitors to unlock phones, hand over social media passwords. They’ll search Facebook events by name to find gigs. Or they’ll even just view the presence of a musical instrument as a violation.

Being seen as “illegal” because you’re traveling with a guitar or some records is a pretty good illustration of how immigration can criminalize simple, innocent acts. Whatever the intention behind that law, it’s clear there’s something off here – especially given the kinds of illegality that can cross borders.

When protection isn’t

This is not to argue for open borders. There are times when you want border protections. I worked briefly in environmental advocacy as we worked on invasive species that were hitching a ride on container ships – think bugs killing trees and no more maple syrup on your pancakes, among other things. I was also in New York on 9/11 and watched from my roof – that was a very visible demonstration of visa security oversight that had failed. Part of the aim of customs and immigration is to stop the movement of dangerous people and things, and I don’t think any rational person would argue with that.

But even as a tiny microcosm of the larger immigration system, music is a good example of how laws can be uneven, counter-intuitive, and counterproductive. The US and Canada, for instance, do have an open border for tourists. So if an experimental ambient musician from Toronto comes to play a gig in Cleveland, that’s not a security threat – they could do the same as a tourist. It’s also a stretch of the imagination that this individual would have a negative impact on the US economy. Maybe the artist makes a hundred bucks cash and … spends it all inside the USA, not to mention brings in more money for the venue and the people employed by it. Or maybe they make $1000 – a sum that would be wiped out by the US visa fee, to say nothing of slow US visa processing. Again, that concert creates more economic activity inside the US economy, and it’s very likely the American artist sharing the bill goes up to Montreal and plays with them next month on top of it. I could go on, but it’s … well, boring and obvious.

Artists and presenters worldwide often simply ignore this visa system because it’s slow, expensive, and unreliable. And so it costs economies (and likely many immigration authorities) revenue. It costs societies value and artistic and cultural exchange.

Of course, scale that up and the same is true, across other fields. Immigrants tend to give more into government services than they take out, they tend to own businesses that employ more local people (so they create jobs), they tend to invent new technologies (so they create jobs again), and so on.

Ellis Island, NYC. 12 million people passed through here – not all of my family who came to the USA, but some. I’ve now come the other way through Tegel Airport and the Ausländerbehörde , Berlin. Photo (CC-BY-ND
“>A. Strakey.

Advocacy and music

Immigration advocacy could be seen as something in the charter of anyone in the music industry or musical instruments industry.

Music technology suffers as borders are shut down, too. Making musical instruments and tools requires highly specialized labor working in highly specialized environments. From production to engineering to marketing, it’s an international business. I actually can’t think of any major manufacturer that doesn’t rely on immigrants in key roles. (Even many tiny makers involve immigrants.)

And the traditional music industry lean heavily on immigrant talent, too. Those at the top of the industry have powerful lobbying efforts – efforts that could support greater cultural exchange and rights for travelers. Certainly, its members are often on the road. But let’s take the Recording Academy (the folks behind the Grammy Awards).

Instead, their efforts seem to fixate on domestic intellectual property law. So the Recording Academy and others were big on the Music Modernization Act – okay, fine,
a law to support compensation for creators.

But while the same organization advocated on behalf of instruments traveling – domestic rules around carry-on and checked instruments – but not necessarily humans. So it could be that there’s more interest in your guitar getting across borders than people.

I don’t want to be unfair to the Recording Association – and not just because I think it might hurt my Grammy winning chances. (Hey, stop laughing.) No, I think it’s more that we as a community have generally failed to take up this issue in any widespread way. (I sincerely hope someone out there works for the record industry and writes to say that you’re actually working on this and I’m wrong.)

More than anything else, music can cross borders. It can speak to people when you don’t speak their language, literally. When music travels, emotion and expression travels – artists and technology alike.

It’s personal – isn’t it for you?

I personally feel the impact of all of this, now having been seven years in Berlin, and able to enjoy opportunities, connections, and perspective that come from living in Germany and working with people both from Germany and abroad. I feel hugely grateful to the German state for allowing my business to immigrate (my initial visa was a business visa, which involved some interesting bureaucracy explaining to the Berlin Senate what this site is about). I’ve even benefited from the support of programs like the Goethe Institut and host governments to work in cultural diplomacy.

I’ve also had the chance to be involved writing in support of visas and financial backing for artists coming from Iran, Mexico, Kazakhstan, and many other places, for programs I’ve worked on.

And all of this is really a luxury – even when we’re talking about artists traveling to support their careers and feed themselves. For many people, migration is a matter of survival. Sometimes the threats to their lives come from geopolitical and economic policies engineered by the governments we come from – meaning as citizens, we share some responsibility for the impact others have felt. But whether or not that’s the case, I would hope we feel that obligation as human beings. That’s the basis of international rule of law on accepting refugees and granting asylum. It’s the reason those principles are uncompromising and sometimes even challenging. Our world is held together – or not – based on that basic fairness we afford to fellow humans. If people come to where we live and claim their survival and freedom depends on taking them in, we accept the obligation to at least listen to their case.

Those of us in the music world could use our privilege, and the fact that our medium is so essential to human expression, to be among the loudest voices for these human rights. When we live in countries who listen to us, we should talk to other citizens and talk to our governments. We should tell the stories that make these issues more relatable. We should do what some people I know are doing in the music world, too – work on education and involvement for refugees, help them to feel at home in our communities and to develop whatever they need to make a home here, and make people feel welcome at the events we produce.

That’s just the principles, not policies. But I know a lot of people in my own circle have worked on the policy and advocacy sides here. I certainly would invite you to share what we might do. If you’ve been impacted by immigration obstacles and have ideas of how we help, I hope we hear that, too.

Some likely policy areas:
Supporting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers
Supporting refugee and asylum seeker integration
Advocating for more open visa policies for artists – keeping fees low, and supporting exchange
Advocating the use of music and culture, and music technology, as a form of cultural diplomacy
Supporting organizations that connect artists and creative technologists across borders

And so on…

But I do hope that as musicians, we work with people who share basic beliefs in caring for other people. I know there’s no single “community” or “industry” that can offer that. But we certainly can try to build our own circle in a way that does.

Some examples from here in Berlin working on refugee issues here. I would argue immigration policy can find connections across refugees and migrants, asylum seekers and touring musicians, as everyone encounters the same larger apparatus and set of laws:

Photo at top: CC-BY Nicola Romagna.

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Synths may be spared worst of US trade war – for now

Following Moog Music’s alarmed email regarding US trade policy, some in the synth industry have responded that the immediate impact on manufacturers will be minimal.

Okay, so what’s going on?

The matter of discussion is still a document by the US Trade Representative regarding proposed tariffs or import taxes. These are 25% additional tariffs imposed by the USA on Chinese goods as they’re imported into the United States.

This document has changed over the past months. But the USTR does provide a public comment period for any changes – meaning, while these tariffs are set to go into effect this Friday the 6th of July, theoretically there shouldn’t be any additional changes.

And that’s where there’s a legitimate problem with the way Moog Music – and my own writing here on CDM – presented the problem.

Paul Schreiber, an engineer who has worked with multiple companies in the industry, posted a heated rebuttal to the Moog letter. That was not necessarily to defend Trump administration policy, but rather to suggest that Moog and others may have overreacted or mischaracterized the immediate realities of the policy.

See, previously:
Moog urges US citizens to take action to stop Trump import tax

Long story short: the idea is, the tariffs apply only to small components, like LEDs and potentiometers, but not to more significant expenses like the “circuit boards” Moog mentioned in their email.

And in fact, the cost of those really shouldn’t significantly impact the cost of US-made products, including Moog’s – even on an instrument that’s covered in LEDs and stuffed with circuits, those particular parts make up a relatively small portion of the cost. They’re not meaningless – shaving dollars and even cents off individual components is a pretty major part of the design process. But they’re not the sort of thing that would disrupt jobs or hurt the economy.

The area of confusion may be around circuit boards, as Schreiber observes – and I’m forced to admit, I agree with his assessment. He writes in a follow-up post:

If you search the tariff PDF for ‘printed circuit assemblies’, you get many hits (ATM machines, radiation detectors, etc) and here in Section 90, this one listing.
The ‘issue’ is that the listing of the tariff codes are an ABBREVIATED DESCRIPTION, not ‘as formally written’ in the ACTUAL codes.
The 9030 section of Chapter 90 is SPECIFICALLY talking about oscilloscopes. And this 9030.90.68 is referring to a non-US company, importing a ‘kit of parts’ into the USA, including a stuffed pc board, and then building a scope in the USA.

That’s not necessarily a definitive list, and it is open to interpretation but … I do tend to agree with this interpretation, unless someone can present a compelling alternative reading.

There are still reasons for the electronic musical instrument building community to be concerned. An escalating trade war between the USA and its trading partners could pose unexpected problems in the near future. And if these trading difficulties hurt the US economy, that impact could be felt, too. But it’s important to separate that from the immediate impact on making synths, which for the moment may indeed be negligible.

Other industries have greater cause to worry. The US automakers in particular are seriously concerned about costs for raw materials and retaliatory penalties abroad – but they’re impacted differently than US synthmakers are. Agriculture are concerned, too, as punitive measures cut off markets they need for exports. (And, okay, yes, synthesizers make up a much smaller part of the US economy than cars or agriculture, obviously. I guess we still have work to do? Or we have to figure out how you can ride synthesizers to different places, or … eat them.)

The DIY community I shared in my original post are harder hit, too, as a lot of their products are just these components – see Boing Boing’s story on maker products.

And there’s the fact that the US President is saying threatening things about the EU in general.

But in a heated political climate, it’s important to separate long-term risks from immediate problems, and to keep concerns in scale. For now, it’s reasonable for makers like Moog to protest isolationist or protectionist US trade policy, or heated up trade rhetoric and potential trade wars. But the rules going into effect this week, when viewed just inside the context of our industry, likely aren’t catastrophic – not yet.

I’m awaiting further comment from Moog on their activism and will update this story when that’s available.

Feature photo (CC-BY Paul Downey.

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Moog urges US citizens to take action to stop Trump import tax

As steep tariffs on electronics loom at the end of next week, Moog are warning that US synth makers could lose their jobs.

The US Trade Representative and the Trump Administration are proposing a steep 25% additional tariff increase on electronic components from China (among other goods), as covered here on CDM last week:

Trump’s tariffs could be costly for made-in-the-USA music gear

Now, those tariffs are expected to take effect on Friday, July 6.

Moog has gone as far as to implore their own customers to take action, in an email sent a week in advance of the rules change. That’s as far as I know reasonably unprecedented. Whatever the politics in Asheville, North Carolina, many US music customers are Trump voters.

But in this case, Moog’s business – and the American manufacturing they’ve consistently made a selling point – are threatened. The mailing, which includes a heart-wrenching photo of Moog employees in North Carolina, reads:

A U.S. tariff (import tax) on Chinese circuit boards and associated components is expected to take effect on July 6, 2018.

These tariffs will immediately and drastically increase the cost of building our instruments, and have the very real potential of forcing us to lay off workers and could (in a worst case scenario) require us to move some, if not all, of our manufacturing overseas.

In the article, they break down why this is such a big deal for Moog – and illustrate how the Trump trade policy could devastate American manufacturing and the US economy.

“Made in the USA” depends on Chinese parts. Roughly half of Moog’s circuit boards and related components come from China. Those parts are the fuel that allow them to support good manufacturing jobs in the USA, for assembly, testing, and shipping.

They pay more for US parts – and those will get more expensive, too. Electronics sourced inside the USA are already more expensive – priced up to 30% higher than other components. But because these parts also source Chinese components, those prices could go higher still.

People are going to lose jobs. Because these changes have an immediate impact, costs go up immediately. That will likely mean layoffs, soon, say Moog in the mailing. In the long run, it could mean having to move manufacturing out of the USA.

Moog have offered CDM to provide additional comment, so I hope to follow up this story.

In case you aren’t depressed enough, I think the mailing covers only a part of the problem. The immediate impact will be driving up the costs of US synth manufacturers. But stiff import tariffs could cause immediate and widespread job loss across a number of sectors. Motorcycle maker Harley Davison announced plans to move some manufacturing abroad – and saw stiff market losses as it came under direct fire by the President. General Motors warned the move could shrink the company, cut US operations, and kill jobs.

US job losses and a weakened economy would hit the biggest market for music electronics and musical instruments, meaning a second blow would be delivered to our whole industry.

And there’s more: Harley Davison’s move came after retaliatory tariffs imposed by the European Union, not the USA. This is what a global trade war looks like. If the EU expands those tariffs, then a manufacturer like Moog or MakeNoise or Eventide assembly products in the USA could face 50% taxes imposed on customers when its goods reach Europe.

But don’t get depressed – do something, if you’re a US citizen. Moog suggests writing Representatives and Senators. They’ve added contacts for North Carolina, but this is relevant of course to people living across the USA.

The Moog mailing is the best place to start if you live in North Carolina – and it has some talking points if you want something to look at when writing or calling your officials elsewhere:

25% Tariff On Chinese Goods Threatens Our Jobs

For everyone else – including Americans living abroad, like myself – you can find White House, Senate, and House contacts easily from the official US government website:

https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

Don’t know who your Represntative is? See here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

And find your Senators by choosing your state from the dropdown upper left here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/index.htm

The US Trade Representative is an office of the President, so I’d suggest also contacting the White House, even if this Administration is unlikely to change its policy.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/get-involved/

For the rest of the world outside the USA, uh, yeah, I have no idea what to tell you. But certainly, I think it would be optimistic to assume this will only impact US manufacturers; the ripples are likely to be felt throughout electronic music tools as through other industries. We’ll keep you posted as this develops.

And to all you folks at Moog – thanks for speaking out. And I hope we can help you keep your jobs.

https://www.moogmusic.com

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The Black Madonna, shesaid.so talk role models, co-conspirators

Kentucky-born artist The Black Madonna this month joined Romanian Andreea Magdalina, founder of all-female network shesaidso.so for GROOVE. The message is as simple as taking women seriously – and what can be done to change things when it doesn’t happen. It’s worth sharing that conversation – and please, listen to its entirety – for a couple of reasons.

First, I think we’re obligated to keep sharing this conversation and ones like it so long as it keeps prompting negative and defensive reactions, primarily from men. (Comment threads on social media are not at the moment the most flattering representation of human civilization, but there they are.)

It’s obviously touching a nerve – and the fact that it does so, frankly, points to just how deeply ingrained sexist attitudes are. “Hey, there’s absolutely nothing sexist or misogynistic going on” is something said by non-sexist people sort of, um, never. Humans are naturally defensive, I think, meaning defensiveness is not itself an indication of guilt – but an inability to listen to female artists when they’re talking about their own experiences is more than that. It demonstrates something is wrong. And artists like The Black Madonna are arguing for this not just with evidence of sexism, but – this is really, really important – with evidence of great female-identified artists who deserve as much exposure and credit as possible because they’re amazing. That’s the message.

Second, if you actually listen carefully and reflectively to the content, there are some lessons to everyone – men involved in music very much included. I think this says something about being human in making music, not just about a particular political issue.

Marea starts the conversation by talking about role models, in an intensely human story.

That alone is reason enough to understand the importance of championing great artists in music who have been marginalized in the past. And I think the issue of “role model” can be reduced or misunderstood. If you really listen to her talk about her experience, this isn’t just “I saw a girl like me onstage.” She speaks specifically to a profound emotional connection with them as musicians and as people.

I think that ought to speak to everyone. This is what it’s about – and these are people who are so great at what they do, they become role models for everybody. Apart from having been personally inspired by The Black Madonna’s sets, I can speak to Honey Dijon, too (whom she talks about in this interview). Honey is the kind of person who can heal a dance floor; you can actually see people relate to one another differently. When we deny these kind of artists access to the club, everyone loses.

And they were – and are – routinely denied. Audiences don’t get to judge whether they’re good or not because too often they don’t get to hear them at all.

It’s not enough to identify a problem, though – and much of this conversation thankfully is about solutions.

From that point, the two talk about the practical matters of how to change a culture, and how to make sure people gain access who didn’t have it before.

The issue here is women, but I think it extends to any group that find they don’t fit in with the cool club – the people who look different, who come from different backgrounds, who have limited budgets, who make different kinds of music, who come from different places.

That’s another thing that puzzles me about defensiveness. Look, if these artists are right, and you’re on the inside of a system that’s exclusive, you should listen. If they’re somehow wrong, and the system isn’t exclusive, then … uh, why are you getting defensive? If these artists are right, and the system is exclusive based on gender, and you feel you don’t fit in for some other reason, then listen to how they’ve dealt with that and consider whether it might be relevant to your own experience. (Then again, if it’s simply that you feel you’re struggling as an artist and having more strong female artists will make that worse because they’ll take up more space, well … that’s a different problem entirely, but then it’s a chance to give yourself space and patience to grow rather than lash out at someone else.)

It’s also worth listening, though, to the importance of “co-conspirators” or accomplices. There’s really so much we can do to make music a richer place. That can be everyone’s problem, and everyone’s reward.

I think The Black Madonna also puts out the best argument for where female-only spaces matter – where they can be female-driven and “sacred spaces,” as she puts it. (She also notes that men should not be organizing in that same way.) I think it’s important that those of us who aren’t part of those spaces simply respect them, but this seems also an answer to female friends who have questioned them. Zuz Friday wrote about this issue for CDM in regards to an event she co-organizes, and also dealt with this question of public versus private space (and how to combine them). I can also imagine this could be a model for any group that feels like it needs its own space, whether it deals with a particular gender identity or sexual orientation or ethnic or other background. Those networks and spaces clearly have value for certain circles of people, and it seems that only enriches our larger music community.

I won’t say more, in that it’s better to listen to these two talk – it’s a genuine and honest discussion, and certainly the kind of conversation I hear a lot.

Anyway, I don’t want to ramble on too long, or also contribute to men exploiting this issue because it’s trendy, or getting defensive when called on it. I’m not perfect, either. So I’ll say to whatever extent I should also listen to criticism, I will try to do so without getting defensive. And I hope that we as a community do better – on gender, on diversity.

I hope that growing as humans ourselves and spreading music to more humans is part of our job – a job that never ends.

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