Derrick May and the dark side of electronic music

This post comes from the daily newsletter of the Culture department of Release, sent free of charge every evening.

On November 12, Ellie Flynn posted on the Mixmag, UK’s premier club culture medium, an article many have been waiting to read for a long time. An investigation in which the British journalist gathers four long anonymous testimonies of women recounting sexual assaults committed by the American musician Derrick May, of which they would have been the victims in four countries, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands and New Zealand. The article was expected due to the notoriety of May, historic co-founder of American techno with Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, whose tracks Strings of Life (1987) or Beyond the Dance (1989) are among the most esteemed and influential of their kind. But also because of the suspicions that surrounded the previous revelations on the reprehensible actions of May, since peddled without proof by Michael James, childhood friend of the musician, already in dispute with him as for the relationship of the melody of Strings of Life. Ellie Flynn’s investigation, reinforced from November 13 by that conducted and written by Annabel Ross for the site Resident Advisor, thus supported by the journalistic investigation which was then only a rumor, too ambiguous and therefore too likely to be dismissed by a simple setback as an accusation against the person concerned and his lawyer (who did not deprive themselves of it) and then be delivered to pasture on social media.

Read also #Musictoo: when the music is kidding

Because since September 15, the date of publication on Facebook of a post by Michael James unambiguously accusing May of rape and harassment on numerous victims, the worst possible debates have taken place online, between, on the one hand, activists supposedly blinded by the causes they defend and too eager to cancel yet another «innocent» delivered as food to the new prudish order, on the other the crusading fans, ready to minimize acts which they believe would be undetachable from the exceptional circumstances in which they would have possibly taken place. Any resemblance to other recent debates that have transformed the common of Internet users into investigating judges and criminal lawyers is of course not risky.

However, as far as May is concerned, we have so far collectively missed out on another essential debate: that of sexual violence in specific nightlife environments and electronic music, recently marred by another case, proven and unambiguous, that of American DJ Erick Morillo – found dead on 1is September three weeks after his arrest for sexual assault. Beyond the a priori which, in one sense or another, assimilate the clubs and other rave hangars to lupanars even more decadent than the backstages of rock concerts in the golden age of groupies, reprehensible behavior are of a nature and enjoy a kind of impunity that deserve to be urgently told and analyzed. British DJ The Secret DJ, who anonymously published two volumes of tragicomic memoirs chilling with lucidity on the environment (the first has just been published in French by City editions), dissects in detail the plain rotten behaviour which has become commonplace in an environment full of big star-rated heads and under constant pressure: “I’ll just say that, if you start insulting women or throwing people out of your car in the middle of the mountain in Ibiza […] well you went to the dark side […]. The middle of the show is not very big, everyone knows you and your bad habits. This does not prevent us from continuing to receive proposals. As long as you fill the clubs, your future is secure. But the day it stops… ”

In a tweet posted on September 11, the same Secret DJ claimed that Derrick May had “Definitely a very bad reputation”. How many in the community knew of his actions? How many protected him? How many have done so out of interest or because that was the norm, accepted by the majority in the community? Some, such as the organizers of Paris Electronic Week, which took place on September 24 and 25, did not wait for the publication of Ellie Flynn’s investigation to withdraw their invitation to the musician, who was supposed to participate in a conference. . Some accused them of participating in a media frenzy. We can bet that his presence, symbolically at least at this stage, would have been untenable, within the same program as a round table entitled “Balance your body: make the night a more responsible space”. We especially welcome that the investigative work is starting to be done, a fortiori by historical media in the field, whose political change, despite the context of a pandemic, announces a somewhat less gloomy tomorrow.


Olivier Lamm

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