Where to start… Well America, I’m a UK music writer, former DJ and producer, have lived all my life for better and for worse in dance music, and this article is an attempt to fill you in on just what’s going on in the UK dance music scene at the moment.

In particular: how and why part of UK house music and the UK dance music scene generally appear to be allied with the far right. How did this happen?

If you remember, back in the day, we really liked your acid house. So much in fact that in the UK, the term “acid house” now has two meanings. Obviously it refers to house records made with a 303, but it also has a broader cultural meaning too. “Acid house” also refers to the culture — the DJs, promoters, dancers, fashion, slang, consumption habits —that grew up around house music when it arrived here in the late ’80s. Others might call it “the scene,” or UK house music culture, or rave culture, club culture, etc. But whatever we call it, within this concept of “acid house as culture” are ideas of some kind of an egalitarian, inclusive and community-based ethos. It’s a reflection of the particular role as a safe place for self-expression in a hostile environment played by house and techno music in the gay, Black and Latino US communities who created it.

Acid house emerged at a time when the UK was dominated by Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing politics. Her most infamous soundbite was her 1987 proclamation that “there’s no such thing as society,” which was promptly proved entirely wrong the following year as hordes of young people formed their own acid house communities over the course of the summer. And it’s always worth remembering that in 1994 the UK Conservative government actually legislated specifically against house and techno with their Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which famously attempted to outlaw events where the music “includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” Whether the participants knew it or not, the values of acid house have always, at least in part, been in opposition to the political right.

Back in today’s world, there are many of us in the UK scene who still hold these values dear, while perhaps also recognizing that our morals and ethos are inevitably tested by the fact that we work in the music business. Still, there are a set of shared values around tolerance, inclusivity and community, born in the very earliest days of disco, that run through the DNA of house and techno that we like to think we all share. “Sisters, brothers, we’ll make it to the promised land,” “We’ll live as one family,” “You may be black, you may be white; you may be Jew or Gentile. It don’t make a difference in our House”: values.

It is a minor cultural tragedy that the famous acid house smiley face has been co-opted as the logo of an anti-lockdown group and to see the acid smiley flags that are now often waved at anti-vax and anti-lockdown protests.

But now we’re seeing a series of strange new cultural convergences, the creation of bizarre and unexpected alliances that appear to be completely at odds with these values. The pandemic — or to be more specific, the UK government’s particularly woeful response to the pandemic — has created strange bedfellows. People from the more libertarian or anti-establishment end of the dance music spectrum are now marching beside the far right, united by their desire to end COVID-19 restrictions. Furthermore, many others in the dance music industry who are justifiably angry with their government’s conduct over the last year and a half are finding themselves strangely allied with people and groups whose views are the antithesis of acid house.

(As a sidebar: What’s so bad about the UK government’s pandemic conduct? Very briefly: it was late to lock down on three occasions causing avoidable illness and deaths, sourced PPE from cronies and party donors’ brand new companies rather than established PPE companies, broke their own regulations, lied about breaking their own regulations, outsourced track and trace to the tune of £37 billion and it still doesn’t work properly and as of 19th of July they have dropped all restrictions while cases are soaring. They’ve essentially used the pandemic as an opportunity to enrich their friends and donors and consolidate their power.)

This is the danger of campaigning with no clear goals. Leave a big gap in your rhetoric and into that gap comes the far right, smiling, holding out a hand of support. “We’re the same,” they say, “we both hate what’s happening, we’re the same.” But the far right are not the same as us no matter how much they talk of freedom or liberty.

On the last Saturday and Sunday in June there were two anti-lockdown protests in London which provide a neat illustration of how the traditionally oppositional and anti-establishment UK dance music scene is now finding itself allied with elements of the far right.

Saturday’s event was billed as a “freedom rally” and involved many who were simply fed up of lockdowns, or who were protesting government corruption and cronyism. But it also involved a number of fringe, extremist groups including “Stand Up X,” the Bill Gates-fixated COVID deniers; E202, who believe that COVID has been government engineered in order to introduce new restrictions on freedom and have put on events with renowned anti-Semite and Holocaust denier David Icke; “Save Our Rights,” whose misleading pandemic video content has been removed from social media; and “Stop New Normal” who claim the amount of COVID deaths in the UK to be around 1,400 rather than the widely acknowledged figure of more than 155,000. And with the best will in the world, these groups with their anti-science narratives, their championing of individualism over community and with the ease with which many of their theories merge with anti-Semitism — they just aren’t acid house.

Smileys, smileys, everywhere smileys

It is a minor cultural tragedy that the famous acid house smiley face has been co-opted as the logo of an anti-lockdown group and to see the acid smiley flags that are now often waved at anti-vax and anti-lockdown protests.

The aim of Sunday’s event was to draw attention to the plight of nightclubs and venues that remain closed while large scale sporting events were allowed to go ahead. It was called Save Our Scene (SOS) and featured DJs and sound systems (and had nothing to do with Resident Advisor’s Save Our Scene “initiative” from last year). SOS acknowledged in their online PR for their event that “many of the artists performing on Sunday will be attending both marches as they both have important causes.” They also included a clause in their promotion prior to their event that supported “people’s personal choice whether they decide to engage with the vaccine” — neatly providing a bridge to a anti-vaccination, anti-science and often anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the “scamdemic” groups that marched on Saturday. And this is where the anti-establishment far right meets head on with the libertarian end of dance music.

“Engage with the vaccine” or just marry it. Your choice!

UK dance music has a tradition of being oppositional to the status quo: illegal raves, illicit substances, staying up for the entire weekend so you’re too tired to go to work on Monday, etc. are all inherently oppositional. And there have always been elements of dance music whose outlook includes countercultural ideas centered around ecology, green politics, the Gaia hypotheses and so on. The problem is that the anti-government sentiment that exists in many areas of UK dance music is easily co-opted by other movements.

The fact that a host of DJs and clubbers found themselves sharing a goal with members of the new alt-right is partly down to the likes of “Save Our Scene” having no clear political aim or indeed any kind of ethos beyond “end lockdown and remove restrictions as soon as possible.” Vague goals leaves any grassroots dance music movement ripe for utilization by the far right.

SOS were echoing the narrow terms of debate as defined by the Night-time Industries Association, the UK organization supposed to represent nightclubs, venues and the entire night time economy and which also supported the SOS event. NTIA have been praised for campaigning for funding for venues during the pandemic, but they’ve also set the terms of the debate around instant reopening and lifting of restrictions regardless of safety or risk mitigation issues, rallying around simple slogans like “Let Us Dance.”

At a time when UK dance music could be holding the government to account for not providing financial support for venues and freelancers during the pandemic, or for abandoning the idea of testing nightclub attendees prior to entering venues as “too much hassle” the debate has instead focused on criticizing necessary measures. So masks, the track and trace app or lockdowns have become the focus rather than the government which is responsible for the UK’s woeful COVID response in the first place.



This was originally published in 5 Mag issue 192: #MadeWithLove with Solumun, Ultra Naté, Andrew Emil, Dam Swindle & more. Support 5 Mag by becoming a member for just $1 per issue.



The common ground that the NTIA and SOS model of activism have with anti-lockdown or “scamdemic” groups is the concept of freedom — freedom from having to wear a mask or having to socially distance, from having to consider others in decisions. But this is about individual freedom, even if it’s at the expense of someone else’s health. So, many in UK dance music who have been hit hard by the pandemic — people like DJs, promoters, club owners, clubbers themselves and the whole nighttime ecosystem — are rightly angry but don’t have any kind of political or activist movement that actually addresses the complex reality of the situation, or that represents any core values inherited from the formation of house music. Instead we have a vague movement which has the simple goal of re-opening now regardless, and which easily sits beside the narratives of the Bill Gates/5G conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, anti-science campaigners and anti-Semites who make up the new far right.

Groups like those involved in Saturday’s freedom rally have succeeded in harnessing peoples fears around the pandemic, re-packaging their anxieties back to them as part of some huge, easy-to-understand conspiracy, involving COVID, vaccinations, world government, secret cabals, QAnon, 5G and more. Meanwhile, the LA Times has reported how far right militia groups have deliberately targeted online anti-vaccination groups who have in turn taken on both the language and beliefs of the far right and either knowingly or not, what little activism there is in UK dance music appears to be at risk from similar forces.

This is the danger of campaigning with no clear goals. Leave a big gap in your rhetoric and into that gap comes the far right, smiling, holding out a hand of support. “We’re the same,” they say, “we both hate what’s happening, we’re the same.” But the far right are not the same as us no matter how much they talk of freedom or liberty.

The movement in the UK has rightly galvanized many against a clearly corrupt government who clearly have little interest in public health. And “Let Us Dance”? On a basic level it’s an admirable aim I guess. But marching shoulder to shoulder with the far right? That’s just not acid house.

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