View From The Side: Can We Ever Separate Art From Artist?
New York house mainstay Levon Vincent has announced his imminent second album. Through a lengthy Facebook post that combined apology, confessional, justification and manifesto, Vincent revealed that his new record is called For Paris. It may well be the first in a peculiarly modern new genre; the post-shaming comeback album.
Those of you not caught up in the ever spinning merry-go-round of DJs cocking up their careers on social media may have forgotten that a couple of years back Levon went full Rambo on Facebook. Back in 2015, as France reeled from the co-ordinated attacks on Paris that saw 130 dead, the DJ took to Facebook to encourage everyone to tool up in case another wave of attacks came. Vincent (who could definitely throw a kettle over a pub) decided that rather than changing his profile picture to the Eiffel Tower, the absolute best response to the tragedy was to imply that modern kids are pussies and confirm that – blade in hand – he could probably have anyone, ever. Understandably, Vincent copped a load of shit for the sheer ludicrous nature of his posts. He didn’t really come close to going full Ten Walls (who has become such a benchmark for career killing gaffs that his name may as well be the unit social suicides are measured in) but he still got caught in the sorry spectacle of shame. Deleted posts, hot-headed arguments and a round panning in the press were inevitable.
This week’s album announcement from Vincent suggests that the debacle carried more weight with him than you might have thought. He’s decided to not only apologise for his knife wielding lifestyle, but go waaaaaay further in the other direction. For Paris, is a record that he hopes will (I’m quoting directly here) “ignite a new peace movement”. The NYC slasher has found his inner Gandhi, shed tears over the lyrics to John Lennon’s Imagine (this isn’t hyperbole from me – he literally claims to have read the lyrics to Imagine and cried) and is ready to set about “bringing forth a new movement via the techno subculture.”
We at Ransom Note are big fans of ushering peace via techno so we’ll resist the urge to take too much of the piss of Vincent’s chewy Facebook post (even the things-that-never-happened Imagine bit) but it does highlight a debate that just won’t go away. How much should the thought and intention of a person creating art affect our enjoyment of that art? Should Levon be required to be out here making amends and doing his level best to prove that he is a ‘good person’ to the collective judges of the social media landscape? And crucially, suppose he didn’t want to? If he released exactly the same record, called it Fuck Paris and named the tracks things like Travis Bickle Waltz and I Will Stab You Right Good in the Face, could he – should he – expect the same response?
Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to this question, and that’s OK. Life is confusing and fluid and multi-faceted, so there’s no need to have a one-size-fits-all approach. In the case of Levon Vincent, his crimes are minor at most – mostly he seems to be a bit of a self-important prannet who’s not shy about comparing himself to John Lennon. I can happily hold that knowledge in my head whilst also acknowledging that he makes great records and that Man or Mistress is a timeless house classic. Let’s face it; if we have to start stripping music of the cranks and egomaniacs we’re going to lose 90% of all known bangers.
But what about artists making remarks, or doing things, that push beyond just being a bell end? So, if at one end we’ve got, say Jeremy Underground’s booking agent threatening to dish out bitings and at the other end we’ve got R. Kelly’s teenaged piss sex cult, where’s the line?
Here’s an example: It recently came to the attention of liberal twitter that Scottish techno veteran Funk D’Void was flogging t-shirts made by the Proud Boys on his website. In response, Berlin club Renate cancelled his upcoming show, reasoning that the ethos of Proud Boys – who are founded by virulently unpleasant right wing troll Gavin McInnes – was at odds with their own values of “inclusiveness, love, compassion, racial and gender equality.” This lead to predictable accusations of over-zealous morality policing from the usual suspects – men who pride themselves on being champions of free speech and enterprise, but who they never seem to get a hold of the fact that – by their own logic – whilst D’Void can sell what he likes Renate can also book or cancel who they like.
There may be a clue in this case as to how we can go forward in the debate about separating art and artist (a debate that’s only going to get more vicious as social media embeds itself ever deeper in our lives). When D’Void is selling Proud Boys t-shirts he isn’t just making a dumb offensive statement on Twitter (ala Boddika’s infamous Brexit flavoured meltdown), he’s directly funnelling cash into an avowedly Chauvinist organisation that promote ‘venerating the housewife’ and insist they are ‘anti-racial guilt’ – which I guess means they refute the historical evils and continuing legacy of colonialism. Here’s the point where I think that I personally (and it’s always going to be a personal decision) can say fuck this guy. Fuck someone who’s putting money into in an organisation who, if they had their way, would keep women in a state of domestic drudgery. These bozos would never, ever put together a record label as consistently dope as Gladys Pizarro did at Strictly Rhythm, so they can piss off out of the dance. What does this mean in real terms? Probably that if someone is providing financial support to groups who are diametrically opposed to any of the widely held beliefs of house music, beliefs which are laid out pretty conclusively here –
Then why would you keep on supporting their career?
Some people will argue that we need a ‘plurality of viewpoints’ in dance music. They are crazy. I get bombarded with hateful right wing shit from dawn to dusk. Nigel Farage has a drive time show on LBC. The Mail Online is the world’s most widely read news website. Jacob Rees-Mogg is being touted as a genuine candidate to run the country. If I can’t get away from this head wrecking festival of hate by going raving – a culture we built in the face of strident opposition from the right – then what is the fucking point?? There’s plenty of time for plurality in every other walk of life – let the bigots build their own raves and invite their own mates. I’m sure they’ll be massively successful – after all, Depeche Mode were nothing but flattered when Richard Spencer claimed they were the ‘offical band of the alt-right’.
So, in conclusion, *sigh* it’s all a bit of a mess. The unparalleled ability of social media to gather a hatemob means a lot of shit is inevitably blown way out of proportion. Levon Vincent made comments that seemed comically crazy, but two years on, the response to them also seems crazy, as does the fact he’s now feeling obliged to do some sort of penance for them. At the same time, we live in time when the right is on the rise, where America has a nationalist president seemingly eyeing up the vote winning potential of nuclear war, and Britain is caught in a Brexit shaped mire of ignorance and xenophobia. Should we want our artists to reflect the times and perhaps offer some hope? Yeah sure. Can they also say what they like? Why not. But let’s not conflate the stupidity of sudden anger (i.e. Levon the knife man or the Jeremy Underground saga) with ideologies that would seek to destroy everything that has taken so long to build. Or just do what you want. But remember that if you pump out hate in the world, you're more than likely to get it in return.