On Representation: Elliot Adamson Talks
Issues have revealed themselves both in certain corners of dance music and in the wider world. Gender equality has taken the forefront. It does seem, however, that things may have become stale; dried up like a puddle in a heatwave. Many line-ups have reverted back to male-domination and in some places, it’s a case of going backwards, not forwards. Another issue could be diversity, both socially and artistically. These areas are linked, forcing people to ask: why are the same similar white British men being booked year after year after painstaking year? Me Me Me’s Elliot Adamson has been thinking and wants to get some things off his chest. We didn’t chat about his adventures in house and techno; rather, we went for a whiz through whatever was on his mind. This is a rummage through an up and coming creative’s psyche as he takes a short break from the music.
Elliot seems chirpy over the phone but holds a hint of jealousy as I mention the RAF 100 years fly-over and a view of the Walkie Talkie building. You can hear that he yearns for the buzzing city, freed from life locked away in the studio. Our chat begins with social change and its progression as I ask if the change we have seen so far has been enough. There has been vast change in the past two years that gives opportunities for more female identifying DJs platforms but more could be done. More could be done to bring diverse voices out of the shade. It simply isn’t enough to use a female artist for one release and then throw them in the bin. Nor is it okay to put two female names at the bottom of a list of men to make your event seem ‘diverse’. Elliot explains, however, that real change takes time.
"I feel proper societal change only really comes by changing people's beliefs and they change their actions accordingly. You’ll often see a push for immediate dramatic social changes and I feel as though that can result in a lot of people feeling disillusioned, so they’ll act progressive and then end up making derogatory comments in YouTube comment sections cause they didn’t actually understand why they shouldn’t be doing that in the first place."
"I’m currently on this really strong education hype and honestly just think proper education can solve 95% of all problems; and in this case simply giving these exceptionally talented, under-represented artists a platform can be enough to educate people about how fucking great they are."
As we see important issues abused by corporations through advertising, claiming to be ‘part of it’ for personal gain or profit, you can look around your own environment and realise that promoters and DJs are doing something similar. "I know people who act a certain way in public but hold slightly different views in private, and I think with a steady amount of great moderate initiatives for a prolonged period of time we can have these people thinking how they act, and hopefully getting the people who don’t think before they act to use their brains a bit more."
Some DJs are undoubtedly fully behind things, however, like Jackmaster’s initiative to only play if there’s a mix of genders on the line-up. "I recently played a show with Jackmaster in my hometown of Newcastle and he has it contracted so that every show he plays at has to have at least one female act on the bill – behind the scenes initiatives like this are particularly great as they initiate change in a way which very much puts the focus on the new talent and not on the established talents pushing for it. I’ve heard of quite a few artists having similar arrangements but with them happening behind the scenes I can’t exactly confirm myself, but the promoters asked me who I thought would be a good addition for the lineup and I said Naomi Flaherty without hesitation and she absolutely smashed it out the park – great DJ! I think electronic music can be a bit ‘boys club’ sometimes and it makes me really happy to see people in positions of privilege trying to open doors for people who are under-represented."
Under-representation is a prevalent topic. Inclusion and integration of the LGTBQ+ society in dance music is finally finding it’s much-deserved voice as we discuss artists like Lotic and Honey Dijon, who are just the start, but progress is still at a snail-pace. It feels like a hard push. House music came from the gay disco scene and this is often overlooked as the music has moved straight into the mainstream clubbing scene in recent times. It should be music for everyone. Elliot remarks on the fact that we should re-visit these ‘queer parties’ as we can all learn something from them: "Mixmag have been doing some great work recently!" Elliot says, referring to the magazine’s recent Lotic cover feature, which no doubt made a much-needed impact.
"This might sound bad, but I don’t wanna read about a Radio 1 DJ again, or someone who headlines every other festival in the UK or the heritage act from ‘95 who ran out of money so they’ve got a new album coming out – and I mean that with no disrespect. I get it, but I’ve read it a thousand times now; you hear how they’re inspired by the blades of grass in a field, they’re playing Ibiza this summer and you should check out their latest release – wicked! Maybe I’m coming from this perspective where I’m quite well versed in the popular end of the culture so it’s not new to me anymore but I don’t wanna hear about what is, I wanna hear about what will be. I wanna hear the new, I wanna hear the boundary pushers and I wanna hear the shit that I’ve been yet to hear so far."
Elliot refers again to Lotic’s recent cover feature. "My initial reaction was, you know, ‘I’ve never heard of them – that’s fucking brilliant!’ Oh, and let’s not forget that you’ve now got a picture of a trans person of colour who is an amazing artist in pretty much every decent newsagent all over the world. Do you know the message that sends to the kids who perhaps don’t feel like they fit in, or perhaps don’t feel like they can be artists ‘cause the artists don’t look like them? A fucking brilliant one. It’s so, so good, and showcasing these artists on that platform can also help the kids who maybe fit in a little bit too much not to be little shits to the ones that don’t."
It’s time we stripped line-ups and filled them with under-represented DJs. House music has been a club standard for so long now that it’s as established as any other genre, and now really is the time where these exciting artists are put into the limelight. It’s not about ‘who’s the best’ or ‘who’s the most talented’. These acts are all artists in their own right, so why aren’t they all on the same stage? It gets exhausting, frankly, and often, promoters become lazy, booking the same acts they know will pull crowds without the necessary progressive risks being taken.
“I hear loads of people saying things like ‘why are they trying to put more diverse people on line-ups, shouldn’t it be based on talent?’, and I just think like ‘what’re you talking about mate? I would much rather see a Honey Dijon, a Peggy Gou, Avalon Emerson, a Yaejji, Octo Octa, Charlotte De Witte, HAAi, Or:la, Shanti Celeste than another bloke playing filler background music for an hour a piece at a festival'. And regarding that list, in the words of Jesse Saunders, it goes on and on. House music and party culture very much originated from marginalized communities – try and tell me it’s apolitical, try and tell me ‘talent just rises’ and try and tell me these underrepresented artists in our scene lack the life experiences that allows them to turn that initial musical spark into a bonfire."
The conversation shifts to the role the internet plays in all of this. It can be a hostile place, and with just one click, controversial views can be thrown online in a heartbeat without nearly the same depth of though as in real life. We’ve all been an idiot on social media at times – it can bring out the worst in some of us. It’s clear that we all need to take a break from these websites, with names like Björk telling the Independent to “get off social media and go for a walk in a forest."
In the social media age, platforms like Boiler Room and Identification of Music Group can be riddled with hate and prejudice. Elliot calls for calm, however, reminding us that social media can have its advantages and disadvantages with music. It all depends on the people and their real-life communities, not the media. Facebook can seem like a community, but some people commenting can come from smaller communities that might not be as progressive as people commenting from, say, big cities like London.
“People like to hate, you know?” Elliot says of the quirks of dance music’s modern-day heroes.
“The internet as a platform can literally just breed it. People for whichever reason search for the dopamine release they get when five people like the comment saying ‘hey the CDJs aren’t even on, she can’t even mix!’… and it’s like yeah, they’re in Dubai, of course you can’t see the screen. I can barely see my phone screen on full brightness during British summer time. Have you not ever left your bedroom mate?"
"I saw someone say Denis Sulta was playing a pre-recorded set cause he used the vinyl brake stop on the CDJ and it just felt so typical that someone who didn’t even know how to use basic functions on the industry standard equipment would be suggesting a person who actually contributes to the culture was faking it."
"If Dalí was around to do a Boiler Room I guarantee there’d be at least one person saying ‘who’s this prick with the moustache and why are the CDJs melting?’, it’s madness."
He makes a good point. There has been a recent surge of those who might not fully understand DJing from behind the booth or the history of dance music, mocking these sassy and slightly stranger characters in the scene like Seth Troxler and Villalobos. People like to criticise even iconic greatness, it seems.
"I don’t think social media is the inherent issue though, it’s just the platform, I never thought to blame the printing press for Mein Kampf. I’d like to think eventually these kind of online interactions can become more civil as online communities become more personable. It’s a culture thing really, I find different cities, or towns, or areas can be a little bit like bubbles in terms of what is acceptable and their culture so when these things collide there can be, er, tension, but with most things I like to believe these issues can be resolved with better personal relationships, education and positivity."
Some of this internet culture has spread into the clubs, so it’s up to the DJs to combat mindless prejudice with incredible music. It can sometimes be strange to see that the crowd is completely divided from the DJ and the DJ is pulling out more moves than the dancefloor. Elliot disagrees however, defending the right to not dance.
"I really hate the whole ‘it’s all about the music’ type thing – and just bear with me – but any type of art is completely defined by the context, nothing exists in a vacuum, and I never heard of anyone going into a sensory deprivation chamber with their TR-909. I like to view music as one element in the experience of club culture – you have the people, the space, the drinks prices, the party, the visuals, the sound system, the door staff, the toilets (I can’t enjoy music properly if I’m gonna piss myself), the smoking area, the bar – I’m gonna go on a whim and say the context can very much be more important than the DJ, ‘cause I’ve had a shit time with great DJs playing and I’ve had a great time with shit DJs playing too, and the difference between the two were the factors that created the context."
Talking about context, the conversation drifts into club music again and whether up-coming artists like Elliot should be innovating or fitting into the background. "I even think it’s completely fine to go out and just have the music be the background audio to a good time with your friends – I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with that."
With the tech-house scene being taken over by a minority of similar-sounding producers who have found a crowd-pleasing niche, should artists be daring to create strange, unique sounds from the get-go, or is it okay to make ‘club bangers’? "At the moment you’ll see tech house getting a lot of flak because it can be purely functional, and I used to give it a lot of flak too, and I kind of came to realise that it is functional music and it is okay for something to be purely functional – look at the design school Bauhaus. Tech House is like a Wassily Chair, and some of Jon Hopkins’ work is very much like the audio equivalent of a Turner piece, and when I remove my own personal bias I think both styles can be equally impressive pieces of art as long as they serve their purpose to a high level." Elliot is certainly an enigmatic character, and, like a wise owl, he goes on to compare the scene to a rowing boat where different roles exist. While one artist may innovate and lead at the front it needs rowers to blend in, keep things moving forward and let the leaders lead. If everyone just rowed in different directions then the boat wouldn’t go anywhere.
Although he humbly reminds me not to say it, his smashing Self (Entitled) EP on Me Me Me is out now. He’s also playing all night long for Motion at Newcastle's Cosmic Ballroom on 10th August. “Thank you very much for having me,” Elliot laughs, “and to anyone who has made it this far I appreciate your patience with my rambling. I always think you can say much more by not saying anything about yourself, and I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to try and promote something I’ve got coming up, but I’m still very much trying to find myself as an artist so if you’re interested I’d recommend checking me out in approximately 3-5 years time.”
Listen to Elliot Adamson HERE.