When I wrote about Red Bull Music Academy in early 2015 (The Wire 372), it was because none of the clamour around this global music project seemed to consider the listener. Sure, artists who played at their many events sung its praises, as it gave them a gig and artistic freedom; journalists loved it as it gave them epic spectacles like its regular Culture Clash to file copy on; students who were flown out to its academies to hear lectures from famous musicians gave thanks for a once in lifetime opportunity.
But this is what listeners often got: one-off events with stars but a tinge of novelty; festival showcases of RBMA alumni with a bland united front of festivalfriendly globetrotting electronica; and a new elite strata of musicians on festival bills who happened to have RBMA on their CV.
We had many conversations in the office about the issues it raised, and some of these we attempted to raise in our coverage: the enormous carbon footprint of flying students and artists around the world to ever-changing destinations; the way it encroached on the territory of existing grassroots organisations; how it distorted an already precarious underground music economy. An independent publication like The Wire was in as good a position as anyone to offer an outside perspective, and attending the Tokyo edition of their annual event, I came away deeply ambivalent about its sense of casual mythologising and self-celebration. When we got the photos of the event back from their PR people to illustrate my piece, they gave us hundreds of options – and almost every single one of them featured a can of Red Bull.
Undoubtedly, Red Bull Music Academy’s events and online publications, as well as its prolific Red Bull Radio station, have had a seismic impact on underground dance music culture. The news that they are now coming to an end was greeted with a degree of shock, and you can understand why. Some of their journalism and editorial was of superb quality, and its online lectures and longform pieces provided a detailed – and completely free – schooling on some of the most exciting music ever heard. I remember talking to one of the editors at their website, and when I asked if they worried about word counts and deadlines for their articles, they paused and laughed: “No.” It’s a response that underlines the uneasy mix of quality control and noncommittal privilege that surrounded much of their activities. Their editorialising was rigorous, but its focus was historical and irregular – perhaps appropriate for a multinational wanting to dip a toe into underground music, but not for an organisation in it for the long haul.
In many ways, the story of RBMA is a familiar modern tale: a mysterious multinational ram-raids local culture and disrupts it forever, before retreating to some tax-free nonplace beyond scrutiny or transparency. Despite RBMA’s enormous impact, it’s clear in retrospect that at some point its top-down structure would come into conflict with its laudable intentions. It was opaque and close to unaccountable, and wielded power without real consequence – something that should always give cause for concern. It rarely created sustainable, accessible and transparent infrastructure on the ground, probably because they were always too busy jetting somewhere else. Like any club, RBMA promoted a certain ideal of itself – in this case, the evangelical power of dance culture – along with an exclusive guestlist of who is in and who is out.
What I’d like to see coming out of the lengthy RBMA chapter in recent music history is a discussion about commercial involvement in underground culture, and whether and in what way such support of music can happen without appropriation or art-washing; and another about what music community might consist in, and where it is lacking. For now, until such time as an outside body steps in to archive their many editorial and journalistic achievements, the only recourse may be to print out articles, share mixes, record conversations.
RBMA took from music culture, and the latter should be able to take something back. Derek Walmsley
UK, Europe & Rest of World (excl USA) Seymour Distribution 2 East Poultry Avenue London EC1A 9PT Tel +44 (0)20 7429 4000 UK email@example.com Export firstname.lastname@example.org
USA TNG Tel 1-866-466-7231 email@example.com
Worldwide Central Books (Magazine Dept) 50 Freshwater Road, Chadwell Heath, London RM8 1RX Tel +44 (0)20 8986 4854 firstname.lastname@example.org
Independent record shops
UK & Europe Shellshock 10 The Hub, St Marys House, Duke Street, Norwich NR3 1QA Tel +44 (0)1603 626221 email@example.com
USA Forced Exposure 219 Medford St Malden, MA 02148-7301 Fax 781 321 0321 AVisser@forcedexposure.com
Rest of World Contact The Wire direct Tel +44 (0)20 7422 5022 Fax +44 (0)20 7422 5011 firstname.lastname@example.org
NB The Wire can also supply record shops in the UK and Europe direct
4 | The Wire | Masthead
12 issues UK £49 Europe £69/€78 USA/Canada £69/US$88 Rest of World (Air) £79
12 months Worldwide £30
See page 104 for details, or go to thewire.co.uk/subscribe
The Wire is published 12 times a year by The Wire Magazine Ltd. Printed in the UK by Walstead Southernprint.
The Wire was founded in 1982 by Anthony Wood. Between 1984–2000 it was part of Naim Attallah’s Namara Group. In December 2000 it was purchased in a staff buy-out by the magazine’s then current staff. It continues to publish as a 100 per cent independent operation.
The views expressed in The Wire are those of the respective contributors and are not necessarily shared by the magazine or its staff. The Wire assumes no responsibility for unsolicited manuscripts, photographs, illustrations or promotional items. Copyright in the UK and abroad is held by the publisher or by freelance contributors. Unauthorised reproduction of any item is forbidden.
Issue 424 June 2019 £4.95 ISSN 0952-0686
The Wire Unit 5, Textile Building, 2a Belsham St, London E9 6NG Tel +44 (0)20 7422 5010, fax +44 (0)20 7422 5011 thewire.co.uk @thewiremagazine Subscriptions email@example.com Events listings firstname.lastname@example.org
Publisher Tony Herrington email@example.com Editor-in-Chief Chris Bohn firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor Derek Walmsley email@example.com Deputy Editors Emily Bick firstname.lastname@example.org Joseph Stannard email@example.com
Advertising & Licensing Manager Shane Woolman firstname.lastname@example.org Advertising Sales & Media Partnerships Astrud Steehouder email@example.com Advertising Sales James Gormley firstname.lastname@example.org
Online Editor Daisy Hyde email@example.com
Online Content, Subscriptions & Shop Meg Woof firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions, Listings & Shop Phil England email@example.com Subscriptions, Listings & Newsletters Frances Morgan firstname.lastname@example.org
Art Direction & Design Ben Weaver email@example.com Gareth Lindsay firstname.lastname@example.org Ben Greehy
Subscriptions & Systems Consultant Ben House email@example.com Online Development Dorian Fraser Moore firstname.lastname@example.org
Archivist Edwin Pouncey email@example.com
Contributing Editors Frances Morgan firstname.lastname@example.org Anne Hilde Neset email@example.com Rob Young firstname.lastname@example.org
Words Jennifer Lucy Allan, Steve Barker, Mike Barnes, Dan Barrow, Robert Barry, Tristan Bath, Clive Bell, Abi Bliss, Marcus Boon, Britt Brown, Nick Cain, Philip Clark, Byron Coley, Lara C Cory, Julian Cowley, Alan Cummings, Erik Davis, Laina Dawes, Geeta Dayal, Katrina Dixon, Phil England, Kodwo Eshun, Josh Feola, Phil Freeman, Rory Gibb, Francis Gooding, Kurt Gottschalk, Louise Gray, James Hadfield, Andy Hamilton, Adam Harper, Jim Haynes, Ken Hollings, Maya Kalev, David Keenan, Kek-W, Biba Kopf, Matt Krefting, Neil Kulkarni, Sam Lefebvre, Dave Mandl, Howard Mandel, Wayne Marshall, Marc Masters, Noel Meek, Bill Meyer, Aurora Mitchell, Keith Moliné, Brian Morton, Joe Muggs, Alex Neilson, Daniel Neofetou, Louis Pattison, Ian Penman, Emily Pothast, Edwin Pouncey, Nina Power, Chal Ravens, Tony Rettman, Simon Reynolds, Nick Richardson, Bruce Russell, Sukhdev Sandhu, Claire Sawers, Dave Segal, Peter Shapiro, Stewart Smith, Nick Southgate, Daniel Spicer, Richard Stacey, David Stubbs, Greg Tate, Richard Thomas, Dave Tompkins, David Toop, Rob Turner, Zakia Uddin, Val Wilmer, Matt Wuethrich
Images Mustafah Abdulaziz, Ollie Adegboye, Guy Bolongaro, Polly Brown, Maya Fuhr, Georg Gatsas, Chris Hoare, Rita Lino, Sean Maung, Becky McNeel, Harris Mizrahi, Savage Pencil, Michael Schmelling, Rosaline Shahnavaz, Eva Vermandel, Jake Walters, Val Wilmer, Timo Wirsching