Monday, 11 November 2013

Voguing, Ballroom & Cultural Appropriation for THE QUIETUS

I originally published this piece here on CVNTY last week, but it was picked up by The Quietus, so removed, editted ever so slightly (mostly a new intro to give context) and re-published on their site. So here it is again:

My name is Niall Connolly, aka The Niallist, and I am a UK-based music producer, DJ and writer. In the past I have released my music through some notable labels (Dissident, Eskimo/Radius, Lo Recordings) but am now channeling all my efforts into the alias CUNT TRAXXX, aka CVNT.

CVNT is directly inspired by the American ballroom/vogue scene, and in particular artists like Vjuan Allure, Kevin Prodigy, Divoli S'Vere and MIkeQ, and also very much by the dancers themselves. The word "cunt" is used frequently in ball culture, as a very positive term, the subtle difference being it is an adjective and not a noun. Its connotations of femininity, superiority and unique style are why I have chosen to use it, and I have just released my fourth EP as CVNT, the Statement EP, through the Belgian label Body Work. Apart from making music and DJing, I write about vogue culture and music at my blog CVNTY.

Post-Miley Cyrus, and amidst the raging debate about "cultural appropriation", a lot of pertinent issues are being ignored in a rush to paint everything as either "good" or "bad", "acceptable" or "unacceptable". I don't believe this extreme polarity is doing anyone any favours, especially when it is adopted by people who do not have sufficient knowledge of a culture to actually decide what is or isn't acceptable, which is what happened to me very recently.

It had to happen sometime I guess: I have been accused of "cultural appropriation" of the voguing/ballroom scene. The OP, Angus Finlayson, has since been in touch with me to apologise, and to admit that he was mistaken in his original accusations. I have accepted his apology, but have decided to write about this because it raises some very interesting issues, elements that are only a small part of the overall "cultural appropriation" story, but which should be discussed anyway.
Firstly, this is not to deny that cultural appropriation happens, or even that I am completely guilt-free myself. No, I am not a Black or Latino/a or from a major city on either of America's East or West coasts. I am a white, able-bodied cismale, living in Manchester, England, though I am an Irish national (not to be confused with "Irish-American" or "Irish-anything else" - as a culture we Irish have our own pretty huge history of appropriation by others).

Cultural appropriation definitely happens. There has been a lot of discussion on social networks over the last few weeks about the "masked DJ" craze in Jersey Club, a perceived "cashing-in" on this relatively new, localised US scene by anonymous, white acts like Yolo Bear, DJ Hoodboi, Trippy Turtle and more, some of whom are from Europe. This debate was sparked by a Facebook post by Dirty South Joe, and has been raging steadily since, with some originators of the Jersey Club sound rightly apprehensive of having their hard work ignored in favour of anonymous Johnny-come-latelys not from their world hoovering up their gigs and hype. I am guessing that this ongoing discussion was in the background when Finlayson wrote his original tweet.

So no, this isn't to deny cultural appropriation, but to ask for a more nuanced, less knee-jerk approach to the term when required, and also to question the credentials of the people claiming cultural appropriation, where necessary. Of course, it seems obvious to me that this sort of logic should be applied to every and all accusations of cultural hegemony and discrimination (which, in itself, might be a luxury of my own white privilege) but right now the term "cultural appropriation" is in danger of being appropriated and used to police culture by people who actually have no qualifications, or right, to do so.

So what are my qualifications?


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