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why the dweller festival matters

February 4, 2020
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Brooklyn’s Dweller Festival matters because knowing history matters — because futures are built on knowing history. Especially Black History and Black Futures, whose cornerstones have been getting dismantled in America, and around the world, forever-ever. So what if all that Dweller Festival talks about is the Black roots of what is called “dance music”? In a world where the culture economy often drives the global one, knowing that club music — house, techno, electro, jungle/drum’n’bass, dub, disco, bass, all of it — was born of the same Black experience that birthed hip-hop, redefines how we all see it and its purposes. This is not just some default soundtrack of nightlife and meaningless fun, but serves a higher calling, full of artistic and technological innovations, communications breakthroughs, and social freedoms.     

If you don’t know Dweller, you should. The festival was started in 2019 by Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, a founding member of the highly influential NYC women’s electronic music collective Discwoman and a booker at Bossa Nova Civic Club, one of the epicenters of Brooklyn’s techno scene. As she told DeForrest Brown Jr., who covered last year’s inaugural Dweller for AFROPUNK, “I wanted to do some kind of event focusing on Black artists in electronic music, but never found the time. Once I was offered the job to book at Bossa, it was the one thing I wanted to do.” 

Speaking last month with the New York dance music ‘zine Love Injection, the London-born Hutchinson expanded on Dweller’s origins: “At university and beyond, I’ve always focused on creating spaces for people who have been marginalized. It’s been something I’ve been really interested in. Moving to New York, starting Discwoman, learning more about the history of techno and stuff — and understanding its racial roots — really took the wind out of me a bit. I wasn’t quite aware of that. I’d been raving to this kind of music for quite a while, but I had no real knowledge or context of where it came from. I always had these background ideas, of doing some kind of exhibition around it or some kind of educational event to, as a tool, educate people on the history of this because I think it’s often overlooked, and specifically overlooked by the European demographic as well.” And there’s no better “educational event” around dance music than a festival that takes place in the clubs.

Due to the financial limitations and circumstances around launching such an endeavor, last year’s Dweller, which took place exclusively at Bossa, was a largely local community affair — featuring Detroit-by-way-of-Atlanta DJ Ash Lauryn, but otherwise mostly NYC-area artists and budding Black dance-music institutions, such as Half Moon BK radio and the Confused House label/party. This year’s festival strengthens ties with great Brooklyn-based Black DJs/producers of all musical flavors. It also expands the perimeters of the community to other venues, bringing in artists from both dance-music meccas (Detroit legends DJ Stingray and DJ Assault; London’s mighty Josey Rebelle), and lesser-known but crucial Black music capitals (DC’s DJ Nativesun and Ohio’s Titonton Duvante). Our friend/colleague DeForrest Brown, Jr. is also both speaking and playing there as well.

And if some of these names seem familiar from AFROPUNK bills through the years, there is a good reason for that. Dweller’s mission to historically realign Blackness with a culture that’s popularly regarded as either white folks music or as having no specific cultural roots is the very same one AFROPUNK was founded on. There are few modern musics that carry as much punk spirit as hardcore techno, or jacking house, or 140bpm booty electro, each of which is the product of Black America, and which you’ll hear over the next few days in BK. Props to Frankie and Dweller for making these historical and sonic connections explicit again.

Dweller Festival runs in Brooklyn February 5th-9th

For more Black dance music, check out AFROPUNK’s DJ mix series