Second Thoughts: On negative positivity and positive collectivity

The COVID-19 pandemic and its imposed lockdowns have affected our culture in a brutal way, but as the nightlife slowly resumes and things seem to be getting back to normal, we believe it’s time to re-evaluate and rethink some of the old ways. What was broken or defective and can be adjusted? What can be done now to overcome the crisis without sliding back to what we have considered normal? We’ve asked Mary Nguyen of Glory Affairs to offer her perspective.

You must stay positive, they say

First weeks of imposed restrictions. Here I am, staring at the blank page for way too long – between my four walls. I pet our cat Jin and telepathically tried to talk to him: ‘You have no idea, what is going on right?’ He jumped out of the window and hissed at the neighbour’s ‘enemy’ cat. Then they walked off and continued wandering around with ease. They seem more content, I think to myself – probably because they get to hang out with their human fellows more often, are well fed and don’t have to pay any bills. My mind keeps constantly racing, media is overflowing with articles about good but mainly bad news, politics, related memes, motivational quotes and self-care tips. ’Hooray, holidays, time to unwind, take up new classes, dust off our shelves and apply face masks!’ some might think. If only it were that easy for everyone.

This writing’s aim is not to sugarcoat the consequences of the crisis on the electronic scene. It won’t be preaching toxic positivity because, let’s be honest, in reality it is not within everyone’s capability to „focus on the bright side“ nor is it everyone’s priority to spiritually heal at this moment and it should not be shamed and labeled as weakness. Belittling others of lack of discipline for not using the isolation time in a productive way stems from infatuation with productivity – wondering what system enhances this? Don’t get me wrong, it is great if you handle the situation well, but let’s not impose “only good vibes” onto those who are not that lucky. More importantly, let’s not accuse ourselves in our heads for not doing enough – our negative feelings are valid and they are an appropriate response to the collective trauma and persisting global issues. Instead let’s try to understand each other with compassion and without judgement. Before recklessly pushing a „positive agenda“, let’s stop and listen to one another and then maybe find a way how to support each other more effectively. Let’s allow ourselves and the others to process and experience our true feelings without shame whilst gently reminding that it is not the ultimate end of the world. Then we might understand something.

Take this just as an attempt to provide some different perspective on the crisis and the electronic scene for us and to consider a few of its defects and possible adjustments. But mainly just as someone’s opinion. Following paragraphs are going to explore the kind of a different side of the crisis on the music scene rather than the economic one. The truth is no one knows how things are going to be in two weeks from the time this article is published. We seem to be scared to say this out loud but unfortunately, this crisis will have a devastating impact on many people, including smaller businesses in the creative field and independent artists who were already struggling before the crisis hit. But it is vital not to give up and to be there for one another and for ourselves so we can assure that we have a scene to come back to. Because if we don’t keep the heads up, what’s left?

Persisting pollution, 2016.

Massive marine life destruction caused by a steel plant’s discharge of toxic industrial waste in the Southeast Asia, 2016.

Back to normal?

As I am typing this, I am aware of how lucky I am to have access to running water, an Internet connection, a roof over my head and the time to write this article. But somewhere outside of my quarantine world, there is someone of the same age as me and with a similar character, and perhaps a similar passion to music, that is not as lucky as I am and doesn’t know if there will be anything to eat tomorrow, with no safe home, without the same rights I have. Many questions about the distribution and politics of care, patterns of socio-economic inequality, nature of work, fragility of economies are currently being raised. I can’t help but wonder if this article will be as relevant to the-electronic-music-social-bubble as to the people outside of it. But I hope there’s something relatable for everyone in this writing.

Beyond my four walls, 2016.

‘I wish it would all go back to normal!‘ echoes in our minds before falling asleep. But there are shadows outside our shelters and deeply rooted inside our societies that are hard to face. Those did not emerge only through this crisis, they existed before. Now, things that could be ignored are more blatant than ever. These hidden truths that have been revealed affect our interactions in shared spaces, including our local electronic music scene. If we are lucky enough to have time to think, we can reflect upon the good things that were always there for us but we did not cherish enough and we can reconsider which were the norms that did more harm than good. How can we rethink the way things were done before and how can we consequently proceed? The global pandemic brings up mental health consequences that whole societies have to cope with, but they are rarely discussed or examined. It is easier if we tackle them together, unveiling how interconnected all of us are, revealing to us how we wish to be but are not – yet.

Recently, it has become apparent how one’s actions impact others. What we can learn through this crisis is just how much we can benefit from shifting focus from our selfish needs (that so often alienate us from each other and leaves us feeling lonely) to the importance of being more in touch with our community. In order to stay sane, both individual healing but also collective coping strategies are required. This crisis could possibly bring an opportunity to reflect in ways we might have never thought of before and to consider alternatives – to challenge the familiar (which is easier said than done, but to realize it is the first step). This applies to everything, including our local electronic music scene. 

I wish we never go back to ’normal’. I wish we all come out of this stronger, more sincerely connected and with a healthier appreciation for life. In daydreams, when the storm is over, we will greet each other with arms wide open once again, take our masks off (both materially and metaphorically), listen without haste, grieve our losses and celebrate newly gained perspectives with dance and music and the authenticity and freedom of expression. But how far are these daydreams from reality?

When life seems easier among 10-15 people (Spirit, New Years).

Bathrooms can be party chillzones too.

How making music/music events turned into skills

A dance music scene has the power to gather like-minded people, to connect both friends and strangers. Unfortunately, it can also often be shallow and empty, competitive, judgmental and jealous. The business aspect of art emphasizes the technical side of making music or a music event, mastering it, using certain pro tools to make and play „good music“, sticking to one genre or style, using familiar equations for predefined success. It aims for perfection and implicates hierarchy. Improving our skills to be able to present our music the way we want it to be presented is definitely beneficial but strictly paying focus on the technical side of performing whilst not applying the same emphasis on the intention to connect with the crowd can leave the audience unfulfilled after some time – and also the performer/organizer. Technically a well mixed set that lacks soul and an element of surprise can leave both sides unsatisfied and disconnected. We can still fool our bodies into continuing dancing as if we were enjoying it to the fullest, but we know when we don’t feel it. Strict rules of what music should be and how it should be presented could be killing applications for creativity and real connection.

Broken pieces of mirror by Al Yak Ya.

From my point of view, there is so much more than the technical side of music gatherings – for instance intent, empathy and sincere care for each other. Focusing on these and other overlooked aspects can bring the unexpected as well. If musicians get rid of existing limiting frameworks, choosing to prioritize how music makes all participants feel and to observe the sincerity of connection, blurring any boundaries within the performance, we might be pleasantly surprised how truly we can feel connected heart to heart.

I wish to see a musician’s character and their distinct style shine from them more, more of breaking the existing frameworks, craving to find our own unique sound and mutually embracing these differences. I think these are some of the possible ways to truly connect – to be in touch with yourself as an artist as well, to seek your most authentic self and to not be scared to fall off the grid. We crave for real connection more than ever. When the mayhem ends, creating a new setting that is even more successful at fulfilling music’s potential to bond people can really solidify a feeling of a harmonized community.

Snake dance (Saudade, 2019).

Competitiveness on the music scene

Sometimes there’s certain rivalry in local scenes lurking between different promoters and artists. Treating other musicians (local or abroad) as competition means taking it as a sport and it could lead to separation. Who outruns who and why does it matter? Yes, it is crucial to be (self)critical for each other’s betterment and it is beneficial to surround yourself with people that can give you a honest constructive criticism. But speaking ill about other musicians is often driven by one’s need to prove that they are better than someone else, which often stems from one’s insecurity. In reality, all of us had to start somewhere and it all takes time. If we don’t choose to play this game, we avoid feeding the need to be validated by others. Who steals your gigs? There’s plenty of room for everyone to succeed. When we all come together, we all become stronger by being aware of the shared passion for music and new exciting collaboration can arise, helping the whole music scene develop. The crisis brought a pleasant side effect – the tendency of the electronic music scene to tighten with the acknowledgement that we are on the same boat, something that might have been less apparent before and hopefully something we will keep acknowledging once the crisis is over.

Glory Affairs ambient stage, taken by Anna Štěpánová.

Headliner culture

Some are in the game for a longer period of time. They have developed a respectable sense for communicating with the audience through sounds and managed to built a community of people that follow their passion. Understandably, these artists attract more listeners and venue visitors. However, one thing strucks me quite often – there is tendency to be dazzled by the big names and to overlook the less known names that could have a lot to offer. It might come in handy to recognize this tendency.

What happens sometimes is that some less known musicians have greater performing skills or left a bigger impact on their audience than the “headliner” and end up being the highlight of the night. Some less known artists might be at the very beginning and might not have the smoothest pace yet. But if we don’t strictly demand perfection of the technical side, there is an enjoyment in imperfection to be found which stems from instant intuitive impulses of the artist that are not heavily processed before execution – without thinking too much how it will be perceived. Some less known artists are in the field even longer than the headliner, they might have been more recognized and appreciated only recently.

In that sense, undermining the worth of the less known performers and a prominent inclination to put foreign performers on the pedestal could be deceitful. With that said, it also creates certain imbalance and makes it harder for the less known performers knowing their worth and demand better conditions. Smaller independent artists are being told to perform for exposure and it leads to quite a significant pay gap.

Local musicians coming together

As we can now witness, many local collectives across the world decided to join their forces and think outside the box to share musical joyfulness and collaborate on completely new mutual projects. Some of these collectives might have never otherwise given each other the chance to listen and appreciate each other’s creativity, until they were merged under mutual local projects that provided a peek to what different collectives do. By practicing looking outside of the status-quo social-music-bubble, things that were unlooked-for could suddenly be discovered. There is always music to explore and some of these musical innovations might already be taking place in our city, unnoticed. It is not always necessary to have an expensive headliner to make a good party. Enjoying a karaoke party with sh*tty music or drinking at a friend’s place with music playing from a laptop is a proof that sometimes we need less than more. Hopefully the closure of borders will lead to local music scenes embracing what it already has to offer and developing it more: encouraging the upcoming local artists to bring new ideas instead of seeking artists only abroad, not being afraid of turning the tables upside down instead of settling for the better-known.

Last words

The local electronic music scene in Prague is not overwhelmingly big, but there are many collectives that are supportive, passionately doing their own thing, and quite open to change. What positive outcomes will the crisis bring? Hopefully not only our local music scene, but all the people in general will arise from our isolated spaces at least a bit kinder, more emotionally intelligent, more conscious, more authentic. Hopefully, we will take things for granted less, seek real connection, being more present and in touch with our surrounding. Let’s look for inspiration, where authenticity can be found and where music and freedom of expression and cross disciplinary media are intertwined and take place. But more importantly, let’s try to overcome this traumatic experience with compassion and willingness to understand each other.

Second Thoughts

Irregular series of opinion-based, subjective, observant and thoughtful elaborations on issues and matters related to the local electronic music scene and occasionally beyond. Contributed by our valued community members, Second Thoughts is about asking but not always answering, calling attention, re-evaluation, rethinking and envisioning.