A common conception of culture is that it is mainly a reflection of how people lead and organize their existence. Others see it as a crucial element in the development of personality, interpersonal relationships and your connection with the societal structures surrounding you. Music is one of the oldest cultural expressions known to humankind, and historically, it has played a big part in protests and revolutions. When reading about many of the historic rebellions and revolutions today, we recognize that they were essential for the development of a more just society. At the time of the events, however (demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the fight against Apartheid and more), the music and its advocates were targets of defamation and strict social control by politicians, police and at times military. What history has shown, and many have felt on their own bodies how music can inspire through giving hope while also expressing dissatisfaction.
Founded on values such as equality, tolerance, open-mindedness and togetherness, the electronic music scene has grown to a worldwide movement. It started as a movement based on personal freedom and unity. That said, profit-oriented politics and stricter monitoring and regulation of citizens have lead to increased restrictions on when and where cultural and especially music events can take place.
Worldwide, but also especially in Europe, we have seen it the last weeks, months, years. Defamation of electronic music in the media, from politicians and in public police statements. The ever so growing need to control culture, music and the people celebrating it creates a clash between the creative music scene and the establishment.
A fine example of questionable handling of electronic music as a cultural asset was the police using military boats to reach an Island North of Norway called Værøy, where the festival Midnightsun took place. In itself, the use of military equipment against the country’s own citizens is illegal. Furthermore, raiding the festival with police dogs and through their fine police work, managing to fine 55 people for carrying drugs, amongst them a 71-year-old man from Japan, showed that the costs of such a police operation exceeded the merit. Even so, the operation was celebrated as a big success from police and media.
In Germany, there has been a growing focus on politics versus culture in the last weeks. What started with a separate episode here and there has turned out to be a big collection of examples how electronic music and its supporters have to take the back seat when it is measured against politics and money. In Berlin officials banned May 1st parties. These have been a traditional part of Berlin as an alternative to the violent demonstrations the city experienced on this day in the early 2000s. Anger and rioting was replaced with music, food, beer and a celebration on the streets, in parks and in every little corner bar.
This year the city council decided to shut down close to all of the official events, and made a big move on the smaller, unofficial ones. The riot police that was once there to fight rock and Molotov-cocktail throwing demonstrators were gathered in their riot gear to stop any illegal party and confiscate all sound systems that were set up in public places. This all while in villages right-wing groups were allowed to March and sing paroles. It is a great time to be alive, folks.
Following this, the news of the troubles that Fusion Festival is facing struck like lightning. An institution, a tradition, a safe and free space that started as a small and intimate techno gathering and is now having 70.000 guests yearly, is under threat of being cancelled. After 20 years of peaceful celebration at a former Soviet military airfield in Lärz (Mecklenburg Vorpommern) without any police presence on the festival area, the Chief of Police has decided that he now feels the need to have a mobile police station on the festival site, despite that the rates of violence at the festival has been immensely low the last two decades (an average of 2,5 violent acts per year).
Officially the police argue that they fear an increase of violence, which has led to them withholding the permission for the festival despite a long history of cooperation between the organizers and police. Also, they have stated that there is a lack of emergency exits and other errors in their security concept. We all want to prevent events such as the Loveparade 2010 accident with 21 deaths, the storm at Rock Am Ring where 70 people were injured, or the terror attach on Ansbach Open with 15 injured, however it begs the question what a mobile police station on the festival area can actually do if panic breaks loose or if there is a terrorist attack. In addition, it is worth mentioning the Loveparade 2010 disaster was due to a have mass panic breakout in a very cramped entrance area which is very different to the outline of Fusion Festival. Here all stages are outdoors and even the hangar has a completely open side where people can easily move.
Why the chief of police is concerned about a sudden rise of violence at the festival, nobody really knows, as there are no statistics to back him up. German politician Katja Kipping from the left party wrote in TAZ that it can be loosely connected to the regional elections coming up in May. Germany has seen a surge of right oriented political parties again and especially in the eastern regions, this has been notable. In Mecklenburg Vorpommern the Populist Party AfD was the second biggest party at the last election. And this latest desperate action can be related to the chief’s own personal connection to the CDU interior minister Lorenz Caffier and their need to assert themselves among populistic voters, and in such distance themselves from anything that has a scent of being leftist.
Which includes Fusion, one of the few festivals in this world that operates solely on crews voluntary involvement in creating this artistic spaces, which has no commercial sponsoring, no promotion, no meat, where most of the artists donate their fees to the festival, and where you are allowed to bring your own foods and drinks. It is the single largest non-commercial culture festival in Europe, bringing about music, art and theatre. And this is now likely to end.
The organizers have started a petition to support the festival, you can sign here.
People worldwide are outraged, and within the first two days of the petition around 90.000 people had already signed. It is not about condoning drug use, it is not about a disregard for safety regulations, or police necessarily. It is about the constantly growing limitation of personal freedom, spaces to unfold your creative sides, communities that are not solely focused on the standard and prescribed way of living, people that think and prioritize differently. Sadly, the Chief Of Police will eventually have the final saying in this matter.
Politicians and policing institutions want to dictate social control in society, but politicians need to keep in mind that it should not be at the expense of diversity. Democracy allows for freedom of expression and culture, without this we are moving in a dangerous direction. You cannot claim to want culture without enabling it to have spaces to unfold and develop. Another question that remains is why electronic music has become such an underdog when we talk about cultural expressions. In every country, you have festivals for jazz, rock, and EDM, opera houses, theatres and similar institutions that receive government funding, while venues and organizers working with electronic music face on obstacle after another. Even the cultural expressions that do qualify for funding seldom get enough. In the end, it boils down to the fact that everybody wants culture, but no one wants to pay for it.
“There’s a feeling shared today
By the people whose freedom has been taken away
And as in the past when things were wrong
the common folk come together in song
How shall we win?
with what will we fight?
We hope with this song
our world we shall unite” – ‘They can’t take away our music’, Eric Burdon and War, 1970