Two Fridays ago, the website Boiler Room live-streamed a "Baltimore Club Special" from New York, featuring James Nasty, Mighty Mark and TT The Artist, Scottie B, DJ Technics, and Rod Lee. I spent the evening stuck in front of my laptop, the stream in one window, Twitter in another tab, reading friends' and musicians' excited commentary on the set, GChat open blabbing to my dance music nerd buddies, taking in this sort-of moment for Bmore club. And unlike most Boiler Room events, wherein tastemaking DJs do their best while a bunch of invite-only douchebags dick around on their phones and don't dance, this crowd caught the Bmore club bug and went nuts. It was heartening.
Also appearing in my Twitter feed were updates from Ferguson, Missouri. Some frustration about Ferguson even seemed to sneak into the Boiler Room toward the end when Rod Lee played 'Dance My Pain Away.' This powerful song at this particular moment provided everyone watching on a screen or there "IRL" with a bit of catharsis. Or at least it felt like a nod to what we're witnessing in the Midwest, a source of pain that we wish we could dance away but cannot. Similarly, TT The Artist chanting "weak ass bitch" over and over and over again took on a political edge too; for those few minutes, I could pretend the chant was directed at the cops (teargassing men, women, teens, and apparently toddlers), and officer Darren Wilson who shot Mike Brown and has yet to be charged and proably won't ever be charged.
And right after the Boiler Room wrapped up, I tuned into the live streams from the police-enforced media pit, all the while, refreshing Twitter and receiving 140 character blasts of news and anger and worry from those on the ground and in the know.
The next day, the cathartic power of club and the rightminded rage over Ferguson slammed right into one another with Schwarz's protest song, 'Hands Up, Don't Shoot.' Streaming on Soundcloud, Schwarz's song is a clever piece of agitprop remixing, using Blaqstarr's club classic 'Hands Up, Thumbs Down' and fusing it with the "hands up, don't shoot" chants of protestors. Whirling evilly in the background are gun shots and the sound of the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) used in Ferguson to supposedly disseminate information but mostly employed to intimidate and strike fear in people. A club hook becomes a chant of protest and the protesters become club vocalists, while those gun shots, a staple of club music (because like so many things with club, it's about taking control of oppressive elements of our culture and creatively using them), remind you of the half-dozen or so shots that killed Mike Brown. Meanwhile, the LRAD siren takes on a role usually reserved for the wailing dancehall horns that help ratchet up the energy of a dance party.
Schwarz is originally from St. Louis, and he has taken to tweeting about his experiences with the police there as a teen, in his typical ALL-CAPS style: "WHEN COPS MADE ME MISS CLASS BY TEARING APART MY CAR WHILE I WAS HANDCUFFED ON CURB THEY WOULDNT WRITE A LETTER TO MY SCHOOL"; "ONCE A BLACK FRIEND OF MINE WAS HARASSED BY COPS FOR HOURS BC HE WAS WEARING JEANS AND A WHITE T SHIRT." His song connects St. Louis and Baltimore, both places (among many) suffering from police occupation.
So far, the loudest voices on Ferguson have been those who realized before the rest of us that they have nothing to lose (there isn't really a single Democrat on a national level who has commented, and all our President has on the topic is hedged platitudes), whether it's St. Louis' brave politicians and citizens, or an underground musician like Schwarz doing his tiny but still significant part. Whatever it was I was trying to write last week in this column is expressed much more effectively by Schwarz's 'Hands Up, Don't Shoot.' It's one minute and 44 seconds of sonic solidarity.