If you’re unaware of Chris Inperspective right now, you’ve definitely not been following drum & bass that closely these last few months.
Founder of the non-profit organisation Black Junglist Alliance, Chris is the man behind a series of videos earlier this summer that highlighted an issue that’s been endemic in drum & bass for many years: What was once a vibrant melting pot of people, sounds, cultures and backgrounds has gradually morphed into a largely white middle class mainstream operation.
Inperspective’s main focus was on a particular label, but the situation he was highlighting involves every single label, brand, promoter, booker and individual in the industry from the managers to the media. The message is simple: the picture has been inaccurate for a long time and the music’s inherent black roots are not being represented. Black artists have not been represented. Things have to change. And the Black Junglist Alliance (BJA) is a vehicle for that change.
What started as a Facebook group has now developed into an online channel dedicated to black drum & bass talent. Behind the scenes, the BJA have plans to create resources for young aspiring black artists and hold events such as summer schools and plenty more. They’re also looking for form allyships with organisations to help increase diversity across the scene. It’s early days for the organisation so far but the intent is very clear. This is about diversity, not division.
We spoke to Chris to find out more about the future of the organisation but, more pertinently, why it has to exist in the first place.
Let’s set the scene and go back to why the Black Junglist Alliance was formed…
It started with the Drum&BassArena documentary, which, no matter how you feel about it, didn’t represent the influence and role of black people in the genre. That started some very big, very important conversations. Then George Floyd got killed, then we had Black Tuesday. But the whitewashing argument started, with all due respect, with that documentary because people were looking at it and felt the representation wasn’t right. This was the backdrop to it all. And then, of course, we had my videos. The thing is, black people are constantly having these conversations anyway.
They’re not usually happening online or so public?
In the past we might not necessarily express these views to white people, because those white people are gatekeepers for the gigs and opportunities and whatever else. So I think when one person speaks out, there’s always a bit of a kind of follow on from that, because all of these conversations have been constantly happening anyway. I’ve said this to colleagues of yours; when you’re hosting events, do you honestly look out at the crowd and, just for a second, think ‘this is all a bit white!’ And, now having had these conversations with a lot of people, I don’t believe it’s as systemic in this industry as I feared.
It’s more ignorance? Unconscious bias?
I just don’t think whitewashing is a fair term with everyone. It’s evident on some serious levels. My videos pointed that out. But I think sometimes it’s people who’ve been brought up in very white middle class areas who just haven’t realised. They’re not really trying to cause any harm or hurt. And I, we as black people, have to be a little bit mindful and sensitive to that if we’re really going to have some healing. It’s one thing digging at one particular label, but it’s another thing to then start looking at every single organisation and thinking they’re same way.
But organisations do need to consider this and need to consider how they treat black people. I got a spidey-sense for this type of stuff. All black people do; you can tell when someone is uncomfortable with your blackness. To give a real life example, two artist managers arrives at record label office and they’re black. Lo and behold they’re introduced to me in an extravagant way, almost like a caveat.
I hear you. That type of silent / awkward day-to-day racism that you deal with all the time.
Yes. I have to say I want to get away from certain tropes. I think that the language we use confuses these things. Even with the term white privilege. I fell out of a friend of mine because he couldn’t get past the term white privilege because he kept telling me how poor he was. It’s not about money, it’s about the privilege of being white, and how that helps inside. It’s nothing to do with money. I think you could be the poorest white kid in England, brought up on a council estate, but if you make the right moves you could be a prime minister. But when do you honestly think we’re going to see a black one? I think I’ll be dead before that happens. I’m 44. I don’t think I’ll be alive to see a black prime minister in this country.
I don’t think a white kid from an estate could be prime minister, but I have to agree with you about a black prime minister. Sadly. David Lammy is a good, honest politician though…
Yeah, Shaun Bailey going for London mayor is an interesting thing, too. It’s not like there are no black politicians. A friend of mine suggested I go into politics. I wouldn’t. But I understood what he meant. I’m well-spoken. I’m not speaking in a ratchet way all the time, or at least not until I choose to. And maybe to some that makes me best placed to speak out on this. Or be heard on this. But even that in itself is our own internal devaluation of ourselves as black people. Because we feel that unless we speak in a certain way we’re never really going to be heard.
This is something we’ve seen over years and years of media representation. Personalities like Rusty Lee, Andi Peters, Chris Eubank. They’re called coconuts because they happen to behave in a certain way on British television. And that’s unfair.
Have you experienced this? I know of some black artists who don’t feel represented by the Black Junglist Alliance….
I’d ask those artists to get in touch with me. Reach out, get involved. Together we can solve this. I’d also say that if they’ve been around for a long time then they’ve had an opportunity to do this before. We need to get over our egos.
There’s a theory that we have very high individual self-esteem and we have very low cultural self-esteem. That means that we think a lot of ourselves, but not much of each other. So it’s like crabs in a barrel. When one of us starts to get up the ladder is that others in the barrel try to drag them back down. Chris Rock and many black comedians always joke about it. Steven K Amos jokes that he has to wait for Lenny Henry to die for him to get a chance to be on the BBC. Just like when Dave Chappelle got replaced by Key and Peele.
Another comedian joked that white society sees black people as pennies. One or two pennies in the shop is fine but if someone comes with a couple of bags of coins, it’s a problem. These are the tropes that even some black people adhere to and ones that we’re fighting against and trying to move away from.
And they’re all part of the deep, historic systemic racism…
Yes. I don’t blame any individual for feeling disgruntled by what they feel I’ve done or what they’ve read from me. I want them to reach out to me. I’m very available. I want to use this as a vehicle for positive change. It’s not going to be easy. We’re not always going to be unified, but we exist now and we can’t move back from this.
I think you sum it up succinctly on the Loxy & Ink upload in the description you simply put ‘we’re here to educate, not hate’.
100% The problem is that there are so many bubbles in drum & bass. Some people might not even know Loxy & Ink are black. Or fans in the music in the U.S who knew about Flite but didn’t know about Flight. I want BJATV to pull these things together and create a universe for black artists to exist and flourish in and for people to know they’re there and for it to represent what black jungle means. Just listen to Jeremy Sinistarr or Shiken Hanzo or Chords. Drum & bass written by black people isn’t just one old style. Or the old cliché that drum & bass is white and jungle is black. Bollocks. Even intelligent drum & bass, which Bukem coined, was a black fight.
I spoke to Fabio about this lately. When they launched Speed and took to the West End they were called out for being boujie and exclusive.
That’s what I’m saying. In the big jungle rooms you had people saying they were from the streets but wearing exclusive expensive brands like Moschino and Versace but having a go at Bukem and Fabio for trying to elevate things themselves! Why can’t we be boujie? Why can’t we elevate things on our own terms? Why can’t we do what they’ve done in America with hip-hop and celebrate the wealth of our achievements? I’m not saying that’s the only way to do this, but it is like any time we do something, we’re brought down. Even by ourselves. And I believe it’s because of the systematic narrative that’s constantly reinforcing the message that we ain’t shit.
I want to understand the editorial role in white washing of drum & bass. I have always felt I’ve been diverse in the curation of interviewing people. I have always understood, respected and celebrated drum & bass music’s black foundations. Not enough though. I need to do better.
I’ve had similar questions put to me from other people. Label owners. Guys, like you, who aren’t fearful, aren’t racist and just want to make sure they’re representing things properly. You know yourself if you’re representing things fairly or accurately. You, and all labels or writers or whatever, will represent what you represent. You’re never going to get it 100% right. That’s impossible, because of all the bubbles, as we’ve said, but you know the answer deep down if you’re doing it right.
An ex colleague asked me what the point is of diversity in drum & bass. He wasn’t being negative. Well, he was a bit, but he was being honest. He thought the thing that it was has disappeared forever. Like techno. Like hip-hop. Like house. Whatever. Sometimes I wonder that. When you see those huge crowds of white people going crazy to that angry noisy music. It’s like how are we ever going to come back from this? It’s also understanding things from a DJ’s perspective. When you’re faced with those crowds who won’t dance to anything but that music, it’s harder to be diverse when you’re in that situation. But when you are in a situation of power and influence you should be pushing diversity anyway. Not have this Independence Day thing happening with the big mothership and those little sub ships who can do something different without disrupting the main message of the mothership. Like a female artist sub ship, or black label mentorship sub ship.
It’s a progressive step forward, though?
Look, I’m glad they’re doing it. I’m glad any label is looking to develop diversity in all their operations. What I would say is that it’s important to see this progressively across the board and not just signing lighter skinned black artists. Now I know people reading this might think I’m attacking those artists. I’m not. I’m attacking the system that uses them in that way. Or that’s how some see it.
Again, it’s been in place for generations. Look at the Cotton Club in 1950s America, Harlem. The lightest looking black people would be used out on stage, for the entirely white audience, the darker skinned people would be serving drinks or in the kitchen. What we’re talking about is the same; I am saying that a white organisation has exploited people. It’s a very tough one and something we want to fight with the Black Junglist Alliance. I’m not fighting any individual artists here. I’m not taking any value away from anyone. But I do want to provide an example of how white organisations exploit lighter skinned people. And not just one label, this is, as is everything we’re talking about here, systematic and been in place forever.
Let’s talk about the future and how the BJA and BJATV will fight this. Obviously there’s the channel.
Yeah. Which is a place solely for drum & bass written by black artists. A place to showcase black artists of all generations and countries and styles. It’s going to take time to grow. All channels do but I hope by Christmas we’ll have a good base and you’re going to start seeing tracks uploaded almost daily over the coming months. We want to be a resource base for black artists who want to progress and want to know how the industry works. We’ve also got an educational element and will be looking at a summer school next year. I think we’re just reintroducing people to the idea of how drum & bass came about and its roots. We’re going to be doing a series of videos, information and vox pop type of things and touching on lifestyle elements of the culture. We’re developing a list of contributors and creators and working on it now. This is all still very much fledgling. You have to remember that this was all started in a wave of anger.
Didn’t the D&B record market Clashmouth, which you co-founded, come out of a place of frustration, too?
It did. Pretty much everything I’ve produced in my life that’s been worth anything has come from that place. And at first there is that stage where you run around like a headless chicken but eventually you get things organized. It’s like ‘okay, okay, we’ve made all this noise. What the fuck are we actually doing?’ And what’s been great is we’ve had a number of labels and young artists reach out already. We’ve had people hit us up asking how they can get their music on Spotify or how they can get PR or distribution. And sometimes all that takes is a quick reply and an introduction with the right people.
We just want to help young black artists try and get their music into different platforms and to advise them. Our educational programs won’t be just production, for example, they’ll be about the whole industry, licencing, legal, promotion. All aspects of the industry so they can be fully independent and run their own brand. So that’s the plan for the next year; build towards having a summer school and continue helping as many black creatives as we can.
I would like to offer opportunities to black writers on UKF.com. Can the Black Jungle Alliance help?
Just get your people to create the assets and we’ll share to our network. We do want to create allyships where we can. We don’t really want to come across like Malcolm X too much. There will be moments when we will have to, but allyships are something we’d like to achieve when we know we’re working from the very same page.
Surely allyships are important if we’re to achieve unity, understanding and empathy between each other?
Yes, 100% but if you’re of a certain age in the UK then you’ll have heard tropes like that before and not seen any progress. I’ve said this to others recently. You put two white strangers in a room for 20 minutes and they’ll find some common ground. Put two black strangers in a room and they’ll be able to find all kinds of commonalities in terms of how they’ve had fucked up or weird situations from white people. That’s not to say all white people are evil, but we have all had very similar experiences. So, for me, the unity issue has to be among black people first. That, for me, is where the biggest challenges are right now in order to really achieve change. Because what’s sad is that, that I could say this stuff and you print it and then somehow some black people would still be like, ‘fuck you, Chris.’
This is really important. It’s important for you, for me, but it’s more important for our kids to live in a better future where this imbalance of power and narrative don’t exist. And I feel the only way to get to that is if there’s some level of ownership on the side of black artists and also women artists. We need a top label run by black guys. We need top label run by women. How good would it be to have a top label run by a black woman?
When it comes to representation, as I’ve said many times, black women are not represented in this genre at all. I know there are people that run black labels who will see this and will again, think, ‘fuck you Chris, my label is up there.’ Of course it is. But, in terms of real money and power, they’re not. Please prove me wrong.
Something I’ve seen during this is just how awful some ‘fans’ are. The reactions on posts we’ve made on the UKF social pages or the insults Degs has received and shares to remind us how the ‘community’ out there has a scary proportion of complete racist knuckleheads…
Totally. And it’s about the comfort level. We want people to see things how they are. Look, when most white people walk into a room and see only white people, maybe 10 or 15% of them will go ‘woah it’s a bit white in here isn’t it?’ But if I’m in a room and it’s all black people I like ‘shit! It’s all black people! Wow.’ Because we’re so used to seeing things whitewashed so we ask people like you, people who run the channels and brands to think ‘are we representing everyone?’ And this could be taken on an individual level. I had some great conversations about an inclusion rider that, going forward, would see the big artists saying don’t put me in a line-up with all white guys.
I think that’s an amazing idea
I can’t take credit for it. I believe it’s an EQ50 idea, but that’s one way of pushing diversity and using your influence to help. And, just saying, if you have a label or you’re bookings nights and you’re looking for black guys then maybe this is how we can solve it. The main thing is black people have had such a major, integral contribution to all forms of music but the picture is not representative of that. Whether anyone wants to say otherwise. We’re not discounting white people but the picture’s all wrong. It’s wrong for women. It’s wrong for people of colour and it’s wrong for the LGBTQ community.
I’ll keep saying this but I’ll defy anyone to beat this argument. Everything cool that anybody likes in music is black-based. Anything. Whether it’s heavy metal to every pop tune you hear now. It’s all come from black roots. Unless you listen to folk music. And folks alright. If you like it, good on you. Same with orchestral music. But everything, jazz, blues, rock, house…
Techno, soul, funk, hip-hop, disco…
Exactly. One of my favourite album titles of all time was Fear Of A Black Planet by Public Enemy. Because the behaviour of white society perfectly suggests that; the idea that just from asking for equality or trying to get equality, is somehow that we’re going to take over. It’s just bullshit. We’re not looking to take over. We just want the picture, the narrative and the opportunities to reflect things much more honestly and fairly. It’s not too much to ask.