La Haine, De School and systemic violence

La haine attire la haine!

In Podcast Over Media, Dutch tech entrepreneur Alexander Klöpping admitted he is stuck in the 1990s. For me, his confession was an eyeopener. Suddenly I understood why I was so emotional after the recent situation at De School, a music club in Amsterdam, being accused of racism. I didn’t felt sad only for De School, but mostly because of the loss of my belief in the inclusive power of electronic dance music culture.

That feeling is soooo 1990s.

After the live-streamed podcast addressing the claims of racism at De School, I wanted to share my views on the matter but felt that it wasn’t my call. After all, I am a middle-aged white male living a decent life. I have been part of the electronic dance music culture since the early days. Wrote about it extensively and always from a sociological perspective of how alternative cultures change the status quo and can blend borders between race, gender, class, religion.

And species.

Since I became a vegetarian back in the mid-1980s, I’ve regarded humans and other species as equals. While that idea has become more common, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was still considered to be radical and extreme. As a strong supporter of the Animal Liberation Front, I participated in demonstrations and more drastic actions. I felt bitter, misunderstood and considered everybody with other thoughts to be my enemy. Hatred was the way to go.

Club culture changed my views dramatically. I experienced what compassion and genuine interest in the other can do. How it felt to be part of a family that wasn’t organised around hatred and nihilism. In the early 1990s race, gender, class, religion didn’t matter. Well, obviously they did, but we tend to talk about them a lot, have discussions and change our perspectives and take our words into action. Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto often was our starting point.

Coalition through affinity.

I decided not to get involved in the discussion about De School. Then a friend shared a link to a trailer of the 25th-anniversary edition of La Haine.

La Haine by French director Mathieu Kassovitz is one of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen. It tells the story of three friends growing up in les banlieues in Paris. Not going to spoil anything, it is a must-see because of the cinematic aesthetics and because of the message. Well, actually two messages. The first one is:

La haine attire la haine! – Hatred breeds hatred

The second one is even more critical and less visible: individual action matters. Maybe it’s the only thing that matters. We tend to think we are just pawns in a bigger play dominated by abstract organisations and systems. Well, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy: you’ll become that pawn, battling other pawns while the ‘system’ is watching your struggle with a smile on its face.

This is what Slavoj Žižek describes in his book Violence: Six Sideways Reflections as systemic violence. The abstract violence of the system is maintained by the subjective violence used against it by individuals or groups. The only way to counter systemic violence is to understand and dismantle it by altering the symbolic values it uses.

So, how does this relate to the situation at De School?

The live-streamed podcast was a sad representation of pawns battling each other. Instead of a discussion on values, it turned out to be more like an inquisition with the inexperienced and clearly nervous moderator Souhayla Ou-Oumar as both judge and executioner. Her suggestive way of asking questions caused fear, and the three representatives of De School on stage carefully choose their words looking for the only appropriate answer. And even that was the wrong answer.

I was able to stop the urge to leave the live-stream, but what was happening felt not okay. People that founded one of the coolest and most inclusive clubs in the world (and have been doing good work in the scene for over a decade) were portrayed as apparent racists. Cancel culture at its worst. There are serious allegations against the hired security guards and De School doing too little about it. That’s an organisational responsibility and needs to be dealt with immediately. Absolutely no doubt about that. The importance of fighting racism, gender discrimination and other forms of inequality can not be exaggerated.

However, during the podcast, the impression was given (by a small group that claimed to speak for the community as a whole but actually didn’t, as the comments in the live chat proved) that De School is one of the most unsafe places to be.

How did that happen?

Partly because during the last two decades an intersectional approach has been substituted for a sectional. Instead of the idea that aspects of a person’s social identity as a whole create unique modes of discrimination and privilege, the focus has shifted to taking only one aspect (like race or gender) and isolate it from the rest. Isolation is one of the most significant forces neoliberalism has (just read Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Mark Fisher for more insights). When people are isolated in groups, they are easier to control and manipulated to turn on each other.

That’s what happened during the podcast and made me so sad to hear people ditching each other that have so many values in common.

De School feels like a lost cause after all that has been said, but I hope we can learn from this and make sure that the electronic dance music culture becomes inclusive (again).

Meaning: rebuilding communities where everybody is equal, differences are celebrated instead of condemned and commercial and financial gain is secondary. That’s the only way to battle systemic violence. We should be aware of our differences (in race, gender, class, religion and more) and never allow the system to use them against us.

That’s in line with the messages of La Haine. The three protagonists in the movie have both similar en different backgrounds. They choose to focus on the similarities and make radical decisions as individuals.

Coalition through affinity, as Haraway wrote.

You have the personal power to change things. We all have.

Let’s start listening.

Furter digging

The live-streamed podcast by De School can be listened here.

The situation at De School described in 3VOOR12 (Dutch), De Volkskrant (Dutch), Resident Advisory, Pitchfork and by sociologist Omar Munoz-Cremers (Dutch).

The full movie La Haine (1995) is over here (with English subtitles).

The late Mark Fisher wrote in Exiting the Vampire Castle (2013) about ‘cancel culture’. You can read the article here.

More about how neoliberalism divides society into isolated groups: Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Society (1964), Theodor Adorno’s Negative Dialectics (1966) and Mark Fisher’s Baroque Sunbursts (2016).

Over at FRNKFRT I wrote an article about how isolation works in contemporary society: Doe Normaal of Rot Op. Over Rolmodellen, Normaal Doen en No Lives Matter (2017, in Dutch).

By theo

Founder of STASIS. Learning director of the International Music Academy Lab (IMA Lab) in Haarlem. Writes about pop, culture, media, design and art at FRNKFRT. Used to be a journalist for Opscene, OOR, Bassic Groove, The Quietus, Gonzo (circus) and several newspapers. Former editor-in-chief at cut-up and KindaMuzik. Still drowns himself in pop culture every second of the day.