Four years have passed through the tangled netting of hindsight, but the 2008 election still feels like lightening in a bottle. Now faced with another electoral decision, we voters, couched with the demons of pervasive cynicism, are waiting for reason to catch fire again.
LA-based collective, The Looking Class, has taken up the challenge of reinvigorating our political apathy through an inspired new project that marries the group’s interests in design, art, technology, and social engineering.
The project, entitled Radi-o-bama, is an online mixed media explosion. At first blush, Radi-o-bama is a distribution channel for a flood of free electronic dance mixes in congress with the Obama reelection campaign. But the project also explores music’s ongoing evolution with technology and, because it comes as a response to the election, EDM’s penetration into pop culture.
As with jazz, folk, and rock & roll predecessors, EDM artists have leveraged new-found attention to make waves in the political arena. In this election alone, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of political involvement streaming out of the EDM community—from songified debates produced by The Gregory Brothers to Steve Aoki’s DJs for Obama and even a kitschy anti-Romney single by Devo.
Radi-o-bama is less heavy handed.
“We feel that a lot of the trends that are driving a shift in consciousness are a lot of the same things that opened the way for Obama to become president,” said TLC member Thomas Kelley. “A lot of those same dynamics are coming together [now] to combat him; and we wanted to combat that and put together a positive message that we felt was getting lost.”
The project puts value on the role that the senses play in informing political opinion. In the world of The Looking Class, feelings precede thoughts; and, thus, our political problems stem not from being out of touch with the issues, but from being out of touch with our feelings.
Dance mixes hosted on the group’s site are recombinant structures of EDM that, along with provocative imagery, strive to awaken our slumbering senses. The resulting effect lays the foundation, and serves as a conduit for, the headier conversations and connections that ultimately lead to progress.
“The power of electronic dance music is the power of expression and creativity in the hands of a person willing to accept it and express it back,” said Kelley. “It’s the power of self-discovery.”
“[This] was our attempt to share some [EDM] history both for people who have been following rave music for a long time, for people who know the history or don’t know some of the history, to find new things that they haven’t discovered before,” said Kelley. “It’s ultimately about discovery, about discovering new feelings, and hopefully discovering new ways of seeing our current moment.”
The project’s smattering of potent homemade mixes, twelve in total, draw on over thirty years of American EDM. Averaging four hours in length, each mix gives an encyclopedic lesson in artists and styles of the electro milieu. These mixes are then hosted under cities significant to both EDM history and the current election.
“We wanted to do something positive and challenge anyone who engaged with our ideas to go a bit deeper than we’ve all been asked,” said Kelley. “The EDM history is in a way a parallel to that depth, the idea that there’s a lot more to our present than we may know or want to recall. And we wanted to do it in a context that was broader but also more untrodden.”
Political optimism continues to build because of the coaching and encouragement of loving devotees, like The Looking Class. Borrowing from the adage, the collective embodies the change it wants to see in the world—pushing us to reach the boundaries of a better tomorrow together.
“What keeps us apart is too dangerous to walk away from now. For us to retreat into our crouches and our defenses is not what the moment asks of us,” said Kelley. “This election is a challenge to evolve… [a] challenge for people to think bigger.”
As the election nears, it’s unclear what trajectory we’ll be headed; but provided we take cues from The Looking Class, we’re certain to be on a better path. As they explain online:
“Techno stands as a beguiling outlier of the American future. Just as the Detroit auto industry rose from the ashes of the Great Recession to become a bright spot of economic and technical revival, techno (EDM) has finally reached a critical mass with the mainstream. And as Obama has struggled to find his voice in the narrow corridors of Washington power, lashed every step of the way by an equally powerful code of old resentments, techno reminds the new generation of what is still possible in 2012. It is not just a dream. It is the human spirit motoring at infinity.”