Home Entertainment Dweller Festival Is Forging the Future of Black Electronic Music – Pitchfork

Dweller Festival Is Forging the Future of Black Electronic Music – Pitchfork

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Dweller Festival Is Forging the Future of Black Electronic Music – Pitchfork


Techno is Black music. So is house. And footwork. And dubstep. Pretty much all dance music as we know it is rooted in funk, soul, and disco, which is to say that it is rooted in fundamentally Black American musical forms. But as club culture has become a global concern, those foundations have frequently been forgotten.
Dweller is determined to push back. Founded in 2019, the New York festival—which returns to the city this week, February 23-26—features an all-Black lineup and follows a powerful aim: to amplify Black talent, provide context for their work, and fight back against tokenism by centering Black creativity in Black spaces.
Dweller is the brainchild of Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, who co-founded Discwoman, a booking agency and creative collective that exclusively represents women and non-binary artists. If part of Dweller’s mandate is educational—this year’s festival features an evening of discussions, readings, and screenings about building Black futures, and its website features an extensive library of source materials—some of that has to do with the fact that the British-born Hutchinson didn’t learn about dance music’s Black roots until she had been clubbing for years.
Her eureka moment came in the early 2010s, when she heard UMFANG—aka Emma Burgess-Olson, her future partner in the Discwoman agency—play a track by Detroit’s Kelli Hand, a Black woman whose pioneering contributions to house and techno have yet to be recognized. It was a powerful moment of awakening. “Growing up, I understood house music as white music,” Hutchinson says. “I could have easily gone my whole life without knowing it wasn’t.” (The festival’s name is a nod to the Detroit electro duo Drexciya, whose elaborate sci-fi mythologies established a model for Afro-futurist world-building.)
Dweller founder Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson (Photo by Daniel Hauschild)
After its inaugural six-night run in February 2019, Dweller produced a second edition in 2020, before the pandemic hit American shores and Black Lives Matter protests helped spur a widespread reckoning with racism in dance music. Following a scaled-back fest last year, this weekend’s events mark Dweller’s most ambitious installment yet. In addition to local artists like AceMo, Juliana Huxtable, and TYGAPAW, the festival is bringing in footwork luminaries RP Boo and Jana Rush, UK junglist dBridge, Detroit house pioneer Stacey “Hotwaxx” Hale, and Detroit techno collective Underground Resistance, longtime flag bearers for politically conscious techno.
With the upheavals of 2020 fading into memory, Dweller’s mission feels more necessary than ever. “You’re seeing the same lineups, the same behaviors, and it feels like erasure,” Hutchinson says, lamenting electronic music’s stubborn complacency. “I got really depressed because so many of us put so much energy into wanting something to be different, to talking about our experiences in the hopes that it might move somebody. So when you put all of that out there and it’s met with the same repetition, you’re like, ‘What is the point in me speaking out anymore?’”
But Hutchinson realized she had a choice: Instead of continually fighting back against the powers that be, she could devote her efforts to building something independent and self-sustaining. “Fuck all the noise in the background,” she says. “I don’t particularly care if these other venues and institutions want to leave us out. I just want to focus on making spaces for the amazing creativity and diversity of Black artists. I need to give my energy to something that gives me joy in this short life.”
Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson: It’s become more profound over the years. This year in particular, because we’ve all been through so much, there’s real urgency for connection and affirmation and compassion. To put it simply, we are here to platform artists, connect the present with the past, and reestablish those ties within Black electronic music.
It’s gotten bigger because of the context we’re living in. It had more of a homey vibe at the beginning—like, “Let’s just do a fun gathering.” Now we’re booking international guests. The need for connection has become more urgent. It feels more like a conference now, rather than us hanging out in the living room. But I think both vibes are still there. The most important factor of the whole thing is Black people being able to enjoy themselves in a space and feel safe.
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History. That can’t be overstated. As a younger person looking at this music and looking at my Black elders in the space, it was so enriching and encouraging. It gives you a firmer footing in a space you thought was mostly white. It gives you a sense of confidence and a sense of purpose, like you belong here. It gives you a sense of pride, and that is invaluable.
That’s very true. A few months ago, Underground Resistance were in New York and they talked about how so many Black musicians left because the U.S. didn’t want to recognize techno or house as a musical art form. What’s happening right now feels quite punk, where Black musicians are trying to do this for themselves. New York is overflowing with creatives, and there isn’t much wanting to leave. There’s a real sense of pride in wanting to stay here. There’s also been such an influx of clubs and nightlife, and this love for techno and house has gone up a notch. I feel like it is quite sustainable here—people can make money as a DJ, so that changes things a lot.
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I think I remember it being really Black, but I also may be having a selective memory because that’s how I want it to be. But I would say I have seen a lot more groups of Black friends at these events and a lot more Black people coming to the front. That’s the funny part of this—you’re throwing this thing for Black History Month, and you’re like, “OK, but the crowd has to reflect that too.” That’s my hope.
One defining moment for me was in 2020 when DJ Assault was playing some twerking music and scratching these tracks—it was so insane, and almost silly. But everyone was losing their mind, and we were all shaking our asses and having a good time and being lighthearted. It just felt so free.


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