Never Once Reflect

The Sinking of the Titanic: 7 final thoughts on RBMA’s demise

1: This was not investment. It was an advertising budget. These are similar but not the same. An investment requires a direct return. An advertising budget also requires a return, but less direct, more diffuse. Just as any company would, after finding that their advertising campaign wasn’t reaching its market, or that that market had already been tapped out, they reallocate it elsewhere. It’s very 20th century thinking, actually. If a company figured out that their radio ads weren’t reaching enough of an audience, they’d put more money into print ads. An easy way to think about RBMA is to replace the word “Academy” — or “event” or “lecture” or “radio broadcast” or “historical essay” — with “ad”: Red Bull Music Ad.

2: Although it employed and advanced the livelihoods of many people who were passionate about music, and excellent at their craft, Red Bull was not a benevolent patron of the arts. (See #1.)

3: It was not about building local communities. Otherwise, they would have used local venues with local employees, hired local PR companies, grips, riggers, sound engineers, and ultimately respected grassroots local scenes. They did none of these.

4: The vast archive of RMBA materials is historically significant for at least two reasons: A: superficially, it is a repository of often interesting, often important, and often informative talks, essays, and the like. B: subcutaneously, it is a repository of what a corporate brand regarded as interesting, important, and informative, as well as how those narratives were subtly curated and sculpted to reflect and represent Red Bull’s brand identity. Examples of this include their history of Montreal’s Post-rock scene, Montreal’s Torn Curtain history, &c. Here, they de- and re-historicise to suit their own narrative, aligning their product with things that had nothing to do with Red Bull — scenes that were in direct ideological opposition to everything Red Bull stands for. In this respect, an archive is all the more necessary, as a cautionary tale, if nothing else, against anything like it in the future.

5: There is a question about whether or not the loss of RBMA will be a loss for culture at large. Some of the music RBMA rubbed up against existed already (Iggy Pop, Bjork). Some of it was concurrently emergent (Flying Lotus). Some of it was produced from the ground up, and/or immediately co-opted into the Red Bull brand ecosystem. This goes for their journalistic arm, too. Some people who wrote RBMA materials (Will Straw) had other careers, and didn’t really need the gig. Others (talented freelancers like Chal Ravens or Harley Brown) are likely more dependent upon an RBMA pay cheque. So there is a continuum — from co-opting and infiltrating already-existing cultures, to producing an artificial bubble — upon which everything they touched can be placed. Of course, Iggy Pop and Bjork won’t really suffer from RBMA’s demise. What Red Bull “made from scratch” is most at risk of disappearing, and most in need of immediate attention.

6: Here is a sinister thought: what if RBMA was really an assassination attempt of an entire scene on the part of a corporate conglomerate? I would argue that electronic/experimental/dance music communities are among the most progressive, most radical, and ultimately most dangerous cultural waves to come along since the illegal rave culture of the early 1990s. Did the corporate brands figure out how to nip these movements in the bud by sponsoring them from the get-go, and then pulling the plug just as they were gaining momentum? How calculated this nefariousness was, or if it even existed at all, is up for debate. But it’s possible. And if you consider the scale of wealth and power at play, it almost seems plausible.

7: This is a time for sympathy. If you’re in an abusive relationship and your partner dumps you, it’s you who has won, even though it might not seem that way for a long time. Unfortunately, in many instances of abuse, the victim continues long afterward to make excuses and apologies for their abuser. Hostages eventually feel pity for and even solidarity with their captors. A drowning victim will often fight and sometimes take down with them a would-be rescuer. Love, empathy, and healing are what we need now. We’re on dry land. We’re safe. Where we go from here is entirely up to us.