Electronic music often gets a bad rap thanks to the excessive, debauched lifestyles of its main protagonists. Add to this the increase in VIP table service style clubs, and the influx of the world's elite on the culture, and you can understand why some observers might view dance music as superficial or vacuous. However, there are plenty of people involved in the industry who are doing their utmost to promote peace and unity, and using their influence to help others who are not as privileged as them.
One such person is Valentino Barrioseta, former Brand Manager at Amnesia in Ibiza, who runs a non-profit called Bridges For Music. The organisation has set up shop in South Africa, where they have brought stars like Skrillex, Richie Hawtin and Luciano over to launch educational workshops, and perform along with local heroes like Black Coffee.
We spoke with Valentino about the organisation, its effect on South Africa's electronic music scene, and their plans to use the power of electronic music to help disadvantaged people all over the world.
THUMP: So I remember chatting with you at IMS last May, and you told me you used to work at Amnesia in Ibiza. How did you go from working there to starting up Bridges For Music?
Valentino: After my last summer at Amnesia, I travelled to Brazil and South Africa. I went to the favelas and the townships, and I was blown away by the music culture. I found the same kind of people in both places; people running music schools and throwing parties, all driven by passion, but they didn't have the resources. I saw how the kids were super motivated about electronic music in a very healthy, positive way. I realised how much good music can do for people, breaking down socio-economic boundaries and giving them a focus.
They spoke about supporting each other, about music being a driving force, and it reminded me of why I got involved in this industry in the first place. We also went to some parties in the townships, and the energy was magic there. I thought, "Any of the big artists I know would love to play there and share their knowledge with the locals". The contrast between Ibiza and those areas was probably the spark. I'm not saying anything bad about Ibiza, it's an amazing place and I love it, but when you put both worlds together... it makes you think.
What are the main areas and schools you're involved with?
Valentino: We're working in Langa in Cape Town. It's the closest township to the city centre. We're also doing some things Khayelitsha, which is the biggest township outside of Cape Town, and in Johannesberg we're working in Soweto, which is the biggest township in South Africa. We're planning to start up projects in Brazil for the second half of the year, these are the main areas of activity for now. We've been looking at expanding into Kenya and Angola too, but that's yet to be confirmed.
In terms of how things have progressed since you first visited South Africa, what effect has your work had directly on the people you've worked with?
Valentino: The most immediate result has been to inspire and bring hope to people. You see the kids and how they've become motivated. The first thing we did with the workshops, they felt so blessed to have such things happening in their community as they've never had anything like that before. In terms of the legacy, we've set up scholarships for the kids with SAE, our education partner. We had six guys from townships joining SAE, doing various things from Ableton courses to engineering and music business. We've also seen promoters paying more attention to the townships for their bookings.
We are very proud to see the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival, who were our first partner last year, doing a tour of satellite workshops in the townships prior to the festival. It is really important for the locals for the scene to grow in those areas. Other promoters have started booking artists from the townships for festivals and events, like Rocking The Daisies for example, one of the biggest festivals in South Africa, which is also very committed with us. The same with smaller clubs in town that have booked guys we've been supporting. I believe BFM has helped in some way to promote cross-pollination between the white and black scenes over there.
We also teamed up with ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event) to send two representatives from the townships over there last autumn, which was actually their first time out of the country. As you can imagine, being in Amsterdam during ADE was pretty mind blowing for them! It's a slow process, and it needs time to move forward and develop, but there is definitely a lot of progress happening.
We're building a music school in Langa, which we want to become a creative hub where kids have access to technology and music education. We want to leave a legacy behind by continuing to build schools and creative hubs in every community we operate in.
Richie Hawtin: “Being involved with Bridges For Music is to inspire not only the next generation, but any age to use music, specifically electronic music, to go beyond their boundaries. That's what we saw in all these places; breaking boundaries, going beyond and dreaming. That's where started. We dreamt of something and we made it happen - because of electronic music.”
Skrillex: “I thought [Bridges For Music] was awesome. One of the things I realised is the people in the townships didn't necessarily know what I do, and then you had the white kids from across the tracks that came over, that were too afraid before to think about going into these areas. It helped to break a lot of cultural stereotypes. You had local crews linking up with these middle class white kids. It's not like in the ghetto in San Francisco, where it's full of crackheads. People here are hungry to learn and to do better.”
Do you have anyone else on your wish list, DJ-wise?
Valentino: We worked with Boys Noize at the end of 2013 during Rocking The Daisies, and we worked with Dixon and Noisia recently during this year's Cape Town Electronic Music Festival. We've also been in discussions with other artists and new initiatives will be announced soon. The organisation is open to any music genre, and of course we would love to get involved as many artists as possible.
Someone with as much of a reach as Skrillex is an asset.
Valentino: Exactly. The value of having someone with as big a following as him - speaking about his experience in the townships - is extremely high. It helps to break down a lot of barriers and fears. He is the one with the power to bring people together and create the change. We are very proud to have his support.
For sure, and a lot of his followers will be young people who may not even give any thought to South Africa, and what's going on there. For someone who already has an engaged audience like Sonny to speak about his experience really helps raise awareness, which is massively important.
Valentino: Yeah, 100%. That's it. We've already received emails from people overseas asking how they can get involved. There's a global trend among people who love electronic music, where they're willing to get enrolled in social projects and do some meaningful stuff. Of course, the industry is great, it brought us all together, and put us in the position we're in now. It's a passion for all of us but I think now, with DJs getting bigger than ever (and older), there's a feeling of giving back. That's the same feeling I've been having. People that does have the resources have a responsibility. Everyone does. To try and make the world a better place. Even if it's only something small, it still makes a big difference. And this industry does have a huge opportunity.
What effect has setting up Bridges For Music had on your own life?
Valentino: I feel happier than ever with everything we've done, and fulfilled in many ways. . It's been a real life-changing experience to do all of this and to see the effect it's had on the people in the townships, but from the financial perspective there's definitely some pressure there if we want to really do all the things we want to do, and to earn a living while doing it. We have some support from some brands and donors, but there is still a long way to go.
Anyone working in a charity sacrificing bigger goals in their careers expects to earn a salary, or a living at least. We have a lot of hope in the future. We have a crowd-funding campaign coming up and some fundraising events , so it's getting there. The aim is to get to the point where we can start building a bigger team. Our dream is to be able to create a team of skilled and passionate people earning the same as in any other corporate job.
That's the best way to go about it. To be a competitor with other corporations otherwise, sad to say, but people may not be willing to transfer from their high-paid job over to your organisation.
Valentino: Yeah, that's the way it is. There's a TED talk from a guy called Dan Pallotta who says exactly the same thing you've just said. How the non-profit sector is demonised. How, if someone earns $300,000 doubling the sales of a video games company we all applaud them, but if you earn the same amount working at an NGO, halves the malaria cases in Africa and earns the same amount, we'd probably criticise them. That's a big thing to deal with in the charity/non-profit sector. Things are changing, and America is leading the way. People are starting to realise that a successful non-profit organisation needs to hire the best people in order to succeed.
I also wanted to know, from my own personal point of view, is how can anyone get involved and help in any way?
Valentino: It depends on your skills. If you're a journalist, for example, we are looking for people to write content and to help with PR. We have a school, and we hope to have some volunteers who can come and spend a month working with the students at our facilities. Not only will that help upcoming talent, but whoever comes will have an amazing experience. If you are a promoter for example you can help us by launching small fundraiser events, like our friend Frank did in Amsterdam very recently.