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Rave Scout Diaries

             featuring interviews, reviews, and editorials covering a wide range of cultural and creative matters in dance music             

Article headline Meet The Cookies #001: Andrew Ryce

04 April, 2021

Meet the Cookies #001:

Andrew Ryce

Andrew Ryce is one of those names that will stick with you whether you know who he is or not. When I first met Andrew a few years ago, he struck me as aloof, serious, and a little bit cut-throat. After getting to know Andrew over time, I can attest that he is hardly anything of my first impression; he is a reserved person by nature, and while not shy, he has a shy-like demeanor, and like most of us, Andrew prefers the company of puppies to that of other humans.

A Vancouver native, he was already writing about the dance music scene before he could even get into public events. His journey to becoming a full-time music writer was one of serendipity and seeking opportunities. Starting out on a friend’s blog, he moved to writing for FACT Magazine where he further built his portfolio and finally decided to cold email RA who invited him to write for them part-time while he was a college student.

After graduation, “FACT Magazine offered me a job to work in...Canada as their North American guy while I was still in school. And so then RA made a counteroffer, and hired me and created a position for me as the first North American staff writer. And so I was going to school full time and working...full time and that's how I got started.”

Now a staple in the electronic music reviewing scene, Andrew sees that with his influence comes a responsibility to use his platform to elevate the voices of those who don’t have the finances and power behind them. Be they undiscovered artists on Bandcamp or musicians of color long overdue for celebration, he has tried to use every power he has in the scene to create positive change.

The pandemic “feels like a major loss of a network for the community”

When the pandemic hit, Andrew’s life abruptly changed. “A big part of my life was traveling around, going to the different offices for work, and in that, interacting with different scenes, going to venues, you know—I have a good network of friends around the world through music,” he says. It all came to a halt when travel was restricted and events were canceled.

He explained, “all that's taken away. So it feels like a major, like, loss of a network for the community. I'm still friends with these people, but I no longer see them all the time. So it makes it feel kind of abstract.” That abstract feeling has carried over through to him experiencing new music. Besides walks and sitting at his desk, he has no other context to consume music. “We're a year into there not being floors and most places in the world, [it] feels very strange,” he reflected.

But he also recognized that on a personal level, it hasn’t been all bad. “If there's a silver lining, I feel like a forced break from partying is probably a good thing...I feel much healthier.” He continued, “it was nice to have a few months of like, not doing any drugs or not like drinking alot. And lie having weekends where I could get up and do something in the morning.”

Despite the crisis, Andrew is “amazed that people are pumping out so much great music”

When asked about his friends in the community Andrew was pensive. He shared that his friends “are fucking depressed” and that it’s hit them hard financially and psychologically. Despite all the canceled gigs and disconnection from fans in person, the scene pushes on and from home studios, people continue to create their art. He’s “still amazed that people are pumping out so much great music. It's kind of mind-boggling to think about.”

Inequities are still a huge problem in electronic music, but in his eyes, it has “come a long way in terms of social justice and inclusivity”

When Andrew first started out he saw that there was essentially no queer visibility in the scene. To the extent they were included, “gay people were seen only as Top 40 queens, that kind of vibe,” not as integral to the whole community. He says, “I think there were a lot of decisions, conscious or unconscious, being made by people to exclude other people who were gay, or who were not white, when I first started navigating the dance music scene.”

As a white gay man he hasn’t experienced any extreme discrimination outside of what he calls “random homophobia,” but he recognizes he lives with privilege as a music writer everyone is trying to please and impress. With respect to race, the story is more complex. In his experience, clubs and parties are often segregated, and door policies and venue security are often notoriously racist, especially in the US and Canada.

But there’s a growing awareness of, and pushback against, this kind of discrimination. From a journalistic perspective RA, the publication Andrew belongs to, recently celebrated 120 Black artists in electronic music. Andrew says, “I understand the necessity of striving to have a balanced and diverse output—you have to look at things critically. At RA, what I'm in charge of,and what I deal with, we are trying to reform it. I help run a review section now where I’m focusing on developing young writers, and especially young writers of color and Black writers.” This may not put an end to racism in the industry, but it is a step in the right direction and part of a web of actions that must continue.

Since electronic music has a global following, overseas readers are witnessing the racial reckoning happening in the US. Andrew shared that “there's another portion of the scene, primarily Europeans, that don't think this is a problem at all, and they say they're sick of hearing about it. Which is bullshit obviously, but it's a perspective that exists. So it's an interesting balancing act, because... of course all these platforms are not doing enough. But for some readers, they don't want the platforms to try at all. Dance music isn't one crowd or community. It's not a monolith. There's parts of it that we'd probably like to pretend don't exist—but they do.”

On artists changing their names, Andrew sees it as “a hollow gesture if you're not going to follow it up with anything else”

There has been a wave of artists in many genres, including dance DJs, changing their names that have been called out as inappropriate or problematic. Andrew feels “with some people it should have been done a while ago, you know, but obviously, last year put the reality in everyone's face.”

But he recognizes that ultimately “it's also kind of a hollow gesture if you're not going to follow it up with anything else. And will it have a significant impact? I do think that in terms of the bigger DJs, like, let's say, Blessed Madonna, it will have an impact ...[on] people who are involved in the dance scene on a more surface level [and] are not familiar with social justice and racial issues, they might think about it a little bit more, or at least be aware of it. But I don't think it's some heroic act.”

We still have a long way to go in the dance music scene when it comes to inclusivity and representation

When asked why Black DJ’s and their careers were thriving and headlining more raves than regularly in the midst of the pandemic and national crises, Andrew had this to say; “I think there was a collective awakening that happened during the pandemic, both because of the importance of mutual aid and support in the wake of unprecedented economic ruin, and because of the conversations and ripple effects of the George Floyd protests and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement. Discussions became more frank and many platforms immediately tried to rectify past mistakes by supporting Black artists in a much more concerted and deliberate way than before, some better than others. It shouldn't have taken a tragedy and international outrage to get there, but it's happening now.”

Furthermore, he thinks “this sudden shift and cruel irony—Black artists getting more attention than ever when the music industry is essentially at a standstill—shows that we still have a long way to go in the dance music scene when it comes to inclusivity and representation. It should have already been better. But I also think it shows how strong and adaptable the dance music scene is—the conversations among dance music artists, fans and industry workers seem to be miles ahead of other comparable music scenes or genres. I hope that we can keep the energy going to nurture and platform Black, trans and other marginalized artists with real material support—particularly gigs—once the industry starts resurfacing around the world.”

“The whole underground dance music scene... has been through a major reckoning in the past year”

On the topics of queer inclusion and race, Andrew is seeing the scene wake up to what marginalized people have known all along. He feels like “the whole underground dance music scene, whatever you classify that, as has been through a major reckoning in the past year, but we haven't had the chance to even put any ideas to actually be back together because the gatherings are not allowed to happen in most places.”

A consequence of the pandemic we’ve all heard about is the possibility of smaller venues closing their doors permanently. Andrew observes, “by the time things are back to normal, which leaves only the biggest of the big-money clubs, or promoters or conglomerates that that own property and can afford to still have it, they're in charge, and then everything becomes much worse because everything is driven by money even more than it used to be. But, you know, that has its own knock-on effect of pushing things further underground, which could be a good thing, because then it does create more of a sense of shared accountability and responsibility.”

No one knows for sure what the future holds for small independent venues and the cultures they foster, both good and bad. “Not all clubs are great, or run by nice people, or are worth saving by virtue of the fact that they are clubs. A lot of clubs have very sketchy business practices,” he noted.

“RA has given a lot of ad space away for free, including to charities or clubs doing fundraisers. So that's one example of what an organization can do in the context of all of this.” He continued, “I've noticed a new spirit of teamwork between festivals and promoters, publications, agencies, clubs. Everyone wants everyone else to survive... I don't think anyone is secretly hoping that everything falls apart.”

“I've just made it my mission in the past few years to push a lot of younger artists”

Andrew knows the power of his writing. As he explains it, “I've written about a few DJs that are quite big after.” RA had to change some of their publishing choices to counteract excessive DJ fees the more famous artists were demanding. They used to publish a poll each year that became the DJ list. He says, “we had to stop it because DJs and agencies were reassessing and planning their fees around where they would place in the list, it got very politicized. And the impact of this was so outsized. If you got to the top 5, you could probably raise your fee by like, 10 to 15 grand next year. No one wants to be responsible for that. Except maybe the DJs. So we made a decision to put a stop to it.”

To act as a counterbalance to that, Andrew says, “I've just made it my mission in the past few years to push a lot of younger artists, including artists with like, only 100 followers or something, or if it's their first release.” Understanding that great music can come from anywhere in this world, “I've [spread] it geographically like trying to cover music from everywhere, not just Europe, and the US.”

Offering one possible solution, “I think there needs to be quotas in place. They can be flexible, but they should exist. Publications must be aware of who and what they're covering and how they can improve it to make it more diverse. It's not that hard.”

DJs playing during the pandemic is “a tricky thing”

Put simply, Andrew says, “I don't know if there should be a "shitlist" of DJs playing gigs during the pandemic. But I think if, you know if you're traveling to Mexico playing gigs for rich people, that says it all—maybe they're not really part of the scene, not a part of the community that we wish to create. You're just a rich person who has more money and no scruples.”

Andrew believes venues need to develop a code of conduct for safety

On the issue of safety at raves and festivals, Andrew had a few concrete ideas for how to improve on the status quo. “So whether that's drug testing...[or a] medic on-site, that kind of thing, overdose training, all that stuff. That’s... the one of the biggest issues for underground events.”

There’s also a financial restructuring that needs to go along with structural changes. He is troubled by “the reliance on venues and festivals and gatherings on alcohol and the sale of alcohol. And I'm not sure what the solution is. But I think that if there was a way for more festivals and gatherings to become less dependent on the sale of alcohol, and sponsorship from alcohol, that would be a very positive thing.” He concluded, “if you're gonna have a really strong gathering that is about culture, and community, it needs to move away from just being a bar.”

In the other sense of safety, Andrew says he’s “been to so many things in LA where most of the scene is in warehouses where I felt very unsafe... not enough exits, way too packed, you know, there's no ventilation.” He believes that “people need to become more aware and accepting of safety guidelines and not seeing them as a vestige of corporate culture.” He believes the whole scene would be better off if “basic safety standards were made more obvious and accessible, and published somewhere and agreed upon, almost like some kind of code of conduct.”

“I definitely don't run out of people or things to write about”

There’s not enough time in the world to check out every electronic musician out there. Andrew doesn’t believe in keeping any great artists a secret. He shared that, “one of my favorites is this guy, Tano out of New York...he's putting out a second record in March.”

Another underrated musician Andrew supports is “[a] guy named Ike Release, he's from Chicago. I've been in contact with him for like, 10 years. And he's like a Chicago staple that not enough people pay attention to. He put on an amazing record last year, and I didn't get to write about it. And he sent me a new EP, and I want to make more of an effort to support him this year because I think his music is really special. He doesn't get covered anywhere.”

Andrew says, “I definitely don't run out of people or things to write about.” He goes on, “I'm always trying to break my established cycles of consuming and I guess researching and acquiring because if I'm only getting my music from the same five websites, or promo companies or whatever, it's, I'm not going to find anything new. So one of one of my priorities is always challenging myself. And, you know, sometimes just spending like, a few hours on Bandcamp looking through random stuff, to see if I find anything cool.”

“Dance music offers some kind of solace and community”

To define any community is challenging. In terms of finding his own sense of belonging, Andrew says, “Community is a tricky word, and I don't know if it has any easy definition. I've hardly ever felt like I belonged anywhere, though I've found certain pockets of dance music where I've been like, okay, these people get me, or think about things the same way as me, I like them.”

However, he knows his experiences are atypical because “I've also only been involved in the scene as a "journalist," someone who observes, reports, and critiques, so while I am definitely part of the ecosystem, I don't always feel as embedded in every community I encounter (nor do I think I should be).”

He takes a stab at defining the entire electronic community; “as for what community is in dance music terms—well, it's tempting to say there is a global community, but I'm not sure that's true. There are so many nodes and factions, many of which are opposed to each other or exist completely outside of each other. As a whole, dance music is made up of a patchwork of communities that exist side-by-side to make something beautiful—smaller scenes prioritized on nurturing each other, fostering mutual aid, and having a space (or place) to express themselves.”

“But I think for a lot of people, dance music offers some kind of solace and community, particularly at the DIY level, and I've always admired the smaller, tight-knit communities I've encountered in dance music.”


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Rave Scout Diaries

DIARY series chronicling a diverse roster of marginalized voices through interviews, reviews, and editorial columns on various cultural and creative MATTERS in dance music.