Founder of Black Artists Database, a prodigious catalogue of artists which was started in the wake of 2020’s BLM protests and born out of a determination to push back against false narratives in music. Niks Delanancy talks to GUAP ahead of the AVA Conference on Friday March 18 at Printworks London. Tickets for the event are available here.
GUAP was fortunate enough to speak to Delanancy in the lead up to the panel and we delved into a warren of topics–from the foundations of B.A.D, ethnocentricism and the whitewashing of electronic music, the longevity of online activism, and what we can expect to hear at the upcoming panel.
It’s clear that curiosity is the cornerstone of the entrepreneur’s philosophy and having studied sociology her drive to educate and hunger to learn never seems to wane. “Sociology, I feel, heightens your consciousness of the world that you live in. Not that people aren’t conscious, but you’re a bit more interested to dig deeper into the different events and phenomena that occur in this world. So that’s kind of me in a nutshell. The core of my existence.”
With the aftermath of 2020’s events, online activism was everywhere and it did pose the question: Are certain groups taking action out of shame? What is the longevity of such actions? On this, Delanancy ponders “is this truly altruistic?”, “I don’t think things are happening quite yet where people are actually going to take a step down from their position and say ‘we as a company are not going to own this space’, or ‘we’re not going to take this much money’ or ‘it is imperative to hire more black people in this role’”
Black Bandcamp was born out of the safety and support shared amongst a group friends through a particularly tumultuous time, “I don’t know a black person that says they weren’t triggered” she adds. And although these hardships were by no means a novel experience, the understandable intensity of emotions quickly became exacerbated by uncertainty at the time–the onset of a worldwide pandemic, backlash from protests and a deepened feeling of loneliness with the surfacing of fundamental flaws across the globe.
Electornica and techno are rooted in Black music. So is house. And footwork. Pretty much all dance music as we know it has foundations in disco, funk and soul. But as the genre expanded to become a global phenomena those foundations were all-to-frequently forgotten. The friends had become acquainted through the underground European electronic community, battling the eurocentrification of electronic music, “Electronic music started in black communities, black and queer communities in America, and now has been dominated and monetized by white Europeans. So we thought… Why don’t we do something to help recenter black artists and producers in the industry that started with them,” the founder tells me. The group spent an evening filling out a spreadsheet with 30 (or so) names. The next morning they woke up to discover the list had gone viral and eventually, a website was commissioned and the platform was built upon to become the database we see today.
Only 11.4% of music industry jobs are filled by BIPoC creatives (as shown by this recent report). B.A.D aims to encourage those in positions of power to actively bridge this gaping hole. The conference happening this Friday will cover a myriad of conversations to be had, from increased representation, visibility & diversity in dance music, to changing landscapes in music discovery, motherhood, and future prospects for electronic music.
Catch the full interview below, a chat worth pouring over for sure.
GUAP: To start things off, talk us through the moment and series of events that led you to actually decide to start the database?
ND: It was in June 2020. I went to work in the underground European electronic community and we felt like we didn’t have the power necessary to stop the murders happening in America but that sense of powerlessness kind of pushed us to think, okay, what can we do in our current situations? So it was vital for those of us in electronic music, an industry that has been very whitewashed and has become Eurocentric. The genre itself started in black communities. Black and queer communities in America, and now has been dominated and monetized by white Europeans. So we thought… Why don’t we do something to help recenter black artists and producers in the industry that started with them. So we started a Google spreadsheet, which at the time was literally called Black Band Camp. And we started to populate this spreadsheet that we made with a list of black producers, black-owned labels, artists, etc. And at the time, we left the sheet with around 30 names on, we posted them to our socials. Went to bed and woke up the next morning and there were about 400 artists on the sheet. We were shocked. And I was just watching people add to it live, which was crazy. So at the end of the day, we were close to around 1000 names. Then the next day was obviously Bandcamp Friday, and honestly, I think it was something over 10,000 reshares from my Instagram, even from some really big tier 1 DJs, labels and platforms–all saying, use this sheet to buy from artists today. So that was the first wave, where I realised, ‘oh, people are really serious about this’. Because as you know, some things that start like this.. there’s a bit of momentum but then it dies. This, felt like there was a genuine, consistent momentum around the issue at hand.
we left the sheet with around 30 names on, we posted them to our socials. Went to bed and woke up the next morning and there were about 400 artists on the sheet.
July’s Band Camp Friday was then coming up and we were really paranoid that, technology being technology, what if it broke or we accidentally deleted it… Eventually there was a team of about 10 of us sorting through and alphabetizing the spreadsheet. All of which was off of our own backs, so we were worried even one of us might delete it. Eventually, we locked the sheet and I hired two developers. I asked them to build a very basic but searchable website with this database. I told them they had two weeks before the next Band Camp Friday and that’s exactly what they did. They built this basic but fantastic website, which was obviously a lot safer than a spreadsheet… We promoted the website, and the same thing happened. We had so many artists message the team that day, saying, ‘oh, my God, I’ve made like six times what I usually make on a normal Bandcamp day.
That actually made my hairs stand up. Perhaps part of the reason it didn’t die out is because it applies long term thinking, there’s a momentum that can build on itself. Was there anything aside from the initial response that was surprising after sharing the platform?
The global collectiveness and the momentum of that because that was what made it go because if it was actually just me and a group of friends, we wouldn’t have been able to do that; it just blew so quickly overnight and on a global scale. You know, on that third or fourth day, I was seeing artists, from parts of like the African continent and all these parts that I’ve never heard of, which meant that there are people from the Global Diaspora who had access to this has and had been circulating, and it was just a global spur…We just want to make sure that people are accessing their complete music discography.
I saw you’ve also recently started something for black writers as well. There’s this frustrating fact that magazines often go to black writers and ask them for specific think pieces on certain topics, just using the writer’s voice one time with no permanent changes to the fundamentals of the publication. Was there a specific encounter that led you to start this initiative? Were a lot of people reaching out to you?
Literally what you’ve just said, as a prime example. In the lockdown, we had so many writers, journalists were getting in touch saying, ‘This white-owned publication keeps asking me if I know about this specific topic and wants me to write about it.’ But they just want to utilise my skill for this month to write about it and that’s it. Kind of like you said and then on the flip side, we’d also get a lot of white-owned publications reaching out saying, ‘do you know a black writer who is knowledgeable in…”, I’m just going to make this up but “…The Bristol bus boycott. because we want to get a piece out in two weeks”, you know, something silly like that?
we’d also get a lot of white owned publication reaching out saying, ‘do you know a black writer who is knowledgeable in…
Basically should have said, “We want content that makes us look good”…
Exactly “we’ve got this budget, and the deadlines this, just let me know”. And it’s like, that’s very exploitative, you’re just utilising them for one week or two weeks and then it’s, “Okay, thanks you’ve done your job now, bye”. And the longevity just doesn’t feel like it’s there. It feels very short term, it was a quick fix. It doesn’t feel like there’s an actual strategy behind the issue– A) Try and actually hire a black writer with a full-time contract in your team to write about something like this. B) You’ve never written about black topics until now; and I always use this term, it’s the ‘Scramble for Africa’, which translates to “Oh shit, we need to find a black person” in the same way that colonialisation felt like a scramble for Africa. That’s what it feels like to be honest. And also what didn’t feel right is that we were basically handing over people. It just felt very colonial to be honest. Not actually hide them, but just use them for when you need your black content. We worked alongside Christine, who has been a writer and journalist for years in the industry, she was very passionate about this because it’s something that she felt heavily and she felt like “I need to do this for us”. So we built it, and we provided that foundation to say looking for the website, we put the platform, let’s expand on it. And so Christine drove that support from the team and we launched. We received so much positive reception from it was just crazy.
“it’s the ‘Scramble for Africa’, which translates to “Oh shit, we need to find a black person” in the same way that colonialisation felt like a scramble for Africa.”
It’s so lacking in the industry, I totally agree. And on what you’ve just said about these white publications that can’t see past their own noses, and often just want to fulfil this alleviation of their guilt…
That’s so true. I really like the way you’ve phrased that…
I’ll definitely come back to that point later, a whole topic in itself! But did you find that this somewhat isolated mindset of a county like Somerset, which is a little further removed from the realities that others face maybe pushed you to eventually work towards something like this one day?
Do you know what? Yes [laughs]… Yes. I specifically did my sociology degree in Bath. Okay. And I ended up studying there for years. And Sociology, I feel, heightens your consciousness of the world that you live in a bit more, not that people aren’t conscious, but you’re a bit more interested to dig deeper as to the different events and phenomenons that occur in this role. So that’s kind of like me in a nutshell. The core of my existence. I understand we live in a capitalist society where all these different ‘isms’ exists. I understand that, but I wanted to dig deeper and understand the core behind who has the power, who monopolises what? Things like that. And so, my dissertation was originally an exploration of the experiences and narratives of black women in academia.
It’s so important to learn about from world and educate oneself, and it’s not always going to be an education you can receive from simply existing and being in your environment…
That’s why I agree. I theorised on this, particularly black women’s roles in society and experience, but I also worked in the music industry. So when I left uni, I had this drive to dig deeper into that realm so I’ve always had that at my core. Then, when this happened, it really spoke to me. I mean, I don’t know a black person that doesn’t say they weren’t triggered. But just having that foundation and background I guess I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to those sorts of resources, tools, knowledge and the circle of people around me. And if not now, then when?
Quite simply a fact. The narrative will too often be just of one perspective. Especially for you, as someone who, not only understands the impact of these standing issues but also each day, has to digest these experiences as well.
Definitely. I think that experience of living in Bath for six years, studying at the university, where… Thinking about it I’m probably now friends with all of the black people that I ever came across. And that’s not going to be more than like 10 or 12. I’m not even joking. That kind of madness. Okay, there’s like 20 of us in 20,000 people at the uni.. It’s just like.. okay, I see what’s going on here. So I think, yeah, digesting the experience in the environment that we’re in and still to this day.
Do you feel like you had to almost become an educator for white people?
On a real, I definitely do… I think it was a lot to do with shame and embarrassment. Especially again, for the large white-owned publications and editorial platforms. They had to really take a step back and look at their workforce and their staffing and who the directors on their boards are, you know, I was asked to attend two all three research participant groups through the biggest electronic music platforms because they realised they needed to change something. This was brought up because their own internal staff, most of whom are white, could see this wasn’t right. And so they started looking for that external education from black people around what they should be doing better. It was very exhaustive, I must admit; but I do definitely think it comes from a core sense of guilt, shame and embarrassment. Maybe the light bulb finally switched on.
But at the same time, I do think there’s still that element of wanting to be a platform that monopolises on it. I felt it was important to be representative of communities and people like us, that because all these number-one publications monopolised a lot of the movement there is still an element of that. I do think, maybe quite cynically, but because I personally question, is this truly altruistic? I don’t think that’s happening yet where people are actually going to take a step down from this position and say “we as a country are not going to own this space”, or “we’re not going to take this much money” or “I’m going to hire a black person”. So I do feel like it’s us doing the groundwork, the work from the bottom, that’s truly why the momentum is maintained. But on a kind of macro scale. There is a lot of white people wanting to make sure that seem to be doing the right thing. And not breaking up the pattern.
It was very exhaustive, I must admit; but I do definitely think it comes from a core sense of guilt, shame and embarrassment. Maybe the light bulb finally switched on.
Wanting to be seen doing the work but not doing things altruistically as you say, which should in fact, be doing things without getting acknowledgement or praise. This leads me to something I read about called the Pause Initiative… Was this initiative you’re a part of inspired by such reactions?
The person that was leading Pause, comes from an agency background, she is one of three or four black female agents in the creative industry. And Pause was started as these are things where we ‘pause and reflect’ on what needs to happen to actually dismantle the structures.
I think that’s another powerful thing about this, is that each expansion and bit of growth seems to come naturally–from a place where it fills in something that’s lacking. With movements like BLM, how do you perceive online activism? Do you think it has the impact that we hope it does?
I will never not utilise it, it can only help elevate voices that need to be heard, but there is always work that needs to be done beyond online activism. Doing the groundwork and there’s an element of being weary to not let that momentum die out.
I will never not utilise it, it can only help elevate voices that need to be heard, but there is always work that needs to be done beyond online activism.
Going back to something else you said about your time at university and wanting to create a safe environment. I wanted to ask about the B.A.D events and what kind of space you wanted to create with these events?
So myself and Kay, we talked about this the other day, thinking about how we could build on this and support beyond artists but every person involved, everyone. And part of that, we felt, was creating a comfortable environment for everyone. And there are so many beautiful communities and sub-genres that haven’t been tapped into. Asking how we can really spotlight people that are integral to all of these incredible things.
As someone who helms the electronic music scene, which one could argue is having a resurgence, is there anyone that’s on your radar that you would like to give a spotlight to right now?
That’s an interesting question… Oh my gosh, yes. Loads. We work with a lot of people that come to mind. One of them would be Abena, I came across her mix and it’s simply incredible. She’s just one of those artists you know will achieve some great feats.
And then finally, tell me about the AVA conference you will be a part of?
It was something I thought, ‘why not, let’s do this. There are excellent black creatives and queer creatives taking part and this is really going to be a great way to spotlight some of the movements and shine a light on the importance of visibility and accessibility. Since creating and launching B.A.D, I’ve noticed a significant shift in the types of conversations I am now privy to, whereby increasing diversity is at the forefront of many minds. Whether it be diversifying one’s record and music collection, or the ways in which we consume dance music culture, I’ve since felt the need to bring this conversation forward, and I couldn’t be happier to do so with an all-Black female lineup. The importance of hearing and seeing those that look like you at the forefront, driving such conversations, can only positively impact the next generation of rising stars – more than we may ever know. It is our duty therefore to explore and discuss the current status of UK dance music culture and what lies ahead.