What Next Ohio: Breaking the Cycle

Every time I sat down to think about the meaning of What Next Ohio the concept of cycles kept popping into my head. As a historical sociologist, I am prone to look at the world through the lens of the patterns & cycles I identify across time. Questions of the similarities and differences in how people organized and built the scene, the events they produced, & the collective ideas that bound them together across time are infinitely interesting to me, but also very important for how we view and frame ourselves as a scene.  For this reason, I think the history of our scene from its origins to today affords us a toolkit of ideas and lessons that will allows us to understand why What Next Ohio marks a break in the cycle of how we think about our scene and highlights the take the next step we should take in building the best scene in the world.

What Next Ohio pointedly drew on the historical toolkit of Columbus dance music and crafted an event that presented how our scene today has continued to build on the legacy of the foundational actors that built the Columbus dance music scene in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This is one of the big reasons I was such a huge proponent of the event. Not because I think this event was in any way qualitatively superior to the other events going on in the city (Such value judgements really aren’t useful at all),  but because it sought to intimately connect our present scene to the history we all share.

What Next Ohio represents an explicit return to our historical backdrop. Since Columbus became a hub of creativity in music and arts, the artists that reside here have always had a chip on their shoulder and sought to hold down their city. Our new strength in expressing the “Columbus for Life” idea is just the most recent manifestation of a historical idea that has always existed in the dance community in our city.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the DJs from crews like ele_mental were pushing the boundaries of dance music and night after night. yet, they didn’t just seek to be on par with the artists from hubs like Chicago & Detroit. These mavericks wanted to OUT PERFORM and OUT PRODUCE the biggest acts from the biggest markets. They wanted to push the envelope artistically, while pushing each other.

Though united together in one community, the Columbus dance community has always wanted to be recognized as better than the biggest hubs in dance music. We always wanted to be better than Detroit and Chicago in the 80’s and 90’s, and that desire pushed us in many cases to produce techno, trance, house, & drum n’ Bass artists that was more creative and better than the stuff coming out of those so called “Big Markets”. What Next Ohio represented a call to arms for both fans and artists of our community to harken back to this time period and adopt the same confidence and resolve that those people that came before us had. We are at the point now where creativity is spilling out everywhere in our scene and its time for us to push the envelope and show the world that we are BETTER than London, Berlin, Miami, New York, L.A., Las Vegas. Its not just about building a scene that is on par with these cities, but building one that is better.

Some out there will instantly laugh this idea away. They will instantly say, “What do you mean? You have no big clubs, You have no capital, you no widescale press coverage, etc etc. How will you build a huge scene in the middle of Ohio?” They will list the same indicators they believe represent a thriving and successful music scene and point to the big markets as the artistic trailblazers. They will question us, as they always have done. Yet, they don’t define what our scene will be. WE DO.  I want to openly question these indicators and propose to all of you out there that this so called “pipe dream” is no so far from being a reality. We have something that many dance music scenes have long lost: autonomy and a chip on our shoulder. We want to prove to the world that we are better and we aren’t afraid to do it ourselves. For those of us knee deep in the scene, it is this very idea that WE ARE BETTER that drives us to carve out time each day to write, produce, listen, and build a community. True to the Do-It-Yourself tradition, we have never waited for capital from huge promotion companies, nor have we waited for big DJs to highlight our scenes strength. These simple facts have been true in the 80’s, 90’s, and all the way until our most recent resurgence since the early 2000’s. Columbus has always DONE IT ALONE with a quarter of the resources that other scenes had. We built one of the best scenes in the country in the 90’s with nothing. Why can’t we do it again today? We certianly are already on the way. Don’t be afraid to exclaim such ideas openly today. We can be bigger and better if we stay together, believe in our dream, and continue to push each other.

What Next Ohio was a testament to this collective hope for the future of our scene. Through a careful curation of the diverse sounds that make up our scene, the innovators at Sweatin’ highlighted a cross section of the artistic movement that aims to put Columbus on the map in dance music. It showed that we are on the cutting edge of dance music, and as the beats pummeled us at the newport the simple fact that WE ARE BETTER than every scene in the world was exclaimed proudly. The show revealed our historical origins and showed that just like originators of our scene we too can create the best scene in the world out of our collective will. If you don’t believe me, just get a taste for what happened at the show. Take the genre blasting of TEXTBEAK that is encapsulated in this video recording of his AMAZING set:

Or the amazing originals that FUNERALS played for the first time live:

Take the deep house of Dustin Knell, or the experimental tracks of Shin Tower Music. Take the hard driving industrial techno/electro of Dirty Current, or the pummeling bass of Hot Mess. Take the Bass innovations of Burgle or Cassius Slay and you come to the simple conclusion that we don’t need to be afraid to think our scene is one of the best in the world. I know I walked away not scared to exclaim this basic truth, and I charge you to not be afraid to push yourself and others to embrace this key idea. I know from this point forward every time we come together this basic truth will propel me to view our events, our DJs, our artists in a very different way then I did before.


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