Ten Walls: Can We Separate Art From Its Creator?

11 June 2015

On Wednesday, successful Lithuanian house Producer and DJ Ten Walls shot his own career in the head with a string of homophobic and anti-gay messages. Many of you will have already read one or many of the large volume of news pieces expressing what can only be labeled justified aversion to his comments.

Enough has been said on the comments themselves and it is fair to say that a backlash was certainly deserved, however, musicians have said bigoted things in the past and rarely has the level of public outcry reached such levels; since his outburst Ten Walls has been dropped by all his forthcoming festival appearances (the peak of a touring DJ’s year both in terms of income and exposure), and his booking agency, Coda.

Again, a justified reaction, and despite it being hard to recall another example of a musician’s words doing so much damage to their career, given the level of public debate on social media it was unsurprising that Ten Walls’s affiliates reacted in this manner.

The debate online seemed to centre on what form Ten Walls’s punishment should take and how severe it should be. Posts were full of disgusted ex-fans and music-types anticipating blind eyes turned by promoters and booking agents, whilst demands were being made early on him not being let off so easily – pressure was being put onto others to boycott his music. The vigorous discussion that this incident has prompted highlighted a range of issues and questions within the music community. One important question that was swept aside by the call to arms was this:

Is it possible to morally differentiate the art and the artist?

I hadn’t heard of Ten Walls before his homophobic rant, but as a house producer I can only assume that the majority of his music is instrumental and thus lacking in any homophobic content – melodies and beats are incapable of such things intrinsically. Furthermore it seems safe to assume that, given the reaction to his comments, he was not an artist previously known for homophobic opinions.

Fuelling the vehemence of the reaction was a feeling that Ten Walls was insulting the very people who had created and nurtured house music, which developed in the gay community, and those that still benefit from it being a ‘safe place’ for gay people. People argued that Ten Walls should learn the history of his own music and respect his audience. However, I’m not sure that it means we should punish Ten Walls more severely than say, Eminem, who hasn’t been held responsible for the sustained level of homophobia both in his interviews and actually in his music (he still has a booking agent), simply because his music operates in the homophobic genre of rap.

The hate towards Ten Walls rant is justified and the reaction legitimate, but censorship is not, and neither is pressure from one person to another or to an institution to boycott his music. It has to be a personal choice, people need to decide for themselves if they can get over the stain Ten Walls left on his music by his comments, not be pressurised by a kangaroo court of pissed off Facebook posters wanting revenge. Music is not necessarily redefined by the words and actions of its creator. John Lennon wrote many songs that are culturally regarded as anthems for peace and love between humans, he was also a self-confessed woman beater with several reported incidents of him hitting his girlfriends and wife. Sam Cooke wrote the song ‘A Change Is Going To Come’ which went on to be a prominent anthem for the civil rights movement, but he was also accused of rape. The list of unpleasant or controversial people who have created music that is in one way or another involved in helping oppressed people or perceived benefit of society is extensive (Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson, Lauren Hill).

Ten Walls unprecedented punishment may illustrate that in an age where everyone has a platform and response is rapid and viral, artists are far less likely to get away with homophobia and other bigotry. But censoring music is nearly always a bad idea, especially when the music itself is not intrinsically hateful. It appears that the name Ten Walls is now and forever linked to the man’s homophobic rant on social media, and this may be a just end to this story, but his music may likely still soundtrack house music environments and scenes, and contribute to a space that benefits and liberates gay people, and that’s OK.

Words: Jack Christie




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