PROJECT IN FOCUS
by Hannah Green
What is Dance Policy’s policy? It’s simple: ‘to fight against the attack on dance and club culture and prove that clubs can be part of the local community.’ With the steady encroachment of gentrification’s housing developments and licensing laws, coupled with the effects of the pandemic on live events and the arts, dance culture’s future is uncertain - but a deep love for it remains in the community that it has created and sustained. For Dance Policy, this has manifested in a digital archive of dance music and forgotten tunes, three zines, and an impressive catalogue of photography from around the world. ARCCA talks to its founder Zak about clubs, community, and a gentle revolution in music journalism.
After dabbling in DJing and promoting in Manchester, Zak was searching for a better way to engage with his love of dance culture. ‘I kind of realised there’s pretty much every reason why I shouldn’t be a DJ or a promoter - my feet hurt when I stand up for long periods of time, I’ve got tinnitus, I’m quite an anxious person so I hate large crowds - I’m not even that good musically. The only reason I got that far was because of quite a lot of immediate privilege … So I thought, what is something that I can add? What am I good at, and what can I contribute towards dance culture? And that’s how we got to here.’
'Our policy is to fight against the attack on dance and club culture and prove that clubs can be part of the local community'
‘I guess the idea is that clubs deserve to be everywhere, to prove that dance culture doesn’t need to be so intimidating, and for there to be a gentler revolution in its reporting. Like if you read Crack Magazine, it’s just full of crap that I don’t really care about.’ It can be hard to really engage in sensationalised music journalism, especially when the focus is on finding the next best thing. Zak wanted Dance Policy to be different: ‘so the whole idea is to have loads of photos, and sort of let it speak for itself … to have a platform that isn’t explosive about every detail.’ Zak archives the music he finds in record stores and on YouTube, and finds lots of his images on Pinterest. As the page has grown, strangers have started to reach out and send him their own photographs. Zak stresses that he doesn’t feel he’s doing anything particularly out of the ordinary: ‘I do know a few other people who do this as well - to be honest with you the idea behind this page is not unique, and anyone could do it - there’s a couple of other pages like Cold Archive.’
In Dancy Policy’s second zine, Threading Commons, there is a real emphasis placed on the intersection of clubs and communities, and I ask Zak what role he thinks archiving can play in celebrating and preserving local culture. ‘Archiving, as I said, is not a hard thing, but when it comes to dance music I don’t think it’s really respected as much.’ He points to events like Notting Hill Carnival, which hold enormous value and significance for the local community - ‘it doesn’t make sense why it wouldn’t be revered just as much [as other cultural events]. I think it’s really important - for example in Melbourne they did an archive of some of the raves that used to go on in the nineties there, and the council funded it, and I thought that was just really brilliant. There’s no reason to skim over an era that has such a momentous impact on the culture of that community.’
Closer to home, Manchester-based promoters Beat the Curb, who were interviewed for the latest Dance Policy Zine, have been running nights to make money for charity. I asked Zak if he thought that rave and dance culture could enact real structural change from its place in the margins. He cites other clubs making a positive impact, such as The Cause in Tottenham Hale, who donate a percentage of their profits to mental health charities. ‘They put on events for local people, DJ teaching sessions for women, or for everyone, they’re just a pure example of clubs and dance music being part of the community.’ But Zak also recognises the danger of capitalising on the popularity of dance music, dragging a counter culture towards a more profitable model. ‘Where there’s money, there are vultures. And I think fortunately for dance music that has only come into place in the last 15 years or so. I think there’s always going to be a counter culture, and just for the last 40 years it’s just happened to be dance music … but I think there are ways for it to be on the sidelines and also be a part of the community.’
‘With all the clubs closing down at the moment it’s inevitable that illegal raving is going to come back. We’ve all seen the ‘plague raves’ that have been happening in places like Manchester. People will always go and dance, and no matter how many times people say it the government will not listen, and whether it’s going to have illegally or legally it’s going to happen.’ We’re all anxious for the clubs to reopen, but the effects of the pandemic are difficult to predict - ‘people are saying let’s all bring the community back, after the coronavirus is over, but I think it’s going to be really difficult. Because the people who have money can put the parties on, and no one has a bloody job at the moment … I wish we could create some kind of fund where we could take our own money from and just throw our own fuck-off events.’
Whilst the industry has tried to adapt to the pandemic with streaming and those heady days of in-club seated social distancing, it’s a far cry from being packed onto a sweaty dance floor at your favorite venue. For Zak, the venues themselves are important, and worthy of preservation. ‘A space dedicated to art, culture, or music culture - I don’t feel like it’s ever revered in the same way that political buildings are, or scientist’s homes, or whatever … the way things are going, we’ll build all these houses and then we’ll be like oh shit, we probably should have kept that actually, it was quite nice - if you look at places like Berlin, they gave Berghain a protected status, so they actually see it as intertwined with their culture, whereas here we see London as London and we have club cultures on the periphery.’ So does he think there are more positive models out there? ‘There definitely is, there absolutely is - it’s going to be sad when we realise, when we turn around and we’re like, we should have kept that.’
After moving to Manchester four years ago, how far does he think the music scene made him feel at home there? Did it make him feel connected to a community outside the student population? ‘Unfortunately, I think dance culture does have a real issue of reinforcing itself as a youth culture … I think I’m quite new, to be honest with you, to the whole thing, I’ve probably been into it for like three years. So I think there are a thousand million problems with dance music, but I’ve never had an easier time making friends. I think that’s a good way of summing it up.’
When I ask if there’s anyone else behind Dance Policy’s mysterious facade, Zak tells me it’s a solo operation. ‘Which is kind of nice to say, but also awful. Because I have to do everything. But I’ve just hired one writer, and I guess Jamie, my artist, is kind of part of it as well, but I still pay him, so it’s not quite the same.’ Zak is very honest about what it’s like to run a project like this. ‘I’m trying to enjoy the process rather than becoming big. If I had a hundred thousand followers I think I’d lose something, actually. ’ As well as keeping the content short and accessible, Zak is keen to let other people take centre stage: ‘I mean that’s the whole idea of why it started, because I don’t think I personally had any special talent to actually contribute to dance music, and that my talent is to actually provide the platform for other people. That’s why I like to stay anonymous as well, I only give out my first name - because it’s not about me, it shouldn’t be about me, and I don’t try to make it about me. But it’s pretty hard when you’re the only person.’
‘Sometimes I do feel really stressed about it, the pressure. I’m like ‘ah this photo isn’t good enough’ or ‘all the photos this week have been shit’, or ‘this scene sucks’ so it’s kind of nice to have the concept that I could just delete Dancy Policy and no one would know at all, it would be totally fine … I remember doing the archiving back in March last year, and just being like god no one actually cares about these photos, but now it’s really kind of taking off - so my advice for anyone who is doing this kind of thing would be enjoy the process, you know it’s going to happen eventually, and if it doesn’t then it was never right.’
And does he feel like Dance Policy has created its own little community? ‘I can’t say definitively like I’ve brought a dance community together, but I can definitely say that there are like a good group of people on this who are always liking the photos and always messaging me, that I never would have met. It’s awesome, it’s really great. I love it when someone messages me, like’ this photo’s great’ and then we just have a tangent conversation about nothing, just getting to know them, I love that. I don’t know if there’s a definitive community, but I think there’s something there. A little spark.’
Dance Policy’s Website
Dance Policy’s Instagram
Issue 3: The Swelling of the Metropole is out at the end of January.