AfroPunk is dead (?) long live AfroPunk (?)

I had every intention of going to the AfroPunk Festival in Brooklyn this year. Last year’s stellar lineup was cancelled due to Hurricane Irene, this year’s good but not jaw-dropping lineup went on as planned. I was in Chicago, being a responsible adult. (Boo)

I did spend a bit of time monitoring social media and blogs for reports of the show and by all accounts there were fantastic performances and I really would have loved it. The day after, I noticed there were a number of reviews – including from my good friend Laina Dawes – with pretty pointed criticism of the eight year old festival’s increased corporate presence and lack of musical acts that resembled anything punk.

It’s inevitable that a independent music festival evolves into something more commercial over the years, just look at LA’s Fuck Yeah Fest’s shift to the more sponsor friendly name of FYF Fest (Fuck Yeah Fest Fest?) or Chicago’s RiotFest, once a punk and hardcore gathering has evolved into a Lollapalooza-esque outdoor festival. It happens, it’s hard to avoid and its kind of par for the course for successful music festivals. But for AfroPunk, the transformation is a little different, considering the festival was an offshoot of the 2003 movie and subsequent online community that provided a name and community for blacks in punk rock and hardcore. With AfroPunk being as much of a brand as it is a community these days, does the community itself simply die out, or move on?

I’ll admit I wasn’t hugely into the AfroPunk online community since my musical interests leaned more toward metal and I was lucky enough to have my own tiny tribe of Afro-Metalheads here in Chicago, but I always felt an affinity for the scene, and what it stood for. But now, with the AfroPunk scene being the face of a more vague definition of “black alternative,” where do black punks (or black rockers in general) fit?

I was thinking of this, and in a conversation on Facebook, I posted the following (slightly edited) musing:

“I feel like the aesthetics of so-called black alternative culture have been embraced (“oh ho, gigantic afro-ed person with the nose ring, you are so multi-cultural and cutting edge!”) the ideals behind AfroPunk 1.0, the rejection of status quo cultural ideals have gone back underground and this community is once again nameless… AfroPunk 2.0 may be the new face of “black alternative’ but AfroPunk 1.0 needs a new name, and probably a new documentary.”

Now I don’t have any hard data to back this up, just anecdotal evidence, but I would LOVE to know who (if anyone: black rockers, zine publishers, etc) makes a point to identify with underground/punk ideals but eschews the AfroPunk label/brand for whatever reason. (yes, this is an invitation) if you are out there, please shoot me a line via e-mail or in comments. If you think my theories are full of shit, I’d like to hear that too, as long as you’re not a troll.

This isn’t really about criticizing or indicting AfroPunk for going in a more commercial direction. As I said, I am sure I would have loved this year’s festival and I hope to go next year – and as someone who STILL doesn’t feel like she fits in, knowing that there’s a place where creative black weirdos can be at home is awesome to me. But I am curious to see what the name “AfroPunk” really means to people now, in 2012, especially for those who may have connected strongly to the film over a decade ago.

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