One Nation Under a Groove

How the U.S. Government Uses (and Abuses) Dance Music


International diplomacy is a funny thing. You never know what sort of weird double-speak is going on as agencies from all over the world try to spin their own version of reality. No wonder the U.S. State Department has the nickname foggy bottom. It may be taken from the name of the neighborhood where the agency is based in Washington DC, but it more than adequately paints a picture of the murky goings on.

This occurred to me when, on a recent random Googling of Deep Dish that was prompted by their superb new single, “Quincy,” I ended up on the Virtual Embassy of the United States, Tehran-Iran. What the heck is that, you may ask? Well, it appears that in the absence of a physical consulate since the Iranian revolution in 1980, the State Department decided to set up a virtual embassy, meant to give Iranian’s information about visas and student exchange programs.

Go to the section titled Prominent Iranian Americans, and you’ll find the Grammy winning duo listed alongside Saturday Night Live cast member Nasim Pedrad and CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour. But click on the Deep Dish page, and things get weird. In the incredibly brief bio about the group, one of the very few items mentioned is the their remix of Morel’s “True (The Faggot Is You).”

When speaking to a country whose government is known to be blatantly anti-gay (Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once famously denied that his country had any gays), it’s easy to envision someone in the State Department using this tiny opportunity to take a shot at the Iranian regime. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence. The point is, it’s unlikely that Deep Dish is aware of their involvement in Federal subterfuge on any level, bringing into question whether the government should be allowed to utilize the arts to pursue it’s own agenda without approval of the artist.

In the case of Deep Dish, the incident is incredibly minor, and almost certainly for a cause that the artists would support. Sadly, the same cannot be said for industrial dance-rockers Skinny Puppy, who made news recently by claiming that the U.S. government owes them $666,000 in royalties, after it was confirmed that the Canadian group’s abrasive music was used to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

“’I am not only against the fact they’re using our music to inflict damage on somebody else, but they are doing it without anybody’s permission,” said Skinny Puppy member Cevin Key at the time.

Clearly this is a violation of…something, although what exactly is unclear without legal precedence.

Fortunately, it’s not always negative when the government gets involved with DJs. A recent program called Next Level saw the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs partner with the University of North Carolina to bring the art of dance and hip-hop music to countries in Africa, Eastern Europe and South Asia via their DJ Lab, Dance Lab, Beat-Making Lab and Emcee Lab programs.

Volunteers stay in their host country for 2-3 weeks, teaching their special skills, mostly to disadvantaged children. The result, as is often seen in these sort of music-driven programs, are unforgettable. If you have the talent and the time, you might want to click here to learn more about joining the program.

After all, just because the government does some funky things in dance music’s name, doesn’t mean everything they do stinks.