A Conversation About Inclusion Riders with Rising Bass Producer OAKK
In the wake of George Floyd's murder in May of 2020, our generation saw the most radical civil rights movement of our time. The music industry reacted, posting black squares on Instagram, adding #BLM to their Twitter bios, and creating promises of a more inclusive space. But when people brought up the idea of inclusion riders, the industry mainly stayed silent.
What is an Inclusion Rider?
An inclusion rider is a stipulation in a performer's contract that states an event must have a certain percentage of underrepresented minorities on the lineup or in the production crew. Underrepresented minorities are people that identify as women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, or those with disabilities.
Although inclusion riders became a hot topic of discussion in the entertainment industry after the 2018 Oscars Award Ceremony, the idea had been around for years prior.
The Origins of Inclusion Riders
The term "inclusion rider" was first recorded by Stacy L. Smith, an associate professor of communication at USC Annenberg and founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. In her 2014 article for The Hollywood Reporter, she calls for gender equality in the TV and film industry. And similarly to the white woman-led Me Too Movement, the idea of inclusion riders was taken from the Black people who pioneered it.
Tarana Burke was the trailblazer of the Me Too Movement, using the phrase on MySpace in 2006 to "promote empowerment through empathy" amid women of color who've experienced sexual abuse.
However, the campaign only gained worldwide traction in 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano opened up about the predatory behavior of Harvey Weinstein.
Comparably, inclusion riders are an idea borrowed from NFL's Rooney Rule. This policy was "intended to create additional opportunities for diverse candidates to be identified, interviewed, and ultimately hired when a vacancy becomes available." The NFL implemented the Rooney Rule in 2003 as a reaction to the firings of head coaches Tony Dungy and Dennis Green.
Inclusion Riders in Dance Music
Inclusion riders were brought to the attention of the dance music industry by way of producers like Alison Wonderland. In the 2020 documentary Underplayed, the Australian DJ summoned promoters and other artists to employ them so that women could receive more opportunities in the scene.
Identical to academia's affirmative action, inclusion riders don't go without fair criticism. Underrepresented groups shouldn't have to be tokenized just to gain recognition. Adding women to stages doesn't address the rampant sexual harassment in the music industry. And more inclusive lineups don't solve the issue of how little diversity there is in booking agencies, radio stations, record labels, streaming platforms, music publications, and management companies.
However, many people believe that inclusion riders are a small stepping stone to more equity in dance music—a community built for and by gay Black and Latinos.
On July 29, 2021, Cole Edwards, a Vancouver-based producer and DJ who goes by OAKK, posted his inclusion rider on social media. He said, "I think transparency and visibility are important when discussing something like an inclusion rider into artist contracts. Posting this... to urge more ppl to implement the same practice into their contracts (specifically cis-het males)."
We sat down with OAKK to discuss his thoughts on inclusion riders and why he felt it was imperative to add one into his contract, despite not being a festival headliner. The Chinese-Canadian artist has light skin and western features. He could be considered white-passing to some. Notably, he had also recently come out as bisexual at the time.
Edwards has always felt like an outsider. He sits humbly in his room and articulates, "I didn't always feel represented or comfortable being around all white male lineups. I definitely feel more at home and more comfortable when I'm surrounded by people like myself and where I don't feel like I have to hide who I am. That's why something like this is important for me. And I think by being vocal about peers of mine, especially cis[-gender] white male performers in electronic music, I can push them and educate them. It is really important for people like them to help people like me, and people in marginalized groups feel like they're a part of the community."
In April, I asked Twitter if any artists had inclusion riders, specifically requesting comments from white males. The term wasn't as widespread at the time, and those working on implementing them hadn't yet executed. By August, things changed, and Dynamics Music interviewed Alix Perez, Om Unit, and Queen Kyrist about their inclusion riders. When OAKK posted his inclusion rider on social media, he would be the first to do so in the electronic music space publicly. And from the network I reached out to, only people of color had already implemented inclusion riders in their artist contracts.
"Usually the marginalized communities are the ones having to do the legwork. That's why I'm enjoying seeing more people from points of privilege that are pushing for diversity because that's really how we can truly be fully inclusive—If the people that don't necessarily have to worry about it are pushing for it as well," Edwards confesses.
But as previously mentioned, an inclusion rider isn't the end-all-be-all to the issues in the dance music scene. Marginalized groups might see representation on stage with this additional clause, but it doesn't make them feel safe. Inclusion riders have to work in conjunction with harm reduction.
OAKK continues, "Harm reduction is just that, reducing harmful things that can arise in a party setting and how we can do the work prior, to lead to safer events and practices within our teams. I've worked closely with Bass Coast Festival throughout my career and they have a really great harm reduction team run by Stacey. She also runs a non-profit called Good Night Out Vancouver that works in prevention and response to sexual harassment and assault within the music industry.
"And then there were people like G Jones, who have harm reduction practices implemented into all of their events. So that was always important for me to implement with my team. It's important to acknowledge that these problems in the music industry and their solutions are intersectional and when we can encompass all aspects of creating safer environments is when change can begin to happen."
He acknowledges that demanding these things isn't always easy for underground DJs and supporting acts. By asking for too much, artists might be afraid to lose opportunities.
"When you're first starting out, you don't have a lot of control over venue staffing or booking openers. So when I first heard about an inclusion rider, where it's actually kind of set into your contract—and it breaks the contract if those requirements aren't met—to me, that made more sense in ways that you can enforce the clause. And I can refuse to play the show if the requirements aren't met."
Creating real change is going to be difficult. The beatmaker imparts, "If these things really truly mean something to you, you'll implement it fully into your practice, and not just in your contracts in who you hire as a manager and who you hire as an agent. I don't ever want to work with people who would be against it. And I don't want to play shows for people who are against it. I'd rather not make the money and play shows and events for people who care about the things that I care about."
But there is hope for those who are thinking about it but might be hesitant: "Every promoter I've sent it to has ensured they've read [my inclusion rider] and has been supportive of it. And they reassured me that those measures will be met even before signing the contract. So that's really great."