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Furry Weekend Atlanta draws ire as it books outside talent for musical shows

Edited by dronon, GreenReaper as of Thu 22 Sep 2022 - 20:45
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Before the coronavirus shut down many furry conventions around the world, a strange thing occurred at Furry Weekend Atlanta in 2019. The popular electronic dance group Mystery Skulls performed a musical set at the convention. This is a pretty mainstream group, well-known for their singles such as Money and Ghosts.

When in-person events started happening again, Furry Weekend Atlanta's new headliner was again more known for their mainstream work than for their ties to the fandom. FRND, also known as Andrew Goldstein, is not quite as well-known as Mystery Skulls. After having worked with many mainstream musicians (such as Maroon Five's Beautiful Mistakes as a co-writer), he started to work independently and created his own singles.

Now in late 2022, FWA is giving a wink toward Little Nas X, a very well-known rap artist, born and raised near Atlanta. He's known for stirring up moralistic controversy with his music videos. I guess that's how you know it's real rap.

As FWA's drive towards mainstream musical talent has continued, furries have become a lot more pointed in their questioning of the convention. But whoever's been in control of FWA's social media account has continually dismissed such criticism. For instance, during the FRND announcement, they responded to one critique by posting a gif of Clauhauser calling the critical poster "cute". At the time, this post only drew more attention to the critique. FWA later deleted the tweet and apologized for their behavior. In response to the threads that appeared after the Little Nas X announcement, they have started to use their social media tools to limit responses to no one but the artist in question.

In this article, we'll be going over what defines a work as furry, why this is separate from how furry music is defined, and how Furry Weekend Atlanta may be able to help mitigate future concerns for their furry attendees and the musically talented within the fandom.

What makes something "Furry" in most art

The late Fred Patten would regularly ask what it means for a written work to be furry in his book reviews. He would even go so far as calling stories where the protagonists could be easily replaced with human counterparts as "zipper backs". In essence, furry written works and comics should have some foundational basis beyond aesthetics to incorporate animals with human characteristics, if they are to be really considered a part of the furry subgenre.

Outside of such an ideal, this may be seen by some as gatekeeping. Could Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny be replaced with human characters? In some instances no, but in others such as the Looney Tunes Show, where Bugs and Daffy live in a house and not in a rabbit hole or pond, then yes, they could be replaced by humans.

But in spite of this desire to separate "zipper backs" from true anthropomorphic works, most of furry fandom does consider Looney Tunes and the Looney Tunes Show to be furry. You simply need to have the main characters be animals with human characteristics, regardless if the characters are just humans in animal clothing. Also, this furry definition holds true even if the work is developed from outside the fandom, through a mainstream publisher. Warner Brothers created the Loony Toons, yet their animal characters are still considered furry characters.

This is how we define furry in its art, animation, and written works. However - what we find in the music scene turns out to be quite the opposite.

What makes music "furry"?

This is an exceptionally dangerous question, maybe far more so than when discussing writing or art. There are furry fans who have dedicated themselves to the craft of creating music, and they tend to be treated with dismissal even more than furry authors. This, in turn, creates a feverous passion and territorial demeanor within the fandom's musical spaces. Their passion and fanaticism was piqued by FWA continuing to bring in musical talent from outside the fandom.

Ironically, when it comes to defining what furry music is, the rule that we use to distinguish a written or artistic work as furry is the opposite when it comes to music. If a furry writer writes the next fantasy hit that has predominantly human characters, most furries will most likely say that while the artist is a furry fan, their popularized content is not within the furry subgenre, and thus the art itself is not furry. Furry music, on the other hand, seems to be defined purely by whether the artist who created the piece is a member of the fandom or not, exclusively.

Not knowing this will probably catch some furry convention leaders off guard, when they invite a musician who uses a Koala character to define their brand, but who themselves are not a furry fan who plays as a Koala character (for example, FRND). Despite their branding, the content creator is not a self-defined furry musician, and therefore their music will be seen as not-furry.

It must be noted that no committee came together to define these strange rules. Like most things in any community, they just organically happen. It's important to write down or make note of these behaviors when they're seen, in spite of how the writer or organizers feel about them. It creates awareness, which helps other people to better understand the needs and thoughts of sub-groups within the community, and leads to less precarious decision-making.

Speaking as a writer, it's odd that the furry music genre is purely defined by its composers and not by their music's content. But since I'm not part of the fandom's musical scene, that oddness is not up to me to define, nor a convention's board.

Concerns about the future of furry music and FWA

Furry attendees at FWA have cited a concern that the con could become more about the mainstream event than a fandom event, attracting people with no interest in furry creativity or culture. If such a thing does occur, it could lead to furry music fans to call for a boycott, for slighting them in preference of outside talent.

On the other side, the leaders of Furry Weekend Atlanta may themselves be huge fans of music, and will continue to welcome fandom-friendly outsider talent.

It seems like neither will budge on their positions, which might lead to a reckoning in the growing conflict between these two perspectives.

The fears of FWA bringing in outside, mainstream talent are more than just fandom ethno-centrism. Furry fans who just want to go to FWA to do normal furry things, and not go there to see a big main stage act, worry about the costs of running the convention, and these being passed down to their registration fees, when they couldn't care less about Mystery Skulls, FRND, or Little Nas X. There's also the issue that it's seen as greatly unfair to furry performing musicians, volunteering at the con, to see non-furries compensated for their stage performances.

But is there a way to listen to these fears, take this problem, and transform it into an opportunity? If handled correctly, this situation could be changed into something that some furry musicians may have never had before: a gateway to introduce our own musical talents to the world at large, at an in-person event. In prior articles and comments, I've noted that conventions may need to begin to specialize in order to draw in particular furry fans from around the world. And FWA seems to have a talent for booking musical talent, even if it's not from within the fandom. If everyone's talents could work together, Furry Weekend Atlanta could be a music-focused furry convention.

But how would FWA to do such a thing without further raising the ire of furry fans, and what would be some of the logistical issues?

A fair's view to deal with unfairness

The pragmatic solution I propose comes from a non-furry gathering I'd go to while growing up in Upstate New York. In Syracuse, NY, there's an annual event called The Great New York State Fair. There are many reasons why people attend it, and one of them is that they bring in musicians and performers to entertain the crowd at the end of the day. However, to see the evening headliner act, you'd buy a ticket that was separate from the one to attend the fair itself.

Note that this is how it was when I was a kid. Since then, it looks that Chevrolet now sponsors the evening show to cover the costs, so all attendees can enjoy it regardless. But before the sponsorship arrangement came into being, the separate tickets are what kept the costs lower for the regular folks who just wanted to hang out with the family on the midway, while those who really wanted to see the star performers would pay the extra to attend their concert.

Likewise, Furry Weekend Atlanta could take advantage of their ability to bring in outside talent, and raise more funds for the convention by doing the same thing the New York Stat Fair. They could sell a music-lover registration pass that would let the attendee see the main stage act, which would be separate from the regular convention pass.

And if they have extra money left over afterwards, FWA could use it to help out the musicians within furry fandom, compensating rooms and travel. Which it should, if done right. Using the mainstream interest to support and highlight the up-and-coming talent within the fandom would help motivate more home-grown musical performance. If they wanted to take it further, the convention could make their primary furry guests of honor be furry musicians, presented alongside the mainstream guest talent. Preferably of a similar genre to the headliner.

External, non-furry musicians may bring in non-furry music fans, who would then be able to enjoy the musicians to be found within furry fandom, at no extra charge. This could give our fandom's talent a wider audience they might not have otherwise had, growing beyond the fandom's niche audience by introducing new fans from outside. It may also lead to a furry musician being able to communicate with more mainstream acts, relating to them as colleagues and not enemies for stage time. (Or as a FRND instead of an NME?)

If done correctly, with care and focus, Furry Weekend Atlanta could transform a situation of fannish ire into one that will give both parties what they want. A convention that attracts more furry attention toward music, and also attracts some mainstream music-loving attention towards our hard-working furry musicians.

Comments

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Interesting backstory on this article is that I had written the rough draft during the FRND announcement, and then story grew a bit cold so I held onto it. Then the Nas X thing occurred so I dusted it off and updated it with those items. There was a section I did about FRND on the original.

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I think inviting mainstream musicians when there are plenty of furry musicians to perform at a furry convention is extremely silly. I also vaguely recall hearing that "invite mainstream people to fund furry events" argument somewhere before but I can not recall well enough where to bring it up here.

However, I will call out some places where I feel you have neglected other arguments, in particular since they were my arguments. In contrast to Fred, I do not think there needs to be anything beyond the aesthetic for furry art (including literature) and I wrote a whole article outlining how I think we can identify a character as furry and, building on that in my presentation at Eurofuence, that furry media is defined by being focussed on such characters.

I think even more important is my discussion on furry music which you omitted. Not only did it include a definition, which I broadly agreed with, from a furry musician but it also included a tool for deciding whether something is furry or not.

According to NIIC:

For me, personally, if we can properly define music as being "furry music", I believe that kind of music must contain lyrics and a story about anthropomorphic characters, or contain language that empathizes with the Furry community.

And from the comments on my piece, there was this from a furry DJ:

Is it furry music?

1. Is the song about anthorpomorphic characters, people, or themes?
2. Does it use samples from things related to furry fandom/art/characters/people/themes/culture?
3. Was the song directly inspired by the fandom/art/characters/people/themes/culture, as in the case of instrumentals?

Using these 3 determining factors, then yes, furries can make non furry music, and non furries can make furry music. Just because a furry makes music, doesn't mean it's necessarily furry music, as is the case of a furry trying to make video gaming music.

And what I said:

If you are going to say that something is furry, whether it be music or art or anything else, you should be able to explain what you could change to make it stop being furry.

I think both of those points should really be addressed. You're going with a definition that is in contrast to what furry musicians have said and with nothing to back up that it's a widely-agreed on. (The complete absence of any sort of supporting links after the first subheading is quite odd.)

Do you also think there are things like right-handed music or vegetarian music because the musician is right-handed or vegetarian? Do you think the furry music, as you treat it here, stops being furry if the musician leaves the fandom? Does music created before a musician is furry automatically become furry when the musician does? To me, such events would be nonsensical. A song is no more a furry song because the musician is furry than Uncle Kage's scientific papers are furry science or what you made for supper was furry cooking.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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I will note that I didn't omit your article on purpose, it's been 7 years and I forgot this one existed. I wasn't an editor at the time so I just read, commented, and forgot.

I ran my definition by a furry musician also, and she seemed to be in agreement with the fandom relation one.

The thing is, that you can have competing definitions within a fandom, it's usually what leads to feuds. The "Zipper Back" one is quite a contentious one in the writing sphere.

As time goes on though, it's the population (or culture) that has more say in what definitions are accepted, even if they don't make sense by some underlying concept of logic. To me, it seems that the fandom has drawn itself toward the 'unreasonable' definition. Pepper Coyote, Fox Amoore, etc are considered furry musicians.

The issue why I think that it's defined that way really comes down to one question: what happens when a furry is not a vocalist?

It's hard to make music 'furry' if there is no lyrics, so if you take your definitions, furries who play instruments can never be 'furry musicians' they can only be musicians.

Do we consider "What does the fox say?" furry music. How about Capital City's "Kangaroo Court"? Or Caravan's Palace's "Digger"?

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"What does the fox say?" is about an inherently furry topic - what foxes say to others, including other animals. It's even clearer when the lyric are spelt out on the big screen in the BBC special. "Kangaroo Court" as a song is not furry in the same topical sense, so I wouldn't say it's particularly furry just for mentioning an animal-containing idiom - but the music video is (as is the extended non-lyrical version). The same for "Digger"'s music video. Aesthetic is sufficient, but I think it should be associated with the performance rather than adhering to the performer or composer merely because they are in the community.

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I think it comes down to this for non-instrumental pieces. If, without knowing the artist or title of the song, somebody could listen to it and still think it at least related to animals in some way if not to furries directly, I'd say it could be claimed to be 'furry music'. Otherwise no, regardless of the creator's intent or the title of the song. That goes for any fan made music from any genre. The song must speak for itself in other words.

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Bloodhound Gang's "The Bad Touch" is a furry song then. After all, they ain't nothing but mammals.

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We appreciate your input.

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I do have a lot more reason to remember my own articles. :p

You're completely right about which definitions take over and there can be disagreement. That's partly the bone of contention here, you say that a specific definition is the one but there's no source given and no links to follow up on. Is that the dominant definition or just one of many?

In your comment, you are also conflating two things when you say "Pepper Coyote, Fox Amoore, etc are considered furry musicians" and "It's hard to make music 'furry' if there is no lyrics, so if you take your definitions, furries who play instruments can never be 'furry musicians' they can only be musicians." Whether a musician is furry and whether their music is furry are two separate questions. A musician is furry as long as they are fur; it doesn't matter if they are a vocalist or not.

Furry music is furry because of it's characteristics or context. Lyrical content is an obvious way for a song to be furry, i.e. NIIC's Paws to the Wall. What about instrumental pieces? Context dependent. There are a lot of instrumental tracks on Fox Amoore's Skies of Astar album and I would consider them furry music. Not because Fox Amoore is a fur but because of the context of those tracks. They form the soundtrack to a furry puppet show which was written for and performed at Eurofurence. If Fox Amoore wrote an instrumental track for some other event which was not connected to the fandom then they would lack the context which makes them furry.

The fact that something is performed by a fur is not sufficient. Imagine an instrumental performed by a duo consisting of a furry violinist and a non-furry pianist. Is that a furry song or a non-furry song? Is only the violin part furry but the piano part not? Nuka, Uncle Kage and myself are all furs. We are all scientists. We are all furry scientists. Nuka's work studies the sociological aspects of the furry fandom, it is furry science. Uncle Kage does chemistry and I do microbiology. Neither of those has any relation to the fandom and our papers are not furry science.

As for the trio of questions at the end... Yes, I'd consider What does the fox say? as furry music. I don't know the second song at all. I would certainly say the music video for Lone Digger is furry but I don't recall anything about the lyrics to say that the song is.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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So instead of rehashing what I said in 2015 about the issues and reasoning on why there is a contention of "Furry Music" I'll bring up the comment that I stated in your music article you linked me to:

https://www.flayrah.com/6010/what-furry-music#comment-63404

This quote basically breaks down the ambiguity of "furry" as an adjective when discussing genre.

I think the contentions surrounding surrounding the direction FWA is going shows that when it comes to music vocal furry fans seem to be pushing in the direction of C(b). Because music hasn't really developed a C(a) adjective for music that can be defined as "furry" independent of the artist affiliation.

If the fandom isn't seeing a "furry music" as music developed by a "furry musician" then why the fight when FWA are bringing in "outsider" talent?

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I know nothing about the musicians they have invited or considered inviting but I would think the controversy is purely because the person is not a fur themselves. A furry convention is an event where people from the fandom get together. Bringing in an outsider is not serving that role, particularly when there are people in the fandom who could do the same thing.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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So let's take this to non-music items. What if a voice actor who voices furry characters were made guest of honor, but is not a furry themselves?

Would that not be okay since they are not a voice actor who is furry? Or do they fill a role of being an important part of bringing a furry character to life that those in the fandom may find interest in discussing, even if they are an 'outsider'?

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Eurofurence did have Joaquin Baldwin, who worked as a layout artist for Zootopia, as a GOH in 2018 which I think is alright. Even if he is not a fur himself, he was invited due to his work on a major furry film that enjoyed huge popularity in the fandom (Although his events seem to have been about animation in general...). I think that's a contrast with a musical guest who is not a fur and has not been involved in something important to the fandom.

The other consideration would be if there's a furry equivalent. There are a few furry films made by furs but nothing on the level of Zootopia. However I'd say there are plenty of furry musicians that can perform at the same level as non-furry musicians. All you need for the music is instruments and skill. Further resources are just bonuses. Picking a non-furry guest of honour also means excluding a fur. That seems like a poor choice for a furry convention to make, especially when the convention can do more to raise the profile of the fur.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Well, now you're kind of into what's the point of a furry convention?

Is it about "furries" (the group of people) or "furry" (the admittedly nebulous concept the aforementioned group of people are organized around). The definition "a furry convention is an event where people fromt he fandom get together" is a bit gatekeep-y, actually. Only "true" furries allowed. I mean, yeah, obviously we're all lifers, one way or another, in this conversation, but I don't see any problem with people with casual, passing interest, or even just mild curiosity visiting, as long as they pay the registration fee and follow the rules. It's not the early 2000 anymore; non-furries are no longer primarily antagonistic towards furry.

Of course, the economics are pretty clear here, too. I don't see any reason why most Dealer's Den or Artist's Alleys would not take "non-furry" money for their product, and furthermore don't see why furry product wouldn't have any appeal outside the fandom. Zootopia did not make a billion dollars at the box office and Kung Fu Panda didn't get to three and counting movies because only furries like cartoon animals. Going the other way, though, the non-furry bands/musicians are also at least partially economic enterprises, and as such, are in direct competition with furry bands/musicians. It's a question of exposure; Lil Nas X has multiple number one hits on the American Billboard charts, so he really doesn't need FWA (setting aside the Tweet seems mostly tongue in cheek). A smaller, local furry musician actually probably does.

So I'm kind of seeing the "is this really furry" question as kind of beside the point, on one hand, but also relevant in that, for both furries and theoretical "non-furry" visitors, the reason to visit a furry convention is, well, the furry. FWA is not a music festival; going out of their way to invite outside musicians in order to possibly attract more attendees just doesn't seem very likely to succeed, and may also hurt the smaller fandom musicians in the process.

So, I guess I'm taking the position that FWA's music selections are a bit flawed, but also the "we don't take kindly to outsiders in these parts" schtick is also a little cringe-y.

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I think my reply to Sonious covers a lot of my response here. But there is one thing specific to your comment...

I don't like the "economics" aspect. It's about non-furs being antagonistic, it's about being a furry convention. I understand there are budget issues but, while the convention should be able to survive, I don't think we should be trying to maximise profits. This isn't something that should be commercialised and focussed on being big budget. It should be about people with a shared interest.

I've been to one or two Comic Cons in Vienna and walked around. It's not the same as a furry convention. Everything is about these big exclusive franchises and stars. You don't have a chance to mingle with the guests of honour; you wait in lines and pay to have a few minutes for them to sign something and get a picture. The "dealers' den" is filled with commercial, mass-produced items that you can buy anywhere. (Yes, there are some exceptions.) At the dealers' den in a furry convention, every stall has unique items, made by the people selling them. (With some exceptions.)

It feels like it may be a point where the fandom convention scene is going to be making a choice. Are furry conventions going to be about furs and enjoying a concept or are they going to become commercial with a focus on mass-produced trinkets where the economics exclude the smaller creators? Is it going to become big and impersonal or still be a community?

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Yeah, I think my "economics" take may be the "coal miner" of this thread. I don't really like my language that much either and still think I could have found better words if I'd given it more time, but it's an Internet comment, whatever, who cares? Moving on.

I still feel like you have a false dichotomy with the "we can keep a sense of community or go mainstream, but not both". I mean, totally agree the bigger comic cons are just corporate advertisements gone amok, but comic book fans are still a community nonetheless. Same with general science fiction, anime, whatever. Yeah, complain about mass produced trinkets, but as compared to what? Trinkets produced in limited quantities? Furry convention and comic book conventions still revolve around the buying and selling of "trinkets", if we're going to come right down to it. I'm not saying bring in Funko Pop over generic furry enamel pin creator #3, because generic furry enamel pin creator is depending on the table for their livelihood while Funko is selling shit at Wal-Mart, but let's not get snobby, here. For all we know, if generic furry enamel pin creator could sell their product at Wal-Mart, they might just (and, going the other way, if average furry con goer could buy Funko Pops at a furry convention, God help us all, they might).

To be sure, furry's "underground" status is still a part of the appeal, but the truth is we are borrowing way too much from mass cult properties (I shouldn't need to point this out to a Growlithe) and always have been to have too many pretensions. Furthermore, their is kind of a conflation of "anti-commercialization" with "anti-outsider" going on here, as if any attempt to appeal to outsiders will automatically cause the destruction of furry through commercialization. Worst case scenario, if conventions get too "gentrified" or whatever, we've still got the motherfuckin' Internet!

(Whatever FWA's doing with their music, it's still not it, though.)

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I'd be interested to know how things went when Science Fiction filker Tom Smith was GoH at Anthrocon 2006. Probably not as big a draw as people who perform music you can dance to, but in terms of what furry fans thought of him being there.

On a separate note, sometimes external songs get adopted by the fandom due to the lyrics, like Savage Garden's "The Animal Song" (though not so much Gowan's "Strange Animal" or Gilda Radner's NSFW "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals"). Or sometimes the lyrics are irrelevant, it's a music video that does it, like Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract" or Caravan Palace's "Lone Digger".

While furry fiction writers have at least a little cohesion, my impression is that furry musicians haven't had as much luck; online platforms have been fleeting. Things like Potoroo's Fuzzy Notes podcast or the Fuzznet website are now defunct. Other things that some furry fans enjoy, like tabletop gaming and puppetry, don't seem to have much of an obvious online gathering-spot unless you happen to be in-the-know already. The more niche one's interest, it can be difficult to find your furry crowd. :-(

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Once again, the problem of furry fandom defining itself in a relatively hyper-specific way rears its head. Furries are a little too self-obsessed and proud of their image as the ultimate outsiders or underground subculture. Nothing actually grows without cross-pollination. Really, there's a reason why many kinds of creators have actually left the furry subculture over the last two decades. Furry has, by and large, become a culture almost exclusively about fan art of the personal anthro characters of other fans. There's not much to work with there creatively.

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Cold truth

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