Urban Culture Inspired by Alternative Music: Lou Constant-Desportes of Afropunk.com

Entertainment website documents the alternative and experimental in music, film, books, and culture.


Credit: Roger KisbyCredit: Roger KisbyPunk rock music made major headlines in the U.S. between 1974 and 1981. In New York City, the first well-known punk band was The Ramones. In London, the Sex Pistols inspired the movement. Punk rock has always been seen as a self-sufficient entity of music, often anti-establishment and political in nature, but full of heart, dedication and originality.

Hip-hop started the same way in the early 1970s. For what began in the Bronx, it created a subculture around the world that included four distinctive elements: the emcee, the DJ, the B-boy, and the graffiti artist. DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa were pioneers of the moment. The afropunk movement started in 2003. Thanks to a documentary film (Afro-punk) that shined a light on blacks in the American punk scene.

With a background in journalism, Editor-In-Chief Lou Constant-Desportes spearheaded Afropunk.com’s transformation from an online forum into the web magazine it is today, a place for “people looking for something different from what the mainstream has to offer.” Just as in punk and in hip-hop, the scene attracts a non-conforming multicultural audience, sharing the latest in music, art, film, fashion, and good vibes. Afropunk is also a yearly festival held every summer in Brooklyn, New York. The New York Times has dubbed it “the most multicultural festival in the U.S.”

Get in Media: How have you managed to maintain the “everybody is welcomed” vibe at Afropunk.com? 

Lou Constant-Desportes: We’ve always been clear about our values and the fact that the community is inclusive and open-minded. So naturally it attracts people who feel comfortable with thatWe do our best to maintain this spirit through the content and the events we produce. When necessary, we remind our audience across Afropunk’s networks that we do not condone racism, sexism, homophobia and overall bigotry. Afropunk is not just an entertainment website, it’s a movement; the vision and spirit behind it are a big part of it. [But] it’s also a social network so people can have a sense of community. 

GIM: What drove you to the site? Describe your background? 

LCD: I studied journalism in Paris. I had been in touch with some of the founders. I thought it was an interesting project. I knew some of the artists from the scene and when it was decided to produce content to complement the festival, I was asked to take care of that. I basically created the editorial part of Afropunk and turned the site into a Web magazine.  

GIM: The 2003 documentary started it all. Do you ever feel the need to tone down the site’s content to make others feel comfortable?  

LCD: No. We speak our minds. The tone is really open on Afropunk.com, but we don’t feel the need to overdo it either. 

GIM: What goes into the day-to-day activities of an editor-in-chief? 

LCD: I can only talk about my own experience, not sure how things go for other editors. Research is a very important part of what I do. I don’t just approve ideas coming from writers or publicists. I actually research and find most of the topics and artists covered on Afropunk.com. I think that’s why people enjoy Afropunk, we don’t just post whatever publicists send our way, and we go and look for great things to cover.

I make sure to give everyone the same chance, regardless of who they “know,” whether or not they have a publicist/label/etc. pushing them. On a regular basis we talk about artists that don’t get featured in other big Web magazines and our readers love it. I’m also hands-on in the choice of visuals. In this era of short attention spans and unlimited content flooding social networks, we make the content visually appealing. I also communicate with our contributors who write the articles and I go through tons of messages every day. I have to make choices quickly while making sure that I give a fair chance to every one. Being featured on Afropunk’s networks is a big deal for indie (and some not-so-indie) artists, so I respect that. 

GIM: For those who want to start an entertainment website, how should they go about doing it? 

LCD: Every experience is different. I don’t have a formula, and I can only talk about what worked for us. It’s as much about having a vision as it is about being knowledgeable about communications and the way readers consume information at any given time. Technology changes all the time. Today anyone can have a blog, so what makes the difference is your vision, the kind of content you share, the way you present the content, and how well you promote it. People want content they feel connected to. 

GIM: What particular skills or personality type do you think does well as an EIC?

LCD: I don’t think there are any rules. Each personality can bring something different. I guess it can be useful to be curious, passionate and good at dealing with contributors. 

GIM: 190,000 likes on Facebook; 17,000 followers on Instagram; 16,000 followers on Twitter. How do you continually engage readers day after day?

LCD: We’re honest in our choices and I believe people feel connected to that. I do my best to make sure that Afropunk’s content and editorial choices speak for themselves. As a result our readers like, react to, and share the content with their friends and the community keeps growing. 

GIM: AFROPUNK festival has been held in Brooklyn since its inaugural fest in 2005, do you think it will eventually expand to outer boroughs?

LCD: Afropunk has had shows in other boroughs. I don’t know if the actual festival in New York will take place out of Brooklyn one day. There are plans to bring the festival to other cities and other countries though. But nothing has been announced yet. 

GIM: For someone who has never attended, what kind of atmosphere, energy and music can one expect at this year’s festival?

LCD: They should expect to have fun, witness groundbreaking artists, see and maybe meet free-spirited people, and eat great food. 

GIM: Are you a part of the planning committee at the festival? If so, what goes into planning a music fest?

LCD: I don’t really deal with planning anything for the festival anymore, although the content I produce year-round probably has an influence on what happens at the festival. There’s so much going into planning such a big festival that I wouldn’t be able to say it all here. 

GIM: What’s the best part of your job? 

LCD: Working from wherever I want in the world; I work from home so as long as I have my computer and an Internet connection I’m good to go. I also enjoy discovering cool things all the time and sharing them with the community, [just] putting the spotlight on topics that I think are important. 

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