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Reuters//Sergio Moraes
Uncultured.
ARTLESS

A US county insists: Rap, rock, and electronic music are not culture

By Amy X. Wang

More than a few creative folk in the world might bristle at a new declaration coming out of a major US county: that certain types of live performances—specifically country, rap, rock, and electronic music—do not constitute “culture.”

Or even, for that matter, “music.”

Lawmakers in Cook County, Illinois are trying to tease hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes out of several Chicago performance venues by arguing that they don’t bring substantial cultural value, according to the Chicago Reader. The institutions currently don’t pay the county’s 3% amusement tax on cover and ticket charges because of an exemption for small spaces that offer “live theatrical, live musical, or other live cultural performances.”

But a county official gave the following succinct statement at an administrative hearing over the issue this week:

Rap music, country music, and rock and roll do not fall under the purview of “fine art.”

Money is the main motivator here: the country stands to collect some $200,000 in back taxes from each venue, if its argument is approved by Cook County’s 17-commissioner board. Venue owners, of course, are in revolt, with some calling it insulting that the county is suddenly declaring the “music we’ve been presenting in the city for 25 years is not thought to be cultural or enriching” because it may be facing budget woes.

(If the county’s aim is to squeeze out more tax money, it’s at least a smart strategy; the US’s live events industry is currently booming.)

Financial interests aside, Cook County’s argument is sure to gain some support from music traditionalists who’ve long insisted that certain modern genres like rap don’t constitute “music”—and also to infuriate those involved in some of the world’s even-more-out-there genres. (What will Cook County think of electrofox or neurofunk?)