this article appeared in MASSIVE magazine, spring 1996
...it's a controversial word, and everyone's got their own idea what it
is. but the more you learn about the scene and everything that surrounds
it, the more you realize that it's impossible to pin down. this ambiguity is one of the scene's major strengths, but it's also one of its biggest weaknesses. anyway, before we deal with the wider issues, let's ask some of the basic questions...
who is in the scene? obviously, it's the people who support the events
every week (or sometimes just occasionally), and the people who throw the
events and spin at them, etc. but the scene also includes the musicians
who make the music, the people who distribute that very music to us, the
record stores that support techno in its many forms (vinyl, cds, tapes),
the people who do 'zines (like this very fine publication *wink wink*),
people on the net, the bedroom listeners (people who buy and love
electronic music but don't necessarily go to parties)...and it even expands
to include anyone who is involved in any stage of the process, and the
whole infrastructure of things we all depend on such as highways, rest
areas, space owners, cops & security people (for better or worse), vinyl
pressing plants, convenience stores (he he), and so on.
and even the people that go to events aren't necessarily easy to
categorize, either. although it's generally true that the rave is mostly
a white, suburban, young thing to do (in the US at least), there is great
diversity among them (us), and many reasons why we go (and most of these
reasons overlap, obviously): some of us go for the music and the way it
makes us feel, to release ourselves into a big mass of people, or to
relieve the stress of work, school, or life in general; some of us go to
see our favorite dj or hear our favorite kind of music; some of us go
to support a particular promoter that we believe in (and their politics,
musical taste, track record, philosophy, etc); some of us use a rave as a
way to find ourselves (through drugs or not); some of us use raves to run away from ourselves (most often by getting caught up in taking and/or selling drugs...a dead end in my opinion); some of us want to expand our musical knowledge; some of us go to dance and express ourselves through our bodies; some of us go to socialize with old friends or to meet new people; some of us want to find a mate (or just a date...); and some of us don't even have any idea WHY we go (why do YOU go?).
there are many other kinds of cultures and attitudes that often cross over
into "our" scene, too. clubbers, old-skoolers, hip-hop kids, skaters,
gays & lesbians (from every angle), punks, cyberpunks, hippies, feminists,
computer programmers, or anyone who has their feet planted firmly in the
present enough to notice this "thing" that's going on...all of these
people slip in and out of our scene for many reasons. why? because there
is something for everyone in the scene...no matter what angle you approach
us, you'll probably find something you like, or that you'll immediately
understand. hippies and more spiritually-minded people are attracted to
the unity, freedom, and sense of communalism and tribalism which raves
often represent; punks and anarchists are attracted to the rebelliousness,
do-it-yourself aesthetic, and maybe the harder-edged music; hip-hoppers
may be attracted to the fashion (which rave style grew out of), the manic
sped-up hip-hop breaks of jungle, or the toned-down breaks and
atmospherics of trip-hop; the intellectual crowd may be attracted to our
embracing of technology (which is unlike any other subculture except maybe
the cyberpunks), the connections which can be made to older electronic
music (ok, that's me, i admit it), and the whole anthropological thang
(group dynamics, cultural codes, "primitive" behavior, etc); computer
geeks (i say that with love) may be attracted to the video-game mentality
and the techno-futurism of the music...and i could go on and on.
the people are, therefore, a conglomeration of individuals from a broad
spectrum; a jumbling, ever-changing mass of people, some of whom stay for
a long time, some of whom stay only for a short time, and some of whom
slip in and out as they wish. each one of these individuals has different
ideas and intentions...passive, active, exploitive, participative, etc,
but all of us are part of something which has yet been unnamed and is
bigger than us all.
the rave itself is also difficult to define. this may seem pretty obvious, but if we look at it really, there are many kinds of events which might be called "raves" or that attract a techno music crowd: special club nights, small raves, big raves, arena raves, outdoor weekend raves, house parties, live concerts (big acts at real venues, or newer acts at cafes, galleries, or unusual locations). what these events have in common are music, location, and people...but how these are manifested is still a very open and unexplored
area. everyone has a different idea about what a rave is and what
constitutes a "good" one or a "real" one...to me, a "real" rave is a
cheap, small, underground event in a small, dark, poorly-lit room with
lots of that minimal detroit sound and some nice artsy jungle thrown in
(plus a good ambient or jazz room, of course). to others, a "real" rave
is big big BIG, with 8 rooms of sound, tons of cabinets, and a crazy-ass
light show provided by aliens motherships (i'm teasing, ok?). still other people's idea of a "good" event is their weekly club, where they know what they're going to get, and they know they can buy a drink and chill and just dance or peoplewatch for a few hours.
every event involving techno, then, has a different feel (or "vibe"),
depending on the kind of event it is, and other variables: how welcome we are made to feel, the history of the location, the quality of the music, drugs, or whatever...all of which affect the way we react to the event and how we may feel about it later.
so the people and events of the scene are very loose ideas...they change from moment to moment and event to event. more to the point, there is no _one_ scene, no one kind of "rave," but rather _many_. any idealist talk about the "unity" of the scene must acknowledge the inherent fractured quality of the scene, where people with differing tastes and agendas may not necessarily need to meet and where differing ideas of a "real rave" are subjective and flexible. and any hope of ever bringing all these various factions together is unrealistic and probably unnecessary (why? well, for the moment let's just say that separate scenes and different events exist to serve different needs).
but as i said, despite the diversity and the divisions, we're all part of the same thing. it's all fueled by a certain, as-yet-undefinable _something_ which brings us together in groups of all sizes. is it the music? is it the "vibe"? is it the drugs? it's all of these, but it's bigger than that. there is something powerful, almost mystical, about these events--which are based on little else but a speaker system, dj, and some records--which draws us humans in and allow us to interact with these primal gatherings on many different levels.
many of the focal points of interaction revolve around the music and its many levels of meaning (or lack thereof). the speaker-hugger is enveloped in the musical experience, captivated by movement, ensconced in a womb of sound (begging the psychoanalytical interpretation of the desire to return to the womb). the socializer is engulfed by masses of friendly people all dancing and moving around them. the thinker is held hovering by the ever-present "nowness" of the music; its perfect, singular resolution of past, future, and present in one sound. the dj controls the sound itself, sculpting new songs from the ones they have in front of them on the turntables (or cd mixers or whatever). the trainspotter is entranced by the rotating records, searching for that perfect song in their own music collection. the breakdancer becomes part of the music, performing with their own body and tagging that energy off to someone else when the moment is right. it is the music, then, and the people that mass around it, that make the scene what it is...not drugs (which are incidental and often destructive), not money (which literally fuels this entire culture), not politics (which informs it), not history (which is forgotten if irrelevant or re-written if relevant), and not promoters, sound technicians, or space owners (these are just the facilitators).
and other, mostly underdeveloped focal points of interaction and empowerment exist in the event experience (and outside), which ought to be explored and pushed into new directions (maybe by you?): art (in flyers, lighting, visuals, interactivity, or environment), politics (and the spilling over of consciousness into concrete political action), identity and self-awareness (which are easliy lost when making "raving" and/or drugs a lifestyle), sexuality (which is a very strong force in this scene), information and its distribution thru 'zines, the net, flyers, and other methods (the fact that you are reading this right now proves it is a powerful thing), radio (and the way it draws new people in), and others.
ask yourself where you fit into these focal points...are you a contributor? are
you a taker? are you a spectator? are you a passive consumer? what do
you have to contribute to the scene ("ours" or "yours")? are you here to
promote yourself? are you here to perform? are you here to fit in? are
you here to make money? are you here to spread good feelings? are you
here because you have nothing better to do? are you here because you are
running from something else? are you here to learn? are you here to
teach? or are you here just to exist?
these are questions we should all ask at some point...and questions we
should ask about the entire scene:
- to the promoters: what is my money paying for? how are you paying
for this event? what do you represent or stand for, if anything?
this returns me to the beginning of this article, when i said that the
main strength and weakness of the scene is the fact that it cannot be
pinned down. because there is no overt political agenda, like there was
in the 1960s, our scene is not one that "rallies around" anything. the
spectrum of people that are involved here is just like anywhere else:
from the very greedy and selfish to the very giving and selfless. most of
us are not interested in changing the world, but are happy to enter this
modified world which the promoters and music people provide for us; a
temporary area for ourselves (a TAZ, or temporary autonomous zone, as it's
been called by HAKIM BEY). again, within this lies our greatest limitation. events often bring thousands of people together from all regions of the country and all walks of life, but very little is actually _said_ at these events except for a constant drone of beats and drugged-out experimentation. but this lack of a message is very powerful in and of itself. we are not
idealistic about changing the world, like the hippies were. we are not
trying to run away from the world and build communes or anything. a party
is just a temporary shelter from the outside; a place where the music and
drugs speak for themselves. there _is_ no message, except the ever-present
beat. and in that unity of sound lies the key for realizing our place
within everything else.
- to people who provide drugs: are you going to rip me off? do i trust you
to give me something safe and enjoyable or am i risking my health
to a total stranger? what happens if i get caught?
- to our favorite musicians and djs: how did you learn to control sound the
way you do? what is the energy that feeds your art? where do i get a
copy of that record you just played? (never mind, djs hate when you ask
the rave experience also allows you not only to answer these questions for
yourself, but to make up new questions altogether. most of all, it
allows you to _ignore_ these questions and become one with a totally
nameless, unifying feeling (call it "vibe," "ecstacy," "bliss," "trancendance," or what have you).
but where do we go from here? that is perhaps the most difficult question
to answer. we cannot stay in this temporary place of safety forever...we
all eventually have to go back to work, school, family gatherings (ugh),
or life in general. we all have to go back to that racist, sexist,
patriarchal, kill-or-be-killed world outside our little temporary zones of
freedom. or do we? why not try to spill this into that world?
i think the answer is not to use the rave experience as a hideaway, but to
use that undefinable energy in our own worlds, in our own lives...to break
our existence down into its most basic components and start over.
the scene is a special place, one which is in constant danger of falling
apart or becoming a "product" like any other (like it has in the UK and
europe to some degree). eventually, it _will_ fall apart or change into
something else (maybe something we won't like), but maybe that's ok. we
can't hold off the moneygrubbers, drug-dealers, and media manipulators
forever (capitalism's way too strong for that). but we _can_ hold onto
something: that energy, which we can spread into all other areas, into
all aspects of human experience. we will have to start over, as
we have done many times already.
in the UK, there has been a return to the underground events of the late 80s,
because it is currently illegal to gather publicly in the presence of
"repetitive beats." in marginalized cultures like the black and hispanic
cultures of detroit or chicago, for example, a gathering of electronic
music is far more than a "party;" it is a celebration of triumph over
adversity, of survival; of _preserverance_. or, throwing a house party
in a city where events are regularly busted or in an area that has never
had a techno event is a _political act_, of renewal and rebellion.
like them, we will have to reinvent ourselves again and again to stay
strong. only in this way can we keep our scene alive and well, the way we
want it to be...developing those focal points of empowerment which are currently weaker than the music--art, social awareness, female involvement, etc--into into more prominent forces within the scene. we are going to have to accept our limitations, and we are going to have to de-program what we have been told is possible, but in so doing we can prove that we can do the impossible.
as mad mike (whose own life journey, rising from the downtrodden streets of detroit to create his own musical/artistic collective called submerge, deserves a whole article in and of itself) would say:
the liberation of sound continues....
ele mental talker-upper
...the moves and strategies that I use are for one thing and one thing only - and that is to guarantee that the programmers agendas and stereo-types do not proceed into the next century!! Because it is these same agendas and prejudices that nearly extreminated my mothers peoples (blackfoot indians) and forcibly enslaved my fathers Peoples for 400 years - so believe me when I tell you UR is some DEADLY serious shit!!!! there is very little for me to smile and be happy about with the condition my people,
my city [detroit], my EARTH - MOTHER EARTH is in. All I can hope is that music from our label can without words or explanations knock down all the barriers (racial, economic, religous, etc) that the programmers have cleverly set before us in order to keep us from understanding that catergories and definitions separate and with separation comes exploitation and profit! ...I choose to use music [to speak] because men have been talking for years but always with FORKTONGUE. music is true and ultimately much more efficient
than all writtien language to this date - tribal people have known this for thousands of years. WE are all tribal people but some of us have strayed away from the talk of
the drum and they talk with words and languages that mean nothing! THE DRUM IS ALWAYS BETTER...
--mad mike [underground resistance]