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Slave to the rave: A technocentric nightlife review

Elissa Vinh, Margaret Thatcher’s Acidic Tears (Digital Collage), 2021

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Can you hear the clean, percussive sounds emitted by the transient response of the Funktion-One loudspeaker? Or—if you lie more on the underground, free party side of things—imagine the reverberating, saturated kicks coming from the homebuilt rig. Whether it’s in a nightclub, a forest, or an abandoned warehouse, everyone is dancing, flicking sweat all over the place. Bodies violently move around and accidentally hit each other in front of the sound system. Ultimately, it’s a bit like a gym; the humid air inducing heavy perspiration, the loud music, and the cardio of a dance workout.

Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever willingly gone to the gym more than twice, but a quick, easy fix for that has been techno (and, yes, not house, every weekend). Ever since my friend introduced me to the free party scene when we were teenagers, I have been obsessed with techno culture. Over the years, I have relentlessly gotten high off this music at techno parties.

I consider techno to be a religion: the only system is the sound system! Instead of going to Mass every weekend, I go wherever the techno is. Techno is an ethereal experience that enables a free meditative state; the regular beat takes you to a different world. It delimitates a sonorous space in which you can navigate, allowing you to experience the disrupting consonance of syncopated rhythms, industrial samples, or even floating melodies. When you are conscious of the different sonic elements in the arrangement of a track, you can escape beyond it and yet stay within it at the same time. This conflicting but liberating duality in consciousness has created a relationship between me and techno that I am very grateful for. It has taught me a lot and it has enabled me to grow as a human being.

Indeed, party spaces have always connoted a sense of liberation. They are places that exist outside the space and time of reality. We can notice a certain theatricality very much present in nightlife—it’s all a show. At techno parties, one notices the dramatic darkness hiding people dressed in black accessorised with chains, glimmering only when strobe lights reflect off them. It is this lighting that provokes a party’s emotional setting. Away from daylight and socio-political control, people feel most comfortable moving around and be who they want to be. In the shadows, the regulations of social conventions are obstructed and there is a moment of art, creative innovation, and exhibitionism. As Moore puts it, ‘Darkness is where the creative potential of nightlife lurks.’

This is perhaps why the University of the Underground, a London and Amsterdam-based academic institution offering free multidisciplinary education, has elected nightclub basements as their home. Programmes such as the Master Design of Experiences combine a range of disciplines and practices from theatre, semiotics, and politics to facilitate experimental design. The teaching which literally happens underground in nightclubs creates an atmosphere that facilitates the freedom of movement and being. This allows for a different mindset and perspective, which maximises creative potential and social change. Their mission is threefold, promoting freedom, endorsing pluralistic thinking, and being transnational.

Usually, DJs, burlesque artists, and even circus jugglers, with their fire poi and hula hoops, are perhaps the most obvious characters that you may think of as performers at raves and club parties. However, all eventgoers are part of a party’s mise-en-scène. They are the ones who make the party, who create the drama, who turn up the heat. The classic Gen Z techno lover is very much at ease with their sunglasses for extra darkness, dancing away the night in front of the DJ booth. Then there are drag queen acts, half-naked, energetic dancers on top of tables. The hairy men in their harnesses moving mechanically to mark tempo. Aside from techno clichés (or, if you prefer, people of Boiler Room), nightlife is a space for experimentation. People are given the possibility to build an alter ego that operates only during party time. Away from the mundanities of life, they suddenly turn into the cool kid who listens to dark electronic music. This character allows for social connections, as shallow nightlife relationships are maintained with hypocritically warm greetings. You’ll mostly hear someone throwing an ‘¡Hola Bébé!’ or a fake ‘How are you?’ at acquaintances with a familiar face whom they will never get to really know. As you can see, the rave is a social mask that enables escapism for those who have become completely blasé by the overstimulation of society.

Elissa Vinh, Slave to the Rave

(Linocut Prints and Digital Collage), 2021

However, it would be naïve to think that the dancefloor and dark rooms just promote the exchange of social formalities. There is an even darker side to techno’s nightlife: it allows for an escapism that can lead to excesses. Nevertheless, it is not just the obvious widespread drug addictions and alcohol binging, there is also the addiction to self-validation from fellow party acquaintances. This is because, in the daylight, when a specific behaviour is frowned upon, one may not feel accepted in society. As a result, nightlife becomes a misleading but addictive solution for those who feel estranged.

This may sound very negative, but experimentation in parties remains very important and essential to society. With certain venues having had their licenses revoked (like Fabric because of drug-related deaths, and, more recently, many other spaces because of pandemic restrictions), it has been difficult for techno’s nightlife to survive. Despite the constant oppression techno has faced over the years since the end of the Second Summer of love (when Margaret Thatcher struggled with Spiral Tribe’s Castlemorton Common), the scene has always managed to stay alive. This is due to the dark spaces of party life which enable its audience to share an experimental moment together, away from everyday troubles. It induces the creation of a community shaped out of this shared ephemerality—promoting freedom of expression in a world governed by censorship. Techno celebrates diversity, strangeness, and more importantly, us.

This is why we should all be welcoming the diversity and quirks of techno nightlife that support social progression. There is nothing wrong with taking a hedonistic approach. We deserve it, and it is our duty to keep techno alive. So, let’s make the movement, let’s contribute, let’s be slaves to the rave! See you soon on the dance floor! Peace and love, rave on!

edited by Josh Aberman, Music Editor


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