From DJ set live-streams, zoom parties to virtual gatherings: the pandemic is certainly not putting the night life scene to sleep anytime soon. Rather, it seems to have awakened even more. As we travel the uncharted waters that lockdown has washed up, the electronic music nightlife has made a natural transition to the online realm. Indeed, the popular slogan, which has long been echoed at French Techno Parades, ‘Rien n’arrête un peuple qui danse’ (Nothing stops a nation of dancers) - has only become increasingly relevant now, showing its true colours.
I can still remember the first rave my friend dragged me to one New Year’s Eve. I may have been only fifteen or sixteen years old. Once we had managed to get a hold of some elusive GPS coordinates from a voicemail message, we immediately hopped onto a train and trekked for three hours to the middle of nowhere, until we heard the distinctive BOOM! BOOM! of industrial tekno coming out of an abandoned building.
We let the vibrations of the mysteriously captivating soundscape guide us and we danced beyond tiredness until the next morning. Long after the rave, I was still hearing the repetitive rhythmic patterns of beats looping in my head. That night, something clicked in me; I was hooked. I had discovered what techno was, what it sounded like, what it smelt like, what it looked like, what it felt like.
Since then, I kept nurturing my newfound love as I went from rave to rave, losing myself in the industrial-sounding-patterned drum machine samples, without ever stopping. I was fascinated by this underground movement, which gathered a community of fellow ravers who were creating ephemeral spaces in which they could freely express themselves and let their hearts beat to the music.
A lot and yet nothing has changed at the same time. Parties are doing their best to relocate and readjust to their surroundings, just as they’ve done in the past. It’s always been a challenge, a cat and mouse game with the repressive authorities and laws that the infamous Spiral Tribe sound system was playing since the beginnings of the free party movement.
So ‘Make some f*ckin noise!’ (as written on the t-shirts that Spiral Tribe members in 1992 in their court trial after being arrested). The party is still going on, it won’t stop.
Although it’s not much different today, relocation in a pandemic has meant a move into the online realm for the foreseeable future. Raving, with its endless anti-party repression slogans, is all about reclaiming spaces and giving a voice to unheard minorities. Currently, this translates into safe environments for queers, womxn, squatters, and other groups of people that you may not expect. Hosting parties via digital means can only reinforce the inclusive mentality of the community.
Now, those people who might have been unable to attend these events in the first place, can easily get involved. People with disabilities, weekend job workers, personalities that are prone to social anxiety – the digital age breaks barriers and boundaries, offering accessibility without discrimination.
Real ravers live for the music that brings them together. They differ from your random club-goer who just wants to get drunk and find a one-night stand. Sometimes, when you hit a party, you’re not really sure of other people’s motives, which can lead to a strange atmosphere that can feel unsafe at times, as the risks of being harassed appear to be higher.
Yet, there might be a security detail made up of large bouncers, but their ever-frowning-unfriendly-looking faces can be intimidating to approach if you needed help. From these environments, it can become easy suppress uncomfortable or unsafe experiences. This is why people look out for each other at raves. It’s far from being a kindergarten, but the helping each other out, free party spirit goes a long way. Although moving these party spaces online eliminates physical harassment, what it does introduce you to is the world of hackers, stalkers and negative comments.
Therefore, the ultimate compromise of keeping the festive spirit alive through technology, is what the real feel of the rave is lacking. I miss the comforting darkness of smoke-filled warehouses, the colourful projected psychedelic visuals, familiar faces of the regulars, the full-of-ecstasy-love-driven hugs, brushing my shoulders against the people I’m dancing next to and huddling around a makeshift oil can bonfire at 8am. Being packed like sardines (not bathing in olive oil but sweat) beside a wall of vibrating speakers, making every single atom in your body quiver. It’s this whole experience that makes a rave what it is.
Penetrating into this newly created dimension, is a unique adventure; a journey with its ups and downs, life experiences, where I have yet to find something in the world that can compare to it.
The increase in accessibility also brings along the (dreaded for some) danger of becoming mainstream. More diversity means more people. More people means bigger raves. Bigger raves translate into techno globalisation. As it crawls out from the gloomiest corners of the underground basements of the music industry, and mutates, by developing a number of its different sub-genres, such as acid, hardcore, and minimal, conquering the world may only be just a step away.
Nevertheless, this is not a new phenomenon, techno has increasingly been reaching the masses, whether it’s at music festivals or in your typical cool German teen’s music library.
The scene is destined to an inevitable fate, even though a free party purist may deny it relentlessly.
TECHNO INVASION ALERT:
In whatever way techno culture evolves, one thing that I know for sure: we’ve got to prepare ourselves. The music will develop, the spaces will change, the crowds will grow. So, beware, it’s coming for us all.
Peace and love and rave on!
All images by Elissa Vinh
Edited by Ellie Muir, Essays Editor