tobias c. van Veen on Sun, 2 Mar 2003 08:05:26 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> rave culture, selling-out, and sonic revolution

[From the Winter issue of Capital magazine (distro'ed for free in Vancouver,
Toronto, Montreal, NYC and Tokyo). Remixed 03.01.03 for nettime -- File
under "speculative sonic fiction" with a creative and risky twist. To be
spun as a sonic reading, so keep the slag in the heap. best, tV]

[warehouse . space : rave culture, selling-out, and sonic revolution]

tobias c. van Veen



In the early-90s, warehouses were powerful microscopes, magnifying
socio-sonic relations of echoed beats, catalysing pounding grooves that
raised the structure of memory from the cement and metal environs, bodies of
movement always on the flight to the next dark night and industrial district
search, the secret of the telephone messages and cryptic directions to be
deciphered, the check-points deep in the heart of nowhere, school-buses to
undisclosed locations of bohemian extropy, madness in the streets, a flash
of bright clothing, movement through the bins and speakers, the DJs alive
and wordless with speaking hands, the music connecting beyond language to
central systems. 



Spin that today to a "raver" and hear the growing panic cross into
confusion.  Memories play across dark nights as the
post-generation‹post-Gen-X, post-political, post-everything‹meanders through
its doldrums of existence, aged and wondering where it all went...  For at a
point, several years ago, from the ashes of commercial '80s hair-metal arose
a flourishing spectrum of movements and musics: hip-hop, grunge, and
"techno:" the electronic musik cultures of Detroit techno, Chicago house,
and UK acid house; the psychedelics of trance and goa, the aggressive
darkness of jungle, the mellow of ambient and the abstraction of IDM.
Despite a swath of subcultures, post-cultures, and social strata, these
groups gathered and gained momentum as ragged bands, already fraying at the
edges as vectors too close to a rocket's trajectory, shearing and scratching
the heart of society.  A late-night shake up of Western Civilization's
late-80s dredge, a recycling project of all that had been laid to waste,
another declaration of the revolution and there it was: the moment to
overthrow once again the music industry, a revolt that through music was
political to its dirty core, comprised of cement and metal and the
structure, the warehouse, empty symbol of capitalism deterritoralised
through dance, leaving us here, and alone, in two-thousand-and-three.



Tonight on the turntable is a nostalgic record, so sit back as we wax
poetic. Slip the needle, play it at the point where another moment of
conservativism has dominated the frequencies. Replayed as a token of the
past, this record is a marker of what remains to come, yet brews and stirs
from the deep of the dusky grooves.



It was the warehouse that acted as intersection‹into sections, insection;
the insect and the join and the cut, the intersextion of musical cultures,
sonic sex for insects, the nexus of history DJ'ed as electronic music, the
politics of black liberation and the pride of sexuality. Each part of "rave"
a different record, a different mix at different points of the experience.
That today we recombinate the final history and cement the past, put to our
hard memory what we mediatize in this present as ³rave culture² is a
political necessity of counting the fallen. Not what we would call rave
culture today‹that which is a commercialized, consumerist apparition of its
past‹but what was rave culture at the height of its own hallucinated and
speculated then‹and that we leave that then open to recombinate and remix
all over and once again to set forth the politics of the warehouse.




Ten years ago at 3am on a Sunday morning, standing in awe, below the sea:
frenzied bodies explode, dancing, dark and cavernous the warehouse deep, in
the heart of the city, like starved piranha the hungry crowd devoured beats,
strip them bare with spastic, flailing movements‹shark eye
glint‹sweat-encrusted pale bodies, sexless sexinessŠmadness all around the
warehouse echoed sound‹of revolutionary dreamsŠthere, one of a hungry
piranha, bloodthirsty and blood in my veins, again relentless pulse of the
beat ... 



Spin This: Now, here I am, drink in hand instead of Ecstasy in my brain, up
late, once & again listening to an old techno mix tape ­ scratch that record
­I recorded that long year ago of 1995 ­ turn down the pitch ­ writing about
it all and trying to explain a connection felt to that dirty and grimy
warehouse ­ flip the power ­ the inhabitants of that city-scene that
worshipped cement culture ­ the record slows down ­ trying to explain the
bigger picture felt by a few of us at that moment ­ the beats drag out ­
when the connection between the metropolis and electronic music felt beyond
city confines and enclosed space ­ slip beats running low sub bass ­ for
space was space for movement, not stasis ­ scratch the rumbled echo ­ But
here I am ten years later and all I can think about is Hunter S. Thompson in
the early Œ60s ­ slip cue the dead deck ­ writing another article on the
long extinct beat generation, his final eulogy in Fear and Loathing in Las
Vegas to the counter-culture‹stop the record‹: Rave Is Dead, corpse, it was
beaten down in 1996 in Vancouver when Nietzsche¹s ³God Is Dead² parable was
posted to the NorthWest Raves email list, it was beaten down by the cops at
Prime Time Vancouver, at Building Blocks Toronto, at Richie Hawtin¹s
border-bust, in court against Spiral Tribe UK and the 1994 Criminal Justice
Act, with laws and batons and with bloodŠit was slagged from the inside and
used like the whore it was to sell cars and dot-bombs and pop muzakŠand
saying it again now is beating a dead horse not only rotting, carcass, but a
horse long stripped and picked clean to the whites of its bones by the
mindless, vicious piranhas‹their hungry ghosts anxious again for revenge ...

[What is a warehouse?]


A warehouse conjoins sound and architecture, people and politics. The
location of culture. Rumble of metal roof and the echo of cement beats;
dance is a necro embodiment, a ritual of the vampiric vulture on the empty
signifiers of capitalism, for the warehouse is the empty nest of surplus
value. Dancing in a warehouse is a contradictory act, alive and dead, at
once such a dancing deterritorialises the proper use of the physical space,
at once the financial and economical backbone of the rave maintains the
actuality of the structure and its potential to be utilised again for the
drives of capital... Subvert the space: break-in, throw the free party,
occupy land, squat. To capture the space for short term operations, to gain
territory at the moment it is made temporary and stolen, piece by piece and
off the board: Deleuze and Guattari call this restless nomadology the game
of Go as opposed to chess. Move in lines, ravers form nomadic spaces:
Temporary Autonomous Zones to organise sonic  communities that existed only
in the repetitious singularity of the single night once a week (that
Saturday which was re-named Life).



A warehouse becomes more than space as it becomes a space of becoming.


1a. Becoming-time that cannot be measured for its delimitations are echoed
memories (the dance conjures every memory of the previous dance, the
previous rave; the musik with its beat-echoes propels this sonic memory).


1b. How different this is from physical incorporations of rote recitation
and the boredom of learning and education (this memory is not driven in as
rote, it is echoed as physical experience): beat traces in the revolutions
of wax. 


2a. Nor indeed must it be simply a grey and dirty structure in the bowels of
the city on the outskirts of a polluted waterway, it becomes more than that,
a "warehouse" moment. Dancing moves to deconstruct codified and "proper"
usage of not only actualised, physical space, but of the propriety of time.


2b. The transformation of time as well as the space. The movement of space
to the nonsense of time and the dowsing for psychic space, what Charity
Marsh calls "mind dancing," remix Bergson and call it the DJ's durée (or we
might talk of a raver's parable of the virtual from Brian Massumi).  Ravers
call it "peak time." Peak time, something other to clock time, a pause to
hear the echos of beat memory, an erotic mixture of the new moment of the
now and its always-already conjunction through movement.



Flip the record: Lo, it was the misunderstanding of peak time as
transcendental, perhaps through the filters of Ecstasy, perhaps through the
existing network of capitalist structures, that led to the worship of
ridiculous acronyms such as PLUR‹Peace Love Unity Respect. From PLUR arose
an "It's All Good" philosophy that served as blinders to the reality of the
scene: drug abuse, unhealthy lifestyles, destroyed minds and bodies, social
distress‹the ravages of capitalist entertainment taken to its destructive
conclusions. PLUR was a totalitarian rebound of the "warehouse" paradigm on
an underage majority quick to embrace an exit to contemporay pop culture,
ready to take any exit‹even those hyped as the next phase. Yet what a
disaster as that one signified was replaced with another: PLUR and its rave
hierarchies (Promoter, DJ, Dealer, etc.). PLUR is the consumerist message of
capitalism remixed to commodify what was, up to that point, unmarketed by
capital. PLUR was a brand name and a jingo that sold the rave. A time
machine to the '60s, then the business plan: the yuppies can market, sell,
rape, pillage.


[Scratching Peak Time]


Peak-time is a moment of tangible power‹social power that is touchable and
tactile, uncontrollable in its final explosion at the end of the trajectory.
Paradoxical movements: the Temporary Autonomous Zone became recodified,
mixed with PLUR, producing advertising, not action; the end was near, the
tension of rave culture was apocalyptic and palpable.



Not all engagements with peak time hinge upon transcendental, PLUR
mytho-hierarchies that recreate capitalist theosophies. The TAZ undid its
moments, gave rise to sideways constructions and fractured lines away from
rave and away from contemporary culture. Recorded examples include <ST>
Communications (Vancouver), who explored the relation between rave culture,
fascism, masochism and magick; the Dolphin Intelligence Network (Ontario)
brought together the rave and industrial traditions to question magickal,
fascist and psychedelic experience; Toronto's Transcendance pursued the
mental mindset of spatialised topographies through the advent of minimal
techno (a dark warehouse, a red spotlight, glowing bassbins and Plastikman).
A whiff of post-anarchism, undefinable and beyond the textbook, gained
movement through explorations of Hakim Bey and Deleuze and Guattari on the
one channel, while Afro-Futurism was remixed through drum n' bass and
Detroit's Underground Resistance on the other. Spiral Tribe UK fought on the
street, in the squat, and through the courts, although in the end banned
from their country for their deeds of disturbance to the grey, drab palette
of London rain. Nevertheless, Kodwo Eshun and Paul D. Miller sent missives
from the outer-reaches, charting the distances still to be adventured.



The relief of tension through dance is both a response to, and a fight
against the city and its inherent structures: polis. The assumed foundations
of the "social" are put to question through the sonic and through movement.
Whether the "warehouse" takes its space and time within an actual warehouse
or the backcountry, a forest or a field, it acts in affirmation, in
deconstructive movement, to a codification of the permanency of pop



The city calls when the metropolis is all but empty, the overwhelming
aesthetic desire to interact with the architecture becomes a situation of
musical insurrection. It's erotic. And yet it would be presumptuous to say
that the sonic love affair with the city died in the same moment as "rave
culture" sold out. Did the excitement felt by so many‹that dangerous energy
of entering the underground and the dark when the skyscrapers were sleeping,
that moment of pure sheer terror in the field at night a thousand kilometres
from the nearest town‹dissipate to nothingness? Decades of commited dance
have left a mark, and its transmutation grows foul in the belly of the beast
that arises to fight the restrictions of capital.

[Drop the Needle]


A freeway screams past.



tobias c. van Veen is a writer, sound & net-artist, and DJ. He is currently
at McGill University, Montreal. ­

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: