5 June 2013

Summer of malcontent...


Rave’s very existence is an automatic, even a pre-emptive protest against anything that tries to restrict it. By using its own apparatus – the production and use of music – as the currency of its protest (as opposed, for example, to writing a letter, or committing acts of terrorism), rave squares up to power structures on its own terms; it communicates that it does not recognise attempts to control it.

here me now
With an enduring recession, a Tory government committed to rolling back the state and all politicians failing to bequeath opportunities and wealth they enjoyed to the generation that followed have fueled a deepening disenchantment with the government and will result in a generation turning to, amongst other things, illegal free parties in an echo of the backlash against the Thatcher government in the mid-1980s. You'd think when they got into power they might also stop criminalising people for going to raves as they did when they were younger.  It's collective amnesia, total hypocrisy; as the coalition's policies bite deeper a fresh counter-culture of like-minded people who share hedonistic experiences, but also a distrust of the state, could be fostered. The blare of techno above police sirens will be the sound of the government getting fucked with a kick drum.

In a recession, as we've seen with the dawn of acid house and with New York in the 1970s, anywhere where's there's been a really good underground clubbing scene, you get into buildings. When you get into a building you've got the potential to have raves. Instead of gentrification, you've got empty buildings and construction projects are never finished and that creates a vacuum. If the recession continues then history indicates that the underground illegal club scene tends to thrive.

The recession increases the need not to have parties in awful bars where its £12 on the door and it's populated with arseholes and the drinks are too expensive. There is a self-entitlement with the generation that has grown up on the internet. They've already destroyed the music and publishing industry, now they're working on destroying the film industry. Next might be the event industry which is crying out to be destroyed.

There is a genuine feeling that if they want to do it, then why can't they do it? If we want free songs, then why can't we get free songs? If we want these parties in the centre of London then why don't we have these parties in the centre of London? If we want parties on the beach then we’ll have parties on the beach. Traditionally our raves were confined to isolated locations but not anymore. Free parties will experience a resurgence this year due in part to escalating policing costs at legal festivals and licensing and sound-level restrictions but the speed with which free party organisers are able to mobilise the masses remains central to its growth. The internet allows people to spread ideas incredibly quickly and unregulated. These parties are a reflection of that culture, of the notion that in just a few hours an idea can reach millions in a way it never has before.

This attitude reinforces the central argument in Robin Balliger’s piece “Politics”: that music’s political currency lies not just in its lyrical content but in the modes of its use. Integral to her study is a case for the expansion of the term “politics” to include “not only state and economic structures but also power relations in everyday life”. Balliger suggests that social power structures may be reinforced or resisted by popular music, but that these cultural effects are determined by the process of consumption: music’s “meaning” is established through its use, not just its content. Theodor Adorno (1988, 2006) takes a different approach, but prefigures Balliger’s position that music’s meaning and political function need not be determined through lyrics. Rather, Adorno suggests that the internal musical dynamics of a piece can and should function as a direct response to capitalism and war. That is, the power relations exercised between components of the musical material  should respond abstractly to the power relations exercised between individuals and governance structures within the external world.

The central argument of this study has been that rave’s very existence is an automatic, even a pre-emptive protest against anything that tries to restrict it. I have suggested, firstly, that rave rejects attempts to categorise or dominate it because its aesthetic politics are fluid. There is no model within its internal dynamics for subordination, only for dialogue on equal terms, so it is not ideologically equipped to be “beaten”. Secondly, by using its own apparatus – the production and use of music – as the currency of its protest (as opposed, for example, to writing a letter, or committing acts of terrorism), rave squares up to power structures on its own terms.

Through artefacts such as 1987, or the continuation of unlawful dance parties, it communicates that it does not recognise attempts to control it. It refuses to cease and desist. It has been concluded that, by so doing, rave reveals power to be just as fluid and impermanent as its own aesthetics: this party can be broken up, that record can be banned, but neither party nor record can actually un-happen, and no power structure can be truly omnipotent, so new gestures will (or, rather, could) always be forthcoming.

The use of actual or threatened physical force is enough to disperse specific rave gatherings on a physical level, but a culture that does not recognise absolute concepts can never be permanently defused. Similarly, as noted at the beginning of this piece, “rave” is amorphous, referring to any number of ‘Electronic Dance Music Culture’s” in constant flux – and so “it” can never be conquered. Attempts to regulate it only prove the point: regulation is temporary and the right to exert it is contingent. One is reminded of the child who signs an offensive graffito with the words “if destroyed, forever true”. Attempts to silence rave have only made it louder.

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