15 October 2013

Repetition as Process and Pleasure

On and On: Repetition as Process and Pleasure in Electronic Dance Music

Repetition has often been cast in a negative light, associated with immature or regressive states. This view is reflected in music criticism and pedagogy, recast in aesthetic terms and it also reappears in cultural criticism, attacking repetition as a dangerous tool for social control. Defenses that have been mounted in favor of repetition seem inadequate in that they tend to recategorize certain repetitive practices as not-quite-repetition, rather than defend repetition tout court. This article uses examples from Electronic Dance Music (EDM) to provide an alternate approach to repetition that focuses on the experience of pleasure instead of a static attribution of aesthetic or ethical value. In particular, this is explored through three concepts: repetition as process, repetition as prolongation of pleasure, and process itself as pleasurable. Underlying these concepts is a formulation of pleasure first coined as Funktionslust, or "function pleasure," reconceived here as "process pleasure."



[1.1] Why does this sentence make intuitive sense, even though the adjective "repetitive" has no modifier indicating a positive or negative evaluation? Much like adjectives such as "monotonous," "boring," and "unoriginal," "repetitive" seems to come with a negative connotation built-in. Outside the realm of aesthetic criticism, however, repetitiveness can play seemingly positive roles. For example, it is central to memory formation as well as to redundant error-checking in data transfer protocols, and it plays a large role in pedagogy, childhood development, and pattern recognition in general.(2) This connection to childhood learning, however, has at times worked against repetition, associating it with childlike behavior, underdeveloped consciousness, and regression.

[1.2] Returning to the humanities and social sciences, this interplay of developmental necessity and psychopathology surfaces in discourse as anything from unease to suspicion to outright hostility and, in turn, many attempts to rehabilitate repetition read like an apology or an awkward change of subject. It is my intention here to offer another rehabilitation--or, rather, a reevaluation--of repetition, which reads neither as apology nor sidestep. Rather than ponder whether repetition can be good and/or beautiful, I will focus on how repetition can generate pleasure--a question of performance and practice rather than ontology. To illustrate these practices of pleasurable repetition, I will turn to a number of musical examples taken from a genre most explicitly associated with repetitiveness: Electronic Dance Music (hereafter: EDM).


[2.1] The reputation of repetition in various disciplines and discourses is far more complex than I had first let on; this complexity requires a return to history before moving on with my own theorizing. My work responds to the contributions of many previous writers and it will be easier to explicate my own positions after having reviewed those of other prominent figures in discourses on repetition. I use the plural form of discourse here because, as will soon become apparent, there are several discursive streams that address repetition, not all of which are in constant dialogue with the others. This discursive diversity, along with the broad scope of a concept such as repetition, makes a comprehensive and exhaustive recounting next to impossible; the following review is therefore necessarily selective and merely serves to briefly historicize repetition.

[2.2] Although I intend to foreground practice and experience in this paper, most discourse on repetition in the past has been keenly ontological. One salient exception to this trend is the work of Benjamin in his consideration of art and reproduction. In his essay, he argues that the aura of authenticity attached to a work of art is destroyed or liquidated when it can be easily and precisely reproduced. He argues that "authenticity is outside technical...reproducibility" and thus it is dependent on the failure of technology.(3) (As a side note: this puts an interesting spin on post-digital or 'glitch' music, where failing technology is part of the aesthetic.) From the perspective of a Marxist critique of cultural value, the liquidation of authenticity--or, rather, bourgeois authenticity--is not necessarily negative, and his stance on repetition is correspondingly ambiguous.

[2.3] Admittedly, Benjamin and I are not frying the same proverbial fish. He is more concerned with the duplication of complete works and the impact that has on their exchange value, while I am more concerned with repetition internal to musical performances and their aesthetic value. Nonetheless--if I can run with the metaphor--these fish swim in the same pond; the fields of inquiry overlap and writers publishing in spaces closer to mine have drawn on his arguments. Moreover, they often rely on an active re-interpretation (misreading?) of his argument: the threat to authenticity is no longer the repeatable artwork, but the repeating one (and the stakes appear to run beyond authenticity).

[2.4] After Benjamin, one of the most often cited and recited critiques of repetition comes from the realm of psychology and psychoanalysis. The work of developmental psychologists often considers repetition as a learning behavior essential to childhood development. However, this has become a liability for repetition as some writers have made this connection into a rigid one-to-one mapping. Proceeding from this logic, repetition is only suited for didactic situations; in any other context it becomes childish, immature and regressive. This idea is perhaps best summarized in a quote by Susan McClary, who is paraphrasing Adorno paraphrasing Schoenberg interpreting Freud: "if we understand a piece of music as an allegory of personal development, then any reiteration registers as regression--as a failure or even a refusal to keep up the unending struggle for continual growth demanded for successful self-actualization".(4)

[2.5] This particular chain of writers is quite apt, as Schoenberg's writings on repetition seem to be informed at some level by Freud's interpretation of repetitive behavior; in turn, Adorno seems to take his view of musical repetition from Schoenberg and that of the psychological implications from Freud. Although the foregoing quote from McClary neatly summarizes his most widely circulated position, I shall trace Freud's work on both pleasure and repetition in some detail. This is not only because many of the scholars mentioned below draw on his work, but also because I will be drawing on the work of one of his contemporary critics for a model of repetition and pleasure in the following section (see [3.3]).

[2.6] Although Freud's theories are often dealt with as a synchronic whole, they in fact developed and changed over time; for our purposes, the most important of these changes was the "turning of 1920".(5) Before writing Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud had believed that all human behavior could be explained by the "pleasure principle": that all actions were set in motion by an initial "unpleasurable tension" and that these actions tended toward relaxing this tension through a production of pleasure or a reduction of unpleasure.(6) In this book, however, Freud rejected this as too simplistic; it did not explain why humans sometimes subjected themselves to unpleasure--whether voluntarily or compulsively. He then added a second principle, the "reality principle": the postponement of immediate pleasure (or the toleration of immediate unpleasure) as a step towards a more distant and indirect pleasure. However, this principle did not explain what Freud called "repetition compulsion," which came from the observation of repetitive children's games such as Fort-Da (similar to "Peek-a-boo"). Freud rejected the theory that such games aimed at a mastery over the mother's absence, instead preferring a mastery of a different kind. By his interpretation, repetition was related to an ego instinct that sought to restore an earlier state of inertia--a pre-organic state of stillness that can only be truly fulfilled in death. Freud named this instinct Thanatos, the death instinct, against which he also erected its antagonist Eros, the life instinct; this division of instincts came to replace his previous ego/sexual division. It was this connection between repetition and the death instinct that enabled Freud to explain why some of his patients felt compelled to repeat past traumas in their current lives (i.e. repetition compulsion). The "regressive" or "retrograde" character that Freud saw in the death instinct made repetition not a process of psychological development, but the mark of an immature or underdeveloped ego.(7)

[2.7] Apparently drawing on Freud, Schoenberg often depicts his ideal listener as a 'wakeful and trained' mind; one that has no wish to be insulted by having the same musical idea presented to him repeatedly.(8) However, Schoenberg also acknowledges in Die Grundlagen der musikalischen Komposition that "comprehensibility in music seems to be impossible without repetition".(9) As Andreas Jacob has noted in his paper on this issue, Schoenberg displays a certain unease or conflictedness with regards to repetition most likely arising from this collision of philosophical ideals and compositional practicalities.(10)

[2.8] While Schoenberg's concerns about repetition resided mostly in its effect on the individual listener, Adorno also placed repetition in the broader context of culture (industry) and society. Although Adorno's commentary on repetition is scattered among his writings and somewhat inchoate we can organize them around issues of standardization and regression. Generally speaking, Adorno's standardization-critiques tended to focus (like Benjamin) on the repetition of entire art objects, while his regression-critiques tended to focus on repetition as a formal, intra-opus process. Adorno identifies a process of standardization in repetitive cultural forms through a twofold mapping of (capitalist) industrial production and marketing onto artistic production: part interchangeability (or modular design) and pseudo-individuality.(11) This latter term refers to the superficial details of a commodity, such as racing stripes on a car, that cause a consumer to prefer one over the other, even though they are essentially identical. In one instance, Adorno provides an example of how the culture industry enforces standardization and passive listening by using repetition to create a feeling of recognition, which eventually transmutes into the acceptance of a cultural object that would have otherwise been rejected.(12) Continuing in this same vein, Adorno critiques "traditional" art music for its repetitive use of *topoi* (part-interchangeability), which composers covered with a patina of variation (pseudo-individuality).(13) In this same passage, Adorno imagines the driving force behind such compositional standardization to be a stubborn, "regressive repetition," which leads us to Adorno's second set of criticisms against repetition.

[2.9] As the term "regressive repetition" implies, Adorno's notion of repetition as regression is informed by a Freudian psychoanalytic tradition. Although this regression sometimes seemed to imply a reactionary view of history as circular and thus foreclosing on rupture and revolution,(14) his lengthier use of repetition as regression in his critique of Stravinsky's work is psychoanalytically inflected.(15) This psychoanalytic register is reinforced by the other vocabulary he uses to critique Stravinsky: catatonia, hebephrenia, infantilism, psychosis, fetishism, depersonalization, dissociation. Indeed, it appears that Adorno's strategy was to throw the entire psychoanalytic arsenal at Stravinsky's music, in the hope that something would stick; the result of this strategy is that each psychopathological term (including regressive repetition) appears briefly and without a great deal of elaboration on how he understands these disorders to work.

[2.10] In addition to Adorno's explicit reasons, Ingrid Monson suggests that his own life experiences under the burgeoning Third Reich might have led to a more immediate and emotional response to repetition. Perhaps he associated musical repetition with the rhythms of marching, and thus with militarism and fascism?(16) While I like the idea that Adorno was, indeed, a human with his own share of fears and neuroses, I do not think that his view of repetition arises purely from transference. In other words, we should not dismiss Adorno's critique simply because his tone of voice sometimes approaches panic. Rather, the explanatory power of Adorno's critiques rest on two points:

as regards standardization, the degree of power and causality one affords to the structural homology Adorno traces from musical form to social organization and the psyche;(17) and

as regards regression, the ability of Freudian-influenced models of repetition and infantilism to comprehend pleasure-generating musical repetition (see [3.2-3]). Monson nonetheless bolsters her argument with the suggestion that, in the shadows cast by Stalin and Hitler, the sort of participation and collectivity often implied by repetitive musical practices is itself suspect. For Adorno, joining into a system also perpetuates it, where the system is implied to be fascist or otherwise oppressive.

[2.11] As we will soon see, this view of collectivity runs counter to those frequently found in anthropology and ethnomusicology. Nonetheless, Adorno's arguments are still used to great effect in popular music criticism, often employed by popular music critics themselves. Phrases such as "It's all just the same song over and over," or "It's not songwriting anymore, just studio production," echo these same Adornian critiques and fears of industrialization and mass mediation.

[2.12] To a greater degree than the preceding discursive streams of cultural studies, critical theory and art criticism, music theory and analysis have historically aimed for objectivity, tending to avoid evaluative claims. While this statement is less tenable now as the landscape of theory changes, the ethical and evaluative questions asked of repetition still tend to be avoided in this field in favor of descriptive typologies.(18) Despite this overt avoidance of value statements, these typologies still offer some cultural commentary, even if indirectly. For example, Rebecca Leydon's typology of minimalist tropes includes six very interpretive types: Maternal, Mantric, Kinetic, Totalitarian, Motoric and Aphasic. While limits of space (and time) preclude a closer examination of these categories, it is worth noting that, according to Leydon's explication, most of these terms rely on an allegorical connection between repetition as a loss of musical syntax, and repetition as a loss of the musical subject (imagined here as the listener).(19) Since, in a postmodern context, the loss of the subject may not necessarily be a failure, her view is not as explicitly negative as that of others. Repetition remains a loss, however: a destructive rather than generative force.

[2.13] Nonetheless, this emphasis on how repetition works rather than what it is or how valuable it is informs my own intended focus on practice and performance rather than ontology. Although I still intend to address issues of politics and cultural value, music theory's focus on process is crucial to an effective reevaluation of repetition. Also crucial to this reevaluation is a consideration of more positive perspectives on repetition--views that can contrast the pessimistic and suspicious tone of much of the foregoing discourse. Ethnomusicology, through its anthropological lens, has provided some of the most cogent arguments for repetition, especially in the study of African and African-Diasporic expressive culture.

[2.14] John Miller Chernoff's 1979 examination of West African music-making provides one of the earliest comprehensive explorations of repetition to be published under the ethnomusicological banner. He takes a largely optimistic approach, arguing that repetition allows for a more participatory mode of music-making and, in turn, that the interlocking layers of West African percussion use repetition to 'lock' its participants into a musical instantiation of social relationships.(20) Like Adorno, Chernoff sees collectivity in repetitive music, but instead maps this to a more benign communitas, whence individuality can arise without being alienated. This positive spin on participation has been furthered by the work of Charles Keil most notably, whose notion of 'participatory discrepancies' relies on the ability of individuals to make personalized but compatible contributions to a communal, egalitarian groove.(21)

[2.15] This homology between musical structure and social structure is a common trope in ethnomusicology, and it is not without its weaknesses. Steven Feld's essay, entitled "Sound Structure as Social Structure," considers how the relatively egalitarian and classless features of Kaluli society may find resonance and rearticulation in their musical practice. While his argumentation remains largely in favor of this structural homology, he does address inequalities in both social and musical practice largely revolving around gender.(22) Ingrid Monson points this out when she uses the example of James Brown's band to show how a seemingly egalitarian musical practice nonetheless involves a division of labor and a corresponding division of power, money and prestige.(23) Thus two useful insights can be taken from ethnomusicology:

that the collectivity often read into repetition can have positive possibilities as well as negative; and

that the apparent structure of musical sounds does not always translate into social, political and economic realities.

[2.16] From the earliest reports of the colonial encounter, rhythm and repetition have had a racial valence, doing "work" as a difference-making calculus of ethnic and racial others. It is little surprise, then, that questions of repetition surface frequently in studies of the African diaspora. This is especially appropriate for this literature review, which precedes an engagement with examples of Electronic Dance Music, since the African diaspora has played a significant role in the development of EDM genres. Disco emerged in the 60s and 70s in New York at predominantly black and Puerto Rican gay clubs as a mix of gospel, R&B and funk. Similarly, predominantly black, Puerto-Rican and gay communities served as crucibles for early house (Chicago), garage (New York) and techno (Detroit). It is with particular interest, then, that I turn to Veit Erlmann's contribution to Monson's book on the African diaspora. In an essay that lies somewhere between ethnomusicology and popular music studies, Erlmann uses the commonly-assumed connection of repetition to black expressive culture to bring up the concept of Signifyin(g).(24) Using Henry Louis Gates's formulation as a starting point,(25) Erlmann defines Signifyin(g) as a discursive strategy common in nearly all African-diasporic expressive culture. This strategy entails the use, reuse and misuse of pre-existing cultural forms and artifacts in contexts that often bring out ironic, unexpected or subversive meanings. Erlmann goes on to suggest that, in the context of Signifyin(g), repetition foregrounds style and manner over the presentation of novel content. Thus, if the communication of content is not a priority, Rebecca Leydon's mapping of loss of musical syntax to a loss of the musical subject does not hold for musics of the African Diaspora. As Erlmann argues, repetition does not aim at a reflection of reality, but a ritualization of reality.(26)

[2.17] However, Erlmann's interpretation of how repetition functions has not--to my knowledge--been taken up in the mainstream of popular music studies/criticism. Contributions from popular music discourses have generally fallen into both positive and negative categories. For the most part, those popular music scholars who do directly address repetition either rearticulate Adorno's critiques or lionize repetition by characterizing repetitive music as essentially transgressive and oppositional. In this latter case, repetitive music is radicalized as the mortal enemy of the dominant discourse of Western art music, heroically disrupting narrative and denying meaning. In this manner, one might map repetition to cultural rebellion and social rupture. However, the same could be argued for radically disjunct and abstract non-repetitive music, and certainly not all production of repetitive music occurs in oppositional, transgressive contexts. A great many things may offend narrowly imagined notions of Western art music traditions, and thus repetition gains no special distinction in this respect.

[2.18] Richard Middleton, in his essay on repetition and popular music, touches upon an important issue for Electronic Dance Music. He considers Kiparski's continuum of variability and formula for oral poetry, encompassing three categories on this continuum, from 'fixed' to 'flexible' to 'free', where 'fixed' represents the most repetitive and unvaried forms.(27) Kiparski then correlates the two extremes of this continuum to a parallel continuum of function from 'ritual' to 'entertainment.' Middleton suggests a corresponding musical continuum, with disco at one end and Jimi Hendrix at the other.(28) Although he stops just short of raising the issue, he nonetheless provides a path to identifying an underlying evaluation of unvaried repetition that reduces it to a purely functional and non-aesthetic object. Following from his example, disco as the "entertainment" end of the spectrum risks being dismissed as merely a soundtrack for an oft-derided and primitivized ritual of sexual sociality. This point has also been made with regards to Electronic Dance Music in the work of Mark Butler.(29)

[2.19] Middleton also tries to explain the seemingly common-sense criticisms of repetition in popular music, even from within popular music discourses. Phrases such as "It's all the same" make sense because of a slippage in evaluative logic. There is an implied and/or ideological sense in which "a particular conventionalized proportion of repetition to non-repetition is naturalized".(30) Consequently, popular music is often judged to exceed this proportion and thus to be in bad taste.

[2.20] This line of thought brings me to the essay that essentially started this whole project: Russel Potter's defense of black cultural forms with regards to repetition.(31) Entitled "Not the Same," Potter clearly resents what he considers a racial essentialism connecting black expressive culture to repetition. He takes Tricia Rose to task for her monograph, Black Noise,(32) accusing her of just this sort of essentialism, then proceeds to argue that the repetition so prominent in black-influenced popular music is not really repetition. He bases his defense on the distinction between blank repetition and repetition with difference--that is, Signifyin(g). However, he establishes this distinction by shifting Middleton's conventional boundary of acceptable repetition to a position that rescues jazz, blues and rap, but at the expense of disco, techno and other dance music genres. The problem with Signifyin(g) as a defense for repetition is that it relies on the continuing devaluation of it's own Other: exact duplication or repetition tout court.

[2.21] It is these last two issues that not only inform, but also motivate my work on repetition. As I had mentioned in my introduction, defenses of repetition tend to apologize or sidestep the issue altogether. Those that sidestep do so by reducing repetition to pure function, describing how repetition functions without addressing meaning or value. Those that apologize do so by defending their own localized practice of repetition at the expense of repetition as a larger concept--often identifying another genre as unacceptably repetitive in a sort of sacrificial substitution. Also, although the detractors of repetition tend to be too cynical and pessimistic, its defenders in cultural studies such as Deleuze and Lyotard, often place their discourses at a great remove from musical practice.(33) In the "pan-media" approach of cultural studies, music tends to get passed over for careful analysis, and thus cultural theorists often fail to ground their argumentation in the analysis or close reading of cultural (musical) artifacts--an aporia that I shall begin to fill in the second section of this essay.


[3.1] The choice of Electronic Dance Music (EDM hereafter) to illustrate the process and pleasure of repetition seemed perfectly obvious to me at the beginning of the research process. Not only did I see EDM as the most unapologetically repetitive of popular music meta-genres, but its electronic mediation seemed to fulfill Benjamin's prophecy that, "To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility".(34)

[3.2] Nevertheless, there remains some groundwork to take care of before I can proceed to issues of pleasure and repetition in EDM. In particular, I need to address the ontology of pleasure itself, as well as seek out a theory for the engendering and experience of pleasure that is compatible with repetition. To this end, I would like to return to Freud's theories of pleasure and repetition and also introduce an alternate and dissenting voice. In my view, there are two main problems underlying Freud's conception of pleasure (and, consequently, repetition compulsion): the a priori pathology of repetition and the failure to imagine pleasure arising from something other than satiation. This first issue is relatively straightforward; for Freud, repetition was always already pathological. Being grounded in a clinical discourse, Freud was interested in explaining a phenomenon (repetition compulsion) that he already knew to be harmful. Thus his task was not to question its positive or negative effects, but to explicate why and how some of his subjects repeated past traumas.

[3.3] As a "positive" theory of repetition and pleasure, then, Freud's notion of repetition compulsion (and its connections to the death instinct) is already a non-starter. It remains, however, as a "negative" or critical interpretation; in other words, it does not comprehend repetition and repetitive behaviors in their totality, but identifies potential problems. Freud's categories of both pleasure and repetition are thus too narrow, which possibly explains why he found that the latter was "beyond" the former. Writing only seven years after Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Karl Bühler strongly criticized Freud's interpretation of pleasure and repetition compulsion, suggesting that Freud's connection of repetitive children's games to a death instinct reflected the despair of Schopenhauer's pessimism.(35) In the place of Thanatos and a return to primordial stillness, Bühler proposes a tripartite system of pleasure: satiation pleasure (Lust der Befriedigung), function pleasure (Funktionslust), and the pleasure of creative mastery (Shaffensfreude, Schaffenslust, Schöpferfreude).(36) The first of these terms, satiation pleasure, Bühler considers to be the only form of pleasure that Freud recognizes: desire is engendered by drives or the recognition of a lack, pleasure is generated by (incompletely) fulfilling it. Given that Bühler's word for satiation (Befriedigung) can mean both "fulfillment" and "pacification," one can imagine that Freud's interpretive move to "death" was not so distant. Notably, satiation pleasure places the subject in a receptive, passive position; however much one actively seeks it out, fulfillment is always partially dependent on circumstance. Also, satiation pleasure is committed to a teleology (desire-->pursuit/anticipation-->satiation-->desire?), which makes the temporality of pleasure arising from satiation uncertain: how long does pleasure last during and after fulfillment? To give a musical example, if one considers the audition of an arch-form piece, how long does pleasure last after the climactic Höhepunkt? How long does the memory of climactic fulfillment generate pleasure?

[3.4] In contrast to satiation pleasure, function pleasure arises from process itself, rather than the process's results. In this case, the subject is in an active position, not merely pursuing but generating his/her own pleasure. Again in contrast to satiation pleasure, function pleasure is coextensive with the activity that generates it, guaranteeing that pleasure continues at least as long as one is engaged in the process. A paradigmatic example would be that function pleasure arises from baking a cake (provided, of course, that one enjoys baking), while satiation pleasure arises from eating it. However, this example is somewhat misleading in that it implies that one form of pleasure necessarily precedes and results in another one--function pleasure is simply "bonus" pleasure awarded to one who actively pursues his/her own satiation. My understanding of function pleasure, however, extends also to activities that do not necessarily produce desire-fulfilling objects, such as dance and musical performance,(37) and thus function pleasure arises properly from process. For this reason, I would like to replace the term "function"--which unhelpfully implies teleology and production--with "process pleasure." The distinction between production pleasure and Bühler's third category of pleasure arising from "creative mastery" is less clear, and those who have followed Bühler have generally collapsed this last category into the preceding one: the experience of creative mastery is what generates Funktionslust--the pleasure of a job well done.(38) However, I would like to retain this division and redraw the bounding line between these categories in a new fashion. Changing the more cumbersome "pleasure of creative mastery" to "creation pleasure," I would see the difference between creation pleasure and process pleasure as a matter of productivity: the first arises from the satisfaction of productive achievement, while the latter arises from activity itself. If satiation pleasure arises from receiving and creation pleasure arises from making, process pleasure arises from doing.(39) Also, I would like to borrow the notion of "mastery" from Bühler's third category to help explain how "doing" can itself generate pleasure. Much like the pleasure of creative mastery arises from a task/product well done, the pleasure in process arises from doing well--mastery over an activity and the objects involved in it. Dancing, for example, is an opportunity to take pleasure in manifesting capacity, control and proficiency in dance as an activity and over the body as its medium.

[3.5] Before tracing my way back to repetition, I should provide some clarification and a few caveats. Bühler and his theoretical inheritors were clearly interested in promoting their versions of process pleasure and creation pleasure as non-pathological, healthy paths to pleasure. I am not as interested in promoting one form of pleasure over the other; I can easily envision "positive" and "negative" instances of each category. Neither do I wish to suggest that process is naturally or necessarily pleasurable; as any survivor of severe obsessive-compulsive disorder will attest, process is by no means pleasurable if one cannot stop. As we will soon see, I also do not view these categories of pleasure as operating independently from one another. Nevertheless, I will be paying greater attention to process pleasure because it is the most difficult to explain, the most difficult to justify and--as a strange form of pleasure that neither consumes (satiation) nor produces (creation)--offers the most potential for novel explications of pleasure.

[3.6] It is also through process pleasure that I see a connection back to repetition. As Bühler argues, in response to Freud, repetition is not beyond the pleasure principle, but a prime bearer of process pleasure.(40) As I will argue below, repetition functions as a sort of process, structuring activity in a manner that optimizes opportunities to exercise mastery of listening/dancing.

[3.7] In addition to issues of pleasure, EDM presents some challenges with respect to previous theories of repetition. In particular, Keil's notion of 'participatory discrepancies' relies on live, communal performances where an individual's contributions can vary from moment to moment and in contrast to other individuals. While this ethos of communality and communitas can still be imagined through the interplay of dancers and DJ, the degree to which this is 'live' in the same manner as Keil's examples makes it difficult to draw close parallels. Nonetheless, this particular challenge also makes the case of EDM especially appropriate for this paper. Since I intend to avoid defending one form of repetition by imagining a more repetitive Other form of repetition, EDM's potential to repeat with digital precision will force me to deal with repetition in its most problematic form, much in the same way that Linda Williams' seminal work on pornography passes over the less objectionable "soft" porn and "couples films" and focuses directly on hard-core and BDSM forms of pornography.(41)

[3.8] Similar motivations also inform my choice of examples from the styles and sub-genres within EDM. The three tracks(42) from which the following examples will be drawn are not a representative cross-section of EDM, but rather a sampling of those sub-genres that make the most explicit and extended use of repetition. In particular, these three tracks will represent two sub-genres of techno (itself only one genre/category within the realm of EDM): its more austere branch of "minimal" techno, and tech-house, which is a hybrid of house and techno styles.(43)

[3.9] To aid in this consideration of repetition--particularly that of practice rather than ontology--I would like to make a shift away from the term 'repetition'. Following Christopher Hasty's notion of meter as process, Eugene Montague has forwarded the concept of repetition as an ongoing and open process, which he identifies with the gerundive form, 'repeating'.(44) Within the context of EDM, I will parallel this formulation by employing the noun 'loop' and the gerund 'looping.' These terms come from two complementary sources: Mark Spicer's recent article on accumulative form, and Mark Butler's work on rhythm and meter in EDM. Spicer defines accumulative form as the "technique of building up a groove gradually from its constituent parts".(45) In turn, he defines 'groove' as "a tapestry of riffs", and defines 'riffs' as atomic musical ideas that normally repeat. This is the point of contact with my notion of loops and looping. Effectively, loops are riffs of modular length that one strongly expects to repeat, and looping is the practice of layering, adding and subtracting loops, allowing for the seemingly paradoxical effect of an ever-changing same.(46)

[3.10] This notion gains support from Mark Butler, who defines the loop as the fundamental unit of musical structure for EDM.(47) Also, he underlines the importance of looping by arguing that cyclical repetition, and thus repeated listening, allows for the perceptual separation of EDM's complex timbral and rhythmic layers.(48) To further this, I would also add that my notion of looping in EDM as an ongoing and open process is crucial to an understanding of a musical genre that is not normally recorded in a visual form of notation. Thus, the structural perception of EDM tracks and sets almost always occurs over time, with a fading memory of past events and a growing expectation of future ones.


[4.1] I would like to begin with this idea of looping as an open process and explore how this is manifested in EDM. This is best approached through Mark Spicer's recent work on accumulative form. Spicer begins from Peter J. Burkholder's analysis of Charles Ives' work, wherein Burkholder defines 'cumulative form' as Ives' idiosyncratic practice of reversing the order of thematic development.(49) Rather than present a theme or idea and then proceed to fragment and develop it, a 'cumulative' work gradually presents thematic fragments, which then, as Spicer puts it, "crystallize into a full-fledged presentation of the main theme in a climactic pay-off at the end of the piece".(50) Spicer modifies this idea in his definition of 'accumulative form,' replacing the climactic presentation of the main theme with the climactic accumulation of riffs into a texturally thick groove.

[4.2] I believe that Spicer's version of accumulative form (substituting loops for riffs in this case) is one of the most widely used prototypical forms in EDM, and I did not need to look far to find examples. The first track that we will consider is an especially clear but exceedingly extended example, so I can offer only fragments from various points in this accumulative process. The recording is a track entitled "ethnik," taken from the 1994 'minimal' techno album musik by Plastikman, also known as Richie Hawtin.(51)

[4.3] In the partial transcription that I have provided, one can find a graphic representation of this accumulative form in the accumulation of layers over time; what I could not convey with this transcription is the corresponding accumulation of intensity, although I hope it will be clearly audible in the audio excerpts provided. The three audio excerpts show the process of accumulation at three points: Excerpt A shows the slow fading in of a rhythmically flexible flute line over a metrically ambiguous bassline; B is both a local accumulative climax and the midpoint in the larger accumulation towards C. All three of these excerpts also show differing ways of employing looping to articulate a point or period of change, and make use of the common expectation in EDM that structural changes occur on multiples of 4--whether four beats, four bars, eight bars or more. Excerpt A (Audio 1A) fades in a 4-bar flute line gradually, so that it is not at first clear when the loop started and thus when one can expect another change in texture. B (Audio 1B) makes use of a similar strategy with a loop of congas, which makes the sudden appearance of the three-part drum loop surprising but all the more emphatic as a structural downbeat. On the other hand, C (Audio 1C) forecasts its high point of accumulation by applying an EQ filter-shift to the drum loop--marked by a shift in shades of gray--then removing the triangle loop four bars beforehand and the drum loop one bar beforehand.

[4.4] In a fashion similar to that of Plastikman/Hawtin, many EDM producers do not only employ accumulative form, but also provide a vocabulary of aural signposts to signal various stages of arrival or accumulation. The introduction of the kick drum, the sudden removal of several layers only to return with more force, and the play of metric ambiguity all provide listeners of EDM with aural cues. I will defer issues of process pleasure until our final example (see [6]), but I would like to take a moment to consider how the experience of mastery--which provides the ground for process pleasure--works in looping as process. These aural cues and signposts optimize EDM for listening mastery; they provide opportunities for listeners to insert themselves into the looping process and manifest their proficiency with these massive hypermetrical structures. Although it is difficult to generalize, listeners can and often do take these opportunities to manifest their mastery in physical ways--whether by marking points of accumulation with punctuating gestures (hand claps, shouts, "drops", spins, etc.) and changes of dancing style, or by finding ways to bodily articulate the processes of looping, demonstrating their capacity to grasp and "ride" the loop.


[5.1] Before continuing to a consideration of looping-as-process as pleasure, I would like to explore how pleasure may arise from looping outside the operation of pre-determined structure. As I had mentioned earlier, Mark Butler has proposed that the precise and extended repetition idiomatic to EDM benefits the listener in allowing him or her to perceptually separate textural layers. Butler further developed this idea in his paper read at the 2003 annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory (Madison, WI), wherein he suggests that the use of unresolved grouping dissonances in EDM does not necessarily pose an irresolvable perceptual problem for the listener.(52) Instead, he forwards a mode of listening whereby a listener can shift focus between dissonant layers, granting perceptual primacy to one grouping at one moment, and to another at the next.

[5.2] I think that this begins to explain how the repetition of seemingly short musical units can generate pleasure over extended periods. Using my taxonomy of pleasures, this aspect of looping provides a sort of creation pleasure grounded in the creation of process. A persistently-looping, dense collection of riffs provides a dense layering of textures without pre-determining the listener's path of focus. In this manner, a listener is able to construct his/her own process(es) of attention, creating a unique sonic pathway and manifesting a form of mastery over the ordering of these looping elements. This contingent and improvised process is then made available to process pleasure. In other words, the listener can imagine the structure that provides the process that engenders process pleasure. Although Butler's model focuses primarily on grouping dissonance, I would also like to extend his model to include the multiplicities of timbre, pitch or approximate register and the interplay between interlocking riffs. I believe that most EDM tracks offer many perceptual 'points of attention,' whether implied in minimalist textures or fully fleshed out in thicker ones. Thus, looping allows the listener to plot pathways between these points of attention, mapping out a landscape of shifting creation pleasure while prolonging the process pleasure of an ever-changing same.

[5.3] To illustrate this idea, we turn to a track by Tony Rohr called "Baile Conmigo" (or 'dance with me').(53) (Audio 2) This track is texturally quite thick for a techno track, and offers a number of points of attention. Among these, I would draw attention to the lower frequency range and the manner in which the kick drum's pitch is inflected slightly after each attack: is that indeed inflection, or the interference of a higher-pitched synth line? Also, in the middle and treble range, note the interplay between interlocking patterns of similar, but distinct timbres. Finally, I suggest following the trajectory of the constant stream of sixteenth-note 'clicks', the frequency profile of which shifts gradually upward and downward over a period of 4 measures of 4 quarter notes or every 16 beats.


[6.1] The idea that process could be pleasurable first came to me while listening to Steve Reich's Piano Phase. To me, there is something uniquely satisfying in the friction between the two out-of-phase pianists followed by the 'locking' effect when their pulse layers align. I then had further direction from the work of Mark Butler, who characterizes the artistic production of techno as "emphasiz[ing] process more than the construction of particular musical objects".(54) Most recently, I found in the work of Karl Bühler a means of articulating this pleasure in the concept of process pleasure (and creation pleasure) explicated above. This is one path around the problem of functionalism--of the view that process is pleasurable only insofar as it produces a desire-fulfilling object (satiation pleasure). Repetitive processes such as looping may serve pragmatic, extra-musical functions such as providing a reasonably predictable framework for dancing or providing a particular sort of feel that brings a crowd of dancers together at a club. However, they may also emerge from and relate back to an aesthetic of process, thus generating pleasure in addition to channeling the pleasures of dancing and socializing.

[6.2] With this concept in our minds, we can now turn to our next and last example: a selection from Akufen's 2002 album, My Way.(55) The track, "Deck the House," (Audio 3) and the entire album exhibit a unique compositional style, which requires a moment of explanation. Montréal-based Akufen, also known as Marc Leclair, gathered his musical materials for this album with a shortwave radio and a lot of time. Rather than sample complete hooks of songs or radio broadcasters, which would be illegal in almost any country, he uses brief slivers of songs, commercials, DJs' banter and static--most often less than a second long.(56) In "Deck the House," he weaves these microsamples together into a dizzying collage that illustrates my earlier notion of looping as prolongation of pleasure by its thick, multilayered texture and metric ambiguity (try locating the downbeat as this excerpt progresses). In addition to this, consider what I had argued earlier about process, accumulative form and the aural cues that help structure hearing and dancing. Imagine what opportunities arise for mastery and pleasure as the listener waits for the kick drum that signals the first complete 'arrival' or accumulation of the groove. For me, as one listener among many, a large part of the pleasure derived from listening to "Deck the House" stems directly from the pleasure of attending to the unfolding of a process both anticipated and unpredictable; inasmuch as process provides an opportunity for the manifestation of mastery that generates pleasure, challenging and surprising processes raise the stakes of mastery and offer higher "rewards."(57) Although Akufen/Leclair's taste for asymmetrical sequencing and metric ambiguity mirrors this unpredictability at the level of detailed surface, the fundamentally underdetermined nature of this structural unfolding permeates all EDM genres. As the process of looping creates this feeling of an ever-changing same, the question constantly arises: when will it change next, and how will it still remain the same?


[7.1] I imagine the overall shape of this essay to be one of diffusion-->focus-->expansion. As I introduced the topic of repetition, we found the discourse to be not only fraught, but also widely dispersed and disarticulated. Indeed, there was and is no singular discourse of repetition, no singular forum where all parties meet. Rather, the discourse and criticism on repetition is a general and largely synthetic category for what is in fact a vast constellation of discursive acts: solitary declarations, debate between peers, and responses to imaginary interlocutors--and, much like a constellation, I have endeavored to connect these "dots" of discourse into a larger picture.

[7.2] Discourse on repetition, both positive and negative, has largely relied on some form of a reflection theory, looking for the strengths and weaknesses of collective society or the individual psyche in repetitive structures. What I have attempted to offer in its place is a model of what repetition does, for whom and how. For these purposes I have revisited Karl Bühler's alternative to Freud's repetition compulsion and adjusted them to better engage with the experience of EDM: satiation pleasure, process pleasure, creation pleasure; getting, doing, making. Although these categories of pleasure remain provisional at most and their application to EDM is only exploratory, I hope to have provided a preliminary vocabulary of tools for repetition that do not rely so much on a metaphysics of ontology and identity.

[7.3] Of course, one does not need a kick drum to generate pleasure from process, and I believe that one does not necessarily need to stay within the confines of EDM, either. As my reference to Steve Reich's Piano Phase would suggest, this approach to repetition and repetitive processes may also help to explicate the manifold pleasures of listening to other musical traditions that rely heavily on repetition, including minimalist art music, non-electronic dance music, non-western classical traditions and a large proportion of folk traditions. Indeed, Reich's essay on music as a "gradual process" articulates similar emphases on process, process-oriented listening and control--but for the minimalist art music of the late 60s and early 70s.(58) Also, I have restricted my work here to the pleasures of listening, without much more than cursory consideration of dancing. Although this artificial division and disembodiment of listening from dancing greatly reduced the size of this essay, further work in this direction is sorely needed.

[7.4] Furthermore, what I hope to offer here is not merely a broadly applicable model for repetition as an aesthetic practice. I am also striving to offer a rehabilitation and reevaluation of repetition that will hopefully rescue it from the categories of infantile regression, pathological compulsion, artlessness or a disproportionately dystopian/utopian allegory for social relations. If there is a beauty in the New, then there is also the question of a beautiful Same and, like repetition itself, the answer may be in the process of asking.


Luis-Manuel Garcia
University of Chicago
Department of Music
1010 East 59th St.
Chicago, IL 60637


1. An earlier form of this paper was read under the same title at the joint meeting of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Music Theory, Seattle, 2004. I would like to thank Tony Rohr at Hidden Agenda Records, Richie Hawtin and Clark Warner at m_nus inc. / plus8 records ltd., and Marc Leclair and Jon Berry at Regenerate Industries for generously granting permission for the recorded examples included in this paper.

2. Max Wechsler. "Wiederholung/Redundanz: Eine Kunstlerische Strategie Zwischen Verdeutlichung Und Verwirrung," in Walter Fähndrich (ed.), Improvisation III (Winterthur: Amadeus, 1998), 58.

3. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." In Illuminations (London: Pimlico, 1999), 214.

4. Susan McClary, Rap, Minimalism, and the Structures of Time in Late Twentieth-Century Culture, Geske Lectures (Lincoln: College of Fine and Performing Arts, University of Nebraska, 1998), 14. It is worth noting that, although the drive for repetition has been pathologized in the form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the same cannot be said for the fear of or aversion to repetition.

5. Rousillon, René, Le plaisir et la répétition: Théorie du processus psychique (Paris: Dunod, 2001), viii.

6. Freud, Sigmund, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trans. J. Strachey (New York: Liveright, 1950), 1. Original edition, 1920.

7. Ibid, 58.

8. Arnold Schoenberg, "Brahms Der Fortschrittliche," in Stil Und Gedanke: AufsŠtze Zur Musik (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1976), 37. I have preserved the gender-specificity of the abstract listening subject from Schoenberg's writings to make a contrast with Freud's concern with both male and female subjects.

9. Arnold Schoenberg and Rudolf Stephan, Die Grundlagen Der Musikalischen Komposition (Wien: Universal Edition, 1979), 20.

10. Andreas Jacob, "Arnold Schonbergs Theoretische Schriften Über Funktion Und Techniken Der Wiederholung," in Kathrin Eberl and Wolfgang Ruf (eds.), Musikkonzepte-Konzepte Der Musikwissenschaft: Bericht Über Den Internationalen Kongress Der Gesellschaft Für Musikforschung Halle (Saale) 1998, Bd 2: Freie Referate (Kassel/New York: Bärenreiter, 2000), 572.

11. This interpretation of Adorno's critique of repetition is indebted to Ingrid Monson and Bernard Gendron. Bernard Gendron, "Theodor Adorno Meets the Cadillacs," in Tania Modleski (ed.), Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 20-21; Ingrid T. Monson, "Riffs, Repetition, and Theories of Globalization," Ethnomusicology 43 (1999): 31-65.

12. Adorno, Theodor W., "On Popular Music," in Susan H. Gillespie and Richard D. Leppert (eds.), Essays on Music: Theodor W. Adorno (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 452-3. Original publication, 1941.

13. Adorno, Theodor W., "Difficulties," in Essays on Music: Theodor W. Adorno, 667. Original publication, 1966.

14. Adorno, Theodor W., "Wagner's Relevance for Today," in Essays on Music: Theodor W. Adorno, 599. Original publication, 1963.

15. Adorno, Theodor W., Philosophy of Modern Music, trans. Anne G. Mitchell and Wesley G. Blomster (New York: Continuum, 2002), 135-191. Original publication, 1958.

16. Monson, 51.

17. Ibid, 51-52.

18. See: Rebecca Leydon, "Towards a Typology of Minimalist Tropes," Music Theory Online 8.4 (2002); Carlo Migliaccio, "Ripetizione E Cambiamento in Musica," De musica: Annuario in divenire 2 (1998); and Wechsler, 58-70.

19. Leydon, 1-14.

20. John Miller Chernoff, African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 111-12.

21. Steven Feld and Charles Keil (eds.), Music Grooves: Essays and Dialogues (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

22. Steven Feld, "Sound Structure as Social Structure," Ethnomusicology 28 (1984): 383-407.

23. Monson, 52.

24. Veit Erlmann, "Communities of Style: Musical Figures of Black Diasporic Identity," in Ingrid T. Monson (ed.), The African Diaspora: A Musical Perspective (New York: Garland, 2000), 85-86.

25. Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

26. Erlmann, 86.

27. Paul Kiparski, "Oral Poetry: Some Linguistic and Typological Considerations," in Benjamin A. Stolz and Richard S. Shannon (eds.), Oral Literature and the Formula (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1976).

28. Richard Middleton, "'Play It Again Sam': Some Notes on the Productivity of Repetition in Popular Music," Popular Music 3 (1983): 239.

29. Mark J. Butler, "Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music" (PhD, Indiana University, 2003), 69.

30. Middleton, 240.

31. Russell Potter, "Not the Same: Race, Repetition, and Difference in Hip-Hop and Dance Music," in Thomas Swiss, John Sloop and Andrew Herman (eds.), Mapping the Beat: Popular Music and Contemporary Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 31-46.

32. Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1994).

33. See McClary, 24. This is not to say that these views are to be discarded, but rather that further work must be done to reconcile their theories with musical practice. An example of a step towards this might be Wim Mertens's work on American minimalism: Mertens, Wim, American Minimal Music (London/New York: Kahn & Averill/Broude, 1983), 118-124.

34. Benjamin, 218.

35. Bühler, Karl, Die Krise der Psychologie, 3rd ed. (Stuttgart: G. Fischer, 1965). Original edition, 1927.

36. Ibid, 180-194.

37. One might even extend this to tasks that efface their products, e.g. the Zen Buddhist monastic practice of creating sand mandalas and then effacing them when they are completed.

38. Gould, Shirley and Heinz L. Ansbacher, "'Function Pleasure' in Adlerian Psychotherapy," Journal of Individual Psychology 31/2 (1974): 150-57.

39. One could productively "overstand" my terminology to question whether "doing" stands at a level of abstraction between or above "receiving" and "making;" as of yet, I am not prepared to take a stand on this issue.

40. Bühler, 194.

41. Williams, Linda, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the "Frenzy of the Visible", Expanded Edition (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999). BDSM is shorthand for an overlapping collection of sexual behaviors, including Bondage, Discipline, Domination & Submission, and Sadism & Masochism (or Sadomasochism).

42. "Track" refers to a unit of music within EDM discourses in a manner similar to "cut" or "joint" in hip-hop. This is generally preferable to labels such as "song" more common in pop-rock discourses, which implies a song-structure and use of vocals that rarely applies to EDM.

43. The final example can also be considered form of "microhouse" (see [6.2n56]). For a very useful (and often opinionated) overview of EDM genres and sub-genres--including copious audio examples--see Ishkur, "Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music," in Digitally Imported FM, http://www.di.fm/edmguide/edmguide.html (accessed Apr 1, 2005).

44. Eugene Montague, "Moving to Music: A Theory of Sound and Physical Action," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2001).

45. Mark Spicer, "(Ac)Cumulative Form in Pop-Rock Music," twentieth-century music 1 (2004): 33.

46. This term may seem to be reminiscent of the title to Amiri Baraka's (LeRoi Jones) essay, which seeks to build a history of black cultural (musical) forms that emphasizes the continuity of the "changing same." However, my intention here is rather to evoke the experience of listening to looping music: the sensation of motion that does not move in a linear direction to a new place, but returns to the same place--although that same place may have changed. c.f. Baraka, Imamu Amiri (a.k.a. LeRoi Jones). "1966--The Changing Same (R&B and New Black Music)," in Black Music (New York: W. Morrow, 1967), 180-211.

47. Butler, 103.

48. Ibid, 110.

49. Peter J. Burkholder, All Made of Tunes: Charles Ives and the Uses of Musical Borrowing (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995).

50. Spicer, 29.

51. Plastikman (a.k.a. Richie Hawtin), musik (NovaMute, 1994), CD.

52. Mark J. Butler, "Hearing Kaleidoscopes: Embedded Grouping Dissonance in Electronic Dance Music," presented at the Society for Music Theory, Madison, WI 2003.

53. Tony Rohr, "Baile Conmigo" (Tora! Tora! Tora!, [2002] 2004), 12" EP.

54. Butler "Unlocking the Groove," 70.

55. Akufen (a.k.a. Marc Leclair), My Way (Force Inc. Music Works, 2002), CD.

56. Although Akufen's precise compositional technique (i.e. sampled radio-play sliced into microsamples and reassembled into house music) is more or less unique, the more general practice of microsampling informs a number of genres that both precede and follow Akufen's work. For example, granular synthesis and "microsound" styles have had a long history in electronic "art" music and more recently in other electronic genres. Also, Akufen's 2002 release (see note 39) marks the approximate time of an emergent "microhouse" genre, of which his work is representative. Also related to this practice is the sample-heavy collage work of artists such as DAT Politics, People Like Us, Matmos, The Soft Pink Truth, MF Doom, DJ Danger Mouse, and Kid606.

57. Provided that these processes are not so challenging or surprising that they deny mastery.

58. Reich, Steve, "Music as a Gradual Process (1968)," in Paul Hillier (ed.), Writings on Music, 1965-2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 34-36.

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7 June 2013

How to put on a Free party!

It's getting around to that time of the year again and people begin to think about planning 'picnics' and 'barbecues' outside in the open air for their friends and family. In the woods? On the beach? In a field? Smashing! Here's a few do's and do nots that may help you have a cracking party.

here comes the summer...

Round up the crew, blag a rig and a van, find a venue, ring your mates and tell them where and when, score, set up the rig at the venue, switch it on and Bob’s your father’s brother.

Most Important Things:
Nice People in Safety
Top Sounds & Visuals
Interesting Venue
No Grief

The best thing about putting on a free party is that all your friends are there. Word of mouth is usually the best way, and you’ll only get friends and friends of friends etc. Advertising in other ways may attract unwanted ‘guests’. To help each and every one of your crowd correctly to experience the ‘dance energy rush’ in an environment of relative comfort and safety here’s a few tips:

Always check squatted venues at least a day or two before the party for:

Safe floors, ceilings walls, broken glass, electricity etc. (we found misguided revellers using a hanging live power outlet as a swing!), running water, flushing toilets and sufficient fire exits.

Essential safety kit:

At least one C02 (black) fire extinguisher. Trained first-aider with a decent first aid kit. Mobile phone.

A 12 volt Halogen floodlight is useful for setting up (you can run it off a car battery).

A 240 volt floodlight (or more) in case there are dangerous dark areas.


It’s all dull, and some of it’s expensive, but there’s nothing that kills a party more effectively than someone dying in blood-soaked agony on the dance-floor.

If you can’t think of any good music to play — let someone else do it. If, after announcing your intention to organise the party in the pub on Tuesday night you aren’t bombarded by endless DJ’s, all of whom who will guarantee to ‘rock it’ with their ‘fuckin’ mental’ collection of ‘white labels’, then, and only then, resort to "Now that’s what I call Absolutely the most ‘avin it, Hardcore Industrial Ultimate Rave Dance Anthem Classics in the pan-dimensional multiverse before and since the Big-Bang" from K-Tel.

Your sound-system should have three important qualities — bass, midrange and treble. Many have only two or even one of these, but all three will seriously enhance your listening pleasure. Alternatively, soak your ears in Ketamine and Brew and lie face down in the scoop bin which was all you could afford with your last Housing Benefit cheque and forget about the irrelevant higher frequencies.

A good choice of venue will greatly enhance everyone’s fun. Beautiful countryside makes a cheap and effective backdrop. A sunrise is infinitely less expensive than a laser and a squillion times brighter. Indoors, everyone will be happier if there’s somewhere reasonably comfortable and quieter to sit down.

Drugs of all sorts may be available at your party, and will have an affect on the atmosphere. If you’re planning to sell alcohol, remember the penalties can be severe and the police may use this to get you if they can’t use party related laws. If you’re bringing the sound system you’ll be the first to be searched for illegal drugs. A good way round the sale of alcohol problem is to buy it in bulk, which everyone can ‘chip in’ for in advance (e.g. from France) and have a list of people who ‘chipped in’ ready to show the police if necessary. If you find that there are dealers at your party are selling drugs, no-one will thank you if they get sold horse tranquilliser as ecstasy. Take some ecstasy testing kits if you can, for the safety of those who will take it, but don’t carry any illegal drugs with them (obvious really!)

Avoiding grief is the biggest challenge faced by anyone putting on a free party in Britain today. No matter how careful the organisers are to be safe and conscientious, some people just can’t handle seeing other people having a good time — especially if they’re not invited! Outdoor and indoor events face grief from the police (Criminal Justice Act, Public Licensing Laws), angry neighbours, uninvited guests and the weather:

The ideal location is one where no-one can see the party or hear the music other than those attending. Sound travels a long way outside, partying in quarries and deep valleys can be very effective at limiting the range of noise disturbance, whereas trees reduce the volume much less. As a rule of thumb, if you can see a building from the soundsystem then they can hear the music. The amount of noise which constitutes a disturbance has frequently been debated. Some moaning ninnies will strain to hear a faintly audible whisper of a kick-drum, with the windows open and consider this an infringement of their rights as a miserable, party-pooping, tory (probably) land-owning killjoy. On the other hand pick your site badly and you could keep hundreds of people awake all night needlessly.

The C.J.A. allows the police to insist you leave the site if they think that the party may cause serious distress to local people. Serious distress has not been defined in law and presumably if the police eject a party from a site which would not have caused a problem, they could be taken to court over it, but as yet no-one known to us has had the time or the means to try this. To order you to leave the land, the order has to come from a superintendent or higher ranking officer, although this often comes as a signed standard letter. In one case, the soundsystem refused to leave land when issued with this order in East Sussex and in the morning the police confiscated some of the system. If you successfully argued that no distress was or could be caused by the party you might get compensation for the loss of the rig and get it back, but this argument has never been tested in law (to our knowledge). 

Under the C.J.A., a confiscated soundsystem can be destroyed if the owners are convicted, and the maximum sentence for organising a ‘rave’ includes five years in prison. These laws apply whether or not you have permission from the landowner of the party site, although the police are less likely to prevent parties on land with permission. Outdoor events are not subject to the same licensing laws as indoor ones, although a marquee might be construed as ‘indoors’ for such purposes.

Wherever you party, cleaning up afterwards is essential. Why should we fuck up the countryside for a party —after all industry and roads do it much more effectively. Cleaning up keeps on the good side of locals and helps perpetuate the outdoor free partyvibe—man!

Partying indoors throws up a whole new legal minefield. Theoretically any gathering in a building with music and dancing to which the public have access is subject to an entertainment licence under the neatly titled Local Government Act (1982) Miscellaneous Provisions. Prosecution under this act is at the discretion of the Local Authority (usually) and in most cases this is too expensive and time consuming for them to undertake. However if pushed this will happen and it’s very hard to fight. The only defence is to show that all reasonable precautions were taken to ensure that no uninvited guests had access to the building. In the eyes of the average magistrate, this means having 6 or more bruisers in bomber jackets with headset walkie-talkies strutting around as though they just stepped off the set of Bladerunner. Taking money on the door also implies a licence is required. To the best of our knowledge, no case of this kind which has gone to court has ever been won by the defendant. The maximum penalty is £20,000 and/or six months, although a fine of a few hundred is more usual. Once again ownership of the building makes things easier although this law still applies. If you can prove that all the people at the party were invited—you do not have to have a licence.

The other angles the police may use to try and stop the event are breaking and entering and abstraction(?!) If you’re cracking a squat for a party do it at least one or two nights before the event, so if you get caught you’re only looking for somewhere to live and not standing with a jemmy in one hand and a record box in the other. A discrete window can be left open for access on the night of the event. Most buildings are accessible without causing damage, if you break a lock or something getting in, this is enough to get you nicked for criminal damage - so replace it. Locks don’t cost much and might be useful on the night. Once you’re in get the tools (jemmy, bolt-croppers, screwdrivers etc.) off the premises immediately.

Abstraction is stealing electricity. Check the state of the power before the night of the party. If there is power in the building go to your local electricity board shop and pay for some (£2O will do) in advance. They will normally accept the advance payment, and rarely inform anyone. If the police suggest that you’re stealing the lecky, you can produce a receipt! If possible have a generator on hand as a back-up.

Often, the key to success seems to be not to give the police a reason to stop the event. A long-term empty industrial building, a few streets away from any residential areas can be partied all night without any authorities being aware. If you are careful about not inflicting too much damage, clean up afterwards and put your own locks on you might be able to party it again in a month. However, too many parties in the same building brings other problems and soon the crowd will expand to include small time local mafia and other thugs who have their own unpleasant profit motives for attending. A good phone network of friends and moving the venue each time will keep numbers manageable and idiots away.

In general when dealing with the police, environmental health and any other officials or general busybodies and members of the public, remain calm and courteous at all times. This is a disarming tactic which will render even the most puffing, ruddy faced retired ex-colonel’s barking complaint ineffective. Listen to what the police say, reason intelligently and don’t believe a word of it without consideration. They will lie to you, steal your genny from behind your back and to hell with the law if it serves their purpose.

If you think your event might result in a prosecution — take measures to protect yourselves against potentially biased court proceedings. Take photographs of all the safety precautions you have undertaken, and have a reasonable number of visible stewards. Don’t take money on the door, clean up afterwards and take photographs of the site afterwards. If possible have a camcorder available to record the event particularly interactions with the police.

Lastly a few DO’s and DON’Ts:


DO hassle stressed people with head-torches and screwdrivers when the music’s mysteriously stopped saying "Oi mate, can I borrow your miners helmet to skin up with."

DO poke bits of metal into unknown boxes on the wall with coloured lights, saying "Beam me up Scotty".

DO gather round the police when they arrive, waving empty bottles and shouting "Remember the Beanfield, bastard pig wanker?"

DON’T help clear anything up at the end, but instead lie around in a pool of piss and dog turd informing the organisers that they’re slaves to the system.

DO arrive at a pitch-black Welsh hillside in November with only a small nightie, high-heels and two pills (previously ingested if possible).

DO believe the police when they tell you the party’s cancelled (as they never lie), and on no account bother to try to find a different way onto the site, returning 40 miles to your flat to watch telly.

DO park across the access road to the party so that ambulances can’t get in.


DO give out printed flyers saying "Illegal Rave" in large letters a week in advance to give the police ample time to plan their operation.

DON’T pick outdoor sites with ample parking as muddy dodgems in the morning is a top laugh and modern ambulances have wings.

DON’T bother with a tarpaulin to cover the rig as it never rains in Britain.

DO put generators inside buildings as Carbon Monoxide heightens the effects of ecstasy

DON’T bother bringing any water to the party. If someone dies of dehydration it’s their own stupid fault ...your honour.

Good Luck and Enjoy!

Ecstasy testing kits available from http://olddrugs.greenparty.org.uk/substance/xtc.php#content or 1a, Waterlow Road, London N19 5NJ for £17.00 inc.

thanks to SchNEWS


Organising a Rave

OK, so what follows is a practical guide to organising your own free party! But before we start there are a few issues which I need to address. In the U.K we have something called the Criminal Justice Act. This was introduced as a direct response to the booming rave culture of the late 80s. What this act did was give the Police power to shut down any gathering that they believed to be dangerous or anti-social.

You need to be aware that any organised gathering on public land or on land that you don't have permission to use can be shut down by the plod and all the equipment can be confiscated.


The Venue

You've got various options for the venue and some very important decisions to make which could make or break your rave:

1. Do you want to rave outside?

The first problem you have is permission. Do you have permission to use the land you've got your eye on? Do you care!? Most outdoor rave worthy land is owned by a farmer. Farmers are notoriously odd when it comes to these sort of events; some of them will be accommodating and some will shoot at you if you step foot on anything they own so play it cool! The majority of farmers understand one language - money! Get your hand in your pocket and pay the man for the privilege. Or come to an arrangement where you charge per car (but charging for entry is another area where you want to be careful and you'll need to find trust worthy people who don't mind missing the party to take responsibility of this).

Some of the best raves I've been to have been in the Lake District under a clear sky and when you hit that sunrise at 3 or 4 in the morning it can be a great place to be. But there are obvious caveats - the main one being rain! If it's going to be wet (and it usually is when you don't want it to be) then you need to protect your gear. So that means covers, tarpaulins and some sort of scaffold type rig to hold those covers in place.

Wind as well can be an issue so if you're going to be raving outside think about using the natural relief of the land to shelter your set-up from the worst of it.

You should also check out the entrance and exits; especially if you are going to have lots of cars involved. What looks like a sound piece of ground can quickly turn into a quagmire after a bit of rain and a few cars are thrown into the mix.

2. Do you want to rave inside?

If you've got an indoor venue sorted then you've already removed at lot of the issues which are associated with the bloody awful British weather. But you have opened another box of issues!
If you have a proper venue available for hire then all licensing, entry control, security and staging is made a lot simpler but you may have rules laid down by the cops and the venue owners. Because of this I wouldn't recommend using a proper venue for anything other than a proper club night. But we’re talking about proper raves here so...

3. What are the other options?

The best option is a privately owned building... Not a house! I'm thinking more of a barn or disused storage space like a warehouse. If you can get permission to use something like this then you're onto a winner! As long as it's weather proof you can protect your ravers and your sound system from the elements; but you don't have the usual red tape associated with using a proper venue.

The best rave I organised was in an old church! It was completely empty except for a few hymn books. It still had the huge stained glass windows in place and it gave the whole night a gothic feel.

Whatever venue you choose you face a brush with the law if you don't have permission to be there, and even if you do have permission to be there, then you still have to be concerned with several other issues. If there are neighbours near by then they have rights and they can be the biggest issue you'll face as most people will pick up the phone and call the old bill straight away. Don't forget that the Police have the right to break up the party whatever the circumstances.

Never work your own door.

The Music and the Lighting

Once you've got the venue sorted you need to fill it full of stuff that makes people rave! It's completely up to you how far you go with this but there is no limit. Some raves I've been to have had huge marquees full of dangling fluorescent decorations and crazy characters walking round on stilts! The only limits are budget and imagination. However there are essentials which you will not be able to rave without.

1. The Sound System
The most important bit of kit is the sound system. Without that there is no party! If you don't have one then you're going to have to hire it. The best way to go about hiring a sound system is through word of mouth. There will be people who have organised raves before you -- the same as there will be people who organise raves after you've gone! So ask around, where do you get your sound systems from? What size do you go for? Are they reliable?

You'll have to dip into the piggy bank but there are often sound system owners out there who are sympathetic to your cause and will rent you a sound system at a decent rate. If you're lucky you can hire a guy who'll sort all that out for you. If not then you're going to have to hire the system yourself, set it up and get it running. If you don't know what you're doing then don't bother! Pay someone else!

The cops have plenty of "soft intelligence" on who is involved in free parties.

Authorities automatically assume those linked with the entertaiments or music industry (licensed or otherwise) will have a pre-disposition to criminal activity - this is a prejudice older than the Police service themseves (the first legal restrictions on travelling musicians in Britain were made in the 1300s!)

Cops have no problems about holding a hired rig, and if the "hire company reps" attend the police they would probably be interviewed (although not under arrest) as cops tried to find out whether they knew the party was unlicensed or not. they may also (if they suspect collusion) accuse the hire company of knowingly aiding this event - which leaves them open to further civil and criminal penalties.

Even if a legitimate company complained they would just say "yes, you have had a financial loss but what about the landowners/building owners? you can't make profit at someone elses cost..." 

They would then say the only way they could recover their loss would be to make a criminal or civil claim against the organisers alleging they had been duped into supplying sound equipment for an illegal event. Obviously if they are friends the hirers would be unwilling to do this!

2. The Music
You need DJs! This is the easiest AND the hardest part of the night to organise! You need to decide what music is going to make people rave their tits off and you need to plan a night of perfect musical balance, flow and style for the night to be a rip roaring success. You also need to make sure you have enough DJs to cover the whole night, but not too many DJs or you'll have a conflict on your hands!

When people hear you're organising a rave the word soon gets about and before you know it you'll have people you've never heard of asking for sets. It really is up to you who and what gets played but you may have to tread on some toes in the process.

Once the DJs all turn up you have the added pain in the arse of organising their set times and what order they play. Someone will not be happy playing first, someone will try and play for longer, someone will get too pissed to play and someone will turn up claiming that his uncle's milk man told him he could play for half an hour. My advice... treat DJs like animals! Be strict but not aggressive. Tell them all what the script is and if they don't like it they're not playing. Try not to change set times and keep everything running as planned; but remember... this is your night! Don't let the DJ dictate to you!

You might need to hire decks and a mixer if the sound system dude hasn't supplied them. Try and borrow them primarily (it may require giving a DJ the prime set but that's the way it goes!). If a DJ wants any specific gear other than two high quality turntables and a decent mixer, then they'll have to bring their own!

3. The Lights
The lights are also very important and some people go to town in this department. As with the sound system you need to know what you're doing or it could turn messy! If you've got the budget then go crazy! Get lasers, traffic lights, strobes, beams - the whole nine yards! It all helps create the rave experience.

If you're holding the rave in a venue which has no street or natural lighting then you will need flood lights for certain areas, such as the main entrance and socialising areas. These aren't essential but they do improve the experience for all.

If you feel that you don't have enough knowledge of the above area and you would like to know more then check out: avforums.com.

The Other Bits

1. The Generator
The generator is one of the easiest things to sort out. Most people know someone with a generator of some description; however make sure it has the power to do the job! If you don't know of anyone who'll lend you a generator then every town, city or village has somewhere nearby that will rent you a generator. If you can't find anywhere then try hss.com [no affiliation]. They allow you to order and pick up at a fairly reasonable rate.

The size of generator needed will depend on the size of the sound system, the lighting rig and anything else you are planning that needs power. You should be able to get a good indication of the size needed from the parties involved in these various areas. It may make more sense to hire several generators for different needs. That way if one goes wrong not everything is affected!

Another generator tip: go for diesel, its cheaper! And get plenty of it on standby.

1. Air Conditioning and Heating

Depending on the venue, you may need to hire heater or air conditioners to improve the experience for your ravers. If then venue is small and cramped then air conditioning hire is essential and will prevent anyone passing out from too much hardcore raving!

Likewise, if you're planning a rave in winter then the venue may need extra heat and heater hire might be another necessity.


As well as the lights and the sound system if you've got the budget then why not get all the extras which improve the rave experience? You can go for smoke machines, fireworks, jugglers, magicians, MCs etc... The sky is the limit really!


Hhhm. Now this can be an area where things go wrong! Too much marketing and you may get overrun. If the venue can't cope then you're in a whole world of trouble. Decide what you're trying to achieve and then decide your level of marketing from there. If you want a low key event with friends only then just put the word about and let everyone else do the rest.

But never under estimate the power of the grapevine! Don't over do it or you may end up in a whole world of trouble!

From - http://ezinearticles.com/?Organising-a-Rave&id=1930703


The Guide to having a Free Party 


There are many elements to running a successful party. Certainly this document isn't going to tell you how to run your party, nor what exactly makes a good event. We'll leave that for you to decide. However we hope that the following guidelines (gathered from experience) prove useful...

The Party:

1. Don't over estimate the power of sound: 

A good sound system and dj's won't necessarily make a good party. A successful party comes from a crowd of people enjoying themselves and having fun. Room to move is important, so is a good vibe, amenities (food and drinks stalls, toilets, etc), having enough light, somewhere chill out, to sit and relax, and keeping trouble makers out. 

Rather than focussing all your attention on the sound system and artists, remember that details count. 

2. You are not criminals: 

Don't be fooled by the authorities, you are not criminals! Respect the law, don't give the authorities the power to stop your party by breaking it. 

3. Health and safety: 

Always have a first aid kit on hand together with the numbers of a hospital and other emergency services. If possible someone experienced in first aid should be present at your party. 

Make a free supply of water available, also keep some fruit handy. Place fire extinguishers near electrical equipment, make sure people know where they are and how to use them.

Before a party, try to clear any broken glass and dangerous debris away to help avoid accidents. Highlight your toilets, bins and keep entrances clear of people and equipment. Wires should be trailed above head height not exposed. Gangways and fire exits must be kept clear; fireproof all backdrops and decor.

If someone looks unwell, approach them in a non threatening manner and ask how they are. If they ask for your help take the time to offer them the support they need. 

4. Parking: 

Keep parked vehicles off public roads. Bad parking practice can harm a party in several ways. They can alert the authorities to the fact that something is going on. They can give them a valid reason to try to stop the proceedings and they can make it difficult for emergency services to get on to your site. 

5. Vandalism and troublemakers: 

Don't tolerate vandalism or anti social behavior. Act as a group, show a determined and united front, politely ask those responsible to stop being disruptive. Let them know their behavior isn't wanted at the party, perhaps stop the music in order to get their full attention. Suggest that they should leave if they don't feel able to contribute to a positive vibe. 

6. Rubbish: 

Remove any rubbish left after a party, put it into bags and dispose of it safely. Hopefully you've enjoyed the beauty of your surroundings, remember to leave them the way you found them :)

7. Running a hotline:

Prefix directions to your party with the date and time of the party. That way if your crew is out one week and resting the next, you save prospective party goers a potentially long trek out to an idle site. 

If you have a website, post directions online at the last minute and give out the URL. The web is a good way for party goer's to plan their drive to your site. Good reference websites for driving directions are: the Ordinance Survey Maps website for the UK and Map Quest for Europe and the US.

Don't let your hotline idle. Whether it's active or not, try to at least leave a message telling people what you're up to or how to find out what you'll be up to in the future. If you change hotline numbers, make sure you leave a link from the old to the new.

Be as accurate and descriptive as possible with your directions. If your party is in the countryside, use landmarks as a reference (bridges, pubs, etc) and leave noticeable markers on the road (signs, cones, etc). If the party is in town, carefully spell out the name of the road and neighborhood the party is in. Also it's useful to stress a postcode, in case there are more than one roads with the same name in that town. Of course it's important to give out the name of the town your party is in, not everyone trying to reach you will be local or familiar with your area.

Speak clearly, mobile phones often don't enjoy the best reception. Make it as easy as possible for the listener to understand your directions. If you move site remember to update your hotline messages. If you've given out a hotline number, expect people to use it. Getting to a party can be stressful, make an effort to communicate calmly with the person listening to your directions.

8. Handling the police and authorities:

Have only a small number of people deal with any police presence. Be civil, polite and communicate that your party isn't aimed at disruption, you have gathered to have fun as a group... peacefully. 

Avoid conflict, mediate with them, listen to what they have to say. It may be that simply turning the volume down a little, opening fire exits (ed: don't miss read that statement! we're not suggesting you should open fire on the authorities) or moving some of those cars parked around the site might appease them enough to let the party continue. 

9. A note on personal freedom:

We believe that it is the responsibility of the individual to look after themselves as grown and educated adults. We choose to make our own choices. We choose the right to party and free ourselves through dance and music. Most of all we recognise that personal freedom should not interfere with the freedom of others..."


Despite the dastardly efforts of the Criminal Justice Act, free parties are still kicking off every weekend all around the country.

Just because they're free, that doesn't mean you shouldn't respect the place where the party kicks off, or the people who are putting it on. 

Here's a few guidelines that should be followed at all free events:
  • Be prepared to be self sufficient. Facilities will be minimal.
  • Park sensibly, keep site roads clear.
  • Be friendly to local residents, ramblers etc. Smile - you're at a free party!
  • Bury your shit!!
  • Don't trash the site - take a bin bag
  • If you go for a wander, close any gates behind you
  • Don't let your dog run wild
  • Respect local wildlife
  • Fires - use dead not live wood (it don't burn in any case)
  • Make a donation - if someone passes a bucket round, don't be a mean git. It costs money to put on a free event.
It's also wise to be prepared just in case your party kicks off with a police bust. 

More info:

Information and legal help on drugs arrests
124-128 City Road, London, EC1V 2NJ
Helpline 0845 4500 215ask@release.org.uk
(open 11am-1pm and 2pm-4pm, Monday-Friday)
Tel: +44 (0)20 7324 2989
Fax: +44 (0)20 7324 2977


The Good Free Party Goer's Guide


Often rules exist in an unspoken form. By outlining the following that apply to good party going behaviour we hope to preserve the positive nature of parties, keep safe and show ourselves to be responsible.

1. Getting to the party:

Call the party hotline before you leave. Take a note of the information given and look up the site on a map. The web is a good place for road maps, useful directions can be found on the Ordinance Survey Maps (UK) and Map Quest web sites (Europe & US). 

Regardless of the fact that you must never drive under the influence, it's also important that the person helping you to navigate should do the same. Finding a party can be difficult, party sites are often hidden and out of sight.

Take a mobile phone and a map with you. Parties often change site, also the directions you were given won't always be 100% accurate or easy to follow. 

As you get closer to the site of a party, be careful not to play your music too loud or cause a disruption by driving recklessly. Respect the locals right to a good night's sleep and remember bringing attention to yourself, also brings attention to the party!

2. Parking: 

Keep parked vehicles off public roads. Bad parking practice can harm a party in several ways. They can alert the authorities to the fact that something is going on. They can give them a valid reason to try to stop the proceedings and they can make it difficult for emergency services to get on to your site. 

3. Vandalism: 

Don't tolerate vandalism or anti social behaviour. Act as a group, show a determined and united front, politely ask those responsible to stop being disruptive. Let them know their behaviour isn't wanted at the party, perhaps stop the music in order to get their full attention. Suggest that they should leave if they don't feel able to contribute to a positive vibe. 

4. Trouble makers:

At a party you are never alone no matter how chaotic the mood or your surroundings are. A party is a gathering of like minded individuals after a common goal. Feel free to ask those around you for help or to help someone you think might be under pressure from trouble makers.

5. Rubbish: 

Party goers, remove your rubbish as you leave a site, put it into bags and dispose of it safely. Hopefully you've enjoyed the beauty of your surroundings, remember to leave them the way you found them :)

6. Helping others:

If someone looks unwell, approach them in a non threatening manner and ask how they are. If they ask for your help take the time to offer them the support they need. If they are sick, ask them what is wrong and enlist the help of those responsible for the party to help them... 

7. What should you do if the party you're at is threatened by the police:

a. If you spot the police moving towards a party you're at, quietly tell a member of the sound system but don't approach them!

b. Stay near the sound system, move yourselves around it closely and keep dancing.

c. It's important that the sound system should be able to count on your help to keep their equipment and themselves safe as well as the party going.

d. Don't harass, insult or antagonise the police, it's not helpful. 

e. Smile! Don't let them stop you having fun. The best defense to offer them is to keep enjoying yourself and having fun...

8. A note on personal freedom:

As party goers we believe that it is the responsibility of the individual to look after themselves as grown and educated adults. We choose to make our own choices. We choose the right to party and free ourselves through dance and music."

9. Useful items to bring to a party:

a. A road map (A-Z [in London], AA [in the UK] or MapQuest Maps - Driving Directions - Map [elsewhere])
b. A (charged up) mobile phone.
c. Some snacks (fruit, bottled water, biscuits, etc)
d. Depending on the weather: suncream or waterproofs and warm clothes.
e. A blanket to lie on.
f. Some toilet paper.
g. A small spade or trowel to accompany the above.
h. Some rubbish bags.
i. A positive attitude.

10. Also remember to...

a. Respect any locals' privacy, keep the noise down on your way there.
b. Bag your rubbish before you leave.
c. Use dead wood rather than living trees.
d. Park your car properly if you can and don't cause an obstruction.

11. And above all!




Peace, Love, Unity and Respect - The party vibe collective.


What is a Free Party?

by Derek Williams

A Free party also known as a rave, a doof, ateuf or a teknival depending on the context is an all night or longer event, where people go to dance, socialise and have fun in an uninhibited way. Consider them temporary autonomous zones or TAZ...

The venue could be anything from a disused warehouse or office block, to a forest, a field or a beach. At night expect dark areas lit only by coloured beams of light and strobes, although production values vary and you might find just about anything, even expensive lasers.

The crowd is mostly young ranging from 18 to 25, although there's no age limit and there are plenty of older party goers and a few younger ones too.

Something I like about free parties is the way a conversation about living in an old van on a traveler site can be followed by a conversation about Microsoft's Windows NT operating system. Despite what you might have been told, there is no stereotypical free party person.

There are some common features though, a friendly and outgoing personality, an 'up-for-it' attitude, a love of music and a communal atmosphere. And you won't find a dress code at a rave although rave clothing and raver wear have become established fashions.
What is a Free Party?
Drugs are a feature of raves and free parties of course, although their use is generally limited to substances deemed more "social or recreational" rather than the harder drugs. And while it's true that there is drug use at raves, it's not the problematic type of hard drug abuse often seen amongst the socially excluded, in particular hard drugs of addiction (heroin and crack) simply aren't a part of the scene.

A big requirement of a good free party is that it shouldn't be motivated by financial gain. Entry should either be free, or at most require only a small cover charge to meet the organisers' expenses. Also in this context we understand the term "free party" to mean "free" in the sense that you're being welcomed into a space without limitations imposed on expression or behaviour by the organisers.

A true free party will keep going until it there are simply no more people left in attendance, the organisers decide they've had enough or the police decide to stop the event. It's not unheard of for parties to last whole weekends or longer.

What is a Free Party? 

Who runs Raves and Free parties?

Real free parties are organised by enthusiasts rather than people trying to make money. Enthusiasts working together form sound systems with members bearing responsibility for different aspects of a party from power, to maintaining sound and lighting equipment, Dj'ing [sometimes performing live], running the bar, painting back-drops and decorations, and so on. Essentially each person contributes what they can to help shape the wider group effort.

Sound systems are clearly the driving force behind the free party scene. Often they collaborate to stage bigger events offering a choice of different music, areas and better facilities. Given that each system has it's particular style, ideology and following, these events are generally more varied, often attracting larger crowds.

Should I pay to go to a free party? 

Having said that free parties organisers may or may not ask for a donation on the door, they will let you in at a discount if you look poor or ask nicely enough. Some parties however are entirely free, since it's possible for organisers to cover their costs by running a small bar or a [record] stall. Overall though, organising a party is an expensive business requiring a lot of time, energy and effort. If you're asked for a donation, be generous!

Also, once inside consider volunteering to help out as well. There's always something you can do, from tidying up at the end of the party, to lending a hand with some carrying and fetching...

Where can I find one?

Free parties, teknivals and squat parties aren't hard to find, it's just a matter of finding people who are already in that scene. Parties kick off every weekend in London and all over the world. Just keep an ear to the ground for the sound of dancing feet... 


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