Explaining Rave Culture to Americans
Jan 16 2013
Photo by Rosa Koolhoven
Your relationship with rave culture is not unlike our relationship with football. You invented it in your post-industrial northern cities, yet it's the rest of the world that has truly learnt to understand it. It's a precocious child that you managed to spawn, only to realise that you were less than competent as parents and had to give it to the rest of the world to provide it with a proper upbringing.
Now it's back in your life and you don't know how to deal with it.
For the last 25 years, while you guys were buying Learjets and listening to Creed, Europe has been double dropping, reaching for the lasers and constantly asking strangers if they are "having a good night". You thought this made all of us homosexual, existentialist drug addicts (which may be partly true) and for years you resisted the charms of Mitsis, Ministry Of Sound and the music of Paul Oakenfold. Your party scene was content with smashing "brewskis", smoking "doobs" and blasting the music of Kid Rock and 2 Live Crew.
Recently, though, something's changed. You've got some of the hoodest guys out there eulogising about MDMA in a way that would make a young Bez wonder if he was overdoing it a little on the pilled-up hyperbole. Trinidad James is always going on about "popping molly", as is Danny Brown, as is Future. Lil Wayne got caught with enough of it on his tour bus a few years back to keep the whole of the Berlin Love Parade rushing for a few hours, and even that new Destiny's Child track sounds like it wouldn't be out of place at an all-day, early 90s Fantazia rave in Donnington.
Americans trying to do rave culture at New York's Camp Bisco Festival.
Now, thousands of your previously clean-cut, "Euro-fag"-hating teenagers are trading in their Ozzfest tickets for Skrillex stadium shows and making signs that say "Daft Punk Rocks!" at Coachella. A colleague of mine told me that, at his high school, listening to house music was once akin to listening to Judy Garland live albums. Now it's the done thing. Something's in the water and it might well be MDMA.
I'm not sure you really "get it", though. I mean, I'm sure Levon Vincent, Terrence Parker, Juan Atkins and Kenny Dixon Jr get it. But the newbies don't. In fact, us pill-popping redcoats in the old world find it quite funny how much you don't get it. This is a continent that had "Born Slippy" soundtracking political campaigns and school runs alike. We have politicians who have taken pills and DJs who open youth centres. Us watching you get into ecstasy and dance music is how I imagine you probably feel when you see footage of line-dancing classes in Runcorn and hear TGI Fridays waiters "YEE-HAW!"-ing their way to lonely and inevitable suicide.
I've seen your "Camp Bisco", I've heard your Deadmau5 and I thought you might need a little bit of a crash course in the do's and don'ts of rave culture.
Photo by bhav.bhav
ALL DANCE MUSIC IS ELECTRONIC, YOU IDIOTS
When I first heard the term "EDM", I wasn't sure what it stood for. I assumed the "M" probably stood for music, maybe the "E" was European or eclectic, And the "D" could have been "digital", a reference to it being created on laptop software, perhaps. What I did not expect, however, was something as blitheringly obvious as "electronic dance music". It seemed like calling a genre "guitar rock" or "trumpet ska".
All dance/house/bass music is electronic. Just say it to yourself; Electronic. Dance. Music. It sounds like somebody's great aunt attempting to talk about Moby's new album, or a clueless country police chief answering questions about a rave he's trying to shut down. It makes you sound like novices, and stupid novices at that. So go think of something else to call Afrojack.
LIVE DRUMS ARE COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE
Actually, maybe I jumped the gun a bit there. I thought it sounded sensible, but from the looks of that Camp Bisco video, it seems you guys are intent on making "live" dance music a thing. Live drums? Really? Live house music is the sort of thing that should be confined to the Jazz Cafe or the Mayfair clubs who book live bongo players for their funky nights. Unless it's playing "Calabria", a saxophone should never be seen in the rave.
Photo © Andrew Franciosa
IF YOU MUST CALL MDMA "MOLLY", REMEMBER THAT YOU POP "SOME" MOLLY, OR "A" PILL, NOT "A MOLLY"
This one goes out to you, rappers. I know it sounds like pendantry, but people talking about drugs when they don't know about drugs is the worst thing ever. I know you're only just getting into it, but it's like those squares at school saying "Mate, are you on weed?" You pop a pill, because it is singular, and you take MDMA because it is a powder, making it plural. Unless you like "playing the long game" and taking MDMA granule by solitary granule, which would be horribly inefficient and also freak me out quite a lot.
Also, taking the odd bit of mandy on a night out doesn't make you the rap game Timothy Leary. You aren't a narcotic cosmonaut bringing back tales of the galaxies you've seen to a fearful planet norm, it's a drug that's been in widespread use for three decades now. Having said that, I'm sure you'd have laughed at all the UK rap guys for getting "wavy off drank" last year.
YOU DON'T NEED A DROP IN EVERY TRACK
You know what you really want from music when you're attempting to dance in a dark, crowded room, full of people who are off their face? Repetition. Not massive tedious lulls followed by painful loud noises. Even drum and bass works best when it's a constant, steady assault, those subtle changes that mark one track from the next being the bits that make Bermondsey boys on bail take their shirts off and twist their own jaws into "Z" shapes. The EDM brigade seem to have taken their attitude towards pacing from the likes of Pendulum and early Slipknot, where most of the track is just a superfluous build up for a drop that sounds like an explosion on a ghost train.
YOU CANNOT JUSTIFY MAKING HOUSE MUSIC AND BEING ANTI-DRUGS
EDM's lowest moment to date was surely during the ultimate "two bald men fighting over a comb" beef between the Phil Collins of the scene, Deadmau5, and perennially-late-on-the-bandwagon Madonna. The latter made a ham-fisted reference to "molly" on stage, in the same way your mum might refer to "wacky baccy" while cautiously inching through Camden Lock. It was lame, but it was innocuous. Deadmau5, however, took it upon himself to get up on his pulpit like the party-world Ian Paisley and denounce Madonna for glamourising "the shit that's held EDM back for years".
Let's be clear: You don't need to be on drugs to enjoy dance music. No one wants to share an insane, confusing rabbit hole with people who like psytrance. But "EDM", as the 'Mau5 insists on calling it, is so linked with recreational drug use that denying it is denying the whole culture. It would be like Shane MacGowan having a go at people for being pissed at a Pogues show, or SpaceGhostPurrp suddenly getting all "weed is a gateway" on us.
Photo by Sharif Sharifi
DJS ARE NOT ROCK STARS
As much as I'm sure it hurts you, you need to face up to the fact that the man behind the laptop is not the snake-hipped Serato Jagger you want him to be. He's merely a man with a laptop and a T-shirt with the name of his record label on it. DJs are almost invariably men with studio tans and a borderline-autistic knowledge of deleted EBM 12-inches and nosebleed techno bass synth sounds. It's what makes them who they are, and allows them to supplement their incomes ripping people off on Discogs. Sure, there are the odd few guys who've seen in enough dawns and made enough money to make themselves believe that they're rock stars, but the only people in Europe who still listen to Justice are the French.
Moodymann once said that "the talent is on the turntable", and while that's modest from such a great producer, he's onto something. Because nobody wants DJs with Bono complexes. There's a reason why the current crop of EDM superstars hide behind gimmicky masks and haircuts, and that reason is that they're mostly just dull as fuck, so stop staring at the booth like you're at church.
IT'S SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU HAPPY
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this isn't nu-metal, guys. Bush is out of the White House, you're on the way to getting all sorts of European liberties, you don't need another Woodstock '99 and no one wants to see a bunch of gurning people getting trampled to death in a circle pit. I know getting pilled up and licking each other's ears doesn't fit in with that whole "rugged induvidualism" thing, but give it a try. The kinship you'll feel with your fellow man will come in handy when you're enjoying that socialist future you're all looking forward to so much.
Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive
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