What is a rave? Raving is a highly subjective experience. One person’s best rave is another person’s worst. Any attempt to analyze rave culture must recognize the highly personal factor of the experience. Author Daniel Martin defines a rave as a long period of constant energetic and stylistic dancing exhibited by a large group of people in a hot, crowded facility providing continuous loud House music and an accompanying strobe lit psychedelic light show (78). But what effect does the rave scene really have on popular culture? Since the beginning of this culture there has been much controversy on the legality of what goes on in the scene.
Through the history, music, people, spirituality we are introduced to one of the newest things affecting pop culture today. Rave culture can be traced back to Native American religious ceremonies. It can be traced back to the sixties Be-Ins and Love Ins and Acid Tests. It can be traced back to anarchist revolutions in Italy and France. It pulls energy from many different directions. It had its origins in Chicago and Detroit disco clubs and gay dance clubs, and also in progressive music from England such as Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode.
England and America traded musical influences back and forth during the late seventies-early eighties until techno finally started to be formed. The actual rave movement, however, combining this new music with dancing, occurred in England. At almost the exact same time, raves started popping up in Manchester and Ibiza, a noted English vacation spot, in late 1987 and early 1988. At this same time, the rave phenomenon was taking hold in Germany, most notably in Berlin (Jordan 30). The popularity of raves grew in both countries, and soon the intimate all-night dance parties were drawing thousands of kids.
They were also drawing DJs from the United States. Author Joel Jordan talks about the beginning of this movement when he states, In the early nineties, the rave scene began moving across the Atlantic to America, fueled by American DJs eager to take this incredible thing back home, and English DJs eager to expand their horizons (34). The first U. S. raves were held in San Francisco, long noted for its liberal and psychedelic culture. From here, they moved to Los Angeles and the rave scene was born in California. (Jordan 40). The rave scene that was born in America was one of complete illegality.
It began when Frankie Bones, a New York native and one of the U. S. DJs that was spinning in England, saw that the scene was moving into America, and wanted to bring it to his hometown of Brooklyn. He started a series of parties called Stormrave in early 1992. The parties started out small, 50-100 kids, and Frankie resorted to projecting videos of the massive raves in England to show kids what it was all about. It was during this period of Stormraves that many DJs made their debuts. Now household names among ravers, Sven Vath, Doc Martin, Keoki, Josh Wink and many others began their careers at Frankie’s Stormraves.
It was in December of 1992 that the rave scene started growing. Frankie held a party at an abandoned loading dock in Queens that drew over 5000 kids from New York and neighboring states (Redhead 60). According to rave myth, this was when Frankie made his speech about peace, love, unity, and respect, which were to become PLUR, the foundation of the American rave scene. It was also during this rave that three guys from Milwaukee decided to come check it out. These guys later were to form Drop Bass Network, based in Milwaukee, and now one of the bigger promoter groups in the country.
Joel Jordan explains, They also introduced the scene to the Mid-West. The rave scene grew in America in 1993 and 1994 (56). While the rave scenes in England and Germany were becoming commercial empires, the American rave scene still had its fresh idealism. There were now raves happening across the country, in all of the states. The music at a rave is techno, primarily electronically created music that generally has a high level of bass. It tends to be fast-paced, running from between about 115 Beats Per Minute (BPM) to 300 BPM, with the most common being about 120 BPM to 140 BPM (Jordan 78).
Barnard describes techno by its slavish devotion to the beat, the use of rhythm as a hypnotic tool. It is also distinguished by being primarily, and in most cases entirely, created by electronic means\” (44). Normally at a rave, a DJ \”spins\” to create the music that the ravers hear. The act of spinning is the art of mixing songs together using different pitches, different speeds, and an equalizer to create an ever-flowing, ever-changing wall of sound. In effect, artists record techno songs, which are then reinterpreted and mixed with other techno songs, creating a spontaneous new song. Techno has its origins in gay dance clubs and hip-hop.
Chicago DJs began mixing their dance music with a drum synthesizer and house was born: The classic House is simple: a four quarter beat: 1 2 3 4 in a not too fast tempo(120 beats per minute) at about the speed of the heart of the dancer. On the 2 and 4, there is a snare drum or hand clap; in between 1 2 3 4 of the bass drum, you hear hi hats. The tracks are finished with some happy/swinging sounds and a simple melody. (Swertz) From house, came acid house, which involved adding the Roland 303, a synthesizer that was able to produce different layers and pitches. It contains a deeper psychedelic sound of trippy waves.
Then the music continued to evolve, into techno, both \”Detroit\” style and Hardcore. Experts New Order and Kraftwerk describe it as a fusion of American P-funk and European synthesizer music (qtd. in Swertz 1). Hardcore is basically a really hard and really fast version of Detroit techno. From here, we get further permutations. Breakbeat uses hip-hop samples and reggae tunes. Jungle uses a lot of percussive bongo and drumming sounds, as well as bringing in chants. Darkside utilizes minor chordal progressions to create an \”evil\” feeling. Trance was developed, very melodic and hypnotizing music that tends to be on the slow side.
Author Swertz states The basic beat is 1 2 3 4, hence techno, and 140+ BPM. The hi hats between the four beats are louder than in other genres. The bass can go higher and lower. The tracks are finished with dreamy and spacey sound scapes (2). Dancing is, to an extent, yet another reiteration of the music. The music that the DJ creates spontaneously is a text. Author Roberts explains, \”The dancer then in turn re-interprets this text through movements of the body… the \”reader\” therefore, whether in the role of dancer, DJ, or user of sampling technology contributes a mindset that is culturally specific and productive in itself\” (87).
Rave dancing can be highly stylistic, or extremely vulgar. The beat is the driving force. Whether one is doing highly choreographed dance moves or simply thrusting their body back and forth ceases to matter. It is losing oneself to the beat, becoming one with the music by letting the music control your movements. Ravers are a unique crowd. While rave culture espouses individualism, a come-as-you-are mentality, there are definitely many similarities among ravers in general. A unique aspect of rave culture is the fashion.
There is a definite sense of individualism within the rave fashion scene; you are likely to see someone in jeans, someone in black vinyl pants, or someone in costume. However, many people fit into a definite \”typical raver\” mold. For males, baggy pants are the norm. A very tight shirt, no shirt, or a sweatshirt is also common for males. For females, it gets more interesting. The typical rave girl has short hair; it is often in barrettes. She wears a baby doll dress, or pants and a cut off tee shirt. She is often sucking on a pacifier. Infantilism in general is very predominant among ravers.
Pacifiers, stuffed animals, lollipops, and shirts emblazoned with cartoon characters are common. In a sense, this embodies the culture. It is a regaining of innocence and a chance to forget about problems for a while. Drugs have been a part of the rave scene since the beginning. In England, the rave scene originated with MDMA or Ecstasy. In America, it was LSD or acid. At first, acid and occasional marijuana use were the only drugs seen at raves in America. Then, Ecstasy and other drugs moved in. Drugs are a frequent topic of debate among ravers.
Some think that drugs should be done away with entirely. Others think that only drugs that increase the vibe should be allowed, namely marijuana, LSD, and ecstasy. Ecstasy or MDMA was created in 1912 and patented by the pharmaceutical company E (Robson 138). MDMA causes a massive release of sarotonin, which is thought to play and important role in regulating mood, sleep, hunger, sexual activity, and it is also known to increase ones senses. The drug is almost always swallowed, but can also be snorted or injected into a vein and the effect usually lasts around 5 hours or so.
Some short-term effects from ecstasy use are clumsiness, drowsiness, fear or anxiety, depression, racing heart, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. The most numerous users are young, energetic ravers who consume this drug for several reasons. Music becomes physically pleasurable and strangers become people to be loved. Ecstasy broke down egos. It was a perfect fit with the happy family that the rave scene was trying to create. However, as greed has taken hold within the scene, Ecstasy is no longer pure. (Robson 141). It is usually cut with baking powder, or worse, various pesticides and poisons.
There are many other drugs, though not as popular as ecstasy, present at a rave. Cannabis, or Marijuana is usually smoked and is said to be relaxing and stimulating. LSD or Acid is a hallucinogenic or psychedelic drug usually absorbed into little pieces of paper called blotter. Speed is a stimulant drug, which produces alertness, confidence and raises levels of energy and stamina. GHB, sometimes referred to as the date rape drug, usually comes as an odorless liquid and is classified as a sedative-hypnotic and usually causes a user to feel dizzy and sleepy, often causing loss of consciousness.
Magic mushrooms contain psilocybin and are classified as a psychedelic drug with effects similar to those of LSD. Ketamine or Special K belongs to the class of drugs called \”dissociative anesthetics,\” and produces a hallucinogenic effect. Another dissociative anesthetic, nitrous oxide, is inhaled and results in temporary loss of motor control. The use of alcohol is also commonly used before or during a rave (Robson ch. 9). There is a tangible energy that goes along with dancing to extremely loud beats with hundreds of other people.
Raves are a shared experience. A sense of unity often develops among ravers, in which, personal creeds, race, gender, age, sexual preference and everything else that our society places so much emphasis on simply fades into the background. \”There is a magic moment that can happen at a rave, explains Steve Redhandwhen everyone is dancing you experience a feeling of collective organism, and I think people that have had this experience view the world differently afterwardsthe world is not made up of individuals vying for power, but ratherone throbbing thing\” (45).
Another phrase commonly thrown around in circles of ravers is that of PLUR, which stands for Peace, Love, Unity and Respect. In many senses, PLUR is the dogma that ravers believe in. The rave scene has always existed as separate from mainstream society, an underground movement, a movement labeled as deviant by those in the mainstream. When the scene started, everything was done on an illegal basis. After a year or so of straight illegality, promoters made a conscious effort to secure spaces where their parties would not be busted.
Promoters must receive permits to use buildings for parties, and for sound, and many times the cops must be involved and present at a rave to assure that things are under control. There is definitely a beauty to the rave scene but at the same time it has been corrupted by commercialization, and the fears society has from this growing culture. The rave scene has become swamped in commercialism. When it started to grow in popularity, it was inevitable that some kind official would notice. The first officials to notice were police, and then city governments.
Then, it naturally moved to the boardrooms of major companies. (Martin 79) They have attempted to portray the rave scene in movies such as Groove, and Go which comes up way short in doing anything beyond simply enlightening the uninformed as to what a rave is composed of. The rave scene is being appropriated into mainstream culture. In a way, this is the best defense that society could have ever used against the rave scene. As the rave scene becomes more popular, fewer people are going to create a temporary loving space, and more people are going to be on drugs.
It is now common to see kids sitting against the wall snorting crystal meth or shooting heroin, drugs that have never been a part of the scene. American society is fickle. Fads do not last long. Electronica is the next big thing and is covered in Time and Newsweek. American consumers are gobbling it up. Punk music, grunge/alternative music, rap, all of these were once the next big thing. The rave scene will be appropriated, for a while. Then, a new big thing will come along that society latches onto. What remains to be seen however, is whether the rave scene is strong enough to survive.