Raves: Gender and Sexuality

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The raves of the 90’s up to the present have been presented as temporary wonderlands, subverting mainstream culture and offering hordes of people a safe space to explore their gender and sexuality, contributing to the modern understanding of these facets of identity.  Raves are Electronic dance music(EDM) centered music festivals, usually taking place in large buildings or open spaces.  The history of EDM is also worth noting for its association with homosexuality in the beginnings.

Some of the first EDM music originated in Chicago in the 1980’s and quickly began growing in popularity, “especially among the gay community in Chicago” (King).  The underground and occasionally illegal rave culture that was just blossoming offered homosexuals in Chicago a safe place to embrace their sexuality and meet others who supported them.  In the beginning it started when DJs combined Disco music with electronic sounds with a repeating beat.  Within a decade rave festivals began to pop up around the world, beginning in Europe, but eventually making their way to the US.  The Electric Daisy Carnival (images 7 and 10) was one of the first large scale raves in the US.  These festivals began to multiply, expanding that safe space to reach many more people.

As rave culture grew and began to take its current shape, it developed a central theme of “peace, love, unity, and respect,” offering support and tolerance to every group.  This motto can be seen on the backside of the Nocturnal Wonderland image, where it says “Peace, Love, Unity, Bring on the noise!” (image 2).  One main document outlining this central dogma is the anonymously written “Raver’s Manifesto,” which describes a rave as a “magical bubble that can, for one evening, protect us from the horrors, atrocities, and pollution of the outside world” (Anonymous).  Individuals choose to become involved in a sub culture because of the support or sense of belonging that they offer.  Ravers choose this sub culture to escape from the pains of reality and be comfortable in their own identity.  As it relates to gender and sexuality, individuals can immerse themselves in a crowd of people who accept them for who they are.  This allows ravers to think more about who they are and how they want to be seen in society.  It helps them grow as people, noting that “somewhere around 35Hz [they] could feel the hand of God at [their] backs, pushing [them] forward, pushing [them] to push [themselves] to strengthen [their] minds, [their] bodies, and [their] spirits” in an effort of self-improvement” (Anonymous). The participants are striving to create a more progressive community by bettering themselves and others.

EDM music strives to be futuristic and progressive in its appearance and content, which is why this rave scene has only happened with EDM.  EDM and rave culture is very utopian in nature, constantly striving for a society that does not judge based on sexuality or gender, or any other part of an individual’s identity.  Raves are small attempts at forming this perfect world, if only for a night or a weekend.  Most participants actively attempt to include individuals of every gender and sexuality, to move past social constructs into a more welcoming community.  The back of the Nocturnal Wonderland flyer perfectly describes this, stating that “With your continued support and love we can bridge the barriers that separate us and build a sustainable culture for all to enjoy” (image 2).  Raves actively bring people together, while mainstream society tends to drive people apart.  It is for this reason that so many cling to raves as an outlet from a society that does not accept them.  The focus of this exclusion by society might be for many different reasons, but one focus is gender and sexuality.  In the temporary, non-judgmental community that is created, there are no obvious labels for gender and sexuality.  In the low-light and high intensity environment, these distinctions are blurred and it’s much more difficult to label participants.

Rave culture distinctly subverts mainstream culture’s definitions of gender and sexuality.  One main idea behind raves is to escape from society, taking every opportunity to move away from society into a more progressive community.  Even the depictions of raves as seen through the flyers are very dissimilar to modern life.  The front side of the Nocturnal Wonderland flyer illustrates this with its cartoon character and otherworldly imaging (image 1).  The back side of the Electric Daisy Carnival flyer provides the motto of “One People. One Planet. One Vibe,” referencing the central theme of acceptance and unity (image 7).  At raves, participants attempt to turn their back to society, but without hatred.  They seek to accept all individuals, even those who won’t accept them.  They want to be a central part of “a massive, global, tribal village that transcends man-made law, physical geography, and time itself” without harming or judging those who aren’t a part of it (Anonymous).  This goal has many resemblances to the hippy counter culture of the 1960’s.

The hippy counter culture of the 1960’s also sought to improve society by accepting every individual.  The article “How Ravers Became the New Flower Children” by Becca Rothfeld describes rave culture as the “second coming of flower-power,” referencing the afore mentioned 1960’s subculture (Rothfeld).  One comparison can be made with the events populated by members of the two subcultures.  Woodstock, one of the largest collections of people who identified as hippies, was held in New York and was a significant step, and arguably the greatest success of the hippy counter culture. The Electric Daisy Carnival holds similar importance for rave culture.  It was first held in Los Angeles in the early 1990’s, with a much smaller audience than it typically attracts today.  The Electric Daisy Carnival was the first major, consistent rave in the US.  Like Woodstock it was the prime display of the subculture for a while and was the main event that allowed people to learn about the values and motifs of the sub culture, at least in the US.  Fortunately for rave culture, the Electric Daisy Carnival and insomniac events in general (the company backing many large raves like EDC) fared better than Woodstock, which was not consistent in following years.

There is a significance to the somewhat hidden symbolism on rave flyers.  A prime example of this is in the Nocturnal Wonderland flyer from SDSU Special Collections, the first and second images in this post.  The flyer contains a large amount of fairytale and celestial objects like stars, butterflies, mushrooms, and flowers.  These objects combine to form a motif of acceptance, making the rave seem like a wonderland, appealing to more people.  The backside of the fyler even describes “Nocturnal Wonderland” as a “Global Unity Project,” illustrating the theme of acceptance (image 2).  The mushrooms can be a reference to the drug culture that is typical of raves, bringing participants to experience a wider range of emotions.  The flowers may be a reference to the peace in “PLUR” or even a reference to the hippy culture that shares so much with rave culture.  The Cheshire cat on the flyer, from “Alice in Wonderland,” may also represent a return to more primal urges of participants.  Escaping from the constraints of modern society, ironically through the ambience of electronic music, allows them to explore more of their primal, human emotions to grow more as a person.

Rave culture, since the early 1980’s, has offered a safe community for participants to explore and embrace their own gender and sexuality, among many other parts of their identity, without fear of reproach.  This subculture has been important in shaping modern conceptions of gender and sexuality.  Raves have been able to combine music and community to form temporary escapes from the modern world, which attract participants from every walk of life.



Rothfeld, Becca. “How Ravers Became the New Flower Children.” The New Republic, 26       July 2014, newrepublic.com/article/118854/edm-and-hippies-how-ravers-became-               new-flower-children.

King, Gus. “EDM/Rave Culture”. Grinnelle College. N.D.                                      http://haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultures-and-scenes/edmrave-culture/

Anonymous. “Raver’s Manifesto”

“Rave Flyers.” Between the Covers Rare Books, inc. Rave culture, mid 1990s- early 2000’s.    SDSU Special Collections



Rock and the Vietnam War


Soldiers during the Vietnam war looked up to rock symbols such as Jimi Hendrix and rock music in general to better understand their situation and express their feelings.  There was a strong dichotomy between the home front and the war, but it cosisted of as many similarities as there were differences.  Just like back at home, soldiers were often divided by cultural and racial differences.  This was made fun of in the Underground Rock radio station coming out of Saigon, Radio First Termer, which had as its host a man by the name of “Dave Rabbit.”  Leaving the air one night he said “There is no black power.  There is no White power.  Only rabbit power,” mocking the racial divides back at home.  It was this station and others at the war front that mocked many aspects of the war, often the reasons for the war itself.  This gave the soldiers something to cling to as they stood in a country they weren’t familiar with, having to fight an enemy they didn’t understand.  Jimi Hendrix in particular was important to the GI’s in Vietnam because the younger soldiers identified with him.  He was in the air force briefly before the war and emphasized the values of progression and rebellion, which many soldiers clung to.  By following him they felt that they could bring back part of home with them.  Through this and other avenues soldiers felt like they could still take place in the counter culture that was appearing back at home.  Another example of this is the “helmet graffiti” that occurred during the war.  Soldiers would illegally modify their helmets with quotes and phrases like the word “Peace” in order to identify with the counter culture and demonstrate their reluctance to participate in the war.



Kramer, Michael J. The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture. Oxford University Press, 2017.

Vietnam: A Soundtrack for the Entire Process

The Vietnam War was one of the most complicated conflicts in history. Public confusion about the motives behind American involvement led to the development of a somewhat extreme counterculture that advocated for the removal of American troops from Vietnam. Much of the rebellious nature of this counterculture was expressed through music, specifically rock music. American consumerism began to shift towards a new “hip” capitalism, which sought to incorporate contemporary individualistic ideals into traditional structures. The 1960’s was a time of unparalleled contradictions. One of the most prominent of these was American soldiers’ lives in Vietnam. Although rock music was sanctioned on the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN), the lyrics and sounds that the soldiers listened to were decidedly anti-war. As Michael J. Kramer posits in his book ” The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture,” the shift towards rock meant that “the US military appropriated rock music even though the music seemed associated with the antiwar movement, the counterculture, and a general sense of rebellion on the home front” (137). It was meant to bring a piece of home to the “theater of war,” and ultimately became a defining characteristic of the Vietnam war.  GIs in Vietnam could “occupy ambiguous positions between their roles as American soldiers in the midst of battle and civilians enjoying the latest domestic consumer culture” (139). Exposure to the counter-cultural ideas that encouraged citizens to question authority resonated with these men on the front lines. Many wrote lyrics or phrases on their helmets, a sign of rebellion in itself. Most of these sayings captured the irony of their situation: “PEACE,” “HIPPIE,” etc. Rock music complicated the traditional dichotomous relationships within the military because it “intensified experiences of Vietnam as a place of disarray and confusion, of blurred lines between official and unofficial knowledge, and of questioning the role of citizen-soldier” (137). The overall effect of rock music in Vietnam, besides boosting morale, was to inspire an acute self-awareness, which led to soldiers necessarily redefining themselves.

GI’s in Vietnam: Counter Culture through Music

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In Part Two: Vietnam, chapter five of  “Republic of Rock”, written by Michael Kramer, he elaborates on the military’s use of rock music  and other entertainment shows to “boost morale” in Vietnam.   Rock music was an extremely popular genre of music during the 1960s and military leaders needed to keep military personnel happy, therefore they turned to rock music to do so.  However, this plan quickly went against the military leadership’s plan as the newfound entertainment branch of the military began playing counter culture rock which was predominately anti-war music.

The entertainment branch of the armed forces most common medium for the music between soldiers in Vietnam was the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) Radio (Kramer, 180). This 24 hour radio station was created by the U.S. Armed Forces to entertain the American troops and constantly played rock music.  The entertainment branch of Vietnam spurred on the many conversations of peace, organizing troops for peace, and ultimately disobeying orders to fight (Kramer, 186).  I thought this movement was extremely interesting and complex as the individual soldiers began to organize civil disobedience movements while overseas fighting.  Without radio programs and live concerts of rock music, I believe this peace movement would not have been possible as these entertainment shows connected other like-minded soldiers about the peace protest movement going on at home and in country.

Overall, rock music legends such as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, and many more were all playing songs promoting the soldiers peace movement in Vietnam.  More and more soldiers began participating in demonstrations at home and abroad to voice their own opinions on the war.  This did not come without consequence, as many of the active duty soldiers involved in these movements were court martialed, thrown in military prison, or handed out other punishments.  However, rock music continued to inspire soldiers and citizens alike to speak out against the war in Vietnam and mobilize themselves to start movements for lasting change.


Picture 1:  http://www.onesixthwarriors.com/forum/attention-to-detail-1-1-talk-/100197-vietnam-reference-q.html

Picture 2:  http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2015/07/rock-and-roll-with-the-stoner-63-light-machine-gun-video-3183052.html

Article: Kramer, Michael J. (2013-04-05). The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture. Oxford University Press. Print.