Rave Culture: Soul Searching

Without a care in the world, escaping reality, dancing with friends, screaming on the top of your lungs, staring at awe at mesmerizing light shows, feeling happy and loved: what could be better than this? Raves and the culture surrounding them, has merged into American Culture for teenagers and young adults to participate in this thrilling experience. Though the culture has changed from its first emergence in the 1980s, there are still some aspects of the culture that are still seen today in the 21st century rave scene. Rave culture, specifically within the genre of psychedelic trance genre, has a spiritual sense to it because of the physical area/venue, the music, and the euphoria people experience while on substances, specifically those with MDMA, allowing attendees to escape and look beyond present reality.

Before diving into rave culture, it is essential to know what electronic dance music (EDM) is. EDM essentially is a broad umbrella term which encompasses a wide variety of sub-genres, including disco, electro, house, trance, and much more. Additionally, this type of music generally has a electronic and upbeat vibe, and usually builds up to a drop. The aforementioned subgenres have their own unique styles, though one may not notice the distinct differences on their first listen. To demonstrate the different types, but not all, of electronic music, refer to this video.

At 2:46 in the video above, trance is introduced, which is a unique subgenre that has gained popularity over the last couple decades. Trance can be broken up again into other genres, among them being psychedelic trance, progressive trance, dream trance, vocal trance, hard trance, and more. The term “trance” itself is defined as “a half-conscious state, seemingly between sleeping and waking, in which ability to function voluntarily may be suspended” (Dictionary.com). This dictionary definition, from the perspective of a rave attendee, would say that this type of rave music allows people to be in a different state of present mind in which they are not fully in the moment. It is almost as if these people feel as they are in a spiritual state. Though the meaning of spirituality can have different meanings, especially in the twenty-first century, I see spirituality as a means of one’s inner self to connect to and make sense of the world around them.

In the flyers pictured above, there is reminisce of spirituality within them. For one, in the flyer to the left for the B-Hive Reggae Jam, in blocked colorful letters, reads “Massive Irie Beats for Ya Soul”. This implies that the music offered at this event will help people connect to their inner self, to their soul, which is essential for spirituality. Even more indicative of spirituality is the rave flyer pictured to the right. In this rave flyer, by TIP productions, the main logo of the production company is Shiva. This logo has frequently appeared in various album covers by the group, which can also be found all throughout their soundcloud. Image result for shivaThough the songs of this group do not directly have religious motives behind them, there is a sense of spirituality with the use of Shiva, one of the three gods in the Hindu triumvirate. To add on, a significant feature of this god is the somewhat covered up third eye of Shiva, which represents his wisdom and insight. Others have also believed this third eye to be associated with untamed energy. Another part of religious culture is that Shiva is known to be the “Lord of the dance” because he a “rhythm of dance,” meaning the balance in the universe which Shiva is believed to hold so masterfully (BBC). Interestingly enough, TIP productions depicts the spiritual side of psychedelic trance. In this example with the TIP productions logo, one can see that there is a correlation between the Shiva and rave culture. For example, the third eye of Shiva represents this god having untamed energy and being the “Lord of the dance”, much like the attendees of psychedelic trances have. Music-goers of this genre attend these music scenes and dance for hours and hours on end, usually until dawn.

As aforementioned, people that attend these raves generally dance all throughout the night without a hint of being tired. This long lasting energy is usually due to substances, specifically molly or ecstasy. Though not all attendees of these events partake in this, it has become highly prevalent in rave culture. The two drugs are similar in its effects, as they both contain MDMA. The substance alters a person’s state of mind by giving them an enhanced released and/or inhibition of reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, though greater amounts of serotonin and norepinephrine. The effect of this chemical change in the brain is that people initially become overly sensitive in sight and physical touch and have an elevated mood. Those who take the drug are generally “report feelings of being open to love, share, and communicate and being generous with their time and attention to others” (590). This being said, this also enhances the rave experience. The physical venue and scene itself is filled with loud music and flashing, blinding lights. This combined with the MDMA gives rave-goers a sensory overload to the point that their eyes often roll back. That’s when you know someone is having a good time.

When the rave is over and when MDMA wears off the following day, people generally have negative psychological effects, as they are immensely depleted of serotonin; though, people say it is still worth it. Despite the negative effects, which can last up to two weeks, the MDMA drug scene is still prominent in rave culture. This longing to still continue to partake in these drugs can be different among people, though a general pattern seems to take play. Ecstasy and molly allow ravers to enhance their rave experience while also gaining a sense of spirituality, whether they know it or not. Because the drug alters one’s state of mind, allowing one to feel happier than usual, there is an opening in one’s heart to explore their inner soul and interact with others in this almost alternate reality. 

Works Cited
Forsyth, Craig J., and Heith Copes. “Encyclopedia of Social Deviance.” ProQuest: Ebook
Central, SAGE Publications Inc. , 28 May 2014, us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/encyclopedia-of-social-deviance/book238740.
“Religions – Hinduism: Shiva.” BBC, BBC, 24 Aug. 2009, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/
hinduism/deities/shiva.shtml.
“What Is Trance Music?” Trance Republic, trancerepublic.org/what-is-trance-music/.
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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.

 

Bibliography

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