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. Though 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.