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