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/__\ s s e m b l a g e techno \/ music V 1.1
/ \S S E M B L A G E rave /\ culture NOV 92
issue editor russell potter email@example.com
_Assemblage_ is a deliberately ephemeral, occasional, mobile
journal that will publish reviews of techno/rave music, raves,
dances, along with articles on the social implications of this
music (if any). Freelance reviews, signed or unsigned, are
BEGIN PART 2
Music, Body, and the Reign of the Senses
Russell A. Potter
(c) 1992 Russell A. Potter
This text may be freely shared among
individuals, but may not be republished
in any form without the consent of the
1. The dance as a sovereign gesture.
In Georges Bataille's text, _Sovereignty_, he delineates a
cultural domain, a domain that is sovereign in the sense that it
is neither _for_ nor _about_ anything else. The sovereign, for
Bataille, is opposed both to utility and objectivity; it is
useless, it disdains use, and it scorns the (bourgeois) world of
'things.' It chooses the present rather than the past or the
future; the transgressive rather than the obedient; its domain is
excess, the realm of eroticism and the indecipherable. Yet at the
same time, the sovereign is crucial, for it represents that share
of each society's (and each individual's) life which is
unsubjected to the constraints of work, to the endless deferral of
desire which is sublimation. Without such epiphanies of
unsubjection, society itself would burst under the strain; the
refusal of society's boundaries is the (re)marking of those very
boundaries. Thus, inevitably, the value of the sovereign is also
its undoing, and necessitates its continuing re-doing; it is not
enough to dance once, one must dance and dance dance again. Not
the dance as a performance, offered for the consumption of others,
but the dance of Dionysos, the dance as the social ritual which
marks and exceeds the limits of the social. Dance is the supreme
gesture of abandon, the embrace of the moment, the abeyance of
work and the annihilation of guilt, neurosis, and the burden of
the past. If there is a revolt against the continual demand of
bourgeois society, the demand to work in order to accumulate
things (including leisure itself, insofar as it is a thing), this
revolt can only take place in the domain of the sovereign, and its
technic will be the dance.
2. Dance: technic of the totality
Dance is not merely on the side of the subject (s/he who
dances), but also on the side of the object (s/he with whom s/he
dances); it is spectacular as well as completely interior. In fact,
the dance is capable of holding in abeyance the entire
subject/object split. The associated technics of dance, from the
earliest times, amplify this abeyance of the subject: incense,
masks, hallucinogenic drugs, firelight or dim light, costumes,
perfume, the relentless pounding of the beat. Current technology
amplifies these technics still more, with strobe lights, lasers,
black lights, moving dancefloors, neon, and an even wider palette
of drugs. Such was the genesis of technorave music: in the
industrial wastelands, whether of Detroit or Leeds, organizers
rented disused warehouses, silent icons of the post-industrial
wasteland. Portable sound and light systems would be set up,
invitations spread by fliers, over computer networks, or by word
of mouth, and by a few hours after nightfall the warehouse would
be full. The dance lasted, often, till the morning ("rave till
dawn," a phrase borrowed from the hip-hop dj's exhortation "On
and on / till the break of dawn"), an incursion against the day,
against society, against work, against the eternally deferred
bourgeois happiness whose promise had long ago whithered in the
shadows of vacant steel mills and ghostly factories.
Yet this history is but one phosphorescent fragment of the
eternal return of the dance; from the dances of Dionysos to the
medieval carnivals, from the bootleg whisky and jug-band blues of
southern barrelhouses in the 1880's to the prohibition mix of
bathtub gin and jazz at 1930's speakeasies, to whenever and
wherever the Grateful Dead pulled into a concert, be it the 60's
or the 90's. This link between music and the body of the social
is no anomaly; if there is any anomaly it is the hypercephalic
spectacle of the audience at a symphony, each deeply lost in
thought, their limbs motionless at their sides, where any
suggestion of physicality (even a sneeze!) is regarded with horror
. . .
3. Dance: The loss of self
Like the eastern disciplines of Yoga and Zen, the point of
the dance is the _loss_ of subjectivity, the immersion of the
tyrannical ego in the bath of undifferentiated subjectivity. It is
thus necessarily a collectivity of the most profound kind, even
more so than riot and revolutions -- for riots and revolutions
have their aims, their goals, and are directed to those ends,
whereas the energy of the dance is entirely consumed in the
polymorphous conflagration of the senses. Sexualities, personas,
postures -- all are lifted from whatever 'place' society may
assign, and mobilized in the great enactment of the dance, which
is both acknowledgement and reversal of all the other 'acts' which
one must 'put on' to maintain one's position in society.
Thus the place of the dance is anyplace: under the stars,
under the rusted i-beams of the industrial bombshelters of the
past, under the glow of lasers, black lights, and strobes. The
time of the dance is the eternal present of the senses, a
deliberate forgetting and abandonment of the myriad threads which
weave us into our neurotic fixations with what has been, or will
be. For once, all the energy we waste at these devotions is set
free, and mobilized into the collective and limitless space of the
rave. To see, and to be seen; to smell, to taste, above all
always to be in motion: this is the complete abeyance of time and
the reign of the _useful_. The time of the dance is no time at
all, it is measured only in the endless stream of beats, now
faster, now slower, now fast and hard again . . . .
4. Industrial, Techno and the Return of the Carnival
In the shadow of the Black Death and the ceaseless invasions
and counter-invasions of mercenary knights, the inhabitants of
what would later be named the "Middle Ages" celebrated life in the
inverted rituals of the Carnival: Anti-Masses were conducted by
celebrants who walked backwards and wore the heads of asses; young
girls and boys were crowned kings and annointed bishops; men and
women exchanged clothes and roles, and everywhere people drank and
danced in a frenzy of life, life which declared this day its
territory and refused its accursed pasts and futures. The domain
of the Carnivalesque was also the domain of the Carnal, of desire
unrefused, of the celebration of fucking, pissing, defecating, and
puking, of all the human exchanges upon which the territory of the
social had set its prohibition.
The technologies of this carnival were relatively simple:
facepaint made from roots and grasses; costumes and masks of
leather, wool, and bark; for the inebriation of the senses there
was mead, wine, and ale; for hallucinatory excursions there was
ergot, henbane, and nightshade. This is the domain that Hans
Peter Duerr calls _Traumzeit_, or Dreamtime; it is the "other"
time that continually erupts into the pious days and hours of both
sacred and secular calendars. And, when the "middle ages"
gradually faded into memory with the incursion of industrial
technology, this "time" was for a moment quelled; where, after
all, could one stage a carnival among the narrow, sooty streets of
the new industrial cities of the UK and the USA? Where it
survived, as in New Orleans, the Carnival became perversely the
property of the propertied; with costumes and floats consuming
thousands of hours and thousands of dollars, the display of the
carnival was appropriated from the masses (though drink, at least,
and the license of the lewd, was left them).
Yet even as it appeared to extinguish the spark of the
Carnival, industrial culture could not permanently repress it.
Ironically, it was the industrial muse that itself supplied the
soundtrack for the return of the Carnival, whether in the
mechanical noises and imagery of the 20's and 30's (e.g.
_Metropolis_ or the _Ballet Mechanique_) or in the rancorous
resonances of Einstuerzende Neubaten, who made music by banging on
bridges and hammering on discarded metal tubes. Just as the
Carnival had founded its reaction upon the bourgeois-Christian
ethos of its day by tearing open a gateway to the pagan past,
"Industrial" music attacked the despair of the post-industrial
landscape by re-appropriating the very objects that society had
discarded: disused warehouses, vacant fields, and abandoned
amusement parks. It was bricolage and pastiche from the start,
and its beat was provided by the very technologies it mobilized
against; in the heart of the machine, it appeared, was a beat, and
the beat initiated the very dance that was the undoing of the
world the machine made.
The Gothic ruins of the 90's, the empty rustbelt caverns of
smelters, foundries, and warehouses, thus became the scene of a
new cyberindustrial fusion, in which the boundaries between human
and machine were deconstructed under the strobes and lasers of
that very machine. The capital-industrial machine itself,
inevitably, has attempted to appropriate and commodify this new
form, and yet it is always _too little_ and _too late_. By the
time the music "industry" had figured out how to market
"industrial" music, that music had already shifted, mutated, taken
on a new skin like some recombinant virus, to once again penetrate
the system and begin (re)producing its subversive beats. Acid
House, Hip-Hop, or Technorave; all have continued to evolve at an
astonishing pace, making new incursions from sites just outside
the genre-lines of record store bins (is Consolidated hip-hop?
Techno? Industrial? What about Eon? Greater Than One? The
Beatnigs?). Similarly, just as 1-900 RAVE hotlines have tried to
capitalize the space of ever-changing rave numbers, or high-tech
high-cover-charge clubs have tried to divert the curious by making
"rave" a thing and selling it by the inch, ravers have mobilized
away, finding new venues, new lines of communication, new formats.
With luck, and with dedication, this process will continue,
and the commodity shell-game will always be a step away. The new
technologies make it easier, in fact, to evade commodification;
with a small array of machines and mixers that could fit into a
bedroom or a panel truck, rave DJ's can stay one mix ahead. In
the UK, even as various government ministers condemned "ravers"
and "travellers," their condemnations were sampled and set to a
beat within 24 hours; in the USA George Bush and Tipper Gore have
been relentlessly sampled by everyone from Ice-T to Consolidated
to Front Line Assembly. It is difficult to resist the massmedia
machine by rebuttal, but via the appropriation enabled by
sampling, parody is only a beat away. Long may the hip-hop crews
and rave DJ's continue, and long may the dance repeat its refusal
of the strictures of society . . .
Reflections on the Rave Generation
by Robert Hooker, Chicago Il
I went to a rave and I started to feel old. Here in Chicago it is pretty
hip to go to a Rave; most of my friends have never heard of one.
In my late twenties, I am in the uncomfortable situation being between
two great cultural happenings; hippies and ravers. There is sort of an empty
feeling in the middle.
I like to rave because it exposes me to youth, but it can also make me
feel a little old. At a Rave I don't rediscover my youth but I discover
the youth of a new generation that I am not one of, that I don't fully
understand. I become very aware that this new generation that is coming
of age now, the first post-cold-war generation, is very different then
myself and my generation.
Also I feel for the first time that I am one of the old people that these
kids are the youth that is opposed to me as the old. For young and old
oppose each other and even though we try to make up middle grounds (the
pathetic "Middle-Aged" is a case in point) you are generally one or the
other. At I rave I really become aware of a generation gap that, even
though it does not affect myself that much, keeps most of my friends away.
The last rave I went to was an all ages things here in Chicago full of high
school students all dresses in the latest rave fashion. In fact there was
so much Cross Colors and Fresh Jive that it seemed more like a parody of a
rave then a rave itself. Though I enjoyed myself thoroughly and love
techno music more then anything I grew up with, the rave continued to
leave me with a confused feeling that I could not put my finger on.
After this Rave my group went to a Punk/Heavy Metal bar by visited by
an older crowd. Walking into the bar looked like walking into a crypt, the
punks, dead heads and metal heads (we are a generation of heads) look like
walking zombies, corpses, worshipers of death in black leather. It felt
comfortable to be back among "normal" people.
Then it hit me, what it meant to be my generation. Our generation in all
its trends was driven by an ever present awareness of death and
hopelessness produced by the anxiety of the cold war. We embraced death
for what it seemed to be to us; the only future we had any reason to
believe in. Death runs throughout so many of our trends, heavy metal,
Yet this is not the zeitgeist of the rave generation. The cold war was
ending when they were in elementary school. But what drives the Rave
set in their baggy pants and funky hats, sucking on their glow-in-the-dark
lollypops? Consumerism, oralism, dancing? What is in the mind of
this first post cold war generation?
For a late-twenties such as myself the question becomes how do you read
a rave, how do you decode a rave. What in their world are they referencing,
what principle, hopes, fears give rise to the rave. What is the meaning to their
oralism, their embracing of consumerism, their loose clothing the color of gum
But what would have been my answer if I had been asked at 17 for the meaning
of my generation and its trends? I could not have answered. Probably no one
could have answered. Probably no one can provide the meaning of an social
movement while it is still going on. Case in point are the endless stupid
explanations of the 60's written during the 60's.
Today the rave generation is simply creating raving, they are making a
cultural happening occur. They are raving a rave into existence rather
then reading a meaning into the rave.
Not until they have finished their college years, not until Rave is over
and they are faced with a new generation which makes them aware of
themselves, will the Ravers find the words to describe what went on,
not until it is all over will they be able to tell me what it was the made
them what they are, or how they see the world different then I. Then
rave will stop being a movement but an influence, a way of looking, a
kind of theory.
These theories or outlooks on the world are what is left behind by once
dynamic vital social happenings, like the skeleton left behind by a dead
animal. You can not have both the skeleton and the living body. Probably
just as you can not rave and read the rave at the same time. It is only after
the hand is done writing that we can read what has been written.
Perhaps this is the very essence of what distinguishes creation of
criticism- creation is a living, vital process of becoming, a process so
dynamic that the bonds between signs and meanings are unable to solidify.
Creation is governed play and a desire for fun. Criticism is a later
process, only after creative energy has been finished with a thing can we
read the meaning left behind. Criticism is concerned with things left us,
things that are now absent from direct experience. Criticism is governed
by a desire to make the world an object- governed by rules.
Creation is interested in the new, the fun, the young, criticism is
interested in preservation, tradition, history, timelessness. For now,
"Rave" is still an indeterminate word; the Rave scene is still free of the
burdensome weight of meaning. We will only be able to read its meaning
after it is over.
But the same is true of any cultural happening. We can only think about
the now in terms of the then. Probably this accounts for such bad name choices
for modern trends. We talk about Cyberpunk long after the punks are gone, We
say Industrial music when we live in a post-industrial society (perhaps rock and jazz are the real industrial music), we even call our age POSTmodern. We can only think about what is in terms of what was.
I have set out to write about raving but have come to the realization that
I can not "write", "write" in a deep sense much deeper then just describing,
then meaning of raving. For now a Rave is just strange symbols without fixed
meaning. the rave isstill the domain of play, of Sesame's Treet and glow-in-the-dark real neat stuff. And this is why the drugs, balloons, and dancing is so much fun; turn off the brain--forget the semiotics of American popular culture is the only way to keep up with the times--the only way to Rave.
HAVE WE BEEN HERE BEFORE?
HIPPIES AND RAVERS, 60s and 90s
Arthur Chandler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When I walk down Haight Street in San Francisco these days, I think of
Mark Twain's saying: "History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes." Haight
St. 1992 looks a lot like Haight Street 1967: offbeat clothing, street music,
vivid posters, dope bums and psychedelic messiahs, tourists cautiously
looking for a hip good time.... "Yep," I say to myself, "It sure looks
But wait a minute, Mark: "light" rhymes with "night" and "fight."
They're not the same thing at all. Are those similarities signs of something
deeper -- a common connection between the 60s and the 90s? Is Ecstasy an updated
version of Blue Cheer LSD, and is house music just acid rock in new
To the point: do the similarities reach down to the heart, or are they
just a matter of surface style? Do the spirits of the era rhyme?
To someone who has lived through both eras, the most striking similarity
is the music scene. When the tribes gathered in the Summer of Love, they were
called by he music: Santana, it's A Beautiful Day, Jefferson Airplane, the
immortal Dead and, beyond all others, the Beatles. The hippie tribes
gathered at Fillmore West, the Avalon Ballroom, the Family Dog, and in the green
spaces of Golden Gate Park. They got high and danced to the music and the
Now the music calls again. . .
Now they gather in Toontown and in dusty warehouses, and on the
beaches. They get high and dance to the music and the lights. But at first glance (and first hearing), raver music doesn't rhyme with psychedelic music. Lyrics don't matter as music to the ravers as they did to the hippies. When and if the human voice does shout through, it's often sampled and jacked out of the human realm. Words and phrases are cut up and recombined, and the original thought and emotion are lost or transformed into a kind of mantra (listen to what Orb does to the words of the breathles
s narrator in "Little Fluffy Clouds").
House and techno seem harder, digitally insistent; the spirit that pervades
the tribal music of Cyberia is that of the microchip.
At the concerts, the music makers have changed their instruments. DJs
have replaced live musicians jamming down on their axes. Here in San Francisco,
Jeno and Garth rules; here Grace Slick and Paul Kantner rocked the crowds a
quarter of a century ago. Moving from one turntable to another, adjusting
the mix, rocking one record back and forth until its music is ready to be
wedged in under the current sounds from the other turntable -- the DJs moves are
far away from the lead guitar smiling at the bassist, both of them trading
licks and feeding them to the keyboard player as they all take the pulses from
the flailing drummer.
But though the musics and their makers look and sound so different, the
rhyme of the 60s and 90s is real, like "light" and "bright." Above all,
around all, there is Community. A strong sense of community pervades the core
of the raver community, as it did among the hippies. The community is held
together by a common (if not quite universal) sense of tolerance and fellowship
with the whole world. Like the "Gathering of the Tribes" in Golden gate park
in the 1960s, raves are open to everyone.
Well, maybe not quite everyone.
The rhyme ends here.
dancing with a thousand raving brothers and sisters under the full moon
on the beach or under the mutating fractals uncoiling on the projection screen
-- "One world! No color or gender barriers! Come, Unity!" shouts the yes-voice
within the raver. But later, as he/she chills out and appraises other
people, a small worry whispers, "Who are those suits and high schoolers coming
across the bridges and through the tunnels to *our* rave? And that too chummy dude over there who keeps trying to score E -- ten to one he's a cop."
The hippies always had a sense of community and, in their Higher
Moments, a perception of being part of the whole human community. But (except for the dopers who took too much speed) the paranoia about outsiders didn't set in late in the movement -- and it proved to be one of the dissolving agents of
the hippies community. "Suspicion on our part justifies deceit in others,"
said La Rochefoucauld; and once the worm of suspicion gets going, it eats he
heart out of a community.
There are signs that the worm may be loose in the raver world. There
exists,among a number of ravers, a kind of clubbiness, a sense of being "in" and
wanting others to stay out. The exclusiveness isn't race- or gender-motivated;
it seems o emerge from a kind of inner-circle hipness. "Don't let them --
Joe Lawyer and Jane Realestate, Freddie teenybopper and Marvin Mediaman, Professor Anna List -- into the rave scene, or it's all over for us!"
"Your name's not down, you're not coming in." The community becomes a
members-only party, where acceptance into the "real" rave community is
dependent upon knowing the "right" people: the ones who know where the real
action is tonight, and who let you know when and where it is ("And don't
tell anyone you can't trust!").
This suspicion of outsiders leads me to one final point of difference --
the last non-rhyme -- between hardcore hippies and ravers. In the 1960s,
the ideal philosophy of the hippies could be summed up in the phrase, "ALL
YOU NEED IS LOVE." Love for another person, for the music, for whatever in
life you've given your heart to. Love is all you need. The song said it;
and, for better and for worse, many of them/us believed it and tried to live up
to the possibilities and consequences of that idealism.
I don't find this common ground of idealism among ravers. or maybe I
should ask the question (and end the essay) thus:
How do YOU fill in the blank?
ALL YOU NEED IS __________________________
[END OF PART 2 OF *ASSEMBLAGE* 1.1]