Raves and electronic “house” music (see: techno, dubstep, etc), have become our generation’s de-facto counterculture concert shtick in the past few years. They’ve grown terrifyingly popular in the past decade, posting staggering attendance numbers (100,000 people attended the second night of Los Angeles’ Electric Daisy Carnival last June) and their DJs have suddenly become household names, party playlist mainstays, and Grammy attendees (wasssssup, David Guetta). Fact is, this “rave thing” is more than a fad or your druggie cousin’s wet dream; it’s literally a music revolution that’s exploding before some very (dilated) eyes. And, as with any revolution, it sounds exciting, refreshing, and….(apologies)…revolutionary. But don’t buy all the hype or drink all the Kool Aid. This might be a revolution, but it’s no Woodstock—despite what event planners (and that damn cousin of yours) might tell you.
Lord knows they’ll try, though. And, of course, that’s the idea—legitimacy through favorable comparison. As such, the rave movement recruits in romantic, idealized, even flowery fashion. It offers ideals (“peace, love, unity, and respect”–a common mantra at raves), freedom of expression (dance away, awkward white man!), extensive opportunities—and endless encouragement—for drug use, extraordinary popularity, and, perhaps most importantly, scantily clad ladie—uhh, sexual gratification. Sounds a lot like Woodstock, right? It should. And I haven’t even gotten to the event names yet, which include (but are not limited to): Together as One, Lovefest, and Electric Daisy Carnival—I mean, they might as well be paying hippie-royalties at this point. However, amidst the tie-dye diggin’, neon-lovin’, drug-pimpin’ atmosphere, it all sounds deliciously, temptingly Woodstockian. That is, until you ditch the propaganda and consider the music….which says, well, nothing.
Literally—it’s usually lyric-less. And not in the Beethoven, Coltrane, or “Tequila” song of way, where there’s an intimate human element involved (that is, the instrument). In the case of rave music, the chief aesthete is stimulation—raw, consuming, seemingly “tribal” stimulation. When you boil it down, really, a successful house song can be measured by one simple question: does it blow your mind? (variations include: does it melt your face? and did you just pee yourself?). Rave music incites the sensory, indulges the superficial, and thrives on the synthetic. Nobody goes attends a rave to think, reflect, or engage in introspection. No, you go to be stimulated—saturated with the loudest noises, the prettiest lights, and the craziest outfits. And you do it all under the influence of Ecstasy, a drug solely engendered to make you feel good. None of that spiritual nonsense or existential, soul-quaking questioning you get with other drugs….you know, thinking and such. Instead, “E” drives pure, cathartic release, tuning body and mind to the steep, sharp stimulation of the music’s bass and beats. And ravers, caught up in the breathless, intoxicating nature of the situation, care less about what music means, and more about what it moves. But what does it move, exactly, beyond our limbs and capacity for “feeling good?”
It’s a steep departure from Woodstock, a heavier, deeper music n’ drug revolution. Now that was counterculture. That movement, my friends, really meant something—and it was a lot of fun too. Granted, it had its problems—STDs, bad trips, and blown-out brains, to name a few—but the Woodstock movement actually fought against something. “Peace, love, unity, and respect” weren’t just buzzwords, but integral components of the music itself, which challenged the Vietnam War, decried racism, and upended the uncompromising status quo of 1960s America. Furthermore, hippies didn’t want to just feel alive; they also wanted to know why they were alive, even if it meant dropping enough acid to see Jim Morrison’s beard in a glass of Coca-Cola. Hippies, in short, walked the talk.
Maybe there’s just not enough reason to “walk,” though. I mean, our generation’s “struggles” pale quite lamely in comparison to that of the ’60s flower children, when you think about it. Consequently, we’re using this refreshingly decent period of history as an opportunity to, well, party. It’s basically release for the sheer sake of it. Don’t buy it? Just take a moment, and consider what’s changed since the 60s: Caucasian afros? Gone, mercifully. Gender equality? Getting closer, despite what your Scrippsie friend says. The draft? Not coming back, unless Dick Cheney takes over the White House in a curmudgeon coup d’état.
The point is that things are better than they once were. A lot. We might be frustrated, but at the end of the day, everyone’s holding Soy Chai Lattes, playing Angry Birds on their iPhones, and masturbating to free porn (yes, Facebook counts). Hell, even convention’s gotten bearable, if Mad Men is any indication. What I’m trying to say—in a roundabout, “how many drinks have you had?” sort of way—is that we don’t have enough to rebel against…and our music doesn’t either, as raves clearly show.
The Woodstock crew? Different story.
Now, I’m not trying to go all fire n’ brimstone on this rave thing. In fact, I happen to enjoy some of the music…especially when I’m speeding on the freeway (thanks for the ticket, Deadmau5). And I know that raves are supposed to be fun—butnotforthewholefamily!—stuff, and that it’s slightly (very) unfair to lump all raves and electronic genres in the manner seen above. I get that. But it’s time to temper a bit of this rave’olutionary fire and consider what we’re dealing with. And what we’re dealing with, essentially, is a musical revolution…but one that’s a slightly shallow cry from the one 50 years ago, when Jimi Hendrix made convention his tour bus toilet and Bob Dylan asked, “how many times must the cannonballs fly // Before they’re forever banned?” The difference between the two says as much about the times as it does the interests of our generation. That is, aren’t we, an incredibly informed, tolerant, socially connected generation, meant to do more than just…party? Do we really want this to be out mainstream musical legacy? Aren’t we worth more than a simmering of the senses? And finally…isn’t music?