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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.

Electric Daisy Carnival, 2010

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.

Woodstock, 1969

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?

  • Guest

    joey my friend, you have some awesome writing flow.

  • Eminem

    I think the comparison you are making is irrelevant for several reasons. First and foremost: the tools used to create electronic music simply did not exist in the 1960s. Sure you can be a history buff and talk about how the Moog Analog synth was available in the late 1960s and onto the 1970s, but you still don’t see much of it until the 1980s when companies like Yamaha and other Japanese electronic companies began selling them in entirely portable units to the ordinary person. Sure there were no raves, because how on earth do you throw down a glitchy breakbeat without a computer?

    The general tone of this piece is pretty dismissive of electronic music in general, which is a huge discredit to the entire thing and I don’t even like dubstep or trance. The straight facts are that there are a ton of electronic musicians who solely use their computers and create some pretty intelligent, excellent tunes. Heard the Fuck Buttons? What about Four Tet? They’re electronic musicians and they don’t play dance music. Heard Burial? What about James Blake? They play dance music and its completely original and really fantastic.

    Points about your musical taste aside, its bizarre that you think everyone who went to Woodstock/ did drugs in the 60s was a huge hippy activist who really believed in changing the world. I mean, come on, talk to your parents when they’re drunk or something. A lot of kids at Woodstock didn’t give more than a cursory shit about the “big ideas” of the time. They were there to do drugs and fuck, which they did quite well. So remind me again why that was significantly different from kids going to raves to… do drugs and fuck? And the idea that we don’t have anything in our modern era to protest about is also pretty ridiculous. CMC is one of the most politically active campuses in the country, people care about our shit, and yet people still go out to TNC every weekend. Hell I’d argue we have even more serious issues at stake today than we did in the 1960s. Maybe we’re not dodging the draft or something like that, but there are plenty of things wrong with the role of people our age in society that are legitimate concerns, but no, we’re a generation of spoiled kids not entitled to go to a party and dance.

    This was one of the most stuck-up pretentious articles I’ve ever read and I read Pitchfork every fucking day.

    • You’re Wrong

      You’re an self-obsessed ass. Joey makes some very valid point about the pointlessness of electronic “music.” Thank you, Joey, for writing this piece.

      • Eminem

        Here’s an idea: before you shit on electronic “music,” why don’t you get an idea of what you’re actually saying. Virtually every band in the 21st century utilizes something called MIDI programming in order to get the desired sound out of their recordings. If a drummer lays down a drum track, and then later the producer decides he doesn’t like the way the bass drum sounds, they use MIDI to change the tone of the drum quickly and easily. This goes the same for piano sounds, guitar sounds, everything. You know that band Passion Pit? How about MGMT? Yeah, all “electronic music” that relies heavily on MIDI Programming to get the desired sound. If you’re gonna shit on all electronic music, either educate yourself on what the fuck you’re talking about, or admit you’re a complete ignorant idiot and go back to poorly playing “Blackbird” on the guitar your parents bought for you.

        • You’re Wrong

          Go back to Detroit

        • Come on now…

          “You know that band Passion Pit? How about MGMT? Yeah, all “electronic music” that relies heavily on MIDI Programming to get the desired sound.”

          But that’s total shit music made by and for posers. Of course they use midi, they’re talentless. They couldn’t play real instruments if they tried.

    • Losing TigerBlood

      1) Calling someone pretentious after spending 2000 words describing technology that noone cares about and citing how you have the best taste in music is pretentious.

      2) You are bad at reading. Rattling off a list of minor bands that may or may not fall into the pitfalls Joey describes, while making you awesome, is useless. Joey clearly is referring to the mega-raves (i.e. edc), huge groups (i.e. deadmou5) and masses of people who attend, not you in particular. These raves whose purpose is quite simply to make you dance and have fun, inhibition free are what you should evaluate not a group you listened to one time while you were studying.

      3) If you think the social/political climate is the same as it was in the woodstock era you need to buy a history book. Citing CMC is socially motivated takes us back to point number 2, which is irrelevant because we have already established your inability to read. Joey isnt talking about kids at CMC he’s talking about everyone else at EDC or TAO (the other thousands on thousands of kandi covered kids with melting faces) not there to express their beliefs on social security reform but to feel good.

      4) Please dont respond by rattling off useless knowledge of cool technology that is not related and makes you sound really awesome.

      • Eminem

        Yeah, so he’s just shitting on kids stupider than him who want to go have fun at a rave then? And why don’t you go fuck a fucking cactus dumb shit, if you think it has to do with technology then its cause you don’t understand a fucking thing about music. If words like Ableton or Logic don’t mean a fucking thing to you, then fuck off because you aren’t even close to in a position to understand what goes into making music in the 21st century. I’m not saying I’m the be-all-end-all of this debate but to have someone totally ignorant take YOUR student fees to write this nicely-written and complete bullshit on the inside article is absolutely absurd. You paid him to cum on your face about musical superiority, smooth.

        I think its fucking bullshit that the CMC Forum would pay someone to write about music when they clearly are 1) ignorant about electronic music in general and 2) would write something rambly about “Deadmau5 being worse than Dylan.” They’re two totally different types of music, and the things used to compare them are pretty bullshit at that, especially given they’re buried under a wall of bullshit pretending to be knowledgable. A lot of nice adjectives and adverbs and not one, single, fucking informed thought about music.

        And, dickhole, for the record, every band I name-dropped (with the possible exception of Fuck Buttons, but they do extensive remixes of other works) GETS PLAYED AT RAVE PARTIES. But those kids aren’t entitled to have fun apparently. Absolute bullshit. Go fuck yourself, putting up some feeble attempt at protecting your friend who is CLEARLY in the wrong in this article.

        • Seriously?

          Obviously not a CMC student. I refuse to believe people at our school would frame a response in such a moronic manner.

    • Luke

      You have some interesting things to say, but it is pretty pretentious as it is to call Burial’s work “dance music.” When was the last time you got your grind on to “Archangel”?

      • paul

        I mean, burial technically got started in the England “garage” clubs unless i’m misunderstanding this pitchfork article

        See http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/9138-burial/

        • Luke

          If you can dance to “South London Buroughs,” his first single c. 2005, you are a better man than I.

  • Connor Barclay

    Joey,

    This is a well written article – I will give you that. I understand the point you are making but I think it is inherently flawed. There are some of us (albeit, few) that don’t claim to be “ravers” and don’t walk around wearing kandi and rolling on who knows what, but who truly appreciate the music itself. As this genre has become more prolific, the meaningful music has become more diluted, but that does not mean it doesn’t exist.

    After not sleeping for three days, drive to the top of Mount Baldy and watch the sunrise while you listen to “Feel the Sunrise” by Banyan Tree (produced by Tiësto). Tell me you don’t get chills. Tell me that you don’t gain any appreciation for life and the incredible people that populate it. Tell me that the incredible composition doesn’t inspire you to be the best you can be. Only then will I believe you claims that electronic music isn’t Beethoven, and that no one listens to it “to think, reflect, or engage in introspection.”

    Try it. It might just “blow your mind” what you learn! 😉

    Cheers,
    Connor

  • MG

    I, too, think this is beautifully written but you fail to distinguish between rave culture and what the mainstream has done with rave culture. The real rave scene has moved on to different things, and if anything, is frustrated with the caricature that more popular culture has made it to be. Yes, a lot of it is about drugs. Yes, the PLUR thing can get silly. But what you’re describing is the rave scene of 5 years ago, something that popular culture only fairly recently absorbed. In the meantime, ravers have become increasingly involved in changing the negatives and embracing new music. Real rave culture has not become mainstream culture, it’s how the mainstream culture absorbed and interpreted rave culture from years past that brings up many of the things you take issue with.

  • TigerLily

    You don’t need to be on drugs to be passionate about electronic music…and YES, it is music.

  • Losing TigerBlood

    Well you said fuck a bunch so you must be right, that and you said you know more than everyone a bunch. Alberton or Logic don’t mean fuck to me but neither does electronic music which is kinda the point right, that while it sounds coo, l and is awesome to do drugs or talk to about how much you know about, its relatively messageless. If there all are these improvements why is there no meaning to the music like Dylan and other artists at Woodstock? The gatherings of 100K to see deadmou5 and company are there for feel good music and an excuse to get super loaded. The article isnt comparing the types of music, but is lamenting the fact that different style or not electronic music is relatively pointless besides feeling good.Oh and fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck dickhole bullshit fuck bullshit. Now we are tied on profanity. You CLEARLY are awesome and right because you said you were and thats how debating works

  • Cheez

    Very good article, though there is one thing I would like to propose.

    Maybe it’s not that our generation doesn’t have anything to protest against. Maybe our generation is simply apathetic and lazy – reduced to internet slacktivism and “Save Darfur” T-shirts – and this is manifesting itself in popular music and the youth’s drug culture (which I believe says a lot about the situation and mindset of the time period). Think of it this way, the 60s were LSD and The Beatles; the 70s were cocaine and disco; who knows what the 80s were; maybe the 90s were just good ol’ weed and alcohol and alternative rock; and now the 2000s are Ecstasy and rave music (trance, dubstep, dance, psy, whatever you want to call it).

    Obviously these are big generalizations and ramblings, but I think it is significant to examine the prominence of ecstasy and its influence on music and party culture. To me, the rave culture (which I definitely participate in) is more about escapism and hedonism than anything else.

    I forgot where I was going with this. Too much thizzin probably.

    • MG

      The rave/ecstasy scene (really should NOT be used interchangeably) was most prominent in the 90s, not the 2000s. There’s a joke that goes: how many ravers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One for the lightbulb and another to complain about how much better it was in the 90s.

  • Debauche Raver

    Well written article but it’s riddled with assumptions and errors. Firstly, everyone who goes to raves does not take E and for many people, E is a drug that has changed their lives for the better (see http://ecstasy.org/experiences/). Most drugs –(obviously not meth and crack)– have the potential to be used for transformational purposes rather than for recreation alone. Granted, many new ravers, especially high-schoolers who shouldn’t be raving in the first place have overrun the rave scene and go there simply for drugs. You ask, “but what does it move, exactly, beyond our limbs and capacity for feeling good?” . For legit ravers who practice PLURR, raving and electronic music represent so much more than what you’d find at a TNC or random club. Raving can be more like a religious ritual rather than a space people go to have fun. The wordless rhythm of electronic music is at the core of what the rave experience means. The repetitive beat creates a different rapport with the listener than what you would get from more sentimental genres such as pop. Even without the use of drugs, dancers who are focused on the music enter a state of trance where normal distinctions between the self/Other and mind/body are destabilized. I agree with your point that raves are designed to overstiumulate the senses but this can act as a form of psychotherapy whereby the ego is diminished and the raver experiences an estatic collectivity. Also you generalize the rave scene.There are a ton of different genres of raves and electronic music. As raving in the US has become more commercialized, it’s gained more negative publicity but there are many raves around the world that still hold maintain the true spirit of raving: Earthdance, solar eclipse festivals, etc.

    • Connor Barclay

      Now there is a response from a true CMCer!

      I have to admit that this restored my faith in commenters after it was so damaged by Eminem’s responses. (Yes, Eminem, I have actually played with Ableton Live and Logic Pro.)

      While I can’t say your comment has gotten me any closer to trying E or partaking in the rave scene, your calm expression and well made points give me a greater appreciation for those who choose to do so.

      Thank you for taking the time to write this post.

      Cheers,
      Connor

    • Drugs are bad, mkay

      People who use raves and powerful psychoactive drugs to “improve” their lives simply live in denial. I agree that any song, no matter how shitty you might think it is, can be someone else’s absolute favorite, most life-changing track ever, but drugs do not equal religion or spirituality. Never.
      Read about the real effects of ecstasy use on a brain here: http://www.torontohemp.com/ecstacy.htm
      or talk to people who can no longer enjoy sex or music without the aid of the drug after “trying it out” once.

      Listen to Brittney Spears or Enrique Igleseas drop “dubstep” beats in their Top-40 cocaphony BS, then listen to Passion Pit, MGMT, or Tame Impala use a bit (or a lot) of MIDI intelligently and effectively, and try to tell me that one justifies the other. As someone who has recorded music in a studio, I can tell you that MIDI is not a be-all, end-all tool for every type of music. We tried it and preferred recording in a more analog-type setting and tweaking the physical aspects of the instruments and setup instead. Different strokes. Just please, please, PLEASE do not claim that drugs and trance and promiscuous sexual activity are *really* good for society or the individual. I’ve seen the effects firsthand. PLUR has good intentions and a chill vibe, but it’s very superficial.
      I think that the musicians behind Woodstock (not necessarily all of the fans, though) had actual messages and meanings to their music. Why else did so many of them end up with their own CIA and FBI files and even personal phonecalls from President Nixon?

  • Luke

    Arguably all American popular music since 1971 has been a polarized, heterogeneous affair. The ’60s signified the beginning and the end of pop music–its explosive blossoming gave way to its commoditization. Music’s perceived diminishing cultural significance since that period reflects pop’s transformation into a self-aware, commercialized artform. The recent trend towards electronic music reflects the post-’60s formal pop ethos of the simplification of older, more cultured ideas: in this case, dance.

  • Guest

    “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).”

    I think it is this yuppie mentality that rave goers are breaking away from. In my experience, most rave goers are not drugged out adolescent punks, but grad students or office jockeys during the day, working a standard 9-5 or in their nth year of a PhD, blowing off steam and embracing a more simple side of life. This sensory stimulation, whether it is aided by MDMA or not, contrasts well with this generation’s take on extended adolescence.

    We are told to give up our youths and to develop academic skills in middle school so we can get into a good high school, so we can go to a good college, get a good internship, and get a good job. There is little room in there to explore other aspects of life, whether it as simple as enhanced sensory stimulation or as complex as being a part of a counter-culture.

    Your mistake is assuming music needs to have a literal message to make an impact. House music often sets the atmosphere. It is the listener who determines the message, shaped in large part by the attitude of others at the rave. But the key is knowing you are part of something larger: a community. Whether that community consists of all mankind at all times , as the hippies would have you believe, or simply the fellow rave goers for as long as the bass keeps beating, is up to the individual’s interpretation.

    I used to read a lot of Emerson when I was younger and did a lot of hiking. The whole house music scene reminds me a lot of transcendentalism and this connection we have to everything around us. That is not to say the urban jungles we build are better or worse than those wooden jungles we tear down. But just as there is something refreshing about taking a walk in the forest, or the park, after a week working in the city, it is refreshing to take off that tie, bust out the awkward dance moves, and let loose at a rave. Is there a message one can take from that? Maybe. But it is hard to quantify feelings, and it is these feelings that house music elicits best.

  • Oh Buuuurrrrnnnn

    “Gender equality? Getting closer, despite what your Scrippsie friend says.”
    -Couldn’t resist, eh?

    Despite what the Claremont bubble may belie, there are many people whose lives are mad struggz.

  • Etom

    It’s clear you’re not from Detroit. Ever been to the Packard plant??

  • Yo

    I think this article is trying to discuss the commoditization of the rave but isn’t clear on that point.

    I disagree with the idealistic view of the 1960s, it really did become just a party opportunity for drugs and sex, and that’s what marked the end of the 1960s and the transition into the malaise of the 1970s. (ie. the consumption of drugs and sex became commoditized).

    Same with raves. The rave scene peaked in the 90s, when raves were small and replete with the PLUR ideal. You made friends at these raves. Now, companies have latched on to raves and used them as advertising platforms. “Mainstream” doesn’t mean “popular”, it means commoditized. Nobody would want to go to a party arranged and hosted by Target or WalMart or some other corporation. But that’s exactly what raves are now. Companies (particularly alcohol) have latched on to raves and begun using them as advertising opportunities. The turnout of 100,000 people to a rave is not so much a sign of the popularity of the rave but the success of marketing by the companies sponsoring it.

    15 years ago, when raves were small and not mainstream, 11 year olds rode their bikes and played baseball and videogames. They didn’t walk around Disneyland wearing LED rave gloves. Which company produced Tron: Legacy? Oh, that children-targeted company Disney? What was the movie rated? PG? Is it just me or did the movie not feature a bunch of ravey flashing lights, a soundtrack by one of the most popular and well-known electronica bands in existence and a club scene? Why does my 11-year old cousin in France idolize Chris Brown and take dance classes to grind around on the floor?

    Therein lies the problem. This current generation faces opposition by assimilation. Companies are now extremely savvy to trends and are able to pick up on them quickly and assimilate them into their own marketing campaigns. Movies reflect this as well, depicting wild parties or characters who like to party (The Hangover). This has become commonplace. The old line “If you can’t beat them, join them” is so scary it’s true now. Our youth hates big companies, it hates the mainstream, yet it buys into them every day, because their process is designed to pacify us, make us docile and apathetic, and therefore constant-consumers.

    The 1960s were about blatant, clear injustices. The problems of today are much more subversive and therefore much more dangerous. It’s not just a matter of having fun at a rave anymore, it’s a matter of that personal fun, the sensations you feel, and how they are being sold to you, designed for you, catered to you, so the other end can make money and keep you coming back for more. It’s not YOUR experience anymore, it’s the experience that is SOLD to you.

  • Guest

    well written