On Raves and Emergent Communities

Douglas Rushkoff makes a number of claims in his recent post on raves and attempts by legislators to control or prevent them.

The problem with consciousness expansion, for government, is not the fact that kids or the poor die from crack use. It’s the fact that people who alter their consciousness become aware of the stultifying reality tunnels (mind sets, ways of understanding the world, fixed perspectives) that dictate so much of human activity.

Rave culture, as it was first exercised, anyway, was about created [sic] an alternative to the mob-run nightclub scene of most cities, and the competitive, coked-up world of late disco.

…[T]hose involved in rave thought they had no agenda, when in fact they did. The agenda was not for the right to do drugs – it was for the right to assemble without involving the record industry, MTV, or the mob-sponsored club scene. It was about freedom from marketing and market-driven culture. It was about doing in public what is only supposed to happen in private.

In other words, rave culture emerged out of the search for an inexpensive, unmediated, and noncommercial form of socializing. This is consistent with what I saw in Detroit in the late ’80s. I was teaching at an art school in the cultural center at the time. A number of my students, such as Adam Miller of Adult, were painting and, at the same time, experimenting with electronic music on relatively simple synthesizers. In an artistic climate where videos and multi-media installations were commonplace, experimental music was treated as just another medium.

Detroit was, in many ways, the perfect setting for raves. It was the first post-industrial ruin — an economically depressed city devastated by its dependence on a single industry that had fallen on hard times. Since the riots in the late ’60s, there weren’t many resources for young people and there wasn’t alot of money in the city. For the young, hip, and mostly white kids around Detroit, the remnants of Motown and the Cass-Corridor rock of the ’60s was irrelevant. And the commercialization of college and alternative rock made it decidedly less intriguing than the new electronic sounds. An additional thing Detroit had — a crucial element for raves — was a large number of abandoned buildings. So the kids took advantage of the situation, crashed the buildings late at night, set up a sound system, and started dancing. Slowly, through word of mouth, information about dance parties began circulating and the local rave scene was born.

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