RAVE, TECHNO AND ACID
During the 80's, something strange occurred in Sweden. The DJ's that had grown up in the seventies (and were intended as replacements for the grossly expensive and uncontrollable live music) suddenly acquired artistic ambitions. Small companies in the form of a mix between record companies and DJ houses started appearing all over the Western world. They produced records containing music for one single purpose - to be played at discos and dance clubs. It should be as rhythmic as possible, and at a rate of about 120 beats per minute - a perfect pace for dancing. Swemix and Nordic Beats were companies that were typical of Sweden. Among the DJ's who became successes by combining dance and pop music were Robert Wåtz and Rasmus Lindvall, later known as Rob n' Raz, and they were most famous for adapting tracks from the rock group Electric Boys to the dance floor. Others preferred to stay less commercial and do their own thing.
During the middle and end of the 80's, and in Sweden in particular in 1987-88, the new dance culture emerged. It was careless and carefree dancing for its own sake, nothing well-organized and tidy that you subjected yourself to for social reasons at discos or in physical education classes, but rather wild, uninhibited dancing. It was the resurrection of the rhythmic, ritualistic dance that had for centuries remained repressed and subjugated by the West's religious and ethical values, and it returned in the form of acid house. Naturally, established society, with its politicians, musicians, and counselors, was outraged and terrified. And naturally, all the young people with enough brains to be rebellious bought acid house records to freak out their parents (including your author, who bought his first acid record, House Nation by MBO, in 1987).
Pure house was the most successful in the beginning, probably because it was based on funk, soul, and disco music a la George Clinton and James Brown rather than synthetic music. The synthetic parts were limited to some bass line, generated by a drum machine or stolen outright from some Kraftwerk record. The style was created in Chicago, and supposedly derived its name from the fact that dance parties were often held in warehouses (one of the first European house music clubs was thereafter named Warehouse, and was located in Köln, West Germany). Together with the contemporary Detroit-based techno genre (which was purely electronic), this new dance music came to be called acid house. Early house bands include The Royal House, the previously named MBO, and D-Mob. When the music gained in popularity, the two styles became mixed together, particularly in Europe where it was simply called acid, and no one really knew what music belonged to what style. The first really influential European house clubs appeared around Manchester, England.
Acid house was a special form of dance music which used samples (fragments of sounds) in specific ways. It was inspired by the cacophony of machine sounds employed by industrial music (as with Throbbing Gristle or Einstürzende Neubauten), William S. Burroughs' style of building larger texts from small text fragments (read more about him in the next chapter), and from the art of collage and mosaic. The acid musicians constructed a mosaic of sound phrases, and were almost exclusively DJ's who knew how to emphasize good dance rhythms. You could say that it was the first instance of concrete music (the brainchild of Pierre Schaeffer) reaching a wide audience. Sampling machines were first introduced among musicians engaged in making concrete music.
Musically speaking, acid house developed the already existing electro-pop trend of well-composed riffs, in the form of synthetically generated loops that set the mood and ambience of the song. "Acid" is unfortunately also a slang term for lysergic acid-25 (LSD). Acid house has, however, probably not derived its name from any such association. It has been said that the true originator of the term is the slang expression "burn acid", which was DJ jargon and referred to the sampling sounds from records. There are, of course, others who say that this is just a euphemistic lie, and that the term originated from a few English musicians who visited Detroit around 1986, buying anything with the word "acid" on it in the search for Grateful Dead and other "hippie" recordings, but instead ended up with a slew of strange synthesized music which turned out to be early techno and house. The name for the genre supposedly emerged from this event. Acid house also has a characteristic sound, a little heavier and faster than regular dance music, but milder than the "raw synth" mentioned earlier. Sounds from synthesizers and drum machines such as Roland 303, 707, 808, and 909 were especially popular (hence, for example, the house group 808 State).
Acid music gained popularity at the time of the golden age of personal computers. 1987-88-89 are considered the absolutely most intense years of the early history of personal computing culture, which is why many demos, pseudonyms, and group names among the subcultural hackers drew inspiration from acid house. The two cultures rest on the same cultural base of amateurs, and emerged thanks to the increased availability of low-cost computers and consumer electronics during the same period. Also note a vague influence of hacker culture on acid musicians: DJ's with names like Phuture or Phusion (if you observe the spelling) have obviously been inspired by hackers. Acid house also formed a kind of symbolism for youth rebellion during these years.
There has long existed a total conceptual
confusion with respect to dance music. Acid house grew explosively into
a number of sub-categories; every larger city in England and Germany seemed
to develop its own house genre, with the same trend taking place in the
US. Many quickly tired of the eternal compromises between electronic dance
music and the verse-refrain style of rock music, or rap (which was mandatory
within hip-hop), and reverted to the original and purely electronic dance
Techno was, as noted earlier, born in Detroit. The origin of the entire genre can be traced to three DJ's named Magic (Juan Atkins), Reese (Kevin Saunderon), and Mayday (Derrik May). They claim to have been inspired especially by Kraftwerk and Parliament (George Clinton). Mayday toured England in 1987 and provided inspiration for the underground acid scene through his compositions. Most likely, this legendary DJ has lent his name to the enormous Mayday rave, which is held annually in Germany and has reached astronomical proportions.
Frankfurt had early on become inspired by Detroit techno and created its own version, eurotechno, by trashing their Japanese synthesizers and hunting down old relics from the seventies. SNAP invented the winning combination of a black rapper and a female vocalist, and LA Style made a loud and provocative song called James Brown is Dead, to signify the end of techno's affair with funk and R&B. Groups like 2 Unlimited, Pandora, Captain Hollywood Project, and Culture Beat fall under the collective term eurodance (in the US, this genre is called techno/rave).
These and other early eurotechno bands brought
something new that many had long been waiting for. They abandoned the
120 bpm that had been the mark of beauty for acid house, and pushed the
pace of their songs to a level that most closely resembled energetic punk.
The tempo increased on dance floors around the world at the same time
that MTV grew really large and further expanded the production of popular
culture. We ended up with a new, wearied youth generation which was called
Generation X, who walked out of movie theaters if nothing had happened
by the first ten minutes of the film.
KLF were very aware of what they were doing. In the early stages of their career, they wrote a book titled The Manual, and promised a full refund to anyone who could not make it to England's hit list with the help of the book. Before they became KLF they called themselves The Timelords and The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (a name which together with much of KLF's image is taken from the cult book Illuminatus!). In reality, you should probably consider KLF's commercial career as an example of modern art making a protest against the pop industry. At the end of their career, they actually hated this self-perpetuating machine that churned out the same garbage over and over again. Throughout their career, the group was characterized by a total lack of respect for money and established pop music, as well as a generally cynical view of life. The leader, Drummond, was highly inspired by Zen Buddhism, and provoked those who posed questions about the band by accusing them of being under the influence of the four mistresses of Lucifer: Why, What, Where, and When, which are questions that according to Zen cannot be answered by words. Early on, Drummond worked with Alex Paterson on The Orb, and the two together could be said to have invented the genre of ambient techno.
KLF also clearly shows the connection between attitudes in the underground dance culture and among hackers. As many other DJ's, they sampled extensively from other artists, and more or less held the opinion that music should not be patented. On one occasion they sampled ABBA and wrote (somewhat provocatively) on the back of the album that "KLF hereby declares all material on this record free of copyright", which eventually resulted in the entire issue being burned on a field somewhere in central Sweden. This took place after KLF failed to convince ABBA to withdraw their threat of legal action that they received from ABBA's Swedish representatives. On another occasion, Drummond began to "liberate" the group's equipment during a gig at a London club, which forced the club owners to intervene to stop the guests from taking the machines home with them.
In England, there is a whole array of strange musicians in addition to KLF: among others, the ambient music revolutionaries Black Dog Productions and an idiosyncratic group named The Prodigy, who invented their own style of music called breakbeat. These groups, like KLF, appeared in the late 80's in synch with various independent bands such as Pop Will Eat Itself. The explosive development of the music business in England was due to the very pop industry that KLF specifically protested.
A considerable proportion of people in England go to "in" clubs and listen to the latest music before it is released, and the top hits list is a creation based on lobbying, without any connection to reality whatsoever. In actuality, England's Top 40 is simply an institution of power that the pop industry employs to tell the public what they should buy. Since entries on the list go up and down at a violent rate, new music and new artists must be generated constantly (translator's note: At the time of this translation, a clear-cut example would be The Spice Girls). In this frenzy, hundreds of artists get their chance to show what they can do, for better or for worse. Originality is much more interesting than technical skill. In this manner, the pop industry sought out acid house music from the small suburban clubs, and the improbable event that this narrow genre made the hits list actually occurred. This phenomenon has turned England into the "engine" behind European popular music.
In Germany, Sven Väth and a myriad of other DJ's produced a mix of techno and ambient clearly influenced by the eighties' acid house: trance, which in England was combined with influences from the Indian vacation paradise Goa and labeled goa-techno. Some half-crazed Dutch guys who called themselves Rotterdam Termination Source made a piece of music using only drums and sound effects: Poing. In this manner they created a genre called hardcore techno, which has developed into a hybrid of techno and death metal, often using a tempo of 300-400 bpm. This hybrid has gotten some former metalheads into techno.
Electronic pop music is never static: there's always something new, and there's constant experimentation in small studios around the world. Crossover techno, in which techno is mixed with other music genres, springs up everywhere. It is often very commercial, with perhaps the exception of the hyper-experimental The Grid, who have for the first time in their career made a commercial success with Swamp Thing - a mix of techno and banjo pieces. Jungle is a genre which is both a predecessor to and a continuation of The Prodigy's breakbeat-techno - a mix of techno, rag and dub music which seems very promising and which is also not particularly commercialized. The most hardcore is gabber, which is a corrupted version of hardcore techno. God knows what's going to be invented next: gospel techno, perhaps?
Other musicians, such as Future Sound of London, Black Dog Productions and the Swedish Lucky People Center, have approached electronic music and make up a genre known as progressive house, i. e. house music which is going somewhere, and is always under development. These people want to escape the concept of genres by breaking all norms. Thanklessly, genre-breaking becomes a genre in itself; there is a similar phenomenon within jazz.
As soon as a genre becomes commercial, as when techno became eurodance through U96, the smaller clubs tend to invent some new variant and sneak back into the underground. Examples of this include Jungle, Goa-techno and Gabber. Jungle is, at the time of this writing, on its way out of the underground, and new styles are most certainly being created as we speak in some studio in Germany, England, Holland or Belgium. You can hold whatever opinion you want on this; in practice, the entire underground club culture is simply a concept factory for the pop industry. They find something new, polish it and water it down a bit, and then release it for a mass audience. If you believe in infinite artistic integrity and creative art, it's probably a horrible thing to witness. On the other hand, maybe we should be thankful that we're not listening to the same chewing-gum pop music of twenty years ago.
Clubs and Raves
Dance music has changed the music market. In the old days, you listened to the radio and checked out your friends' preferences, bought the records and listened to them at home. Nowadays, you go to a dance club or even a rave, and become influenced by the music you hear there - the type of music that's made for dancing. Later, you might by an album or two. Eurodance mix albums are especially strong sellers.
Techno is not designed for "easy listening" at home, and it can have a stressful effect if it is used as background music. In England, where the public traditionally is very open to new forms of music, heavy and uncompromising techno music has made a commercial breakthrough; likewise in Germany, which with its tradition of electronic music a la Kraftwerk welcomes any new innovations in that realm. Even in Southern Europe, really heavy techno tracks are played on pop radio.(1)
Raves are still very underground events in Sweden and Scandinavia, even if its interest base has grown explosively since 1988. Today, there are thousands of happy ravers in Sweden, who are often willing to travel far to attend a good rave. In Germany and Great Britain, raves are already accepted cultural events, which in some cases attract up to150,000 people, such as the well-known Mayday rave in Germany (which is sometimes described as the Woodstock of our time). Special raves are also arranged for different genres. Raves in Scandinavia are usually not announced in the daily press; the information is spread through the grapevine and through flyers that are available given the right contacts.
A type of rave that receives a lot of attention is the so-called bryt-rave (English: break-rave), which entails breaking into a warehouse, setting up a sound stage and starting to dance. It is reminiscent of a sort of house occupation, and if the number of attendees is large, the police stands powerless. This type of rave has been somewhat frequent in Hammarbyhamnen (Hammarby Harbor) in Stockholm. One could make a connection to the Prodigy track break & enter, in which sounds of glass braking and doors being pushed open accompany the music. The sense of revolt and insolence against society is complete.
The rave culture is primarily based on the Trance genre, which can keep a dance floor alive all through the night with its long songs in a perfect dance tempo. A rave is not an event to attend to get drunk or pick up someone. A rave is a place for dancing, listening to music, meeting and looking at other people. Whoever attends a rave with different intentions will invariably be disappointed.
Rave culture is claiming expansion - even
futuristic dress and other methods of creating a homogeneous group identity
have started to develop. The rave sites (mostly warehouses) have also
started to receive futuristic interiors to give more of a "cyber-feeling"
to the environment. The phenomenon has gained a Swedish face through
Mikael Jägerbrand, editor-in-chief of the relatively new magazine
NU NRG Update (pronounced "New Energy"), which has a
run of about 1000 copies and has a layout that really screams "underground";
the page layout is reminiscent of American tabloid classifieds. It is
of course a good move - ravers love being underground. Despite
its small circulation, the magazine is not sectarian or single-minded,
and it shows a certain sense of distance and social awareness.(2)
There's also a few smaller fanzines, and
naturally a few electronic bulletins and magazines.
As early as the late 80's, the discos on
Ibiza (a Spanish island resort) hooked on to the acid house trend and
created their own version, balearic beat, a mix between house,
flamenco (!), and a few other styles mostly associated with the artist
Paul Oakenfold. Ibiza is primarily visited by rich people, mostly
from England, and it has drugs in abundance.
Nonetheless, Ecstasy, amphetamines, and cocaine are present at some rave-like events. As expected, it seems to occur more at purely commercial dances, to which the "in" crowd that want to stay abreast of the new culture is drawn. Enthusiasts at small techno clubs are mostly of the opinion that Ecstasy is a nuisance which ruins the reputation of techno culture. Unfortunately, since everything that is prohibited is also "rebellious", drugs have spread to several acid and techno clubs, including Swedish ones. The clueless middle-class rebel thinks, as usual, that you're a real rebel only when you do drugs. Independent thought is never popular among conformist groups. In short: ravers with brains stay away from drugs, and those who don't know anything naturally think drugs are really cool (no, it's true - people never learn).
Large clubs are frequent in major cities. They are kitschy, well decorated, with mean bouncers and a fairly long line regardless of whether it's full or not (to create demand, of course). They are not about supporting some subculture, even though many DJ's from the underground scene get a chance to make some money in these clubs. Drugs are consumed in the bathrooms.(4)
The terror in homes around the country is complete. The poor parents of these young people remember with horror those few years at the end of the 60's, when they themselves were swept up by the wind from San Francisco, smoked marijuana and hasch, and tried LSD. Not many are willing to admit to that today, but their fear of their kids doing the same thing today is genuine. The main theme then was protesting the Vietnam War and society, and the main theme today is dancing and having fun. Ravers don't need politics as an excuse to meet and enjoy themselves. Drugs are tangential, and not at all as prevalent as media would have it appear. Fear and misunderstanding often inflates the problem to bizarre proportions.
One thing that ravers do enjoy are so-called smart drinks - energy drinks that help rave dancers keep dancing a long, long time. Mostly it is a matter of substances that can be found in any pharmacy or herbal medicine store, but with different labels. There is no reason to suppose that this should be harmful - middle-aged Swedes have consumed the pills for decades without suffering harm. What is worse is the tendency to mix prescription drugs with the drinks, which is something that cyperpunks in particular do sometimes (more on this in the next chapter). Most of the "emergencies" reported about drugs on rave parties is due to journalists attending some event and seeing these sugar pills and sodas on the bar, frequently wrapped in some pastel-colored paper or foil, which naturally appear very ominous. If you interview young people who have been to a rave, they most likely will say yes to having taken Ecstasy, even if they've actually consumed a bunch of St. John's Wort. It happens, sometimes.
Some member of the debate has tried to submit the fact that the dancing itself is harmful. The statement that the capacity of ecstatic dance - which is imprinted in our genes since thousands of years - fails by virtue of its own stupidity. Such a statement is thus rather an expression of conservative cultural values or even xenophobia, which seems to be a characteristic of many "opiners". Obviously, the people that do not attend regular dance clubs and listen to Stairway to Heaven for the 18803rd time, while drinking themselves silly, and are not there just to try to get laid, must be suspect cluelessness, in short.
Even in Sweden, frightened cops have broken up rave parties for no reason whatsoever in their total ignorance of how underground culture works. Some police raids against rave dances most closely resemble ethnic discrimination - of the same kind practiced by customs agents and retail security officers who target people of different pigmentation or dress. Some cops are apparently susceptible to excessive stereotypical categorization.
The cause of the cultural phenomenon of rave is that the actual dancing at the larger, commercial clubs has become secondary. The organizers are mostly interested in selling as much beer and liquor as possible, and the patrons are more oriented towards boozing and picking up someone than dancing. The inherent value of the dance has been abandoned.
It has occurred to me that it might actually
be a good thing that rave suffers from a bad reputation. It prevents people
with purely commercial interests from advertising gigantic rave parties,
and thereby commercializing the vibrant underground technoculture. Sometimes
it even seems that ravers are somewhat amused by having a "bad reputation",
for identifying with the underground. In Sweden, this negative image has
only had the effect of attracting more young people to the parties.
This is probably a necessary state of affairs. It is the distancing from older norms that creates a new subcultural group within an accepted domain, and this is how culture grows and develops. The argument is applicable to literature, film, theater - in short, all types of art. Techno music and techno culture is, especially due to the influence of television, inextricably associated with the art of video and computing. That techno is inseparable from dance has already been illustrated. This development of popular culture has resulted in many artists that are more like some form of product than people. The music is created in a studio, performed by a group of photo models, etc. Popular music becomes more than music - it becomes part of a culture. You don't buy just a record, you buy a lifestyle. Fashion, dance, film - everything is included. It could be summarized and called "art". Popular art.
Art grows and develops when individuals, with a desire to create something new where not everything has been tried, go against the norms and create something new. Mostly the individuals are young, such as Sex Pistols, Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan or Jack Kerouac (well, they were young when they started). Sometimes it is some eccentric artistic soul like Marcel Proust, James Joyce, or Frank Zappa. When a young artist breaks out of the norms there arises, given the right circumstances, a new subculture, which under even more conducive circumstances creates a new spirit of a generation.
The smaller the Earth becomes, and the farther our mass media reach, the more subcultures develop, generations change faster, and society changes faster. This is a characteristic of the post-industrial society which I will later explore further. Let it be stated that the breaking of norms and creation of new ones is very important for these new styles of music. It also has a considerable importance for the more central points of this book.
We will now see how the pulsing rhythm in
culture generated an entirely new literary genre, a new view of society,
and - soon - a new ideology.
1. In Sweden, as of late 1996 no such breakthrough has taken place. Perhaps the Swedish public is simply too conservative. However, things are slowly moving forward. Kalle Dernulf, of P3 (part of Swedish national public radio), is probably the one who has dedicated himself the most to spreading Swedish and foreign techno in the ether.
2. Jägerbrand and the Swedish Rave Organization (SRO) are at the time of this writing organizing a "raverixdag" (English (loosely translated): Rave Congress) to coordinate Swedish rave organizers. Someone remarked sarcastically that "they seem to have to make everything political", but in light of the Nacka Police Department's dubious raids against Docklands (a rave site) during the Spring of 1996, the need for an organized resistance group is understandable.
3. Some have made the observation that it shouldn't be a great experience to attend a rave on a "downer" drug, such as hasch. I have personally observed that it appears fairly abundundantly at raves; why, I do not understand. Possibly it may be due to the hasch (THC) having a mildly psychedelic effect. In this context, I'd like to take the opportunity to mention that I'm personally neither for nor against drugs per se, which you might conclude from the strong formulation above. What I am against is the tendency to blame drug use on culture. On drugs in general I don't have a clear and expressed opinion, rather I reserve the privilege of ignoring that debate, which is sure to piss somebody off.
4. If someone interprets this to mean that I think that these "beer cafés" are the pathetic hangouts of the "in" crowd, that someone has interpreted me correctly.
Design and formatting by Daniel Arnrup/Voodoo Systems