Essay + Mixtape: Evian Christ and Lee Gamble share memories and reflections with Nora Khan in a personal eulogy to club culture
“Some thoughts have a certain sound, that being the equivalent to a form.” – Paul Atreides in Dune, 1983
“What you got is a whole, miserable subculture.” – Style Wars, 1988
If there is one Youtube video I would give off my left hand to be in, it is this footage of Underground Resistance, the Detroit techno collective, performing in the foggy hours before dawn at a festival near Mt. Fuji. They are encoring with their famous anthem, Hi-Tech Jazz, full of outer-world melodic transmissions. The force of the crowd’s elation, optimism, and energy, is astonishing.
Rendered in grainy footage, the dancers are covered in a purple and grey haze; the whole experience takes on a transformative and spiritual essence that is just out of reach. It feels clear that listening to Hi-Tech Jazz in my headphones a hundred times just isn’t the same as sharing the listening experience with other people. And after watching, I usually tumble down a digital rabbit hole of missed festivals, sets, and warehouse parties that could have changed my life. If only I were at the right rave!
I learned about Underground Resistance through mining YouTube. I can’t claim to have earned a deep knowledge of Detroit music history by being there or collecting. It was the early Aughts; I had access to the Internet, not warehouses or raucous club nights. And in the pre-digital ‘90s I could only absorb the culture from its edges, in daydreaming. In our high school art room we listened to drum and bass records while drawing comics and reading. Trance, progressive house, and hardcore were standard soundtracks to gaming.
Constructing a dance-music-driven reality consumed every free moment I had; it was relief and escape. DVDs of Human Traffic, 24 Hour Party People, and It’s All Gone Pete Tong allowed me and my friends to mentally reconstruct a parallel possible dimension of ecstatic festivals in hyper-real, blown-out resolution.
In college, I watched my friend, now an environmental game designer, create castles in Maya, Timecode’s Moving Shadow 01.1 and the undertow of Squarepusher’s Theme from Ernest Borgnine filling the tiny concrete suite. In the dead of New England winters, we watched Chris Cunningham’s Aphex Twin videos and burnt CDs full of Limewire .mp3s after researching set playlists with a care and focus that now seems quaint and a little shameful. We learned about the more cerebral, moody joys of Autechre, Surgeon for the hard stuff, and Danny Tenaglia, Sasha and Digweed, and Richie Hawtin, A Guy Called Gerald, Carl Craig, and Jeff Mills for every mood in between.
As people started uploading marathon sets online, the whole history of house music and techno was suddenly made available. I found thrilling videos from the Summer of Love in the U.K. in 1989, of pulsing, frenetic crowds at Shoom, Amnesia, Fantazia, and Dreamscape. It will never be this good again, according to the first fifty-odd comments under each of these clips. To believe its attendees, nothing could ever come close to the free-wheeling energy of those summers, and I believed it.
These videos are source material for endless digital dreaming; I replay them to try to access the euphoria of these past crowds, full of people now in their mid- to late- forties. Time collapses in the viewing. They are paradoxically both close, small, near, and also inaccessible, as they were part of something ineffable, impossible to convey,
What’s the point of looking back at raves and parties from thirty years ago? For one, it is a powerful and comical fallacy, this idea that others have experienced something more true, pristine. They’ve had a transcendent moment in the thrall of an impossibly epic night sealed off in history. The feeling is only sharpened and enhanced by the presence of digital archives, which we can revisit repeatedly.
These videos are source material for endless digital dreaming; I replay them to try to access the euphoria of these past crowds, full of people now in their mid- to late- forties. Time collapses in the viewing.
Artist Ryan Kuo explores this affective entrapment in his short film On and On and On, in which he reinterprets a well-known YouTube video of a Doncaster warehouse rave. The crowd is shown in the throes of hysterical, wide-eyed grooving, pilled-up and deep in it. The dancers are slowed down atop the infectious piano loop from Area 51’s Let It Move You, but with Kuo’s plaintive narrative atop.
Ryan reasons that he couldn’t have been in Southern Yorkshire or partying at Wigan Pier if he was only a kid in America, ostensibly doing wholesome, childlike things. But he continues to argue with himself, in a loop echoed perfectly by the track and footage, as though there might be entry point through which he could, we could, somehow, be part of this crowd.
Missing the rave, in this formulation, is not about just missing a great party; it seems to represents exclusion from an entirely original culture, an ethic, an optimism and community that, to hear its participants elegise it, was revolutionary. In the past few years, the cultures and iconography of late ‘90s club culture – jungle, house, trance, hardcore - have been making a shift back into view. This time is fruitful material for musicians who rework appropriated rave memories, sometimes out of earnest longing, or anthropological interest, or a deep sense of irony, or all three.
This act of salvaging of club memories, particularly from the British club scene, has seen significant coverage. The most storied example is Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore in 1999; the first full-length album by Zomby, released in 2008, was provocatively (and evocatively) titled ‘Where Were U in ‘92’. Frieze magazine in 2013 covered strange pulp-fiction of rave culture, with titles like Junglist and Visceral, in rapturous prose, their “keeping-it-real intensity” evoking the raw “living-it-large antics of Londoners into ragga, drum‘n’bass and acid house.” Fiorucci’s vinyl soundtrack was released in 2013.
In his recent New Yorker essay on Jamie xx, music journalist Hua Hsu found the superstar musician in a hotel bedroom, scrolling through old YouTube documentaries to recover a personal connection to London. As Hsu points out, Jamie samples Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci dialogue in his album more than drum patterns.
What is the significance of this nostalgia? How much of it is intentional misremembering, misplaced appropriation? Consider how Nina Kraviz slips in Thunderdome footage into her performances, how nostalgia can sometimes appear to be more an aesthetic act – the artist performing homage, channeling past social capital - than a political one. Or, how warehouse and rave footage is often stripped of crucial economic context, namely that the U.K. textile industry had shuttered its factories, making for industrial squat spaces where the first major raves could take place.
Three years ago, heated conversations about the “death of rave” and the “hauntological” gesture went down in para-academic panels at Unsound and CTM. These discussions concluded on pessimistic notes, finding rave nostalgia another gruesome symptom of reality under capitalism. We are retro-maniacs, to use Simon Reynolds’ heavily-used term, who revisit and idealise the past because we cannot produce anything truly new. The compulsion to look back means we feel something is missing in our current experiences, which we never experience as authentic. Bleak.
What is the significance of this nostalgia? How much of it is intentional misremembering, misplaced appropriation?
Arguments about rave history as a resource that has been fully extracted, like a tapped-out ore vein, strike me as facile. For one, underground dance music is alive and well, and club culture remains an active, potent space for creativity in the edges. These looks back to former glory periods may be theorised as degraded impulse to a manufactured memory, but they also still have affective and literal impact. Perhaps, in our current economic and political climate, the backwards gaze provides a crucial psychological buffer; a digital layer of constructed memories about Balearic summers is a form of psychic protection and coping.
I would like to suggest that there must be other ways to interpret the repeat rendering of past techno euphoria outside nostalgia alone. In trying to parse this idea, I spoke at length to two contemporary musicians, Lee Gamble and Joshua Leary. Both are thoughtful, seriously engaged, and known for their novel abstract sounds, and offer richly contrasting views on the nostalgic impulse.
Lee Gamble is from Birmingham and has been making music since he was 11 years old. His interests range across the arts, philosophy, and theory, pursued in part through his CYRK collective, and currently, through his new record label, UIQ. His Diversions (1994 – 1996), released in 2012, has been described as Leckey-like, a collage of sculpturally refashioned loops and snippets from jungle tapes. Possibly to his chagrin, the release sparked a wave of new conversations in the music press about hauntology. “The whole idea of nostalgia is ridiculous,” Gamble stated in an Electronic Beats interview at the time. “Nostalgia is always about looking back and seeing the good bits […] but what if we concentrated on the aspects of the culture that didn’t work?”
Joshua Leary, who performs under Evian Christ, is signed to Warp Records, holds production credits on Kanye West’s Yeezus, and has released two critically-lauded EPs on Tri Angle Records. He is 26 years old and from Ellesmere Port. Over the past two years he has gathered momentum around his Trance Party thrown across the U.K.; the event is a partial effort to recreate something of the outrageous hedonism of Balearic, or Ibizan, culture that infused early warehouse raves. And last year, with his close collaborator and friend, 30-year-old graphic designer David Rudnick, he produced an exhibition for Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (ICA), a mockumentary narrative of the “great era of British Trance”.
Both artists describe their youthful experiences in England, windows into their beginnings as artists. Gamble remembers his teens in Birmingham in the early ‘90s, when he was too young to go to raves regularly, but frequented record shops like Don Christies, Tempest, Pure, and Bang In Tunes. He would drive around with his older cousin, “listening to tapes, buying records, and hanging about in people’s bedrooms,” and with the couple of friends with turntables and a mixer.
He recounts one of the most memorable first experiences he had, hearing Grooverider and DJ Ron at the Institute. “A little crew of us had sneaked into the rave by scaling a wall, prizing open an old door and scattering inside. We were too young to get in through the front doors,” he writes. “Once I had found a place on the dancefloor, I remember the bass just totally knocking my head off. Then those breaks, then that breakdown, and vocal, and the strings. I was totally hooked. I would love to have seen my face, on the spot, open mouthed, in this totally other world from the grey Tory U.K. that was my backdrop then. John [expletive] Major is on the news, then a few hours later, you are in this autonomous zone with this music booming at you like some futuristic serpent that is more like you than them. You start to realise there are other people who feel this way too, and they’re in there as well, bugging out.”
Leary grew up in Ellesmere Port in the late ‘90s:
I was nine years old when I started buying music, like Looking For Love by Karen Ramirez and a bunch of Sash! singles from Life Goes On. At some point, I got a Playstation. I was playing Wipeout, flying a spaceship around listening to Photek and Sash. It was a pretty mental experience, I was obsessed with it. Wipeout was designed to be a straightforwardly futuristic experience, and it vividly felt like one at the time: dystopian, fun, fast and all without consequences.
Perhaps, in our current economic and political climate, the backwards gaze provides a crucial psychological buffer; a digital layer of constructed memories about Balearic summers is a form of psychic protection and coping.
For Leary, musical discovery was tied in with feeling convinced that things were improving (“the Playstation Two was twice as good as the Playstation One; TVs seemed to double in size every year,”) and would always improve. “While I was independently exploring all this stuff, my mum had a boyfriend who was a trance DJ,” he writes. “He had a cool three-door BMW, and every car journey was sound-tracked by a different trance mix CD. That was my aesthetic for 1999. It was the dawn of the millennium, and in the short time I’d been alive, I think I’d observed that everything appeared to be constantly improving.” The world “simply consisted of the aesthetic gestures made by Fiat Coupes, by blue-tinted glass buildings and the extended mix of Out of the Blue on constant repeat in my Walkman. [That] these superficial things would be replaced by even better, more futuristic versions of themselves as I hurtled towards adulthood: this was a pretty cool fallacy.”
Gamble describes eventually heading to jungle raves both at The Institute and “at Aston Villa Leisure Centre, The Hummingbird, a few outdoor illegal parties, some techno raves at the Que Club, Wobble. I remember seeing Autechre, Aphex Twin, and Birmingham DJs like Bobby Bird (HIA), Surgeon, and Sir Real [who] played regularly. I was DJ’ing a little then too, so I played at a few things around this time, and like teenagers tend to, I got infected by it all, the music, the tapes, the clothing, the DJ’ing, the records, record shops, pirate radio. This was pre-internet, so it was a very social thing.” He found access to a space with a Jamaican sound system, and a choppy, soundclash, combative sound culture which would eventually influence his own DJ’ing style (along with UKG, grime, and jungle). He points to tracks like DJ Peshay’s Gangster as emblematic. “The thing with music of that era that I hold dear is its ability to be light, dark, moody, and euphoric all in the space of a few minutes. Jungle, for me, was the total boss at this.”
But, Gamble adds, “I have never felt part of a scene really. I like the edges,” a remove that is reflected in his tracks, which can sound like club music heard from many blocks away. “It wasn’t as if I stood there thinking about the significance at the time. It came through reflecting, using the range of emotions and conflicted feelings that were at the forefront in someone like me at that age in that type of city, streamlining them at hyperspeed into this thing that sounds like so much.”
He describes early jungle raves as primarily “hallucinogenic” experiences, a “type of sonic sensory deprivation” similar to that found in noise shows. Jungle was “the first music [he] had experienced in a "live" setting and there was this lack of focal point that you get with bands and DJs now. There were people, fog horns, whistles, MCs, lights, smoke, drugs, noise, faces, dancing, lasers. It was a noisy environment,” in which the visitor was immersed in sound.
Gamble is very measured about hyping or valorising this time, however. “I'm intrigued by people's inability to count on their own experiences through their own memory, and then how that relates to a collective idea,” he says. Memory, he notes, is “not something you can really rely on. People make things up – though not necessarily with the intention to deceive – and have skewed versions of their own history. Memory is an odd, illusive thing, so boiling down this period of work for me to nostalgia doesn’t work. If anything, it enforces the idea that we are bound to living delusionally.”
Eventually, I got to have all the immersion in live techno that would haunt me later. An old friend, observing our group all dancing at a Chicago club, said that techno seemed a bit like a sickness. Truly, the only way I can describe these early encounters with abstract, alien sounds – the distended raid sirens, their bracing assault – is as an infection, as seizure. This space allowed for a madness, in which one could feel not like a woman, not like anything human, reduced to a jostling sack of particles, tethered to a thought in the shape of a sound.
Partying was never just partying, but also an expression of everything that could not be found outside of the party. Rave was a space that made me and others feel connected, powerful, capable, and full of possibility. The music of that period, heard now, reminds me of a person I thought I was, and a person I hoped to be. As a writer, those otherworld sounds generated images of future cities and future worlds even better than reading science fiction.
Gamble describes parallels between club spaces and the virtual spaces of memory and the Internet:
There is something about these time modes or spaces that are akin to drug-induced states in a club or rave. In the ‘90s in the U.K., raves were mostly overnight, which helps to experience a loss of the sensation of natural time. You'd get this strange impression of leaving one space and entering another as you left this darkened autonomous space of the club and into the sunshine the morning after. The club and its particularities worked as a way to disrupt real time, and speed up its own hypnagogic version.
As he interprets it, the impulse to take these dream moments from rave culture and freeze them, “eternalise them,” is a further attempt to create a virtual space outside of real time, in which the transmission and ethic can be frozen, revisited. We barely hear any music in Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, a balletic symphony of men and women spinning around a core of euphoric revelation. Leckey describes Dream English Kid, his most recent film, as more virtual space-creation; he cobbles together a personal musical history through digital archives. Through “DVD re-releases, eBay ephemera, YouTube uploads and above all, the resource of the internet itself,” Leckey suggests he can “actualise half- memories and produce a niche for seemingly every remembrance.”
The music of that period, heard now, reminds me of a person I thought I was, and a person I hoped to be.
Describing old dance music documentaries, Hua Hsu writes that “what is absorbing is rarely the music; rather, it’s the way that music created a sense of community, charging the imaginations of fans and artists in 1989 or 1994 or 2003. Watching this wobbly, distorted footage years later only heightens its poignancy, as though someone were trying to silence these transmissions from a revolutionary past.”
And online, surely, you can read scanned zines of Boy’s Own, the ‘80s acid house gang that offered all-night dance parties as an alternative to a violent hooligan nightlife. You can pore through rave flyers, their detailed, hand-drawn graphics promising entry into an alien consciousness and rooms for “total mind expansion” among other “celestial visitors.” [Images of Posters] I comb through a friend’s casual 2001 flashbacks of him spinning with Sven Väth and Misstress Barbara in a small basement room for clues.
Contemporary digital culture allows an unusually close look at the operative cultural assumptions and optimism of these periods. Leary describes both the comedy and opportunity in mythologising times we weren’t part of:
In millennial land, I see loads of people my age, people who grew up in the ‘90s, playing dress-up as imagined versions of how people in their mid-30's looked in 1950. They share Keep Calm and Carry On memes, yearning for a repressed past that they don't remember. I’m banging on about 1998 and trance, and Craig David is back. It’s pretty funny. With no reason to imagine an exciting near-future, I guess we're going mental for the near-past instead.
Through trance, we can talk about the late ‘90s in both abstract and more concrete ways: in terms of its exhaustive euphoria; its never-ending cycles of context-less buildups and drops, its failed prediction of a global utopia, the Eurozone Dream as represented by Sash! finding international success writing songs in various non-native languages that neither he nor most of his audience could usually understand.
We can think of awful cultural imperialist psytrance ravers invading Goa and Ibiza, and the inevitable corporatisation of that movement, from Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach to David Beckham wearing a sarong […] We can think of how Tiesto continues to commission "In Search of Sunrise" compilations themed around such exotic destinations as "Panama," "Latin America," "Asia," and "India," and on and on.
I re-watch the Delirium Silence (1999) video with a friend, vague tribal iconography circling violently around Amazonian drummers in unlikely beach communion. We both collapse into laughter. Silence was so important to me when I was 15, but I can now see its video’s incoherent globalism layered atop a “timeless” trance beat as an absurd vision of what the future – the now – should have been.
"I’m banging on about 1998 and trance, and Craig David is back. It’s pretty funny. With no reason to imagine an exciting near-future, I guess we're going mental for the near-past instead."
Leary puts it succinctly: “Maybe we could engage with these things less in terms of nostalgia and more in terms of, “What the fuck were we doing?” In 2016, our access to a dizzying network archive can help us deconstruct myths of the past; new, more subtle critical language helps us describe why Beckham in a sarong was distasteful. And “there's no point trying to ‘revive’ trance if in doing so, what we're actually reaching for is simply the memory of the feeling of being 10 years old in 1999,” Leary points out. “I don’t think that listening to Matt Darey’s Ibiza Euphoria as a time-travel device is a very good way of engaging with the material, or our existence in the period of time it was made in. But, it can be a good conversation starter.”
Gamble is far more unsentimental. “I have said from day one that nostalgia as a longing for something that's gone is problematic for me,” Gamble says. “I’m not at all nostalgic in this way, to be honest, about any time. That’s not to say I fully believe in the future, either. My position is that either can be dangerous and full of tricks, whether a quest for ‘futurism’ or futuristic music, or nostalgia.” He posits a framework: “Maybe another way of looking at nostalgia is as a series of signs. At a given moment in time, you have no way of putting yourself into the future to see backwards. So, nostalgia gives us a possibility to see moments in context, in their setting, the way they have emitted themselves into the future – now – as events.”
Leary expands on the importance of placing music in context. “When I use things from the past, such as trance and its related themes and era, for instance, I like to do so in the context of the present,” he writes. “The context is about what happened between then and now, about how we ended up where we are, what we saw coming, and what we didn’t. We're just taking objects from the past, turning them inside out, looking at them from different angles. We then force them back into our present, and load them with contemporary narratives of identity, futurism, and our own social commentary.”
Perhaps in an attempt to give context, Leary and David Rudnick created The Trance War: Archives and Documentation, 1998 – Ongoing, a 2015 installation at the ICA, London. This summer, they showed work together within similar themes at the ambitious Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, as part of Deep Inside.
"We're just taking objects from the past, turning them inside out, looking at them from different angles. We then force them back into our present, and load them with contemporary narratives of identity, futurism, and our own social commentary."
Rudnick, who is from Letchmore Heath, is a type of designer and an artist with an instantly recognisable style; his rigorous practice is unusually grounded by art historical research and understanding. Rudnick’s interest in club culture informs his excruciatingly beautiful designs; he has described the nightclub as “our most powerful, and in some ways creative, cultural liminal space,” where dancers are more free to be themselves, outside of social norms.
Trance War enshrined, formalised and parodied materials of the trance era, which Leary describes Rudnick and himself as “obsessive collectors” of:
30,000 dogs died in the Trance War, so we made a 13-foot memorial concrete-cast sculpture of one particularly good boy, and a canine-themed triptych, all in commemoration of those who had served. We filled vitrines with themed paraphernalia - including Ministry of Sound compilation CDs, Tony Blair’s NME cover - and hung banners mapping binary-finary waveforms to London house price trends. We re-processed footage of Chris Patten at the Handover, Tony Blair announcing humanitarian aid in Kosovo and played this on CRTs. Guests had a stupid amount of black confetti dropped on them as they were guided out by Trance War-emblazoned, Hi-Vis-wearing security guards with glowsticks.
Memorialising and elevating while fully tongue-in-cheek, Trance War gestures at the shaky cultural and institutional status of more wildly popular dance music. Trance is still, arguably, the biggest genre of techno, with millions of listeners, but it endures relentless mocking both within and outside of music.
The banners in Trance War are rendered in a stunning typography that conveys their importance, and gives us permission, as viewers, to remember when music made us feel earnestly and hopefully. These labels were everything, and the club space was a kind of temple. And the framing text bringing some of us back to a more innocent time: It is 1998. Your Millennium promises near-limitless commodities of both Future and of Nostalgia, and you are ready for Euphoria.
What do these backwards looks mean for the future of electronic music? What can club culture realistically achieve in a collapsing music industry? Both Gamble and Leary are animated, detailed on the subject.
“Between 1975 and 1995, so much happened technologically: from the mass-marketisation of synthesis tools, to MIDI, DAWs, and pure data. All of these rapid developments helped to create a consumer market for electronic music production. We were rapidly developing new musical styles, new genres and communities, new ways to imagine what futuristic music might sound like and how it could be made,” Leary describes. But after 1995, less happened. “We are still using MIDI and FM synthesis and, in general, are applying loose narratives of deconstruction to all the amazing genres created in the ‘70s to the ‘90s, seemingly unable to create any new ones ourselves.”
Where the child of the ‘90s was consumed by a sense of possibility, the millennial exists in an interminable, high-pressure consumerist hellscape. The “dominant musical trends, namely, grime and house, recall pre-commercialised "golden eras" of genre for an audience that weren’t there in the first place,” Leary points out. “Surely your parents are supposed to hate the music you like, rather than find it nostalgic?”
He suggests that the very concept of what “futuristic electronic music” is might be submitted to same critique as rave nostalgia:
Maybe it's more interesting to consider the ways in which it isn't futuristic at all, and why that might be. When we hit the gas pedal in a Soundcloud-sponsored demolition derby of genre, crashing regionalised sounds together as if they existed in a vacuum; when we find ourselves playing god, mimicking exotic gestures or ideas from the past that don’t belong to us, forcing things together for no good reason other than that we have the power to – might we be peddling the same global utopia myth as Sash? As artists, we can apply contemporary futurist narratives to the music we make, but I think we have to confront the fact that musically, we're more obsessed with the near-past than we'd seemingly like to admit.
Where Leary’s thinking is highly attuned and sensitive to social context, Gamble describes a personal choice to turn away from any speculation. He says he tries to live “in many times simultaneously,” critical of any claims of a better time. “Futurism can appear to have this faith in what’s going to happen, or how interesting and important things are now. This is the same as people telling you everything was amazing at raves in the ‘90s. It’s rose-tinted, speculation to a point. You could call it a futurist form of nostalgia.”
"As artists, we can apply contemporary futurist narratives to the music we make, but I think we have to confront the fact that musically, we're more obsessed with the near-past than we'd seemingly like to admit."
He describes his compositional process as sculptural, abstract, clinical, picking and choosing across time. “I’m interested in the deconstruction of a single snare, from large-scale world time, to microsonically dismantling sound until it eventually becomes mathematical. When the splicing or deconstruction becomes more and more particle-like, more microscopic and in turn less emotionally pertinent as sound or music, it becomes pure mathematical data.” He says some recent tracks loosely explore four to the floor structures, a dominant genre. “I just want to keep folding these periods back into themselves, discarding what I find uninspiring and adding new things,” in a continual alchemical process, stretching the past, flattening it, making it new.
In Lolodamusica, a 1995 documentary about the history of Gabber, Ruffneck describes the process of gathering people in a room to dance. “You visually imagine the sounds at the party,” he says to the camera. “You create atmosphere with sound, combined with the images in your head.” The “turning of the sound” moves the dancer; the sound turns inside of a person, changing them.
As for the club – it remains infused with new blood. Raves of the 2010s may not look as mind-blowingly euphoric as ‘90s raving, but warehouses are still scouted each weekend from Boston to Jakarta, where illicit dance parties are thrown in environments arguably more repressive than Thatcherite England. It would seem rave’s original ethos – gesturing at new social conditions through community-organising – lives on. Club culture still creates vital space in which people can create a sense of community and freedom they might not elsewhere. It is a space for marginalised communities – queer, non-binary, those of colour – to have release.
Ultimately, looking back seems an opportunity – to channel material for further optimism. Gamble says he “likes the idea of morphologies, the hardcore continuum. Dance music encourages cross-pollination.” He stresses that it is “really important to keep pushing these musical forms.”
Club culture still creates vital space in which people can create a sense of community and freedom they might not elsewhere.
To this end, Leary began production of his successful Trance Party several years ago, creating an accessible rave culture for youth across the U.K. who are outside the reach of London. He feels strongly that audiences are ready for newer, more generative, wild experiences: “I like the idea that someone might come to see me DJ and end up stumbling into the middle of EVOL-strobe hell. If I can program these things in such a way that they make sense musically, in a way that's not obnoxious or disruptive for the sake of it, then I think there's a good chance our audience is going to roll with the chaos.”
He says he and his cohorts continue to work “in the hope that this isn’t a hopeless situation, but one which requires us to think differently about how and why we make music.” And he is learning, with his peers, that “it helps to have a good reason to combine or repeat things, which we inevitably will do anyway. That's something I'm trying to get better at. We might not have modern tools for making drastically new sounding music, but we all have our own modern lived experiences, so that's what I try to draw from if I can.”
Alienation under capitalism means that the community of rave can look illusory. But in imagining and reliving the early waves of culture through the digital, we might reacquaint ourselves with that first experience of listening to music with other people. Rave was just a way to make sense of time passing with others. We could treat our past selves with kindness, grapple with the pain of internal and spiritual change, as Gamble describes.
I often think back on how I felt on that first dance floor and how I drag that original feeling into the degraded present. I felt like I had discovered something on my own for the first time. Here was a transgressive space that was outside of goals, self-capitalising, and external motivations. That people travelled hundreds of miles to share in listening was incredibly moving. I could turn to a stranger to dissect elements of a track as it was cast, and we could stumble towards some kind of kinship. Still, I hesitate to look back too directly, too clearly, at that pure break, that moment when I found a home outside of home, when everything seemed unbroken, full of the promise that we would always renew ourselves through sound, that the party would never be over, that hardcore would never die.
Nora Khan writes fiction and creative non-fiction about digital visual culture, artificial intelligence, electronic music, and games. She is a Contributing Editor at Rhizome, and a recipient of the Thoma Foundation 2016 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art for an emerging arts writer.
Cover image: Evian Christ and David Rudnick, 'The Trance War: Archives and Documentation, 1998 – Ongoing', Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (ICA), 2015