Raving Under Capitalism; Infinite Bodies, Drums as Binding
Updated: Sep 10, 2019
Last night I watched the a new documentary by Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller. The film follows a thread of social history through electronic music; Kraftwerk's introduction to the USA, Detroit techno, Chicago house and then onto the UK rave scene. The film is constructed in an interesting way: Deller presents a talk to a class of London children. He shows them clips and explains a potted history of electronic club music. We watch the story, we watch them watch the story. He talks about Marx, industrialisation and the miners strikes. He talks about Detroit Techno, The Music Box, M25 raves and Spiral Tribe.
There are so many things about this documentary that I could talk about but I'm just going to wander and see where I go. I remember early in the film he talks a little bit about about the origin of house music at Ron Hardy's Music Box. I was happy to hear Deller emphasise electronic dance music's black gay roots. It made me think of Larry Lavan's disco nights at the Garage. He notes that many of these early house tracks feature instructional vocal samples like 'work it' or 'i'll make you jack'. That the music, the dancing is like a job. There is something here of the urgency to reconnect the kinetic body to physical work. There is something serious in joy.
I was interested in the school kids reactions to some of the footage; some of them clearly connected with what was happening. At one moment they are invited to play with drum machines and 303's. They start playing and having fun. Amongst the laughter there appeared to be an inflection point. A girl says 'woah woah that's too much.' For a moment she looks concentrated and serious. I found myself thinking that this is where it starts, there's the seed of a creative spark. In that moment I felt like she felt the urge to order and construct the sounds to coherence. I largely felt a deep sadness towards the kids of this film. At one point one of the children tells us that social media is what has taken the place of music for kids now. This is true of course but the hollowness of her statment I felt to be overwhelming. In it's infancy social media was used to connect people to share creative media like music and film but now it is the media itself. There is a fallacy of a shared togetherness in space on virtual platforms, a falsity in the presentations of self and image, the experience is often one of anxiety and alienation. There's so much to say on this topic but the phone experience is atomising. The frame, ironically, is one created by the socially peculiar, Zuckerberg etc. Incredible to think that the direction of social interaction has been ordained by somebody so socially strange. Even if this were not the case the platform (the frame) has been set and generated by huge capital, this is and never will be counter cultural.
Within this there is also the erosion of space itself. The internet is colonised by capital and as we spend longer and longer staring at screens and assuming that the space within it is an actual space we further detach from our bodies. This is the opposite of rave culture which vitalises with assembly and kinesis.
The kids looked confused at the rave scenes. They can't relate to the footage. Many of them relaying a deep capitalist realism. The world is just the way it is, there is no chance of change. The future is cancelled.
Another kid tells us that it's weird to see people dancing because if you did that now people would just film it. At the end of the film the classroom simulates a club; lasers flash, a track plays out. Lots of the kids get out their phones to film it. A self administering of alienation.
Deller has the class of kids read a quote from Marx about seizing the means of production, this is what dance music is or is capable of. The sound is the sound of people taking control. It's a deep dyonisian sound, the sound of people coming together, of bodies bumping. It's the smell of sweat, it's the urgency of youth, it's a gaze into the infinite, of a merging together, of a loss of ego, of euphoria and an antidote to alienation.
Repetitive 4/4 music acts a binding agent, a containing force. The kick drums wraps you, the beat holds you through it's predictability, it allows the rest of the track to veer off to wherever. Synth lines, bass, poly rhythms. But they must stay in the frame! There must always be a return to mother, to that 4/4 beat. You're safe and held in that deep frame. It's a sexual simulation. It's a simulation of the protective womb. It's vitalising and when you look around you everyone is there with you. There's nothing like it, seeing people dance with abandon next do you. It's preverbal, it's a communing with mother.
“The aesthetic moment constitutes this deep rapport between subject and object” ― Christopher Bollas
When I used to go raving as a kid my friend and I used to joke about how much humans loved that beat. We laughed about it, we imitated primates and early man dancing to that beat. We used to joke about the kick drum and talk about all the different types that exist; little 'dishers', deep 'dooshers', tight short 'uhs', long subby 'oooffs'. The simplicity of the effect produced endless hours of laughter; we laughed at how much we and everyone around us reacted to the most simple of sounds. We loved it. I still love it, it speaks to something pre verbal something vital and fundamental to who we are.
When I'm feeling low I watch footage of M25 raves on YouTube (rather ironic). The fashion, the faces of the people, the togetherness, the love and acceptance, the dancing and the music. It never fails to bring a smile to my face. The M25 rave scene was pure joy and defiance. It was a beautiful moment. Watching all the people being there, present, joyous fills me with hope.