Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures

Graham St John (Equinox, 2009)

Design. "DJ". By Benjamin Whight (www.theporg.org).

 

Reviews

". . . a great achievement, really got under the skin of things!" Mark Stormcore, cofounder of Spiral Tribe.


". . . the most wide-ranging and detailed of all the books on rave. More than the study of a musical movement or genre, Technomad offers an alternate history of cultural politics since the 1960s, from hippies and Acid Tests through the sound systems and 'vibe-tribes' of the 1990s and beyond.... Like Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces, Technomad makes unexpected but entirely convincing connections between people, movements and events. Like Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Koolaid Acid Test, St John’s book introduces us to unknown heroes, committed geniuses and genuine revolutionaries. Beautifully written, with a genuinely international perspective on electronic dance music culture, Technomad is one of the best books on music I’ve read in some time."
Professor Will Straw, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

"A critical utopianism is articulated and celebrated with a textual energy too rare in today's cultural studies. Graham St John is wide-eyed in order to look more closely. I recommend his shining and grubby doofscape to all interested in the radical possibilities and limitations of contemporary culture."
Professor George McKay, University of Salford

"Technomad offers important insights into the meeting points between countercultural discourses and post-rave techno cultures. Optimistic regarding the progressive potential of outdoor techno-trance gatherings, this well-documented study traces the complex genealogy of a global nomadic 'technoccult', with emphasis on Europe, North-America and Australia. Not to be missed by anyone interested in the study of rave cultures, countercultures and festivals."
Dr Hillegonda Rietveld, Reader in Cultural Studies, London South Bank University

 

About Technomad

A cultural history of global electronic dance music countercultures, Technomad offers a detailed exposition of the pleasurable and activist trajectories of post-rave. The book documents an emerging network of techno-tribes, exploring their pleasure principles and cultural politics. Attending to sound system culture, electro-humanitarianism, secret sonic societies, teknivals and other gatherings of the techno-tribes, intentional parties, revitalisation movements and counter-colonial interventions, Technomad investigates how the dance party has been harnessed for transgressive and progressive ends, for manifold freedoms. Seeking freedom from moral prohibitions and standards, pleasure in rebellion, refuge from sexual and gender prejudice, exile from oppression, rupturing aesthetic boundaries, re-enchanting the world, reclaiming space, fighting for "the right to party", and responding to a host of critical concerns, electronic dance music cultures are multivalent sites of resistance.

Drawing on extensive ethnographic, netographic and documentary research, Technomad details the post-rave trajectory through various local sites and global scenes, with each chapter attending to unique developments in the techno counterculture: e.g. Spiral Tribe, teknivals, psytrance, Burning Man, Reclaim the Streets, Earthdream. The book offers an original nuanced theory of resistance to assist understanding of these developments. Written in an accessible style, this cultural history of hitherto uncharted territory will be of interest to students of cultural, performance, music, media, and new social movement studies, along with enthusiasts of dance culture and popular politics.

 

 

Chapter Outlines

Chapter One: The Rave-olution?

 

"23 Face" By Spiral Mark

In the pre-millennial dawn of rave, the annihilating jouissance of the dance floor was the context for something of an ur-moment. In this breach (Ibiza to London 1987-88), as the Ecstasy fuelled subject disappeared into the massive, beyond the gaze of the media, the authorities, homophobia and predatorial males, and as the phenomenal architecture of the dance floor liquidated the star/spectator roles central to the rock and pop experience, raving neophytes climbed aboard a subterranean cavalcade of hope, compassion and expectancy. In clandestine clubs and furtive outdoor events, in a gush of conspiratorial optimism, growing numbers were reveling in a libratory dance- ekstasis . Young people knew they were onto something big, an ascension was about to take place, the truth would be revealed. And when it did break, and rave culture became widely mediated, regulated and commodified, the truth wasn't difficult to register: rave had a huge market. Ecstasy use and abuse would become pandemic, DJs were becoming mega-stars and club owners were building entactogenic pleasure factories designed to concentrate the energy rush and the cash flow. As popular music writer Simon Reynolds would argue, if rave evolved into a "self-conscious science" of intensifying Ecstasy's sensations then the rapid comedown from this chemical nirvana precipitated a psycho-cultural dark-side evincing a "loss of a collective sense of going somewhere". Perhaps the death certificate would be signed by the legislative effect of the UK's draconian Criminal Justice Act or, later, the US "RAVE Act". But while this represents something of the official story of rave--an impotent ascension, a dystopian subcultural comedown, a failed rave-olution --it is not the whole story. For, from the beginning, and indeed both before the beginning and subsequent to the rave explosion, a techno-underground has subsisted, multiplied and evolved, mutating and surviving in a transnational network of techno-tribal formations.

In addressing these global formations, Technomad attends to the fleeting-permanence of contemporary counterculture, offering a cultural history of a wide range of techno-formations whose mobility--spatial, subjective and virtual--is enabled by new digital, cyber and telecommunications technologies. While the word "technomad" has been applied to a growing population of geek nomads and mobile digerati whose "anywhere/anytime" internet connectivity enables rootless business and lifestyle practices, the "techno" explicit to this book relates to electronic music practices. Revisiting the themes of counterculture and resistance via documentary research and ethnography, the book attends to a shifting complex of genres, sites and events in the global proliferation of EDMC. The introductory chapter features a discussion of the dance cultural tsunami of UK rave, its roots and fall, before outlining the role of new technologies and the theory of resistance, or hyper-resistance, at the heart of this book.   

 

 

Chapter Two: Sound System Exodus: Tekno-Anarchy in the UK and Beyond

 

Spiral Tribe

Sound systems are the backbone of the techno-counterculture. A sound system is a co-operative music initiative known for its re-purposing of sound technologies and for its role in the amplification of grassroots community concerns. These collectively owned cultural and technological resources are rooted in Jamaican dub and dancehall alongside émigré reggae and hip hop scenes in London and New York. In London they would become infused with anarchist, punk, traveller and from the late eighties, techno-rave, coordinates. Possessing a composite understanding of "freedom" downstream from these influences, tekno sound systems constitute creative and inspired responses to the interrelated regulatory and capitalist patterns they have confronted. Appropriating and repurposing new music technology, their "exodus" would become concentrated in commitments to the "free party" and its concomitant lifestyle. From Europe, to North America and Australia, sound systems have become DiY techno (or tekno) outfits: a loose network of artists and musicians who base themselves around the mobile PA and whose collectivity enables the sharing of equipment and skills. The chapter documents the emergence and exodus of UK sound systems, with particular attention to the original spinners, Spiral Tribe, who would be instrumental to the "freetekno" movement and the emergence of world tekno-travellers. Enthusing sonic squatters and techno-circuses fusing dub-reggae, techno, hardcore, psychedelic, hip hop and minimalist traditions, the Spirals would influence transgressive and proactive techno-cultures around the globe.

 

 

Chapter Three: Secret Sonic Societies and Other Renegades of Sound

Moontribe mandala. Photo by Joe

As sound systems made exodus from the UK in the wake of the rampant regulatory and commercial environment, the example provided by their unique interventions, and that of the broader techno-punk-traveller convergence, inspired initiatives around the world. While the previous chapter addresses the immediate impact in Western Europe, this chapter documents the breakout of several sound system scenes from the early 1990s in the US, Canada and Australia. These scenes demonstrate the variable interpretation of the possibilities of new music and technology condensed in rave. Operated by the outraged and the outrageous, the secretive and assertive, populated by aesthetes and agitators, infused with sensibilities across a spectrum of responsibility, these sound outfits would become reservoirs for the outlaw and the avant, the exile, the reactionary, the reclaimer and the activist, seeking refuge and/or the amplification of local concerns in a fashion often comparable to their Jamaican forebears. As vehicles for punk, anarchism, hippie idealism, queer discourse, paganism, eco-radicalism, etc, and amplifying a spectrum of electronic musics, they hail multifarious influences and pursue diverse trajectories. While sonically and attitudinally diverse, they are nevertheless integrated within a global post-rave counterculture.

 

 

Chapter Four: New Tribal Gathering: Vibe-Tribes and Mega-Raves

The dance vibe constitutes the carnival which, resurgent as rave, has proliferated in the contemporary. This chapter investigates the historical roots of "the vibe" and the dance tribes emerging to re/produce it, an exploration enabling comprehension of vibrant social aesthetics and related responsibilities. But this analysis does not seek to raise any singular ensigns of 'freedom', 'resistance' or 'utopia' to convey the underlying message of the socio-sonic dance event, for post-rave EDM parties, festivals and gatherings are typically hyper-responsive to contemporary conditions. The chapter explores the autonomous character of events (immediate, forbidden, expatriate, experimental, spiritual, cooperative, safe, defensive and proactive) enabling the hetergeneous enactment of alternatives. The 1967 Gathering of the Tribes in San Francisco was instrumental to this development. An intersection of European spiritualist and African-American dance traditions colliding in the mid-1960s and with immediate repercussions in the underground dance scene of New York in the early 1970s, the Gathering of the Tribes was not only the nadir of the Summer of Love, but constitutes an alternative event-model revived and reproduced (and not to mention recuperated) in a proliferation of EDMC events designed to facilitate transgressive/progressive culture. As heterotopian demesne of alternative discourse and practice multiplying as psytrance festivals, teknivals and other "gatherings of the tribes", from the "cyberdelic" events of the San Francisco Rave Scene and Digital Be-Ins to London's Megatripolis, from Germany's Fusion and Portugal's Boom Festivals to Berlin's Loveparade and Nevada's Burning Man festival, the EDM sonicities documented here contextualize multiple freedoms and manifold outcomes.

Teknival at Marigny, France 2003.
 
 
 
 
 
Connexus Cathedral, Burning Man 2006. Photo Steve Fritz.
 
Castlemorton, May 1992. Andrew Dunsmore.
Boom Festival, Portugal 2006

 

 

Chapter Five:   The Technoccult, Psytrance and the Millennium

Terence McKenna
Singularity. By Carey Thompson (galactivation.com)

While Spiral Tribe and other techno-tribes illustrate piecemeal pagan commitments, throughout the 1990s and into the next decade, psychedelic trance (or psytrance) would accelerate the interfacing of technology, ecology, and spirituality. Psytrance would become a global context for the growth of eco-spiritual and humanist commitments expressed and performed through dance. This chapter charts these developments, uncovering a pattern of revitalization associated with the fin de siecle --a period of unfettered optimism fuelled by cyber and digital developments adopted and championed in the cultural response to accelerating humanitarian and environmental calamities. Directly downstream from the "New Spiritual" seekership of post-traditional milieus exiting the sixties, an alternative spiritual movement would become apparent in the cultural output of a compendium of salvific models, utopian dreams, poetic tracts, visionary art and millenarian predilections of the likes of Terrence McKenna (Timewave Zero), Fraser Clark (the Future Perfect State), Jose Argüelles (Dreamspell Calendar) and Robin Cooke (Australia's Earthdream). I suggest that this movement drinks from a reservoir of what I call the technoccult: discourse and practice possessing futurist:revivalist and revitalizing:inscrutable trajectories concentrated in a milieu of techno-tribes and dance-events networked in the global trance community and influenced by the ideas of these figures. Adopting the Dreamspell calendar, variously committed to 2012, and self-identifying as members of a "global tribe", a compassionate trance-formation has invested in an obscure revitalizing movement the contours of which are outlined here.

Exodos Cybertribal Festival, 2003, Australia. Saskia Fotofolk

 

 

Chapter Six:   Rebel Sounds and Dance Activism: Rave and the Carnival of Protest

Anti CJB protest, Trafalgar Square July 24 1994 (from urban75)

What is an intentional party? Attending to dance music organizations and events as tactical interventions, this chapter documents mobilizations ranging from specified reactions to anti-dance legislation and ordinance encountered around the world, to direct action campaigns in which the dance party becomes a tactic in the struggle for diverse concerns beyond EDMC. In the former circumstance, antagonists like those responding to anti-teknival campaigns, the RAVE Act or New York's Cabaret Laws, fight for their right to party, reclaiming dance from moralists, regulators and merchants, through various channels and with varying degrees of success. In the latter, EDMC becomes embroiled in efforts to reclaim the future through the context facilitated by the music/dance experience. Such had been embodied by the Reclaim the Streets (RTS) movement which acquired the inclusive sensibility, re-inhabitational mood, and otherwise variant flights of rave. The chapter provides a detailed exposition of RTS as it morphed around the world. Emerging in mid-1990s London, RTS carried a carnivalesque sensibility that, as an intentional reclamation of public space, had flourished since the sixties yet was re-ignited in the wake of neo-liberalism and the War on Terror, whose ecological and humanitarian after-shocks would stimulate activists to tactically re-appropriate the carnival in campaigns to reclaim the future. As the popular rave was recruited in the carnival of protest, electronic dance music became part of a tactical assemblage, a cultural resource in the emergent global justice movement. As the new protestival template proliferated globally with the assistance of the Internet and mobile communications technologies, direct action became fleeting yet prolific, a popular "future-presence". And with its performance associated with a cornucopia of activist demands, EDMC would acquire an intentional character by which dance music events, whether spatial reclaiming, fund raising or direct interventions, would enable tactical responses to the troubled present. This chapter explores this process, along with the techno-tribes which, within a broadly reclamational spirit, have waged progressive interventionist agendas in the present.

 

JMS - Joyeux Merdier Social, Paris, 1st May 2006 (systematek.org)

EAR: European Alternative Resistance. Strasbourg April 2006 (systematek.org)

 

 

Chapter Seven: Outback Vibes: Dancing up Country

Planehenge, Mutonia 2000, South Australia

The chapter explores the initiatives of tactical dance formations promoting indigenous justice and ecological causes within the context of national efforts to achieve reconciliation in Australia. In particular it charts the trajectories of Australian sound initiatives Ohms not Bombs and the Labrats. Impacted by a DiY activist sensibility, appropriating new and alternative technologies, and operating mobile events, these techno-pioneers were implicated in what Pete Strong calls a "groovement", a dance movement for legitimate presence and belonging. While inspired by the European tekno sound systems, these vehicles for the performance of postcolonizing desires would rally the disaffected to new front lines. In the late 1990s, sounding out the growing desire for post-settler legitimacy, responding to a "calling" to country, these new sonic mobs were gravity machines for the critical ecological, and revisionist sensitivities prevailing within an alternative youth population. Part activism, theatre, and carnival, in 2000 there transpired an outback adventure which would become a conduit for this celebratory and compassionate mobilization: a performative politics flowering in central Australia called Earthdream2000. The chapter concludes with an extensive documentation of Earthdream2000, participants in which held independent formulas for intercultural reconciliation and a nuclear free future. While the European tekno-travelers and teknivals provided models of endurance, generosity, and spectacular transgression, local cohorts were adapting to local conditions. In particular, allying with aggrieved indigenes, from the Mad Max road warrior whose transgression knew no boundaries, to an eco-warrior familiar with cultural and physical boundaries, local crews and events were vehicles and catalysts for dancing up country. Venturing outside the post-apocalyptic narrative, Earthdream would revise the script of the UK tekno-exodus. Rather than becoming "rulers" of a radioactive "wasteland", seeking to thwart a future delivered by reckless governmentality, working with Aboriginal peoples and employing "direct theatre", new actors became implicated in a struggle for belonging, and a desire to make a difference.


Chapter Eight: Hardcore, You Know the Score

Adopting a potted history of EDM counterculture, and with the assistance of fieldwork, interviews, and a net-enabled ethnography conducted over seven years, Technomad has offered a lens on a spectrum of responsive practice encountered on the pathway towards an EDMC-inspired model of resistance which recognizes its transgressive and progressive characteristics. This chapter concludes the book with a commentary on "hardcore", denoting a spectrum of hardcore commitments and corresponding counter-tribes. The Dionysian resists isolation and posits ekstasis; the Outlaw finds resistance in its own illicitness; the Exile seeks liberty in its exodus from prejudice and patriotism; the Avant knows rebellion in pushing the boundaries of art; the Spiritualist seeks the re-enchantment and revitalization of self and society; Reclaimers replace commercialism and the cult of the celebrity with the folk; Safety tribes seek to minimize harm through education and awareness; Reactionaries fight for the right to party; and Activists mobilize around specific ultimate causes like ecology and peace. Likened to other post-war micro-cultural formations, techno-tribes are characteristically empathetic, fluid, networked, with nomads oscillating between vibrant nodes of identification. But while the comprehension of techno-tribalism is partially enabled via Maffesolian sociology, since there may be agonistic causal triggers to the vibe, this approach remains insufficient in itself. It may well be salient to argue that the commitments to multiple freedoms by the many actors, sonic societies, dance nations and electronic sound cultures in this book, fuel a "passional life" such that the cause conditions their being together. Whatever the case, the causes are multiple, the vibe heterogeneous and the outcomes perennially uncertain.

 

Black 23 Dragon - Spiral Mark.

 

Teknival - Pleymo Lady

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