RAVE-ACCELERATE-DIE

by Noah Brehmer |

A few years back something like a rave–or what was anyways called one–unfolded under the Baltica-highway in Kaunas, Lithuania. Absent the electronic music, drugs and alcohol, the event was outfitted minimally: a drum set, bass, and an amplifier. It was set up simply, but enough to bring together a small crowd in a semi-remote location. The event was organized by a loose assemblage of characters who would later take a more public identity as Kaunas Zoo. In the midst of the rave, someone made a modest mural on the wall commemorating the farmworkers blockade of the same highway, which manifested in the early 2000s and was eradicated by violent police intervention.

Unsanctioned emergences of a quite different stature and ambition arose in curious adjacency to this highway. Both the rave and the blockade involve the ‘occupation’ of, or intermeshing with, infrastructure built and regulated to service the efficient circulation of commodities and person-commuters. Such divergences of sanctioned use open up social imaginaries wherein the interests of previously unrecognized subjects gain substance, faintly conjuring the specter of an altogether different ‘exchange relation.’

Yet there are notable differences between the rave and the blockade. The farm-workers literally block the circuit of exchange to leverage a price demand for the sale of their goods: ‘no commodity will go to market until our beets are fairly accorded value’. The rave is a disruption in only a minor sense. More of a meshing with infrastructure than a blockage, the rearranging of ecology unfolds on a more temporal, affective,  and importantly audible plane. Moving from this particular rave to the general dynamic of raving, the orientation of such events thrives on notions of profligate pleasure, techno-synthetic depersonalization, a communism of the affects, and the suspension of strictly commercial or state usage of communal space.

Is there nothing more than spatial proximity that links the rave and the blockade? And if there is a political adjacency what potential is to be found in it? I raise these questions at a moment when early ’90s cultural reference points are trending. From street fashion and rave to a more general fascination with the failed prophecies of cyber-punk/goth/feminist on the future of the world: cybernetic technoscapes, the death of humanity, anon gender fluidity, globally coordinated stateless communism. Living in a post-internet age makes these anticipated visions of what could have been all the more seductive as counterfactual imaginaries to the rather dismal reality of the here and now. 

Surprisingly, the trend has even managed to siphon its way into the longstanding bunkers of DIY-punk tribalism and the folkloric rhythms of resistance tendencies of radical Left milieus. More and more one finds ravish techno settings in demonstrations–as I personally experienced a few years back in the French movement Nuit debout, which turned the occupied Republique square into a multi-stage techno and hip hop party by nightfall. The recent opposition to Polish Independence Day in Warsaw is also noteworthy for its integration of techno buses into the opposition march (in part coordinated by the feminist electronics platform Oramics). Not to mention, Clubs Against the AFD (far-right German party) in Berlin which made calls to ‘dance against the end of the world’. Meanwhile, in Georgia, there is said to be a ‘rave revolution’ happening – as some news outlets have, rather loftily, perhaps too loftily, coined it. [1] 

***

you might stop the party but you can’t stop the future

FFWD THE REVOLUTION, 1992

Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism and persona of the blog K-punk, announced the death of rave as part of his broader thesis on the death of the future. [2] In the British rave movement he saw a generating force for a new collective subject that would fill the ontological voids of the late-capitalist landscape. He viewed this condition from the British lens, in the wake of historical defeats of previous forms of collectivity. Here Fisher points to Thatcher’s defeat of the miners’ strike in the 1980s and the corporate takeover of football, which had spatial consequence in the redesign of stadiums, such as the imposition of individualized seating arrangements. For Fisher, the rave was a rallying cry against the mandatory individualism and “psychic privatizations” that followed these defeats and the onslaught of the new consumer electronics market, housing and education divestments, etc. that came with them. As Fisher sharply worded it, “[…] the lonely connectedness of smartphone addiction is a depressive hedonic reversal of MDMA festivity.” [3]

The rave’s threat, Fisher argued, lies in its bearing of past freedoms and struggles as specters (or one could say living potentials) of alternative futures. Fisher speaks of the rave as a specter of the historical British commoners who embraced festivity and communal joy in everyday life. With the onslaught of capitalism, festive communal practices were regimented according to the new demands of industrial work routines and living practices. Adding to this characterization is Fisher’s observation on the rave’s location in rural areas and the peripheries of cities. The rave summons a pre-capitalist leisure culture set within a post-capitalist imaginary: the eradication of human drudgery through techno-scientific organization and the communizing of radically desocialized infrastructural zones and forsaken industrial ruin. Techno is capitalist machinery rearranged to serve collective joy and communal life–at least in some of its various trajectories.

Yet what exactly was the future conjured and why, for someone like Fisher, did it die? What type of subject was to inhabit it? And, returning to the question of adjacencies, what do this temporality and subjectivity have in common with the blockading farmer?

Nick Land–a colleague of Fisher’s, 90s prince of cyber-goth, full-fledged alt-righter of the present, and central persona of the Cybernetic Research Unit at Warwick university of the 90s–famously described rave as “human extinction made available as a dance floor.” Seeing the coming revolution as led by a self-reinforcing machinic intelligence, Land discards the subject as a stifling regulatory force. In the world conjured by Land, the old givens of authentic desires, reproduction, identity, are to be disintegrated in the universal acid of the techno cosmos where everything is created/duplicated, and nothing is reproduced or given. 

In the essay ‘Machinic Desire’, published in 1993 at the height of the rave movement and only a few years after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Land composed his anti-subject in the sci-fi figure of the replicant. Whereas the human organism is construed as a sensory-defense system arranged to guard the subject against overexposure to the external, the replicant is but a migrant upon the surface of the skin, “borrowing variable and evanescent identities from intensities traversed in sensitive space.” Abstract, anonymous, machinic drives supplant prior notions of in-built desire, pleasure, and pain. Land called for an abandonment of “the social in order to explore the libidinized rift between a disintegrating personal egoism and a deluge of post-human schizophrenia.” [4]

How was the rave scene an opening point for this exploration? 

Music theorist Simon Reynolds’s personal reflections on the dance floors of the 90s are useful here. He describes dance moves circuiting through crowds like viral contagions, transforming the individual experience-receiver into, “a cog in a collective desiring machine.” As Reynolds writes:

I was instantly entrained in a new kind of dancing–tics and spasms, twitches and jerks, the agitation of bodies broken down into separate components, then reintegrated at the level of the dancefloor as a whole. Each sub-individual part (a limb, a hand cocked like a pistol) was a cog in a collective ‘desiring machine’, interlocking with the sound-system’s bass-throbs and sequencer-riffs. Unity and self-expression fused in a forcefield of pulsating, undulating euphoria. [5]

Whereas punk (broadly defined) centers on the transmission of autobiographical narrative in the gritty human cracks between machinic mediations, electronic dance-music proposes a sublation of annihilative, depersonalizing drives awakened in the cybernetic saturation of interpersonal spheres: algorithmic intelligence, after all, involves a partial-displacement of attributes as innate as ‘my personal taste’ onto a computing, synthesizing, network.

One signpost of techno’s call for this de-personalization can be located in the early Detroit scene, where after the release of the first techno album Enter (1990)–filled with the lyrical residues of gloom disco–language receded into the background, inaugurating the cyber-futurist lexicon “tekhne without logos” [6] that would come to fully dominate in later years.  

Contrasted with the forceful demands to incessantly produce one’s subjectivity as labor, the rave or club setting proposes a depersonalized community of sensations wherein subject-less experiencers may fluidly traverse the contours of experience-less subjects. [7] Technologically aided depersonalization supports this post-human communism of the affects by propagating environments less defined by the who of identity than by the what of place, conception and act–avatar identities, chat forums, MDMA connectivity, grinder, etc.     

In a preface to Fanged Noumena (a collection of Land’s pre-fascist essays), the philosophers Ray Brassier and Robin Mackay insightfully extrapolate from Land’s engagement with the post-human rationality gleaned from the digital dance floor:

Dance music’s digitally enabled dis-articulation is not the release of irrationality, the absence of reason, but reasons displacement from the subject into the machinic, ‘alien intelligence’ unattributable to human agency, subverting rational organization and undertaking exploratory redesigns of humanity. [8]

The Accelrationist standpoint or the question of why the future, as envisioned through the 90s rave, failed?  

However much the theoretical and political trajectories came to clash between Fisher, Brassier and Land, they all opposed the anti-promethean sentiments of dominant critical-theory circles of the 90s, who attached themselves to the grunge melancholy of the technologically alienated, fractured subject of Adorno’s modernity. [9] Important here is the idea of accelerationism: the progression of technological development (and not its regression) as tantamount to the overcoming of the historical violence and contradictions of capitalism.

In Land’s case, capital, as such, is this exponentially progressing force. In turn, the Left’s efforts to ‘regulate’ the human-ecological misery incurred in its appetites only inhibits the–in the end–liberatory path of the total desacralization of existence via its relentless commodification. The dark side of the rave scene fit Land’s project insofar as it joyously espouses the suicidal surrender of humanity to the program of the techno-cosmos: a program, Land argues,  explicitly opposed the humanistic affects found in the folk/DIY subcultures of the ‘Left’.   

Yet, Land’s cyber-goth accelerationism could never effectively assume the universalist eschatology of technological assisted human extinction it wishfully implied. This was and is the case insofar as capitalism, however worldly, is not internally coherent, but to the contrary enforces radically uneven developmental patterns–technologically, socially and otherwise. Fisher’s critique of Land primarily extended from the historical inaccuracy of the latter’s early 90s premonitions on this point. Capital, Fisher stressed, depends just as much on conservative ‘territorilizing’ drives as it does on the romanticized liquidity of its deterritorilizing thrusts... [10]

Thus, cyber-goth eschatologies generally seem to smuggle in the same racist, classed, and gendered world they contend is surmounted in the ‘ALL is lost’ of capitulation. As Adlan Jackson poignantly spells out in an article on Grimes’ seemingly universalist music genre (fae), which Grimes says is for “the children living at the end of the world”, Jackson retorts, “when the ‘fae’ are swallowed by the rising sea, Grimes will look back from her lifeboat.” [11] More and more the world is split between those that have the capital to finance technologically outfitted ‘sand palaces’ [12] that will endure the coming hurricane and those that will simply be left for dead. Unsurprisingly, the ‘white race,’ for Land, came to be seen as the necessary engine for the techno-civilizational progress that will enable humanities overcoming (a thesis that stems back to the Italian Futurists). 

Nonetheless, Fisher clearly empathized with Land’s early 90s cyber-futurism: 

If Land’s cyber-futurism can seem out of date, it is only in the same sense that jungle and techno are out of date–not because they have been superseded by new futurisms, but because the future as such has succumbed to retrospection. The actual near future wasn’t about Capital stripping off its latex mask and revealing the machinic death’s head beneath; it was just the opposite: New Sincerity, Apple Computers advertised by kitschy-cutesy pop. [13]

The death of rave is thus considered part of a general death of the future. In turn, Fisher, along with his generational comrades, saw in current futuristic music culture a mere “continuum” of what was, rather than an actual advancement. [14] For instance, Leyland Kirby’s project The Death of Rave (2014) is an almost didactic example of Fisher’s reading of current electronics culture as the emptied, ghostly affects of some previous vital force. Such a thesis raises questions about the relationship between capitalism as a progressive force and Fisher’s vision of a future beyond it–does the latter become a precondition? 

Whatever the answer, Fisher’s vision of rave politics was clearly different than Land’s. Not the cynical capitulation to capitalism’s so-called annihilative drive, but rather the communist proposal for strategic organization and the empowering recreation of social forms: festive circuity, collective joy, subject-oriented reimagining of derelict industrial zones and icy capitalist development–in sum, what Fisher later came to formulate as acid communism.  [15]

A former member of Kaunas Zoo (an organizer of the Baltica-highway rave), who is now part of a new project called Pharmacon Inc., seems to take inspiration from Fisher’s trajectory:

I would approach rave as trance-inducing machine, and then think about strategies how to utilize/weaponize this mimetic apparatus to capture urban flows through viral anti-simulation, which is exactly what Pharmacon Inc. does. Welcome to Kaunas.

Whereas Land would oppose the rave’s fluid circuity to the farmers’ regulative blockade, Fisher and a group like Pharmacon Inc. may imagine this ambiguous zone of adjacency as a site where the blockage of commodities (one form of circuity) meets the playful, imaginative, re-circuiting of exchange and social flows. The early 20th-century anarchist Gustav Landauer would call it an active strike: to not only refuse work and blockade the circuits in expectation of being offered better conditions by the state or a company, but to also build alternatives while rejecting the options imposed in the situation, i.e. to not only put down your tools but to also pick them up for other purposes.

***

rave 1

Addendum: We Are Propaganda, Vilnius, 2019

In this year’s Baltic Pride in Vilnius one could clearly trace political lines along the differences in audio-visual affects. In the Left-block, dress was black, and now-standard rhythms of resistance drum brigades (ROR) were featured. The drums provided a quasi-funeral procession feel, complemented by a DIY-punk, community vibe. 

By contrast, the one and only self-branded gay club in Vilnius, Soho, invested in a massive three-decker bus, complete with the expected booming audio system spewing progressive house; dancing was the minimally adorned ‘slogan’ of this block party-directed affect. 

In this setting, an opposition appears between the machinic party-affects of the club–clearly recuperated by commerce and the paltry inclusivity of consumer-citizenship that follows suit–and the humanistic protest-affects of the Leftist drum brigades. 

The Left block’s intervention in the festive landscape was useful and necessary. The block expressed the need for a class politics: queer existence is differentially marked by violence and one’s degree of vulnerability has much to do with social class. Further, the block staged a relevant critique of Pride’s commercial organization and the problems of consumerist individualism therein. [16] The sentiments of the Left block, as worded in the online platform Life is Too Expensive, brings to mind George Hoare’s critique of rave as

an escapist and hedonic response to the individualism that pervades our lives. It stands as ‘resistance’ only in the most temporary sense. In this way, we can see the parallels with the ‘Occupy’ movement — a temporary sitting-in on a completely colonised capitalist space. Although hierarchies are (temporarily) destroyed, nothing is built and so rave is ultimately compatible with capitalism. [17]

Yet, the calls for the building of “true community” [18] or alternative family, against the so-called interpersonal voids of machinic, networked, encounters, is less convincing. 

This opposition began to crumble in an event following the march. At the underground party We Are Propaganda (located in an old hardcore punk venue and former squat XI20), the true community of revolt merged with the synthetic depersonalized community of the techno-scape. Here, in the words of Laboria Cuboniks, “a feminism at ease with computation” [19] began to take shape. What this shape will be and to what effect remains an important and undecided question… 

References

[1] OT Jones, ‘Dancing Together: rave culture and social activism in Tbilisi’. Political Critique, 2018. 

[2] Mark Fisher, Alex Williams, Steve Goodman, Lee Gamble & Lisa Blanning, Death Of Rave UK, CTM Festival. 

[3] Mark Fisher, ‘Baroque Sunbursts’, in Rave: Rave and its Influences on Art and Culture (ed. Nav Haq), UK: Black Dog Publishing, 2016, p. 45.

[4] Nick Land, ‘Machinic Desire’, Textual Practice, 7:3, 1993, p. 481.

[5] Simon Reynolds. Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture, UK: Faber and Faber, 1998, p. 32

[6] As worded by Richard Pope, ‘Hooked on an Affect: Detroit Techno and Dystopian Digital Culture’, Journal of Electronic Music Culture, 2011, p. 25.

[7] This phrasing is inspired by Ray Brassier who has developed the idea of subjectless nemocentrism: “the objectification of experience would generate self-less subjects that understand themselves to be no-one and no-where. This casts an interesting new light on the possibility of a ‘communist’ subjectivity.’’ See, Ray Brassier, ‘Against an Aesthetics of Noise’, NY, April 2009. 

[8] In preface:  Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987–2007, UK: Urbanomic, 2011, p. 22. 

[9] Simon O’Sullivan, ‘The Missing Subject of Accelerationism’, Meta-Mute, September 2014. 

[10] Fisher continues on this point: “While Land’s cybergothic remix of Deleuze and Guattari is in so many respects superior to the original, his deviation from their understanding of capitalism is fatal. Land collapses capitalism into what Deleuze and Guattari call schizophrenia, thus losing their most crucial insight into the way that capitalism operates via simultaneous processes of deterritorialization and compensatory reterritorialization. Capital’s human face is not something that it can eventually set aside, an optional component or sheath-cocoon with which it can ultimately dispense. The abstract processes of decoding that capitalism sets off must be contained by improvised archaisms, lest capitalism cease being capitalism. Similarly, markets may or may not be the self-organising meshworks described by Fernand Braudel and Manuel DeLanda, but what is certain is that capitalism, dominated by quasi-monopolies such as Microsoft and Wal-Mart, is an anti-market. Bill Gates promises business at the speed of thought, but what capitalism delivers is thought at the speed of business. A simulation of innovation and newness that cloaks inertia and stasis.” see: ‘Terminator vs Avatar: Notes on Accelerationsim.’ 

[11] Adlan Jackson, ‘Pop at the End: This is what the end of the world sounds like’, The New Inquiry, July 2018. 

[12] Patricia Mazzei, ‘Among the Ruins of Mexico Beach Stands One House ‘Built for the Big One’’, The New York Times, October, 2018. 

[13] Fisher, ‘Terminator vs Avatar.’

[14] Mark Fisher, ‘Infinity is Now: in defence of the hardcore continuum’, Fact Mag, Feburary 2009.

[15]  For more on Fisher’s theory see Plan C, ‘Building Acid Communism’ and Emma Stam’s new piece in Commune, “Turn On, Tune In, Rise Up.” 

[16] Gina Dau, Tadas Zaronskis, Viktorija Kolbešnikova, ‘LGBT – In Lithuania the Bourgeois Reality Crashes’ (LGBT – Lietuvoje Griūva Buržuazinė Tikrovė), July 2, 2019. 

[17] George Hoare, ‘On Collective Freedom: Mark Fisher on rave, psychic privatisation, and baroque sunbursts’, Sep 2018.

[18] The “true community” is a reference to Tiqqun. In 1999 the group wrote ‘Sermon to the Ravers’ where they went about opposing the rave’s false community to communism’s true community. 

[19] Laboria Cuboniks, Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation.

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