“And raving is everywhere you’re not
And everything you’re not”
-From On and On and On, by Ryan Kuo
If you were born at a certain time, you missed the rave years. All that is left is misplaced nostalgia for those of us not lucky enough to be in England at the right time, or in Detroit at the right time. James Leyland Kirby’s recent The Death Of Rave tracks, in which he breaks down rave mega-hits into ambient soundscapes, speaks to this bittersweet nostalgia.The Boomkat reviewer describes today’s young “producers infatuated with that intangible, rose-tinted perspective of rave filtered back thru youtube videos and magpie aesthetes who impose an ersatz spirit onto pallid imitations.” Harsh.
But the aesthetic is pretty real, and it speaks to the capacity of electronic music to collapse our sense of time. I’m nostalgic for warehouse parties I never went to; I listen to Chicago house tracks from 1991 like I wasn’t actually just eight years old and listening to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album on a sickening number of rotations. My friends and I put on acid tracks in the car and we may get caught up in many hour-long conversations about how amazing they are, the windows vibrating tinny and quick. But we never put on sounds from our real roots: trance and progressive and tribal house. Sasha, Sander Kleinenberg, Danny Tenaglia. Renaissance compilations, tapes of John Peel interviews. Maybe we need another ten years to revisit them.
At the core of that rose-tinted backwards glance, there’s a definitive feeling of never having listened to the right sounds at the time they were happening, changing people and helping them become who they are now. I have a disgusting amount of music on three computers compiled over a decade that says nothing about the actual places I’ve been, where I’ve lived, what I’ve known. The music I listen to speaks to the past that I wish I had, the present I wish I had, the future I hope to have. Taken together, it builds a world of limitless potential I can only inhabit in my head.
There’s a lot of compelling discussion right now around being haunted by sounds from a specific time; namely, what is it about rave culture that makes us feel so damn nostalgic? Rightly, many connect it to the affective, the emotional resonance that house music has – tied up with joy, celebration, possibility, love, and of course, PLUR.
There was supposedly some magic time when you could go to these parties, listen to amazing house music, feel connected to thousands of people purely by virtue of loving the same DJs, and Life was real and whole, somehow, in ways we can only replicate now.
There are clubs you should have been at – Vinyl, Twilo; there are festivals you only can read about; there are people you should have always been listening to – Underground Resistance, Carl Craig, and on and on. In place of those experiences, you can at least master the obscure discographies that formed the soundtrack of those times.
Of course, this perfect time in which perfect ravers raved perfectly never existed for anyone.
And right now, we’re in that time of Life being real and whole. For any number of reasons, we’re divided against the possibility of embracing this. Years from now, we’ll look back at now, at the shows we’re going to now, the musical experiences we’re having, and be able to explain it all better. Maybe our desire to have a lifestyle to be nostalgic about will be significant to us then. But now, it just hurts the heart.
At MIT earlier this summer, artist Ryan Kuo presented his work: game-art installations that offered up gorgeous walls of distorted noise in overwhelming waves, moves to eliminate avatars and try to break the barrier of the screen. The most moving piece, for me, was a video, On and On and On, an edited clip of warehouse footage from a rave in Doncaster in 1992. It is a must-see. Here’s a screenshot:
Ryan slowed down the original footage, and overlay his own reflections on the video, along with a piano loop that’s possibly cut from a joy track.
The dancers, wide-eyed and off their gourds, tell the hapless, dreamy Youtube viewer:
“Your problem is
you were too young to be with us
Ten years old,
Living across an ocean,
Buried among the mountains
In a valley scorned by motorways
Where it was quiet.
You never thought about coming here
Where the music is playing on without you…”
I remember a friend once telling me, in a cab home from a set, “One day, you’ll get over this music,” and I remember telling her, “I really won’t. I never will!” That was nine years ago, and even then, I knew any amount of time could pass, and I never would be over it or any of the experiences I’ve had. Some thoughts have a certain sound.
On a related note, there’s a new page on my site for Music, where I’ll be placing pieces, playlists and reviews coming out over the course of the next months. The first listed is a playlist for Rhizome, which I wrote with DeForrest Brown, Jr., who has become my invaluable writing partner.
Next post: on music and accelerationism.