The blog of author Dennis Cooper

I miss raves *

* (restored)
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Before Spin Magazine asked me to write a big article for them on rave culture in the mid-90s, there were few people less interested in — and more doubtful about — that scene than me. An indie rock aficionado and lifelong non-dancer for whom the words dance and music in combination immediately brought back memories of the dreaded disco era, I thought I was a strange choice for such an article.

In fact, Spin probably assigned the gig to me thinking they’d get a snarky dressing down of rave, a culture they had shown little interest in covering at that point. I accepted the assignment on the condition that I could write the piece in collaboration with my future best friend Joel Westendorf, whom I’d recently met and who was heavily involved in the scene at the time.

This article was eventually published in a heavily chopped and edited form under the handed down title of ‘A Raver Runs Through It.’ Together Joel and I set off to investigate raves in the US, where rave culture was peaking, and in England where rave had developed much earlier and was already on the wane. I quickly realized my preconceptions about rave had been way off. Not only were the raves I attended among the most physically ambitious, artistically rich, new, and complex music related events I’d attended in ages, but the interest among the people organizing these events in experimental aesthetics, radical politics and philosophy was really impressive. The techno, which I’d found so monotonous and without soul, became industrious and imaginative the rave context. Discarding my prejudices, I could see that in its own way, electronic dance music was as key to the imaginative nature of raves as psychedelic music and punk rock had been to their respective contexts.

The simultaneous structuring and destructuring effect it had on the actions and mindsets of the attendees was far more fluid and fascinating than I could have imagined. Plus, in their own innocent, uptopian fashions, most of the people I met who were throwing raves and organizing their lives inside the scene that raves had spawned were very serious about trying to revise society’s faults through a form of positive if critical thinking, as serious in their quest to alter the future as punks had been via their more nihilistic leanings and actions. Instead of Emma Goldman and the Situationists, the rave aficionados looked to drug and technology fixated thinkers like Terrence McKenna and Timothy Leary for the wisdom to move the world forward.

At the time, the drugs were clean and pleasureable enough to make the huge ambitions of the whole rave cultural enterprise feel realistic, and the secretive and illegal nature of the rave experience helped make it very attractive to people looking for a new way to change culture and tell it to fuck off in the same gesture. Of course, worsening drugs, increasing media coverage, and growing police attention caused this early, pure version of rave to rather quickly stall out and devolve into what it basically is today: a prosaic, superficial, club-oriented form of time killing entertainment that’s no better or worse than any other way that people choose to spend their nights out. But I miss all that beauty and promise, and want to try to memorialize the mark it left on me today with a basic history for those who need it and some souvenirs.

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Rave: A Quickie History by Michael Pisano

‘What could arguably be called raves existed in the early 1980s in the Ecstasy-fueled club scene in clubs like NRG, in Houston, and in the drug-free, all-ages scene in Detroit at venues like The Music Institute. However, it was not until the mid to late 1980s that a wave of psychedelic and other electronic dance music, most notably acid house and techno, emerged and caught on in the clubs, warehouses and free-parties around London and later Manchester. These early raves were called the Acid House Summers. They were mainstream events that attracted thousands of people (up to 25,000 instead of the 4,000 that came to earlier warehouse parties) to come, dance and take ecstasy.


UK: Energy Summer Rave, UK


1988: the first ‘Sunrise’ rave, UK

‘From the Acid House scene of the late 80s, the scene transformed from predominantly a London- based phenomenon to a UK-wide mainstream underground youth movement. Organizations such as Fantazia, Universe, Raindance & Amnesia House were by 1991/92 holding massive legal raves in fields and warehouses around the country. The height was achieved in 1992 with Fantazia party called One Step Beyond, which was an all-nighter attracting 25,000 people. Other notable events included Obsession and Universe’s Tribal Gathering in 1993.


1989: ‘Chandal’ Acid House rave, UK


1993: Carl Cox live at Amnesia rave, Detroit

‘The early rave scene flourished underground in some Canadian and U.S. cities such as Montreal, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and as word of the budding scene spread, raves quickly caught on in other cities such as San Diego and New York City. Mainstream America, upon learning of the rave phenomenon through relentless and relentless negative media attention in the late 1990s, responded with hostility. Politicians spoke out against raves and began to fine anyone who held an illegal party as well as administer punishments of up to six months in prison. This, along with ecstasy becoming scarce and polluted when it was available, ended the early US raves.


A short documentary on the San Francisco rave scene


The 1990s warehouse party scene in and around the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle

‘In the UK, the rave scene was slowly changing by the early 90s, with local councils waking up to how to prevent organisations gaining licenses by massively increasing the fees, so the days of legal one-off parties were numbered. The scene was also beginning to fragment into many different styles of dance music making large parties more expensive to set up and more difficult to promote. The happy old skool style was replaced by the darker jungle (later renamed drum n bass) and the faster happy hardcore. The illegal free party scene also reached its zenith for that time when, after a particularly large festival, when many individual sound systems such as Bedlam, Circus Warp, DIY, and Spiral Tribe set up near Castlemorton Common, in May 1992 the government acted.


1992: BBC documentary from 1992 house music Old Rave Party


1992: Rave party, Belgium

‘Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the definition of music played at a rave was given as:”music” includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” Sections 63, 64 & 65 of the Act targeted electronic dance music played at raves. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act empowered police to stop a rave in the open air when a hundred or more people are attending, or where two or more are making preparations for a rave. Section 65 allows any uniformed constable who believes a person is on their way to a rave within a five-mile radius to stop them and direct them away from the area; noncompliant citizens may be subject to a maximum fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (£1 000).


Peter Jennings – Ecstasy Rising Documentary


1993: amnesia house old skool rave

‘The Act was ostensibly introduced because of the noise and disruption caused by all night parties to nearby residents, and to protect the countryside. It has also been claimed that it was introduced to kill a popular youth movement that was taking many drinkers out of town centres drinking on taxable alcohol and into fields to take untaxed drugs and drink free water.


Early 90s: Police bust Orbital rave, UK


1997: Rave party, UK

‘In the early 2000s, illegal parties still existed, albeit on smaller scales, and the number of sanctioned events seemed to be on the rise. The few constants in the scene include amplified electronic dance music, a vibrant social network built on the ethos of the acronym PLUR, “Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect”, percussive music and freeform dancing often accompanied by the use of “club drugs” such as ecstasy, methamphetamine, speed and ketamine, also known as “special K.” However, increased cocaine usage, preponderance of adulterated ecstasy tablets and organized criminal activity has been detrimental to UK-based rave culture, although free parties are now on the rise again. Still, according to some long-time observers, rave music and its subculture began to stagnate by the end of the 1990s. The period of grassroots innovation and explosive growth and evolution was over; the flurry of passionate activity and the sense of international community were fading.


2004: Darkraver at Ghost Town rave, US


2005: 3 dancing raver boys, Holland

‘By the early 2000s, the terms “rave” and “raver” had fallen out of favor among many people in the electronic dance music community, particularly in Europe. Many Europeans returned to identifying themselves as “clubbers” rather than ravers. It became unfashionable among many electronic dance music aficionados to describe a party as a “rave,” perhaps because the term had become overused and corrupted. Some communities preferred the term “festival,” while others simply referred to “parties.” True raves, such as “Mayday,” continued to occur for a time in Central Europe, with less constrictive laws allowing raves to continue in some countries long after the death of rave in the United Kingdom. Moreover, traditional rave paraphernalia, such as facemasks, pacifiers, and glowsticks ceased to be popular. Underground sound systems started organising large free parties and called them teknivals.


2006: Teknival Rave Free Activists


2009: Tokyo Rave in Shibuya, Japan

‘In the northeastern United States, during the mid-2000s, the popularity of Goa (or psy-trance) increased tremendously. With the warehouse party scene, the trend is also restarting; cities such as San Francisco have seen a resurgence of warehouse parties since 2003, due in part to Burning Man theme camp fundraiser parties. This contrary belief in the early 2000s was that 2002 would mark the end of the rave (known as party scene at the time), and the scene was over. Raves still continue in hot spots around the U.S. even today, although they might be called “parties” to avoid the negative spin. Examples of this hot spot phenomenon are New Orleans, LA, and the west coast of the United States. The mid-late 2000s is being marked as the renaissance of the underground electronic culture.’

 

 

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*

p.s. Hey. ** David, 10 pounds … mmm … rain check. I’ve only been as far south in Mexico as the Baja, which is ridiculous since I grew upon LA, but there you go. Nice poem. I like the bell ringing ending. Hope your Monday suits. ** Dominik, Hi, D!!!! I did see the whole movie. I don’t remember why. Thank you for the respect, but you should also include some pity, ha ha. I’m happy you enjoy your new duties as that imaginary city’s imaginary mayor. I love them all, truth be told. I’ve been to some of them in the past. I guess the one I’d make a beeline to is Prism because it’s legendary and I’ve never managed to catch it on an open night. I did especially love that Jovan line, so I’m more than thrilled to receive its day-old love, thank you. I guess love should throw you a giant SCAB-themed rave given the blog’s current circumstances, so I’ll give you that plus a 24 hour supply of pure, old school, uncut Ecstasy, G. ** L@rst, Big up, Larry. I got back to your email, so now I’m counting the days, or, well, probably weeks knowing the French postal system. Thanks! I’m gonna see the VU doc as soon as it opens here, whenever that is. Make it even spookier! I would have gravitated to your doorstep from the sound of it, but, okay, I was a weird kid. ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks for the raucously soundtracked weekend, Play Therapy dude. That was a wonderfully intense one. I’ve been to The Haunt at Hellizondo, and it lives up to its facade’s promise, which is actually kind of rare. Oh, wow, about the booze paucity. Let me know if you need me to ship some over to you, if that’s even possible? ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Everyone, Mr. Ehrenstein recommends this documentary about Michel Foucault. ** Bill, Hey. American ingenuity! One of those generalisations that has its coinage in a degree of truth. ** Steve Erickson, Oh, fun. Everyone, If you want to hear Steve’s favorite music of the past month there’s a Spotify playlist that will scratch that itch. I don’t know when the Velvets doc opens here. I should check. Very soon, I would imagine. Eli Roth did an annual haunted house for two or three years, but it was in Las Vegas. I never went, only because I’ve never been in Vegas at Halloween. He did a haunted house at Universal Studios in Hollywood one year. I did it. From what I can recall, it was okay, but it didn’t really stand out from the rest especially. ** Right. This is a very old, formerly dead post from my killed blog, so old that I actually wrote some text in it, which I stopped doing eons ago, but I do still miss late 80s/early 90s raves even now. See you tomorrow.

15 Comments

  1. _Black_Acrylic

    Thank you about Play Therapy, it’s much appreciated!

    I don’t think the UK is in any real danger of running out of booze. Without this government-approved sedation policy you’d see the downfall of Parliament and spontaneous illegal raves breaking out on the streets everywhere.

    Ah now this is my kind of post. Thought I’d soundtrack this by listening to one of my fave rave tunes Dominator, and I’m reminded that the YouTube threads for such things are full of lovely comments that make for a great read.

    • T

      Ugh, this song is great !! And really loved the latest episode of Play Therapy too 😉

  2. Dominik

    Hi!!

    Talking about bad movies: what’s the worst you’ve ever seen from beginning to end? I need to think about mine. I know what’s the worst book I’ve ever read (“Sympathy for the Devil” by Howard Marks), but I’m not sure about the movie.

    Mmh, well, as I’m the mayor now, I’ll make sure that whenever you’re around, Prism will have an open night.

    Your love sounds like the ultimate mindfuck – SCAB on ecstasy – in the most pleasurable way possible! Thank you! Very much appreciated! Mean love spiking everybody’s drinks at his wedding and turning the whole ceremony into an out-of-control rave, Od.

  3. David

    Cheers pal… currently I’m in Liverpool… till Friday…. just had breakfast at a ‘Pound cafe’… at the Bootle Strand shopping centre… costs £2.25 only… tea and toast is extra… “we built this city on rock and roll’ is currently playing on the radio… ref this post.. I still listen to the the occasional acid house track whilst running, climbing the walls etc… remember seeing The shamen in the 90s whilst on LSD… used to fancy Mr C… x

  4. Dom Lyne

    Hey Dennis,

    Aww, this post had me missing going out… it seems like ages since I’ve proper gone out out. Well, technically it has I suppose, I mean in the sense of a complete off-the-face on various whatevas and just dancing around. I’ve recently had my iTunes set to shuffle through its entire archive, rather than just listen to the usual culprits, and that’s also been pulling up some club tracks that are so rarely listened to that they were verging on becoming forgotten but have just had their little firework moments, and I’m sure will now once again disappear into the void of musical data hoarding.

    I finished reading “I Wished” this weekend… wow. Just wow. I loved it. It definitely brought a lot of things up for me on many different levels, and I found myself sat contemplating it long after putting it down for the evening.

    I got the results of the kidney biopsy… turns out I’m just one of the rare few who really react bad to tenofovir; so luckily with regards to the kidney function thing it’s nothing too major and I just can’t take any meds containing it, and have to take steroids for 3 months. So PHEW there. The steroids seem to have had the bonus of kickstarting my mood with a bit of positivity energy, and I’ve got the focus back to work on my projects, so hopefully I will hit my goal of finishing writing what I wanted to this year. *cross fingers*

    Hope all is well with you, love and hugs,
    Dom

  5. Nik

    Hey!

    Omg sweet, I love a lot of current DJ’s but really ought to dive into early rave culture more deeply — thx for bringing this post back from the dead.

    How are you? I saw your book launch the other week with Maryse, huge congrats! I got the book in the mail the other day. I’m about halfway through, and am soooo blown away by its Agota Kristof-tier layering and distortions, and how it functions more on the contemporary art model of piecing together meaning than that of a conventionally narrative novel. I’ll circle back when I finish, but I can already tell that this is such a mind-blowing achievement. How are you feeling with it out in the world now?

    Since it’s been a while I’ll catch you up on what’s been going on with me. Lately, I’ve been working on my own fiction after a long period of working on a lot of more on the producer side of a lot of different things. Of those “things”, I’m doing a reading with Blake and Claire Donato at Brown this Wednesday, and can’t wait to actually meet B in person. There’s a magazine I pulled together when I was attending / right after Bard that’s largely unconventional non-fiction and interviews about memes, which should be digitally published in the next few days and printed as soon as we can (which I’ll def share here once I get the chance :).) And otherwise I ended up getting a job working for Bill Clegg, who I started interning for around like two months ago and am full time working for as of like a few days ago. I applied largely cuz of the work he does with writers like Mark Doten and Brandon Hobson, so I’m excited to contribute some editorial work in that regard, and to also have a job like this so soon after getting out of college is mind bogglingly relieving haha.

    I’ll circle back around again sooner than later, and am def curious to hear how you’ve been! Take care, Dennis.

  6. T

    Hey Dennis!

    Ah this is cooool! A full day at work so didn’t get the usual time to spend chilling out here, but looking forward to comb through more of the video elements tomorrow… Is a copy of the rave article you wrote with your friend readable online at all? Whilst I was inside Paris I did spend a couple of hours on Friday night at one of the worst nightclubs I’ve ever had the misfortune to stray into, so the imagined memory of a rave or similar night activity, and its associated vision and excitement makes me kinda jealous. Hope that I’m able to experience or take part in a scene or movement with the energy that rave (or punk for the matter) had, that’s going on the relics assembled here at least. When I was living in Manchester loads of people kept going on about a ‘rave resurgence’ – and then during my time in Japan a few people in my network said that apparently there were crazy outdoor parties going on if you were in the know, but in both cases this didn’t seem to be any more than a rumour or a gimmick at best. Though I did get a tip on this artist through those same networks who has a few sets up on mixcloud that I really like, if you’re so inclined can be found at https://www.mixcloud.com/hendanshi-yoshiyuki/. How’s the haunt deadline going? Hope your Tuesday is like all the rats of Paris (to whom I also became acquainted with during the weekend) learning the routine to “Riverdance” and performing it outside your apartment window but at suitable distance, xT

  7. David Ehrenstein

    I miss Underwear Parties!

    Here’s an interesting piece about Hannah Arendt

  8. Steve Erickson

    It was strange how the US music industry’s push to promote “electronica” in the ’90s didn’t work very well – Moby was the biggest artist to come up out of that scene, and even his success faded by the early 2000s – but around 2012 EDM made a huge impact in the US. Less than a decade later, that seems to have quickly faded, although EDM festivals are still going. Where’s Skrillex now? When do we get his debut album for Hyperdub? So much interesting music from the rave period was evanescent, available to stream on YouTube now but released on 12″ singles that went out of print a year later.

  9. Joakim

    Dennis,

    How are you? It’s been years, I miss you – a lot has happened since we last talked. Somehow I feel like it makes sense I arrive on your blog and see this post today.

    Ah, I love a good rave and being a bit philosophical and perhaps naive about it’s potential, both on the self and the system – I agree with everything you’re saying in your post. I think about rituals and drugs often and the sweet absurdity of like, hacking yourself to be more horny and brave or to enter dissociative states cause you’d rather be swallowed than present, at a party. It’s sad, funny and a lot of other things. I’ve been sober for many years now but I ’get’ drugs and I always will, + I still go out and dance for hours.

    Unfortunately I didn’t experience the big 90’s revolution but I’ve both happily and sadly participated in the überdekadent scene in Berlin and Copenhagen since about the time we met. Bittersweet but sweet enough.

    I had a full-blown psychosis that started in a techno club and then went on in the same spirit, both on and offline. I’d say my brain was raving at 50% for a month with dysphoric tidbits during black-outs – in many ways my strongest euphoria and party, followed by a 6 month antipsychotic comedown. There’s no cleaner drug than mania I’d imagine.

    Anyway, the reason I brought it up is because, I miss that rave in my head the most, although I’d rather explode than deal with a comedown of that magnitude again… that’s how I (or rather, they) discovered I’m bipolar, but I’ve been good and leveled out for years now.

    I’m currently reading and thinking about I WISHED and I’m very excited to see you in Paris. I feel it <3

    All the best,
    Joakim

  10. Corey Heiferman

    Trance/raves were huge here back in the day and are still going strong. This is an anti-Netanyahu rave from 2019:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8y8i4d5M8Y&ab_channel=EitanReiter

    I’m glad I participated in the 48 hour theater festival. I came out of it with lessons learned, a workable idea, and momentum.

    I started lessons today with a new Hebrew teacher. My Hebrew is good enough for daily life but I want it to be at a literary level. My teacher is a poet and poetry editor. When I heard other poets ask her their language questions I knew she was the one.

    My mom’s been sending me photos of New England suburban Halloween decorations. For over twenty years already the Halloween decorations have been much more over the top than Christmas. My favorites are giant webs that span a two-story house with spiders in the middle.

    I’ve mentioned some guest posts ideas to you in the past. I’d like to just pick one already, or go with some potpourri if that would work for you. What are your general guidelines for guest posts?

  11. Misanthrope

    Dennis, I’ve never been to a rave.

    Yeah, David drove me nuts most of the weekend. He’s so fucking high on percs that I can barely talk to him. And all the meowing and clapping gets on one’s nerves really quickly.

    Otherwise, a decent weekend. Errands and shit all day Saturday and football all day Sunday. And some workouts in there too. I’m under 200 pounds for the first time in 22 years. Feels great, actually. Watch me go and die tomorrow or something after saying that.

  12. L@rst

    Like you I was super rockist during the rave years (what was left of them when I was in HS and college.) glad you got to appreciate it.
    On the bus back from seeing the VU do. It was fantastic, I wish it were 8 hours longer. Really glad the theater played it nice and loud, the opening viola from Black Angel Death sing was ear splitting and I wanted that! Also glad I can watch it on tv whenever. Hope there’s a blu ray full of extras!

  13. Justin F

    Dear Dennis,

    I’ve written before. I met you on a Zoom with Ira Silverberg a summer or two ago. Just wanted to drop by say congratulations on I Wished. It is the best book ever. As with all of your books, I always find myself trying to speak in the style of your sentences to the people I love the most.

    A kind of funny thing I thought you might wanna know- I lost a copy of ‘The Sluts’ in my school, and then later found it- The bassist who played with John Coltrane, (a professor at my school) Reggie Workman had it in his hands and asked me very warily if this was my book…
    Definitely not a collaboration you hear about every day. The man who played Bass on John Coltrane’s famous ‘Impressions’ album holding a Dennis Cooper book. Had me laughing all day, considering your writing is the last thing I would ever compare to cosmic jazz.

    Congrats on another masterpiece.

    – J

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