As a trans person I have found a lot of freedom in the vocals of dance music. And that freedom extends beyond a spiritual release from syntactical meaning. Because so many of the records I play contain sampled voices, there is an irreconcilable ambiguity as to the gender of the speakers. For example, a voice could sound “male” to the listener, but without asking the vocalist their gender, how do we know? The voice could have been manipulated using pitch and time techniques. The original singer could be a trans woman. It is like the music is a reminder not to make those associations and assumptions against people you don’t know, or against people who are not there to speak for themselves. I would like to live in a world in which people do not assume they know my gender based on a crude formant analysis of my voice. It is a wonderful experience to play records containing different voices and mix them all together. Through sampling and collage mixing techniques, the relationship of gender to voice becomes unhinged.
Gender though is not all that becomes unhinged through sampling. When sampling disrupts racial histories, it is highly problematic. If sampling is disruptive of culture as Dada suggests, then it also is at times an instrument of oppression and anti-Blackness as it disrupts Black narratives. As just one example, there are some electronic dance tracks that sample Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Dr. King talked in part about universal concepts in his speech, but his message was firmly rooted in Black justice and Black struggle. Contrast Black American artist Larry Heard’s (aka Mr. Fingers) tribute to Dr. King (46) with a listen to the trance tune “I Have a Dream” by white artist DJ Quicksilver (47). As I believe these examples show, it uproots meaning to use Dr. King’s message in a song about the freedom experienced clubbing when a white person creates or plays it. Therefore, the choices of DJs and producers should be informed by the anti-harassment analysis discussed earlier if Raves and the music associated with them are to be a true apparatus for healing and not further instruments of domination and oppression.
(1) For example, Ravers attending “Pollination” on May 21st, 1994 were invited to “Frolic in the Phunk-E Phresh 40 K Watt Flowerbed of Bass.” See flyers from the Midwest Rave Scene collected at http://www.self-titledmag.com/yann-novak-feature-needle-exchange-mix/.
(2) See, generally, Lawrence, Tim, “Love Saves the Day”, Duke University Press, 2003 at pp. 87-104.
(3) Id. My Puerto Rican and Mexican grandmother always use to tell me I am “Latin.” As a white woman of mixed ancestry who has used music to try to connect with this part of herself and family history, I have mixed feelings about the term “Latin American” because it is Eurocentric, and as such can be viewed as negating indigenous family histories. See Simón, Yara, “Hispanic vs. Latino vs. Latinx: A Brief History of How These Words Originated”.
(4) Lawrence at pp. 199-124.
(5) See Roland advisement featuring keyboardist Oscar Peterson.
(6) See Propellerhead’s Interview with DJ Pierre.
(7) Eliade, Mircea, “Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy,” 1964, citing the 1992 Princeton University Press edition at 168. An important note regarding Eliade’s terminology: starting in the 20th century with anthropologists like Eliade, the use of the word Shamanism as a way to describe a diasporic set of ecstatic practices around the world is appropriative because the word Shamanism belongs to the indigenous people of Siberia. Accordingly, I try to use commonly used adjectives and verbs from English (ecstatic, trance, magic, drone) as much as possible when describing ecstatic healing practices as a set of tools found around the world.
(9) Henderson, Katie, “Shamanic Drumming”.
(10) See Pengelley, Heather, “What’s the Science Behind Shamanism”, July 9, 2020 (collecting and summarizing available research).
(12) As a child this imagery filled me with a sense of wonder, as an adult I recognize that the costumes used do not accurately reflect the human timeline.
(13) Mandela is the Sanskrit word for “Circle.” “In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of practitioners and adepts, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space and as an aid to meditation and trance induction. In the Eastern religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Shintoism it is used as a map representing deities, or specially in the case of Shintoism, paradises, kami or actual shrines.” Quoting Mandala. I have not found a word in English which describes what I see in a trance state, so I use the term Mandala illustratively here. I do not intend to imply that my experience as a Raver is an alternate path to the realities accessed by these religions. There may in fact be some connection but it would be naïve and appropriative for me to assume the content of the experience is the same.
(14) “Gnosis” is the Greek word for “knowledge.” It used in the context of understanding spiritual mysteries.
(15) “The average song length on the Billboard Hot 100 has decreased by 20 seconds in the past five years. Songs now average 3 minutes and 30 seconds.” Sanchez, Daniel “Pop Songs Have Become Significantly Shorter Over the Past 5 Years”, January 18, 2019.
(18) The typical party is very hot. I call the wetness that drips from the ceiling “Rave Rain.” A raver need not dance to sweat. The development of so-called “Magical Heat” is technique in many spiritual practices. See, generally, Eliade at 474-475. Dance music samples and memes are replete with reference to internal heat. See, e.g., Rhythm Section’s 1992 Hardcore anthem “Burnin’ Up”.
(19) For example, during a traditional Ayahuasca ceremony, the healer plays a rattle (which serves the same purposes as the drum) and moves about the circle, however participants often remain seated or otherwise stationary during the ritual. The participants focus on the sound, visuals and song of the Icaro, but do not necessarily move or dance.
(20) See, e.g., Eliade, p. 217, discussing traditions among the Tatars and Buryat.
(21) Eliade, p. 223.
(22) Compare these substances to the psychedelic Ayahuasca, which is an indigenous technology. Healers train for years to properly prepare the Ayahuasca brew from plants. I have never seen an Ayahuasca preparation at a Rave.
(24) See Eliade, pp. 220, 223, 228, 278, for examples of cultures which use mushrooms in ecstatic rituals.
(26) “Set and setting” is psychedelic terminology which acknowledges that a user’s environment (“setting”) and current state of psyche (mind-“set”) have a tremendous impact on the content of the psychedelic experience.
(27) See, e.g., the previously cited interview with DJ Pierre.
(28) Available here.
(29) See “MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse Research Report”.
(30) The legislative, executive, and judicial response was to vilify the Raves and make it very hard and extra dangerous for Ravers to conduct their rituals. For example, the Chicago Rave Ordinance made it illegal for parties to go past 2 a.m. without a highly restrictive Public Place of Amusement license. The Ordinance allows fines of up to $10,000 for promoters, venue owners, AND the DJs. See Obejas, Achy and Townsend, Audarshira, “Raves Rock On, Laws or Not,” Chicago Tribune, May 22, 2000.
(31) See August 26, 2017 MAPS Press Release.
(32) Tony Wilson, “24 Hour Party People” FAC424 (2002).
(33) Production House (1992). Nino is the production alias of Terry “Juice” Jones, one of UK Hardcore’s most transcendent and amazing artists.
(34) Communique (1994), available here.
(35) For example, Cocaethylene (CE) is a toxic and dangerous metabolite that is formed after simultaneous consumption of cocaine and ethanol. See article titled “Patients with detectable cocaethylene are more likely to require intensive care unit admission after trauma”, Sept. 18, 2009.
(36) A thanks to my dear friends over the years who I played with during private sessions!
(37) Eliade, at p. 147.
(38) Eliade, at p. 168.
(39) See, e.g., Elide at p. 125 n. 36, p. 258 (collecting examples from the Chuckchee, Kamchadal, Asiatic Eskimo, Korak, manang bali of the Sea Dyak, Patagonians, Araucanians, Araphaho, Cheyene, Ute).
(41) See, e.g., Eliade at 351, discussing the “mockery” of shaman who dress and live the lifestyle of a woman outside of the ceremonial context.
(42) Eliade, at p. 258.
(43) Eliade, at p. 255.
(45) See, generally, Glossolalia.
(46) Mr. Fingers, “Can U Feel It? (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mix)”, Trax Records.
(47) See Who Sampled entry here.
About the Author
Eris Drew is a DJ, producer and trans ecstatic from the prairies of Illinois, USA. She runs the T4T LUV NRG recording label with her loving b2b partner Octo Octa. Eris is also a recording artist for Naive Records out of Portugal and conducts the Psychedelic Rites of the Motherbeat at various locations, including Pittsburgh’s Hot Mass, TUF in Seattle, and Room 4 Resistance in Berlin. Eris has been playing and programming keyboards since she was a child. A long-time resident at Chicago’s Smart Bar and DJ for the Bunker NY, she starting mixing records in 1994 at the age of 18. Her experiences as a musician and dancer showed her that rave is a powerful apparatus which can be used to transform individual lives and communities.