RAVE: Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture Edited by Nav Haq
by Esmé Hogeveen
In Nav Haq’s RAVE: Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture, we get a decentralized portrait of a community of outsider insiders. The term “outsider insiders” may sound incongruous, but, as the reader learns, rave is founded upon myriad internal contradictions. Haq explains: “As a movement, [rave] enacted a desire to be autonomous, and possessed many other social facets… curiously embodying both dystopian and utopian impulses simultaneously, part neo-hippy romanticism, part blithe hedonism.”1 Encompassing first-person accounts, interviews, essays and extensive documentation of artist projects about rave, the book’s contents are decentralized in the sense of presenting necessarily divergent narratives of a complex and ongoing movement.
Haq, a curator at M HKA2 in Antwerp, explores rave’s post-industrial origins and its evolution, including the cross-pollination of rave’s many subgenres. It seems appropriate that a book about rave, especially one taking into account its visual, aural and social implications, would host a variety of perspectives and Haq’s approach as editor reflects his multi-disciplinary experience. Mixing interviews – including with fashion designer Walter van Beirendonck and Renaat Vandepapeliere, owner of the independent Belgian label R&S Records – with profiles of artists whose work responds to rave culture, the reader is offered an overview of rave’s late 1980s and 1990s heyday. Though allusions are made to North American technical and artistic influences, in particular the acid house scenes of Detroit and Chicago, the book’s focus is essentially post-industrial Great Britain and Europe.
The texts, scans and photo documentation that comprise RAVE depict the titular movement as at once intensely inclusive and exclusive. This tension between openness and secrecy is manifest, too, in Haq’s attention to artistic decisions about anonymity and access. Underground events, illegal venues, purposefully inscrutable album covers – lacking either artist or album name – and ever-changing DJ monikers demanded a kind of direct engagement from audience or listener. When asked by Haq about the freedom of using different identities, electronic musician and producer Wolfgang Voigt replies:
When people [went] to their local independent record stores, they [stood] in front of a wall, full of black records with no names on them. No names and no pop stars behind them that were really well known. And they would come in, put the record on the headphones and decide if they liked it or not, only through listening to the music. They didn’t care where it came from. It could be from the neighbourhood, or from the other side of the world. I found that it was really a great thing in the sense of the freedom of music. And that was one of the reasons that I decided to use different monikers – not to push the person behind it, but just as a project name. And the other thing is that if you fail, if you don’t like this project anymore, or if nobody else likes it, you can stop it the next day.3
Much of RAVE focuses upon the purported freedom of identity and expression available to rave artists and attendees alike. Haq discusses political resistance and insubordination in 20th-century rave in relation to the default means of mass connection today: the Internet. With reference to Mark Fisher’s essay “Baroque Sunsets,” Haq contextualizes 1980s and 1990s rave culture as a means of critiquing neoliberal accelerationism and its effect on contemporary cultural engagement.“Parallels could also easily be drawn,” Haq contends, “between the suppression of the rave moment and the current attempts to control the cultures of the ‘open’ Internet, often described by net activists as the second enclosure of the commons.”4
As photography and video works engaging individual and crowd identity (such as by Andreas Gursky, Rineke Dijkstra and Mark Leckey) make clear, the factors contributing to working-class dissolution and reactionary cultural output varied widely between physical locations before and after 1989.5 Nevertheless, common oppressive features, such as government austerity and the increased policing of activities that could mobilize working-class resistance, contributed to a sense of universal struggle. In post-Soviet regions, youth culture was being negotiated differently than in places like London and Paris, which had been steeping in their own punk and new wave histories and subsequent disenfranchisement. RAVE provides an overview of these distinctions, focusing specifically on rave’s immersive aesthetic.
Many of the featured artist projects reflect efforts to interpret the identity of a generation engaged in rave subcultures: acid house, gabber, hardcore, new beat, break beat, drum and base, jungle, trance, techno, et cetera. Intriguingly, attempts to holistically interpret European rave’s “influence on art and culture” turn out to be largely reliant on the self-identification of its practitioners. The interviews in RAVE provide opportunities for Haq to push pioneers to reflect on their own cross-disciplinary influences.
Within the text, attention is rarely afforded to the ways in which rave failed to be truly universal; the lack of BIPOC and female-identified artists leads the reader to desire more comprehensive histories. The notion, however, that cheap, accessible technology could catalyze the existence of relatively spontaneous and non-hierarchical spaces – what anarcho-theorist Hakim Bey calls “Temporary Autonomous Zones” – is compelling, especially for the contemporary reader who scrolls their iPhone waiting for ever-withheld catharsis. Reflecting upon covert analog and early-digital systems used to circulate artistic content and event information has the potential to inform today’s conversations about offline networks and the protection of DIY spaces and projects.
Rather than spectacle, the reader is led to see rave culture as primarily about gathering, an activity with renewed viability in the present. Refreshingly, Haq doesn’t force the political parallels, but provides the reader with opportunities to draw their own conclusions, sparking, along the way, questions about festival culture, arts tourism and commercialization. The many scans of legal restrictions on rave-related activities in the final “Legislature” chapter reminds us that the freedoms at stake in early rave may have more in common with challenges faced in other arts sectors than one might expect.