by Mary Harrington
Saturday, 1
February 2020
Weekend read
07:00

This piece about the 1990s rave scene takes me back

According to the official history of rave, Phillips suggests, “British youths reacted against Thatcherite individualism and “greed is good” ethics through founding alternative forms of community centred on the dancefloor”. Credit: Getty

My recommended long read for this weekend is Rave Revisionism by Jacob Phillips in Jacobite. An atmospheric exploration of 1990s rave culture through the lens of historiography, it took me back vividly to my own raving days two decades ago:

The short, midsummer night would later give way to the dawn. On the top floor of a warehouse under the old glass ceilings, the twilight could seem to last an age. The translucent darkness would reveal a Mad Max-style carnage was underway. People spoke of the scene at dawn as “the Sunday morning massacre,” a perverse play on the sabbath, of the religion now eradicated from the memories of this people. There was no security, there were no limits, no law. The parties raged on for days.
- Jacob Phillips, Jacobite

According to the official history of rave, Phillips suggests, “British youths reacted against Thatcherite individualism and “greed is good” ethics through founding alternative forms of community centred on the dancefloor.” Phillips teases out threads omitted from this polite account of rave, such as class conflict, libertinism, criminal gangs and overdoses, to suggest that our culture is suffering a decline in the capacity to do history, or indeed historiography: ‘Today’s rave revisionism […] demonstrates the deceleration of human interpretive skill, its reduction in the agility and elasticity required to take genuine heed of different views’.

That is, rave revisionism is evidence that we have passed a point of no return in terms of our capacity to create meaning itself. As expressed through the metaphor of rave culture, itself:

The hollow eyes of postmodernity were too empty for the people to meet their gaze. The blank stare of the technological era had to be reversed into the empowering look of affirmation […] the most profound art form, music, was consumed by computational sequencing […] and the nexus of meaning, human emotiveness and subjectivity, was consumed by chemical manipulation. 
- Jacob Phillips, Jacobite

Is there a way back from this semiotic disintegration? Phillips asks. Can “the discourse” re-learn “the science and art of interpretation”? This thoughtful piece ends on a note that is both sober but not without hope: “From seeing everything bathed in the color of a monotone hue, eyes will squint at the clear light of truth, and many will choose to crawl back into the twilight. Some, however, will become adepts of starlight”.

Whether or not you were there when rave happened the first time, Phillips’ piece draws together threads from high and low culture in a meditation on hedonism, storytelling, psychogeography and the fabric of meaning itself (not to mention the meaning of Fabric) that is well worth your time this weekend.

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