To the uninitiated, the aggressive stylings of hardcore techno may appear unsettling: an undecipherable collage of synthesizer screeches, distorted/overdriven kick drums, aggressive beats, and schizo-cuts between samples, all played in excess of 180 beats per minute. Modern hardcore techno—particularly in the Dutch tradition—descends from the zany, irreverent, lewd, and carefree Gabber of the 90s. Many things change, many stay the same, the genre cycles as any artform, but that is not my concern here.
Presently, I aim to discuss a darker turn that hardcore techno has taken in recent years. Gabber sampled belches, moans of pleasure, literally any line from Hellraiser, and anything else that incited a weird and fun time. Current hardcore, however, have a darker, more brooding, and rebellious attitude, sampling declarations of revolt and slogans that might seem more at home on an anarcho-punk record than something cheered by a crowd of ravers.
Thus, questions arise: Why do so many hardcore techno artists and DJs invoke “destruction,” “revolt,” “revolution,” and myriad antisocial tendencies in their tracks? Do such samples convey an affect that is both political and non-political at the same time? Why are ravers—most likely off their faces on feel-good-drugs—cheering along or feeling moved by such proclamations of the “end of days” or incitements to riot and revolt? Is it just barren aesthetics? Wasn’t raving supposed to be about having a good time?
It is not my aim to glamorize raves, ravers, or any particular rave scene, but to extract certain intensities that might be of interest [to anarchists]. I see no “heaven on the dance floor,” my taste in raves is entirely chthonic: the “angels” have long since fallen. What interests me is not simply hardcore techno’s rebellious aesthetic, but the dark and antagonistic resonances which crop-up, and threads of revolt, refusal, and apocalypse which can be untangled. With such context, the following review will discuss a particularly timely track released in 2020, produced by Ophidian & Penta, titled “This World.”
…A world where dreams come true
First published to the YouTube channel of the producers’ record label, The Third Movement, on May 22, 2020, when the crisis surrounding the global pandemic was still raw, “This World,” embodies many intense experiences of the time. Many countries were still in strict lockdowns and it had only been a few months since the crisis even began. Apocalyptic feelings, frustration, and uncertain futures were nearly ubiquitous at the time and still pained the world like fresh wounds. Apocalyptic feelings are not uncommon, especially within a counter cultural milieu, but they do change with context: it is bold to imagine the end of the world when it invades our minds like a horrific reverie, it’s something else when the horsemen are marching down our own streets.
Additionally, May 22, 2020 fell just a few days before the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police, which set off a wave of revolts and quite literal burning down of State property. It seemed as though many were poised to revolt in some way, that the undercurrent which rejected this world was about to surface or that latent tendencies of refusal were about to be realized. I am not suggesting that a track of hardcore techno or of any music style sparked any particular flame; what is important is what is hiding just under the surface, before the protests, direct action, riots, and rebellions. In a climate where mass movements are scarce, I find it important to examine where the tendencies of refusal and revolt are hiding, simmering, just waiting to boil over. Who would imagine they might be found in rave music?
But this world is a lie
Everyone knows that everything is fake, and not even a good fake; theorists have been telling us this for decades and it is fairly easy to see in passing glances at television screens. Any amount of time scrolling through feeds brings the same stale memes in the same boring formats; suggesting that many are even bored of their own suffering. Even our jokes, slights, and stabs at our miserable conditions have lost their luster. Rejection of the façade of this world takes many forms, from progressives weeping over deaf politicians to conspiracy theorists mapping their deranged hypotheses onto reality. Thus, it is fairly common to believe that we are all participating in a game of appearances, and everyone is sick of playing. Such sentiments are also held by ravers, who find nothing but boredom and malaise in anything that does not physically move their body or pound their ears. It is further worth mentioning that this intensity can be found in many hardcore techno songs, such as “HOAX” from Furyan & Angerfist, which samples one of Elliot’s F-society monologues from Mr. Robot: “..all our heroes are counterfeit”…“The world itself is just one big Hoax…”
This world deserves to die
Wholesale rejection of this world seems to be a growing sentiment in recent years and is no longer secluded in the infantilized angst of youth; many well into adulthood reject the game and its technics. If “life today has reached the most crass level of meaninglessness,”i then why not throw everything away? This attitude is not surprising; for many, each consecutive year is the worst year they’ve experienced (I’ve seen the memes) and pandemics, climate catastrophe, and natural disasters increase every year creating a scenery that resonates as nothing less than apocalyptic. As such, tipping points, ends of people’s ropes, and outright refusal are becoming pervasive. Why not let this world die? Where world could mean civilization, miserable normalcy, mass culture, Empire, late capitalism… “Anything but this!” echoes in many of our minds. Such cold rejection of “all of it” and premonitions of apocalypse are topics anarchists have explored for ages, but does it mean something different if it is said or dreamed by a raver? Is there something to be said when the most hedonistic partiers realize that they exist within the death rattle of a winded civilization? Such tracks from Angerfist like: “R3VOLUTION,” “Raise & Revolt,” “Creed of Chaos,” or even the video for “The Deadfaced Dimension” (which features some fairly basic riot footage) seem to suggest that hardcore techno ravers find a home in antagonism and with systems crashing down.
In addition to calls for outright revolt, the overall mood of many tracks conveys an apocalyptic pessimism. Revolt seems like the next necessary step when all belief and hope in this world falls away, when façades crumble, when we are all weary of playing games that we never agreed to in the first place. If “One part of this society has every interest in its continuing to rule, the other in everything collapsing as soon as possible”ii then many ravers have already decided what side they are on, and the general mood of apocalypse and immanent catastrophe conveyed in modern hardcore techno further supports this intensity. It seems that many ravers are done with this world.
Burn it to the ground
Ophidian & Penta’s track begins with beautiful and ominous plucks, building the listener’s anticipation before howling synthesizers further charge and stir one’s insides in trepidation. The soundscape is assembled perfectly to bathe the listener in feelings of apocalypse, floating toward the end of days, and of the clock about to run out. “Burn it to the ground” is spoken calmly and assertively just prior to a cacophony of kick drums that assault the listener. Hearing “burn it to the ground” left me intrigued; a very particular genre of music I enjoy also expresses some similar visions of praxis. This is not to project a particular politics onto a producer or style of music, but this underlying mood deserves acknowledgment, even if the mood is occluded most of the time. Such apocalypticism runs deep through many forms of current media: films, television series, and novels all suggest an interest in or fascination with the end of days. But why rave music? One might simplistically assume that aggressive samples used in tracks function purely aesthetically: trying to sound hard, tough, mysterious, or rebellious. Even so, I find it important to look at why music played at dance parties refuses this world. Could it be that the raver is especially attuned to antisocial tendencies and apocalypticism? Does the raver’s penchant for self destruction aid them in seeing the world in different ways? For the song in question, there are no narrative constructions, political programs, or soapboxes to be found; this is not some anarcho-punk band preaching The Good News of anarchy; it is a few key words, sampled between pounding bass drums.
…And from the ashes
A brief recap: hardcore techno often contains samples of aggressive calls for revolt knitted into soundscapes blanketed in an apocalyptic pessimism. Again, my aim is not to paint the raver as a sort of ‘ideal revolutionary subject’ or a vanguard seeking to show others how to revolt and rebel (I am incapable of such optimism). The ecstasy one feels on the dance floor is one’s own, but I prefer to imagine darker possibilities: ravers at the end of the world, warehouse parties opaque with smoke, a crowd dreading the sunrise. Glorifying ravers and raves has already been done to some success: many have described the raver’s mindless excess and irreverent expenditure as cracks in the social order with potential to spread. “What the raver is after, in the first place, is a certain romanticism of illegality, a certain adventure in marginality.”iii But such romanticisms and adventures cannot go on too long before they take up a toxic residency in one’s being: the raver seeking the ever-better high, the longer night, the party that extends into the morning; all of which suggest a way of being that is in denial and which shuts out the external world in a myopic drive toward avoiding the mundane (while itself becoming even more mundane).
But even more dubious are the pacifying technics used by raves to compartmentalize rebellious affects. Send the bad kids and degenerates to a dance party, let them expend their energy so that they all may become productive members of society on Monday!
Because the rave is today the most precise metaphor that this society has come up with for itself. In both one and the other, there are just crowds of puppets shaking themselves to exhaustion in a sterile chaos, responding mechanically to audio commands given by a handful of invisible technophile operators […]iv
Tiqqun’s biting critique of rave culture, as they saw it, describes why one should be hesitant to paint the raver as a revolutionary. The rave itself cannot escape commodification, (that’s Libidinal Economics!) and whatever the raver seeks to achieve, whether it be community or festival, merely chases desires imposed on them from mass society.
Think what you will. For me, the apocalyptic thread is the one that deserves a pull. An Apocalyptic Stimmung pervades society all the way down to raver (despite their dancing and euphoria-inducing substance consumption) and this is what we ought to put under a microscope. It is almost expected that the worker hates their job, the student despises their instructors, and that frustration with this world is a pervasive emotion. However, I find it interesting that such affects crop up so commonly in this particular genre of rave music: surely the dance floor should be a depiction of tranquility, positivity, and bonding; not a flirtation with aggression and apocalypse? Such is another reason I find this track and its attitude particularly meaningful: released in the first few months of a global pandemic and days prior to some of the most intense revolts to take place recently in the United States, it is one thing to say, “burn it down,” it was another to say it in 2020.
Build a new world (?)
“We claim that the energy that’s squandered to pure loss in raves should be spent otherwise, and that what we’re dealing with is the end of a world. We’ve just said a lot of things. It is urgent that they be discussed.”
–Tiqqun. “Sermon to the ravers”
Currently, perhaps I have reached an impasse or a contradiction: on the one hand ravers rejecting this world demonstrates an important intensity coming to the surface and apocalyptic feelings pervading spaces of festival and merriment that should be noticed and discussed. Maybe the pessimist raver is the one that truly sees through the façade of their commodified hedonism, the one willing to cheer on revolt, to burn it down; perhaps they return to a life of precarity and criminality after the music stops? Is it up to ravers to say what only ravers can say? On the other hand, I agree that the raver falls into the trap of having their own limited experiences sold back to them, that their self destruction is closely tied to a self obsession. I see big problems with “living for the weekend,” even if that means good music. The way out for me, the “urgent discussion” to be had, is about what I will term Raver Apocalypticism. Such a mood, feeling, or outlook as Raver Apocalypticism hides nothing and hopes for nothing. It is the loose category for everything fascinating about raves. Raver Apocalypticism asks about how we situate ourselves in our particular time, and digs into the ways ravers move, dance, and enjoy to understand the potential for revelatory potency in such gestures.
A quick caveat: the hopeful intention to “from the ashes, build a new world,” is mostly lost on me. This particular sample featured toward the middle of the track strikes me as a hopeful whisper before one drifts off to sleep, before one’s mind goes blank. It is worth noting though, that “burn it down” is sampled many more times than “build a new world,” so perhaps there is something to the repetition of the former and not the latter? Maybe building a new world is just an afterthought? The track concludes by putting the final nail in the coffin of this world, with a fading and dreamlike “this world deserves to die,” spoken before the music fades.
Some concluding thoughts
Ultimately, if the raver can succeed at anything, it is bringing out the rawest intensities from placid existences, to teach new modes of being; they can see misery, the world’s position on the precipice of disaster, and still dance about it. Cioran contextualizes these feelings well:
Ages of silence and of screams wait in vain for us to deliver them, to serve as their interpreters; deserters of the world, we no longer aspire to anything but the reign of the undifferentiated, the darkness and the drunkenness of an epoch before daybreak[…]v
The raver is not a revolutionary subjectivity but an apocalyptic one! The rave as metaphor for society becomes even more clear if we imagine society reveling drunkenly in the dark, prior to the dawn of an uncertain, and possibly more terrifying, future. As the night of festival drags on, the trepidation about morning increases. No one wants a good night to end. Wouldn’t it be best if this world just burned down after the rave? What if we could inhabit a perpetual night, I hear that some are even born to it.vi Instead of an infinitely deferred apocalypse,vii why not embrace the end of all things at the conclusion of a weekend of partying? Because everyone secretly wishes that their place of employment would burn down before Monday; pleading that another drink or another bump would send one into a proper oblivion, so as to wake up in a different world… We are so constantly threatened with apocalypse, why not call the prognosticators’ bluff and actually create one? Or, rather, actually live as if we are in one. My goal is not to surgically remove the raver from some space of revolutionary/anti-societal potentiality, but to paint the raver in another context, an apocalyptic one, one that is not afraid to see cracks in all surfaces, destituent potential in dance parties, to bring fire into this world.
If the raver is to do anything, they must bring the apocalypse into common play, to reject its continual deferment (as something forever in the future and elsewhere). They must do so without any romanticism, without lodging their feelings in a context of art, hope, or religion. A “cold resolution to ruining this world”viii must be present, without demand for future plans. In this way and in the context of the Cioran’s ominous words, the raver represents a mode of being that many of us experience: walking the tightrope between comfort and catastrophe, fearful of what dawn may bring and what revelations might overturn our realities. Such feelings are often covered over, pushed aside, and sublimated while outcomes are seen as inevitabilities. What the raver can do is be in a particular way: from saying “burn it down,” to promising that “hardcore will never die,” the ontological mode of the raver is to turn up the intensity, to see the world as raw, to forever turn up the bpm, distortion, and volume so as to explore new resonances. The raver must take on the task of dancing through the apocalypse that so many fear. The raver can, despite all things, choose to dance anyway.
i Til the Clock Stops: crime, opacity, insurrection. Ardent Press 2010.
ii At Daggers Drawn with the Existent, its Defenders and its False Critics. Anonymous.
iii Tiqqun. Sermon to the ravers. A few scandalous actions of the Imaginary Party.
v E.M. Cioran. Rages and Resignations. The Temptation to Exist.
vi “Some are born to endless night.” William Blake. Auguries of Innocence.
vii Marcello Tarì. Destituent Strike II: “No Future for Us.” There is no unhappy revolution. Common Notions 2021.
viii Tiqqun. “Silence and Beyond”