Thursday, May 28, 2009


An Analysis of Rave culture
- Helen Evans, Wimbledon School of Art, London, 1992

This dissertation is an analysis of the phenomenon of 'rave culture'. Implicit within my writing is the notion that rave is a part of popular culture rather than a subculture. I think it would be useful at this point to provide a definition of subculture: Subcultures define themselves as other' and 'subordinate' to 'the dominant' culture. The early work of Stuart Hall and Dick Hebdige has been chiefly concerned with the ways in which subcultures subvert and pose a resistance to the 'established order' through their expressive dress codes and rituals. Rave departs from these theories of youth culture, since it has not established an identifiable dress code nor consciously set itself apart from the wider culture. Cultural critics have found it difficult to argue that rave poses any resistance to anything at all. This essay is really an exploration into what rave does do, if its objective is not to subvert. What is rave an expression of? What is its function? What is its position politically? These are the questions that I am fundamentally concerned with.

I came to rave culture as an outsider looking in, and from a rather peculiar position of a young person commenting on the activity of my peers. I have found it a rich subject to explore, enabling me to discuss some of my own creative, personal and political interests which relate very closely to my studio practice: the use of collage, the notion of subversion, and the expression of gendered identity. The research has reasserted my belief in the value of looking at and learning from popular culture.

It is also worth outlining the direct links between rave and theatre. The origins of theatre, according to the Greek tradition, are in the Bacchic rites (or drunken orgies) of ancient Greece. Later, with the building of amphitheatres in Greece, the orgiastic element was replaced by more stylised representations of human life, which were given a text and performed repeatedly. The element of spontaneity and direct experience was reduced as the participator became the spectator. The modern rave begins where theatre also began. Raves are spontaneous, participatory events, which create a powerful emotional experience for the raver as they revel in dionysian bliss. They are also popular, unique events. My studio practice is largely concerned with finding ways to involve the audience, and to put them inside the theatrical world with the performers. I aim to create an emotional event for the audience, so perhaps these roots are worth re-living and re-learning from as theatre struggles to compete with more popular media like film and TV.

The sources for my research have been diverse: psychoanalytic theory, art history, subcultural theory, cultural studies, television documentaries, newspaper coverage, rave and music magazines, my own interviews with ravers, visits to raves, and listening to the music produced for raves. This essay is really a collage created out of all of these discourses, and I hope it goes some way towards an understanding of a rave event.

I shall begin this dissertation with a brief history of the development of rave events and rave music. I shall then consider the structure of rave music, the way in which meanings are communicated, and what possible interpretations could be made from recent rave output. I will consider the narcissistic and pre-oedipal sexuality of ravers, and the pleasure they experience through loss of 'self' and 'fixed' identity. I shall also look at the use of collage within raves, in the context of both surrealism and subcultural theory. All of these areas involve a discussion of the related issues of boundaries and difference. I shall finally conclude my research by considering the political dimension of rave which is manifested in the loss of traditional boundaries, in the questions it raises about the ownership of culture and about the prevailing
Read it here