Latent and Explicit Social and Political Agendas in the Dance Culture

[editor's note: It has now been over three years since this research was finished. This text should be considered a good introductory history to the topic. But the viability of the rave political 'movement' has since moved on... AF] 

From the Summer of Love rhetoric of the early UK acid house evangelists to San Francisco’s cyberdelic community, from neopaganism of Spiral Tribe to the transcendentalism of the Megatripolis/Goa Trance scene, rave has always been home to another “politics of Ecstasy.”

  (Reynolds 1999: 239)


 There exist both latent and explicit social and political agendas in the dance culture. Inclusivity, community, spirituality and alterity are experiences that influence a latent political resistance. There are three expressions of the explicit politics of the dance culture: a call for drug-reformation, harm-reduction and civil rights.

A rave or a club may seem like bizarre places for anthropological inquiry, but because they both act as spaces where notions of community, politics, and spirituality foment; the dance culture warrants the attention of anthropological study.

The dance culture is the most international cultural movement of this century. Millions of people across all inhabitable continents and many islands are participants in this taste culture. The dance culture’s geographies are raves and clubs.

Detractors might argue that relating club and rave subcultures is disanalogous. If we look at the mechanisms that order and create the subjectivities within, and the genetics of the two subcultures, we can see that they are similar. It is important to contrast raves and clubs in order to understand the demo/geographic differences and material similarities.

Raves are massive all-ages, all-night parties. They began in Britain in the late eighties and are now a worldwide phenomena occurring in any and all open-spaces. Clubs are more selective in the age, gender, and ethnicity of their clientele because they have space and image restraints (Malbon 1999). They are under noise ordinance laws and have to close at a certain hour. People attend both raves and clubs for similar reasons. Four of the most important reasons are electronic music orchestrated by a DJ, atmosphere, dancing and “drugs” (“Entheogens” is a more appropriate term to designate the drugs used in the dance culture. It is the term we will use for the remainder of this report).

MDMA (3, 4, methylene-dioxymetamphetamine), popularly known as “Ecstasy,” is widely used both geographies.  Spiritual experiences and notions of community are  facilitated for many by the pharmacokenetics of MDMA.

Introduction to Literature

Quality social research on the dance culture is rare. Collins (1997) and Thornton (1995) have written histories on the British dance culture. Mizrach (1996) has written an ethnomusicology on dance music and Pendergast (2000) a history of ambient music. Redhead (1993; 1998) has edited two collections of essays on the dance culture. Richard and Kruger (1998) wrote an article on the German dance culture. Fritz (1999) wrote an emically biased book on the dance culture. Saunders (1995), Beck and Rosenbaum (1994), and Cohen (1998) have written about MDMA and its use in the dance culture. Poplar music magazines like Spin, Revolution, Velocity, Mixmag and XLR8R provide valuable emic perspectives. At this point virtually every major newspaper in the country has had printed in their pages an article on raves.

            The two primary resources for the anthropology of the dance culture are Clubbing: Dancing, Ecstasy and Virility by Ben Malbon (1999) and Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture by Simon Reynolds (1999). Clubbing is a participant geography rich with biographical asides and informant vignettes. Generation Ecstasy is a history of the rave culture with an emphasis on the many branches of electronic music and the influences of MDMA on the genesis of the culture.

There are five constituent similarities between these two works. First, they both emphasize the role MDMA has in formulating the culture. Both books suggest that musical preferences lend to taste-based demography within the dance subculture. Thirdly, both books stress the dynamic interface between electronic music and entheogens. Both authors discuss diversity; Malbon emphasizes phenomenology, while Reynolds shows us the environment where individuation occurs. Finally, both writers assert that there are latent and explicit politics and spirituality within the dance culture.

            The two books work in tandem. Where Malbon teaches us that individuals find their identity in club crowds, Reynolds exhibits the psychoacoustics that influence the individual within the crowd. Reynolds makes known who associates him/herself with one of the many techno musical genres. Malbon writes about the experience of the individual within that techno-musical atmosphere. Malbon gives us the license to equate the sensation of inclusivity with a music-entheogen-dance synthesis as Reynolds conceives the impetus behind the dance culture.

Scott Hutson’s article, “The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subcultures” (2000) contributes to our understanding of the communalism and spirituality in the dance culture. In some respects this article is incomplete. These inconsistencies offer me the opportunity to expand upon group and individual identity in the dance culture. While discussing spirituality and community in the dance community, I will address three issues in Hutson’s report. He claims that there are no political and social agenda in the rave culture. He downplays MDMA use. Finally, his comments about a dance cultural unity encoded in the anachronism P.L.U.R. are broad reductions about a leisure activity that is multi-faceted and diverse.

Experiential Spirituality in the Dance Culture

Hutson’s thesis is simple and valid to many who have experienced or researched the rave culture. Malbon, Reynolds, Saunders, Mizrach, Collins, Beck and Baum would all agree to his thesis statement:

 “The rave can be conceptualized as a form of healing comparable both to shamanic, ecstatic healing documented in ethnographies of small-scale non-western societies and to spiritual experiences in modern western subcultures.” (2000: 26)

 Hutson states that the critical elements of raves are “dance music, long duration, and ecstatic experience” (2000: 35). In this respect, the rave experience is comparable to many shamanic ecstatic techniques. He does well in explaining the spiritual opportunities to be had at a rave. However, his ignorance of the role MDMA plays in the spirituality of the dance culture reveals a hesitancy to condone entheogen use. This limits our understanding of MDMA’s role in the formulation of spiritual therapeutics and politic.

Reynolds’ perspective on the spirituality within the rave context is mixed. When he says, “what makes rave culture so ripe for religiosity is the ‘spirituality’ of the Ecstasy experience” he is suggesting a religiosity on the dance floor and citing MDMA as the gnosis source (1999: 243). When Reynolds says that rave culture is “geared towards fascination rather than meaning,” he is categorizing the rave as a simulation, as simulacra (1998: 90; Baudrillard 1988:10). Under Reynolds’s definition, raving, being a product of postmodernity, can not have a spiritual component.

            Hutson finds Reynolds’s post-modern critique on meaning in raves deficient because it does not directly relate to informants’ claims. For those that choose to find spirituality in the rave, Malbon offers a different outlook on the spirituality to be had in the dance culture.

“Far from being concerned with some form of mindless and meaningless hedonism, then, as often portrayed in popular (mis)representations of clubbing, it seems that the experience of ecstatic sensations can actually be about an extraordinary and, for many, unparalleled and extremely precious experience of their own identity (Malbon 1999: 127)

 By including his field work into the “oceanic experience,” Malbon refines the concept of entheogen/trance induced “altered states.” By describing the ecstasis reported by clubbers as “oceanic” Malbon adds the semantical subcategory to the concept of “altered states.”

According to Malbon, oceanic experiences are characterized by one or more of the following sensations: “ecstasy, joy, euphoria, ephemerally, empathy, alterity, release” (1999: 107). Clubbers experience these states via the synergism of two or more of these four vehicles: entheogens, dancing, music and integration into the dancing crowd. “Moments of oceanic contemplation,” analogous to the spiritual experience, occurs in the transformation from individuality into a “membership of the clubbing crowd” (1999: 110). Thus, the experience of inclusion in the dancing crowd offers the participant an opportunity to access the oceanic realms. [1]

MDMA and the Dance Culture

Electronic music, club/rave social interaction, dance forms and trance-states are heavily influenced by MDMA’s pharmacokenetics. “Acid house” is inarguable the maternal genre for subsequent electronic dance musics. Peruse the interviews of the pioneers in acid house’s formative stages in Chicago, Detroit, Ibiza and London. These artists often cite MDMA as a valuable creative catalyst. When the tracks were pressed to record-vinyl the “experience consuming” crowd amorously embraced it with MDMA-excited affection.

Psychoactive substances have long been used by artists to fuel creative insight  (Plant 1999). According to Plant, cognitive enhancers make precise, recognizable interventions in consciousness, in cultural life, and politics. Pioneering ambient music producer Mixmaster Morris summed up the influence of entheogens on cultural paradigm shifts when he said, “the times we have seen great cultural shifts, tryptomine molecules played their role” (Frequency Modulation).

            In 1987, the London club “Shoom” synthesized acid house music, psychedelic ambience and MDMA. In this regard, “Shoom was the chrysalis of rave culture” (Reynolds 1999: 60, 61). MDMA consumption at this club was high. “By many-off-the-record accounts, ‘ninety per cent’” of the Shoom crowd was indulging in the consciousness enhancer (Thornton 1995: 145). After experiences had at “Shoom,” club promoters and DJ’s Paul Okenfold propogated dance music and dance culture throughout the UK.

            Again, Reynolds cites the messianic role MDMA played in collecting the dance scene into a distinct subculture.  

            “Ecstasy has been embraced as one element of a bourgeois-bohemian version of rave, in which the music-drugs-technology nexus is fused with spirituality and vague hippy-punk-anachro politics to form a nineties would-be counterculture.” (Reynolds 1999: 239)

             According to Reynolds, the ethos of the dance culture is a “vague” anarchistic politics, that, when combined with MDMA use, has a spiritual component.

Dancing as Resistance

I suggest that explicit political activity, (in the forms of civil disobedience, legislative petitions, direct action, etc.), though it does occur, is not essential to the formulation of a viable dance culture politics. The dance culture latently revolts against the mainstream through alternative music, chemical novelties, gender subversions and the pursuit of pleasure to the neglect of occupational accomplishment. In essence, the dance culture resists through dancing.

Malbon is interested in resistance, less in terms of political activism, but rather as constituting an action in which an, “‘alternative conception of the self’ may be fostered”  (Malbon 1999:146). Through imaginative pleasure seeking and playful vitality, clubbers are re-defining themselves through the ideal they find on the dance floor. This redefinition often consists of a reality ignorant and often opposed to the mainstream.

By exercising taste preferences in musical genre’s and dance spaces, clubbers' "consume experience." In this respect, clubbing is a form of "imaginative pleasure seeking" (Malbon 1999). This form of playful vitality includes implicit notions of resistance. This model of resistance consists of choosing alternative pleasure over mainstream identities. Escaping the humdrum of the daily grind rejuvenates the clubbers. As one informant said, he is:

 “escaping from work, escaping from normal life, escaping from everything, everything in full-stop...nothing else matters...that whole to be my time” (Malbon 1999:148)

 Playful vitality can be articulated as a sensation of inner strength and effervescence. Malbon argues that playful vitality can be experienced through flow-like play on the dance floor. By intoning a "conceptual language" through dancing, clubbers "actively engage in the production of the night." Dancing may be conceptualized "as an expressive form of thinking, sensing, feeling and processing"(Malbon 1999: 86). Techno music is interactive. 

Refusing to participate in a bureaucratic system that does not represent one’s sense of belonging is a robust form of rebellion. The identity choices offered by the mainstream do not satisfy the dance culture. For example, the vehement followers raves gathered in 1990’s Britain may have represented growing disillusionment in a Thatcherian economy. [2]

An example of dancing as resistance was seen in the Love Parade that occurred in Tel Aviv, Israel in October of 2000. The party drew 200,000 on the same weekend that 12 Palestinian and/or Israelis were slain. The party was a signal to the previous generation that the Israeli dance culture is opting to dance rather than feud over religion and resources (quote).

In the examples given in recent texts (Malbon 1999; Reynolds 1999; Hutson 2000), clubbers and ravers are often at a loss in quantifying their experiences and even less capable of implementing their dance-floor epiphanies. One of the consistent traits of euphoria is that it is beyond articulation (Lakshi 1961). To include the dance culture’s form of resistance into anthropology’s mold of automated-liberation, social researchers will have to do one of two things. Either expand their notion of politicizing to include non-activity, or write-off the dance culture as being a meaningless expression of the “desiring machine” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). In an interview with a member of the Moontribe Consortium, the war against the dance culture is a War against fulfillment.

 Community and Diversity in the Dance Culture

 By being on the same entheogen, night schedule, and in the same psychoacoustic space the dance culture creates bastions where inclusivity and politics may flourish. With the experiential sensation of co-componentry in the temporary utopian communitas, as experienced in the rave and club culture, comes an urge to politicize.

Hutson states that the rave community has a doctrine “codified as ‘Peace, Love, Unity, Respect (PLUR)” (2000: 40). A “doctrine,” as Hutson uses it, presupposes a body of believers unified under a philosophy.

Youth cultures are music cultures. Musical diversity, manifesting in multiple musical genre’s, signifies multiple youth cultures. In Britain, in the late 1980’s, in the nascent two years of raves, there was a limited number of genres of electronica. Generalization about a collective dogma were possible. Since those halcyonic times the scene has scintillated. Following evolutionary theories of progressive ornamentation (White) Rushkoff’s concept of the self-organizing dance floor human fractal patterns and the Extropian principle of “perpetual progress,” the dance culture has automatically diversified. 

            To present the early 21st century rave community in anthropological literature as codified, under a unifying philosophy, is erroneous. The most obvious discrepancy in this remark is that the “dance culture” as (ab)used here is itself a gross simplification. Millions of people representing multiple languages and any continent might portray the “dance culture” on any given weekend. In any one metropolis the world over clubbers and ravers have the option of hearing a diverse selection of electronic music.

There are multiple dance subcultures associated with the various musical genres. Some musical genre’s include techno, house, garage, acid house, ambient, loungecore, trance, jungle, gabba, turntablism, trip-hop, drum and bass, techstep, minimalism and big beat. Each music genre has its unique fashion, dance and language style. An editor of the British Muzak magazine said, “[the dance culture] has become far more disparate. The homogeneity we have seen has become fragmented. Everyone is into his or her own scene” (Frequency Modulations).

 Some dance genres promote the experiences of community and the “oceanic” while others do not. For example, the genre of music called “happy hard core,” rarely popular with anyone except young ravers, may be more apt to adhere to the PLUR slogan. While the connoisseurs of this year’s most popular genre of electronica, drum and bass, do not purport to be vehement supports of the PLUR doctrine and instead sport a more unban and DIY ethic.

 Alterity, Media, Amnesia, Apathy

 The first outdoor raves in Britain and San Francisco were “suffused with an almost political idealism.” The parties “were technically illegal challenges to the forces of land ownership and law and order.” However, democratization through commodification by the leisure industry of subcultural capital has extinguished the “idealism of the rave scene.” According to informants, this shift from meaningfulness to simulation is seen in the corruption of electronic music into mainstream forms and in drug trends. “With the demise of outdoor parties. Cocaine and alcohol replaced the almost sacred use of Ecstasy” (Diy 2001:85).

 DJ Spooky, a sound-collage artist and science-fiction writer, suggests that there is little incentive for political activity in the dance culture when he calls it a “culture of amnesia.” He says, “the late 20th century generation does not want engagement with the world around them.” This insular attitude he calls “an internal colonization.” XLR8R magazine editor Tomas Palermo also alludes to the tendency towards apathy when he pleads “as the sounds of electronic music begin to sync with the speed of technology, let this not be another year to drown ourselves I cultural nostalgia.” Alec Empire (Atari Teenage Riot) suggests a more apocalyptic and nihilistic narrative: “It was boredom that led to Fascism in the 1920’s. I think that is exactly what is going on in this generation. Nobody wants to change anything” (Frequency Modulation).  

Reynolds supports the claims of most scholars when he designates the rave culture as a form of “collective disappearance” (1999: 239). However, he rejects the idea that the raving is an escapists’ solution to post-modernity when he calls ravings, “an investment in pleasure that should not be written off as mere retreat or disengagement” (1999:239). Pursuing pleasure to the neglect of social obligation, states Reynolds, is a salient form of resistance.

Subcultural identity is based on alterity. The symbiotic and parasitical nature of the relationship of mainstream media to a subcultures is such that subcultures resist the deportation of their icons and the inclusion of mainstream symbols. Margaret Murray says she would like to “lock arms with fellow activists and say, “Yes, we are fighting, and yes, we are winning.” To her surprise the dance culture is “blissfully apolitical.” She believes that this state is a result of “divergent ideologies.” Existentially she states “clubs are a refuge,” where she can hide from TV, computers and news. Her febrility exists from media bombardment (XLR8R # 44: 80).

The dance culture has a natural resiliency towards the mainstream (moral majority/media) not only because mainstream advertisements exploit and wilt the subcultural capital of the underground but because the media also excites paranoia through sensationalistic journalism and iconographic saturation. This propaganda leads to fear which manifests in suppressions of the dance culture through laws and fines. When a subculture is exploited by the mainstream it must find novel collateral from which to define itself. Malbon believes that through continual upheaval and morphism a subculture resists assimilation (1999:146). By resisting assimilation, the dance culture retains many of the traits that make it attractive: subcultural capital, novelty and the stimulation of individuality.

                With self-expression encouraged in all its many forms, a rave is the ultimate expression of personal freedom. For many, the club experience on the dance floor is itself the highest manifestation of emancipation. Every revolution demands the right to freedoms previously denied. The dance culture seeks to expand and retain their personal and collective rights.

Electronic music is synthetically generated music. It is the folk music of today’s cybernetic generation. The looping swells and shivering mechanics of its symphonies are designed to enhance MDMA’s pharmacokinetics. The “oceanic” sensation of collective identity as experienced through dancing, entheogens and multi-sensorial stimulation, lends to a spiritualism that is both archaically romantic and progressively futuristic. With the temporary utopian communitas, as experienced in the rave and club culture, comes an urge to politicize and perpetuate this ideal into the profane life.

Some believe that the community building oceanic experience is too ephemeral to have a potent political agenda. Criticalists believe that the oceanic experience cannot be formulated into praxis and is therefore not revolutionary.

Hutson says, “despite the rhetoric of communal harmony, ravers, like channels, do not work toward creating such a community” (2000: 45). Later, he acknowledges that there may exist some explicit political soirees. He does this by including a condescending quote from McKay who says that there are “a few disparate groups . . . [that demonstrate] for the right to carry on getting out of their heads and dancing to weird music on weekends” (1996: 104). Hutson finishes his reporting on the political apathy in rave culture by saying, “there is almost no political activism in the rave scene. Ravers do little more than attend late night and early morning parties in out-of-the-way places” (2000: 45).

Andrew Rawnsley, a previous editor of XLR8R magazine, is not  

“a big fan of political activism because ostensibly the rave movement operates outside . . . of the mainstream and acts as an antithesis to political demonstration.”

 According to Velocity Editor-in-Chief, Tim Summers the dance culture is, “underneath the radar of popular consciousness” (2000: 8). These dance culture magazine editors see the dance culture as truly subcultural in that it “operates outside of the existing political system.” Either “underneath” or “outside,” the club culture is not within the majoritarian social sphere. He believes that it is difficult for dance cultural politics to be acknowledged. He does not say that raving is apolitical. “As an antithesis of political demonstration” yet outside of the political system, the dance culture experience exists in a liminal alterity.

 Rawnsley’s comments are similar to those voiced by Hakim Bey, a writer often quoted in the dance culture for concepts like the Temporary Autonomous Zone (T.A.Z.), his notions about neo-paganism and the politics of ecstasy. Rawnsley follows Bey who says, “stop wasting time and energy petitioning the authorities for permission to do what we’re doing and simply get on with it” (Bey 2000).  The following sections suggest that the dance culture is making itself politically viable.

 Reducing the Dangers inherent in Recreating

Harm reduction organizations attempt to reduce the negative products of drugs use. According to harm-reduction groups, advocating for education and safe-settings are effective methods in reducing drug-induced dangers. One of the largest dangers in the dance culture is the quality of drugs available. Many of the drugs that people are buying at raves are adulterated with cheaper more dangerous substances. To combat the growing threats to drug users, harm-reduction groups have began to educate the dance culture about the importance of rest, safe sex, ear-protection and hydration. The most controversial task dance culture harm reduction group perform is the testing of “Ecstasy” pills for MDMA content.           

Many city officials do not support harm reduction. Kim Stanford is a registered nurse who heads up The Toronto Raver Information Project. She says, “the majority of politicians and policy makers are really reticent to advocate funding for harm reduction drug testing” (Fritz 1999: 219). As Nigel Tasko, a promoter for The Alien Mental Association, says, “it’s time that the police and the city councils started working with promoters to ensure that the venues are safe” (Fritz 1999: 234). In remarks representative of sentiments at the state capitol, House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs (R-Albuquerque) told the Albuquerque Tribune that “ . . . harm reduction policies and giving sterile needles to people who are violating the law, I just can't sign on to that" (Gallagos 2000)

Some city officials have peered benevolently upon the dance culture. Toronto may be uneasy about advocating hard reduction, but the conclusions of the collaboration between Toronto activists and city officials were in favor of a harm-reduction methodology. They stated, “we the jury agree find that there is a need for safe venues for raves, and severe restrictions on rave promoters will defeat the intent of these recommendations”

DanceSafe is the largest and most visible harm-reduction group in the United States. They set up booths at the Democratic National Convention in 2000. They have been featured on 20/20, 60 Minutes and local and national newspaper presses throughout the country. DanceSafe distributes home Ecstasy test kits, operates pill-testing booths at raves and clubs, and contracts with a DEA-approved lab in Sacramento to analyze pills for dangerous adulterants such as PMA and DXM.

            Harm-reduction groups exist wherever a rave tradition exists. Ravesafe is a harm reduction group in South Africa. Their safe house project promotes safe guidelines for club owners and rave promoters. 80 different pills are screened a week by a Holland company. “A test culture is starting,” said Jason Taylor,’s administrator. Medecins du Monde, an international public health advocate in France, tests 95 pills and capsules per week (Schone and Prince 2000: 140).

The Fight for the Right to Dance

As per the First Amendment of the US Constitution, the club culture believes that they have the right to peaceably assemble and express themselves in licensed environments. There is growing opposition to their parties. The dance culture is currently mobilizing to fight the growing city oppositions against their cultural practices.

            Right to dance movements are formulating throughout North America to protest for the right to have massive and/or club all-night festivities. In Holland and Canada, these organizations are tolerated on par with other civil rights groups. In other places like America and Britain, there is strong opposition to the dance culture.

            American cities where a thriving dance culture exists have seen a rash of anti-dance initiatives. Chicago and Orlando’s new anti-rave ordinances “attack an entire culture” and ignores the First Amendments (Costakis, Dmitri and Littlepage 2000: 30). Baltimore and DC areas also have official anti-rave task forces. Miami Beach politicians have tried to stop dancing after 5 a.m., which would mean the death of the after-hours “juice bars.” Nobody is allowed to dance after 2:00 a.m. in neither Kansas City nor New York City.

            Chicago promoters, DJs and property owners can be fined up to $10,000 for involvement in an unlicensed party. The most nightlife they are allowed is from the juice bar license, which restricts activity-taking place after 2 a.m. Djing is Not a Crime organized as a response to the City of Chicago's clampdown on "raves" and "underground parties" via an ordinance that was passed by the City Council 50-0. This ordinance puts an end to the all-night parties that are the cornerstone of the dance culture.

Chris Gin, spokesperson for Djing is not a Crime, thinks this majoritarian opposition is a difficult growing pain and in the end it will strengthen the dance culture. He believes the club culture’s demands will be met. “Eventually, this will take what we all do and legitimize it as part of youth culture,” he says (Kotler 2000: 68). The “boon” of legitimization will welcome commercialization. As we outlined in the section on latent politics, mainstream acceptance is a fatal to subcultures.

In July of 1999, concerned members of the dance culture formed the San Francisco Late Night Coalition. The object of their posse is “to protect, preserve, and promote San Francisco’s late-night culture.” The have organized numerous rallies and supported a mayoral candidate forum. As Woods says, “the rave community is becoming more political as it builds coalitions with progressive politicians, public health officials and even police administrators.” (Wood 2000: 29). The Right to Dance Coalition is a collaboration of San Francisco activists, Dancesafe and Djing is Not a Crime. It is an on-line resource center that is organizing the national movement.

In New Orleans a local music promoter and DJ face up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines simply for staging a dance culture event. U.S. Attorney Jordan contends that the State Palace was a “crack house.” Evidence includes pacifiers, glowsticks, water consumption and certain dance steps. The A.C.L.U is opposing the DEA in this case because they are targeting the providers of a certain type of music. The Electronic Music Defense Fund has arisen to gather funds to pay for this case (Cloud 2001).
            Protest parties are designed to bring public attention to dance culture issues.  These concerns include environmental degradation, the marginalization of gays, women and minorities, and the civil right to cognitive multiplicity. A party called Rave for Choice recently donated its proceeds to local abortion clinics and a national pro-choice woman’s group. In Boulder, Rave for the Rain Forest raised money for a number of ecological organizations. A group called Raves to Benefit Aids has raised over  $75,000.  Raves in Detroit, New York and San Francisco, called “Unleash the Queen” were specifically designed to raise awareness of homophobia. The Moontribe of L. A. played a benefit to prevent nuclear waste from being dumped in Ward Valley, California. These philanthropic activities are good examples of the dance culture’s concern with creating a healthier community (Levy and Miller 1992). 

Britain is home to the rave movement; clubbing is a major industry in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, Britain has been attempting to break the dance culture for well over a decade. The Britain Criminal Justice Act of 1994 outlawed raves and similar gatherings. The pro-dance coalition, Reclaim the Streets, protested these amendments with public raves. A protest against the Criminal Justice Bill was held in Hyde Park in London. Almost five thousand people filled the park with their dancing and techno music. After a squirmish, the police retracted. Later, they surrounded the park in riot gear. In 1997, Tory MP Barry Legge promoted a bill that would give local police the power to shut down any club where there was evidence of drug use. Like the New Orleans case, “evidence” could mean providing free drinking water (Fritz 1999: 221).

            In 1998, a busy Oxford road was blocked with a sound and light system. A thousand dancers made police interjection impossible. Also in 1998, Reclaim the Streets blocked the M41, a major highway. A truckload of sand was dumped in the middle of the street creating an ad hoc sandbox where a gaggle of children preceded to play. On the outskirts of this sand box a coterie of six thousand dancers gathered. Subsequently, similar events have occurred in The Netherlands, Hungary and Finland. The political activity reached climax for the 1998 season with the International Dance Party, which consisted of protest parties staged simultaneously in over twenty major cities around the world (Fritz 1999: 222).

Some dance culture musicians are politically minded. For example, Beta Bodega Coalition makes music about 3rd World marginalization, the Dutch label Stallplaat examines the techno/indigenous interface, and Germany Mille Plateaux’ makes psycho-acoustic art for the polically minded.

            The explicit politics of harm-reduction, the right to dance, and drug policy reform often coalesce into one Hydra-headed organism. For example, in July 2000, Moontribe joined forces with the Right to Dance Coalition, Dancesafe, and L. A. Mayoral Candidate Francis DellaVeccia to organize a peaceful rally during the Democratic National Convention. This was called the Gathering of the Tribes conference. Discussions included outdoor gatherings on public land, harm reduction, drug policy reform, sacred space and community building.  The rally focused on, “the failed war on drugs, and the recent and steady erosion of the right to assembly” said spokesperson Lynn Hasty. Richard Glen Boire, Esq., of the Alchemind Society spoke about the therapeutic potential of MDMA as well as the puritan element within the American psyche. The DRCNet described strategies for on-line organizing drug policy reform and suggested using the same technique to fight the current rave crackdown (XLR8R rev.69).

Explicit Politics: Drug Policy

The drug policy reformation groups look at the social consequences, law and history of the war on drugs. Drug use, particularly the use of MDMA, is important to the dance culture. Wherever it rears its warhead, the war on drugs combats individuality, indigenous rights and mutliculturalism. The dance culture opposes the war on drugs because it seeks to limit the freedom of speech, cognitive liberty and cultural novelty.

As is observable in the Estopinal case, the proponents of the war on drugs  are attempting  to close musical events in their pursuit of certain drugs and certain profiles related to certain drugs. Drug policy reform groups within the dance culture are reticent to typecast MDMA as a malevolent narcotic, worthy of Schedule I status. MDMA has a rich legacy of being a useful substance in counseling and psychotherapy (Saunders 1995; Beck and Rosenbaum 1994).

Seizures of MDMA tablets submitted to DEA laboratories have risen from a total of 1,054,973 in 1999 to 3,045,041 in 2000. (Marshall 2000). The Tallahassee Florida Operation Heat Rave arrested more than 1200 people at 57 clubs and raves across the state. In October in Newark, New Jersey 106 pounds of ecstasy and 200,000 Buddha pills were found two months apart. 61 people in four states went down in a case that federal agents use to bolster their theory of a Russian-Israeli-Dutch connection.

            MDMA ingredients like PMK (piperonylmethylketon) come from the “darwinian chaos of the post-Soviet era.” Russian ingredients travel through Germany, to Holland and Belgium labs, where they are then shipped internationally via French or German airways. American markets receive the majority, but a good percentage is retained in Germany for European use. The Bundesskiminalamt (the German FBI), estimates that 90 to 99 percent of German E originates in the Netherlands (Schone and Prince 2001). The US DEA says that 90% of American Ecstasy is Belgium Ecstasy.

            The US federal government spends 17 billion to militantly combat the drug trade. Of that sum The National Institute on Drug Abuse receives $54 million to conduct their “club-drug” campaign.

The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics is a nonprofit international organization working in the public interest to promote and protect fundamental civil liberties. Cognitive liberty “is the fundamental right to multiple modes of thought, alternative states of consciousness, and individual mental autonomy.” Cognitive liberty includes entheogenic insight and alternative states of awareness –inspired by either dancing or drug use.

There were two bills in Congress that were halted by the help of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics. The Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act and the Club Drug Anti-Proliferation Act. Provisions of these acts would make it a federal crime to discuss drugs on the Internet. These provisions, like the greater war on drugs, are attempts to criminalize and marginalize a minority culture, in this case the youth.  

The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics analysis revealed that equating Ecstasy with methamphetamine for sentencing purposes would create an incentive for dealers to sell adulterated Ecstasy. On September 27, 2000, when the club drug provisions were attached to the Children’s Health Act, the sentencing provisions were removed.  The Alchemind Society’s Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics was the only organization to produce and distribute professional legal analysis on the flawed Ecstasy and club drug provisions.

Elsewhere, I have defined the club culture as a technological/drug/music synthesis. The technological component is visible through the dance cultures dexterity with personal computers. Many design their own web pages as witnessed in the thousands of web pages dedicated to electronic music and the different facets of the dance culture. Many of the dance culture sites have links to drug information sites. “Culture” is increasingly a link choice on the electronic music sites. The technological communication utilized by the dance culture fosters multi-subculturalism and inclusivity across musical boundaries. To create a law that would sever the technological connection between drug dilettantism and electronic music would hinder the free speech functioning of the dance culture.

Tom O’Connell, retired surgeon and representative for Media Awareness Project states that though these provisions have been struck there is still more to be concerned with, “The Supreme Court has gotten used to giving away our civil rights on behalf of the drug war,” he says. “The federal government’s record on drug policy shows clearly that our civil rights are in grave danger whenever Congress is writing anti-drug legislation.” (Kotler p. 67)

Conclusion: Mixing with the Insoluble Generations

The First Amendment is intended to create a barrier between the two concepts of church and state. The United States of America merges church and state. This corporate merger propagates a Protestant morality. This civil religion creates a majoritarian/generational bias that diminishes neutrality when courts address minority cultural issues.

According to the mass majority, it is the moral responsibility of citizens of the United States to make money. The mass morality current in the United States supports a form of nationalism. Religion in nationalistic societies is integrated into the political economy. The United States’ civil religion mandates cognitive conformity and free-enterprising development.

The dance culture threatens to undermine the morality of the civilly faithful by making hedonism and/or political activism attractive as viable forms of praxis. Because the U. S. civil religion informs and directs the bureaucracy, the subculture warrants congressional and legislative opposition. In other words, the public becomes morally offended by a subculture/minority and the burocracy seeks to suppress the minority. The public elects city officials, police chiefs and agency directors who attempt to put a stop to the reveling minority, their substances and spaces.

The ruling class of this hierarchy consists of wealthy figureheads from the mass majority --who also own the means for resource extraction and/or communication. These industries have the power to control the dissemination of multiple belief systems. Multivocality threatens to undermine the structures that support the civil religion. Those in power delegate judiciary privilege to those who support the religion of economy.

The judiciary and criminal systems are assigned the task of upholding the legitimacy and the doctrines of this civil religion. Conformity and a desire for American economic growth are majoritarian-generationally dictated. The judiciary and criminal systems perpetuate two powers: xenophobia and marginalization. This discriminatory trend results in incrimination based on cognitive and cultural differences. In the dance culture example this tendency manifests in a form of ageism, the youth as a minority are being criminalized because their activities are not widely practiced or integrated into the civil religion.

            The First Amendment was invented to insure that the United States remained a land fertile for alternative modes of being and believing. Its elocution is explicit. Our citizens have a right to assemble to listen to music; and the freedom of speech to communicate through a kinetic language.

As a product of an institutionalized morality, the US judicial system exhibits a tendency towards generation-centric laws and judgements. This tendency may manifest in a denial of rights to the American youth. If the dance culture is to survive it must prove itself effective in mediating the majority’s impulses and demands.

The dance culture may survive along its present circuitous route if moralities change and are codified into law. It may be said that the search for insight and delirium, through intoxication and dancing, may be a pan-cultural youth tradition. If so, the dance culture and its resistance are another manifestation of the tension inherent between a new generation asserting its individuality and political viability by subverting mainstream morality.

 Every generation has to feel like they can be free to express themselves and to rebel against the establishment. The rave scene is history repeating itself. Only the music is better...”                                

                                                --Albert Mancuso aka DJ Science (Fritz 1999)


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[1] Rave is supposed to deconstruct dualities, especially collapsing the past and the future into a singular "modern primitive." The oppositions between technology and spirituality, the primal body and the higher mind, and neo-tribalism and global humanism, are all supposed to "implode" at the rave, resulting in a "technoshamanism" where the DJ serves as the initiator of the people into a sort of participation mystique where they tune into the "vibe" of Gaia.


(Mizrach 1996)


Hutson’s informants utilize Christian theological banter. In comparing raves to Christian churches, they are simulating a mainstream institution. This analogy is incongruous with Hutson’s conclusions because as it is manifestsedfor the majority of American Christians, the Church is devoid of the signs of shamanism, experiential therapeutics and techniques of ecstasy. If the ravers are experiencing these universal shamanic experiences, that have no parallels in modern Western society, then why are they using Christian rhetoric? The answer is: The ravers are adopting this vernacular because they are attempting to relate the experience to the researcher by exploiting commonly understood icons. If authentically experienced, in classic shamanic fashion, the experience should be devoid of qualitative comparisons.

Hutson quotes Green who says that, “In actual effect, this is the creation of a . . . religion without theological foundation or unified expression.” Green’s quote supports my argument that yes something sublime is occurring at raves, but no, we are not yet able to compare this spirituality to an archaic revival or to fundamentalist Christians, New Age channels and Grateful Dead-heads.


[2] For various reasons, including age and degree of monetary self-sufficiency, clubbers are more conditioned by mainstream influences than ravers, but both venues continue to blossom in popularity in part because of the opportunities for resistance.