Birgit Richard/Heinz- Hermann Krüger:
Raver´s paradise? German youth cultures in the 1990´s
This article concentrates on the characteristics of the techno
subculture in Germany because it marks a new era in
the history of youth cultures. Until punk hit Germany there has been basically
one main subculture. Since the middle of the Eighties German youth gets the
opportunity to chose between a variety of styles according to their specific
biographical situation. A subcultural style is no longer a decision for life,
it becomes a changeable attitude: When a punk was hit too often by a gang of
skinheads, he has maybe decided to become a skinhead. Styles are no longer fixed
categories as a result of the process that they have lost part of their power
for identification. Youth cultures get more and more difficult to identify,
the signs of different styles are no longer extreme, they are subtle and not
easy to read. One reason for that is the growing number of styles generated
out of crossovers of two different styles like e.g. HipHop and Heavy Metal fusions.
The difficulties in identifying styles is also part of a strategy to avoid the
attempts of the grown-ups who try to look more youthful thanthe youngsters themselves.
The post-punk era has to be defined by a patchwork of fragmented subcultures that are clearly seperated from each other. There are traditional subcultures like punk, gothic punk or heavy metal and a lot of revival styles like Sixties and Seventies Music.
HipHop and Techno style become the most important youth culture in Germany at the beginning of the 1990´s becauses of its innovative power in music, aesthetic and dance expressions. With Techno and House for the first time a pure dance style becomes a mass movement. It integrates nearly two million youngsters and post-adolescents into a common culture. Before that dance cultures were never seen as indepedent youth cultural formations. Visiting discos and dancehalls has been condemned as a manipulated pleasure, as an escape from everyday life.
The so-called rave nation is a heterogenous subculture with similar leisure and consuming habits. The most astonishing aspect of that development is that the scene became a mass movement just in two years (1993-1995).
Within current German youth cultures, techno represents an extraordinary phenomenon because it changes shape, aesthestics and traditional structures of contemporary youth cultures. As a powerful subcultural style it brings on a package of new visuals based on the possibilities of desktop and electronic publishing, computer graphics and animation with an immediate effect on general aesthetics of society. It is the first subculture that uses and exploits all computer-generated forms of the digital age which leads to an explosion in the aesthetic fields of symbols, signets and designs. Techno-designers develop new ideas in the fields of typographics (Designer´s Republic), techno magazines become avantgarde for layout, the clubwear and streetwear styles trickle slowly into the haute couture. Furthermore it is a very self-reflective style concerning the production of its own images and representations (photos and video) and a self-conscious style which is able to use the same methods as the media in the reproduction of its important style elements.
Most important is the change of status of functional dance music, as a kind of rehabilitation of disco music of the seventies, showing that music for pure dancing fun has its qualities too.
Characteristics of the techno and house style
What made techno so big in Germany is the fact that it offers different musical styles ranging from the extreme, fast with a lot of beats per minute, hardcore/ gabber techno (not identical with the british understanding of hardcore techno, from the british point of view german techno is hardcore) to the soft and psychedelic (ambient that produces very spheric, calm sounds and the goa and tribal music where a lot of ethnic material is mixed in). The musical platform is completely electronically produced which allows to create a variety of new elements of music very quickly without having the time of splitting into various sub-styles. Out of this electronic substance every possible characteristic of popular music may be generated, soft and happy tunes or fast and aggressive sounds. The music contains a special electronic expression for nearly every mood.
"I am, you see, I am the creator and this is my house. And in my house there is only house music. (...) You may be black, you may be white, you may be Jew or gentile - it don´t make a difference in our house." (Minister of House "Mister Fingers"1989)
For the moment of the party social differences like class, age, gender, colour, profession, political opinion or sexual preference, the constituting factors for a personal identity in everyday life are equalized by the unifying factor of music and its rhythm. Communicational problems do not exist, different people enjoy meeting each other. The intense experience of the own body together with others and the common goal of a peaceful party unites young people. The rave represents a counter-scenario to the feeling of isolation in the fragmented and atomized societies of the western hemisphere.
"This hyper-reality of pleasure, this extension of media (one which is found also in 24-hour radio) produces a new social state, a new relationship between the body, the pleasures of music and dance, and the new technologies of the mass media." (McRobbie 1995: 171)
The virtual rave place becomes a timeless, de-localised and de-realised,
an artificial zone like the computer generated artificial worlds. The ideals
of the rave nation - love, peace and unity (as a kind of transformation of the
ideas of the French Revolution) - only gain significance in the virtual room
of the rave event for a couple of hours. After the weekend the daily routines
re-establish all differences and the reproduction process is re-installed. Then
the rave community becomes fractured again and splits into two main parts: the
users (dancers) and the producing elite (DJs and Producers).
Techno aesthetics contain a wide range of symbolic fields. They represent different spheres of work: heavy duty industrial work on the one hand and high-tech production on the other. Attitudes of working class culture are copied, e.g. proudly presenting the sweating body in underwear-like clothing. But these attitudes are transported into the new context of leisure. Dancing as a mindless pleasure becomes an exciting new form of work, of working the body ("work your body" is an often used vocal sample in house tunes). The techno kids are doing their eight hour- up to three day- job. It is provocative form of expression for the grown-ups because this kind of work does not have the result of earning a living but is pure relentless pleasure. It is an adequate form to express the hyper-narcistic state of the individuum in western culture. Another reference to industrial work are the locations of rave events: The forgotten ruin of industrial and trade based captitalism, the warehouse, is transformed into a fun factory.
Other symbols and materials in techno clubwear refer to extreme and dangerous situations (e.g. reflective materials of police or fireengineers). Another symbolic field referred to is the world of sports, especially to sports based on endurance like aerobic or long-distance running.
Techno exaggerates the ideal of a well trained body by means of working it day and night into a hyper-fitness state. In fact it leads the body to a hyper-exhaustion. But the natural biological ressources do not last for three days, so they often get supported by a drug that is meant to bring the necessary energy for the dance marathon. According to McRobbie the situation of rave is mainly a result of excessive drug abuse:
"The scale is huge and ever increasing, the atmosphere is one of unity, of dissolving difference in the peace and harmony haze of the drug Ecstacy." (McRobbie 1995:169)
It´s a reproduction of media prejudices to reduce techno and house to a style totally and utterly driven by the drug Ecstacy (E). Ecstacy is only one aspect in the set of style segments, every subculture has its special drug that fits into the style. Nobody would describe beat or hippie style as just deriving from marihuana and hashish misuse or punk formed by excessive beer drinking.
National and global style
German post-war youth cultures are always hooked on British and
American trends but there has always been the attempt to add a national facette
to these basic styles. Until the punk rebellion this was not very successful,
because it often remained an imitation or copy (Richard/Krüger 1995:94).
Then German styles became more and more independent and found a specific way
to adapt and transform international movements. For example, experimental bands
of the so-called Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave) like Der Plan, die Krupps,
DAF (by the way one of its former members Robert Görl has become a well-known
Techno musician) adapted New Wave and created a special national style, which
often seemed very harsh and stupid especially in the use of the German language
but captured a bit of the national atmosphere.
It is quite obvious that the geographical roots of the current techno scene in Germany lie in the US American black community dance scenes of New York, Chicago and Detroit (It is the second wave of dance music coming out of the "motor city" if you think of Motown). The so-called house music is transferred via Britain and there it becomes Acid House (deeply influenced by spanish balearic music and dance styles coming especially out of Ibiza). But in 1988 UK Acid House was not immediately adopted by German youth cultures. It appeared as an artificial style, there was no grown infrastructure for big illegal party events and, what was more important, youngsters in Germany did not understand what this whole rave thing with excessive parties was all about. But there had already been a small but fertile underground. Finally in the beginning of the nineties out of different house styles the German form Techno or Tekkno develops. It grows out of the structure of clubs and locations that already existed. An exception is the city of Berlin that is one ofthe centres of techno besides Frankfurt. The subculture grew out of the special constellations after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The uncertainty of the situation allowed the seizure of politically and commercially unmarked space. Out of the underground the scene builds up an informal network with several, sometimes very quickly changing illegal locations and parties, the most famous ones are the "TRESOR" or the "E-WERK" in Berlin (which face their closure in 1995 because of the government boundary).
The German techno scene has build a differentiated substructure: Varieties like Hardtrance, Trance, Acid, Goa, Tribal point up a separatism between the musical styles whereas in the UK these styles tend to intermingle. In the UK German techno is called hardcore (which is not identical with Dutch Rotterdam Hardcore, called Gabber with a speed of up to 250 beats per minute).
"Where other youth subcultures have focused on street appearances, or habe chosen live rock performances for providing the emblematic opportunity for the display of style, on rave everthing happens within the space of the party." (McRobbie 1995:168)
For the rave culture in Germany this has to be differentiated,
because big illegal warehouse parties or illegal gatherings on the countryside
with sudden traffic jams in little villages like in the UK are not typical.
There are outstanding - often commercially organized- events for the raver throughout
the year, one is the indoor MAYDAY mega event (Berlin, Dortmund and Frankfurt)
which hosts all well-known national and international Djs.
For the occasion of the famous LOVEPARADE in Berlin on the Kurfürstendamm, which mixes traditional forms of the St. Christopher´s Street Day (New York) and the Nottinghill Carnival (London) techno presents itself as a street style. The number of participants has exploded in a period of two years (1995: half a million, 1994: 100000). These parades are perhaps that successful because even young Germans tend to prefer march rhythms. Therefore besides the Berlin LOVEPARADE, the Union Move in Munich and the Night Move in Cologne which are smaller but similiar parades through the cities are the other occasions for the rave nation to come out of their rave closet. Normally the ravers leave their virtual rave world to integrate themselves immediately into everyday routines without affecting or disturbing them. The parades allow the ravers to become visible and to proudly present their style in a dance performance. Because the occupation of public space is not a permanent one, but is limited to a few hours, techno is a punctual street style.
House and techno as a representation of the european and international thought
House music as a form of dance music has been bouncing back and
forth between Europe and America. There is a special connection between black
Afro American dance styles and German musical technologies. House music has
been deeply influenced by the pure synthetically produced music out of Germany
in the seventies like the pioneer works from Kraftwerk, Can, Tangerine Dream,
Klaus Schulze (By the way, first forms of HipHop like electric boogie are especially
influenced by Kraftwerk).
The most influentual one, Kraftwerk´s instrumental "Autobahn" flattens out steady beats into a perfect uniflected regularity of vehicular motion (Reynolds 1995:61).
In the nineties when house music develops in Germany US- DJs like Jeff Mills or old school veterans like Frankie Knuckles celebrate their big successes in Europe. Motherland America does not care much about them. Therefore house and techno is re-imported into the USA, e.g. Berlin Club Tresor plans to open a second Tresor club in Detroit.
Rave culture allows an arrangement between regional and international structures.The style offers an international, quite neutral matrix which is understood in nearly every country and gets a good response. Therefore this kind of dance music culture can also be interpreted as one representation of the european thought. Each country is able to connect to an international basic style, which makes it possible for every country to add its own special flavours (e.g. greek sirtaki samples, voice samples in the language of the country).
Rave as an expression for "changing modes of femininity"
or a regression to traditional roles?
" Dance is where girls were always found in subcultures. It was their only entitlement." (McRobbie 1995:169)
The history of dance styles is strongly formed by gender specifics.
For girls and young women, dancing has always been a possibility for the experience
of the body, a means for erotic self-expression and a demonstration of female
easiness. (McRobbie 1985:128). Up to the point when techno and house dominate
the dance scene - before that beat and the punk movement show slight changes
in behaviour - and involve both sexes in the sheer fun of dancing and ecstatic
body movement, there always was a inequality in the numbers of dancing woman
and men. (Fritsch 1988)
Dancing has had a different biographical meaning for woman. For men, dancing had nothing in common with male enjoyment. It was seen as a female activity. Men engaged themselves only in the voyeuristic stares at the bodies of dancing women. If young men decided to get up on the dancefloor, it was just to get into contact with a dancing female. Until the late eighties dancing represented the unliked part of the courting for a girl and focused on sexual gratification (Mc Robbie 1985: 129. She also refers to Mungham 1976).
The influence of the English Afro-Carribean cultures in the eighties put boys and men a step forward to the narcistic and auto-erotic dimensions of dance. It becomes a complete new possibility for male self-expression, but at first only in a special form. (McRobbie 1985:130 and Willis 1991:87). The possibility to show the special skills of the male body brings a change to male engagement in dancing. The styles originated in the black communities (rock'n roll, breakdance, acrobatic figures in the disco - dancing of the seventies - Travolta´s spins in Saturday Night Fever - or Breakbeat - Jungle dancing style) require acrobatic skills for which male youth undergo a hard traininig at home. Women are excluded from these dance cultures. If they try to enter these male circles they loose their femininity in the eyes of the young men. This exclusion exists because this kind of dance serves as a confirmation of male representative images. HipHop is a typical example for a style totally based on the rules of male competition in its different expressions breakdance, graffiti and rap.
Techno and house "all-dayers" as a democratic dance movement do make the question of gender unimportant in the dance performance. The inequal positions between the male voyeur and the female dancer dissolve because dancing has become the motivating force for an entire youth culture. This gives girls a new-found confidence and a prominence (McRobbie 1995: 169). The techno culture transforms acrobatic dance pleasures which have sustained black cultures into a show of endurance and combines them with the gay attitudes towards the body. Influencing its shape, taking care of it and getting into addictive pleasures of dance without links to sexual satisfaction is made available to a wide audience. This influences the image of masculinity:
"The trope of masculinity is visually one of largely white unadorned, anti-stylish `normality´. But laddishness has been replaced by friendliness. Indeed the second irony of this present social moment is that working-class boys lose their `aggro´ and become `new men´ not through the critique of masculinity which accompagnies the changing modes of femininity... , but through the use of Ecstacy. " (Mc Robbie 1995:169)
Although it is true that men do not change because of a reflection
of their male role, it is quite clear that they do not change their whole attitudes
only because of the use of the drug Ecstacy. If men allow all kinds of homosexual
or female attitudes to enter their male world and a change to socially fixed
attitudes occur, this should be interpreted as a first step into the right direction.
Young men have recognized that there are other possibilities, e.g. the training
of the body for getting more tactile and sensuous about the own and other bodies,
not just following traditional working class ideals of the strengthened and
suffering male body.
Besides that basic change in male attitudes towards dancing, girls experience a totally new situation in the rave culture. The rave event offers a space where nearly everything is possible for a girl without having fear of male sanctions and regulations. Girls can dress as freely as they like which leads to a hyper-sexual dressing code in the techno and house scene. At the same time they seal off their highly erotic dress:
"One solution might lie in cultivating a hypersexual appearance which its, however symbolically sealed or `closed off´ through the dummy, the whistle, or the ice lolly. This idea of insulating the body from `invasion´ is even more apparent in the heavy duty industrial protective clothing worn by both male and female fans of German techno music. In both the body signifies sociability and self-sufficiency." (Mc Robbie 1995:169)
The unwritten rules of the rave events are especially protecting girls. They will not make the annoying experience of men sneaking after or trying to touch them against their will. Male voyeuristique stares mainly vanish. The rave event allows girls a maximum of freedom: They can move around freely and get into contact with young men if they like to. They can talk to men without being afraid that young men sexually molest them. According to McRobbie this is only possible because it is a culture of (sexual) avoidance:
"The orgiastic frenzy of dance culture also hints at the fear of AIDS among young people. ... The culture is one of childhood, of a pre-sexual, pre- odipal stage. ..."(McRobbie 1995: 169)
This comparison is not an adequate one because childhood cannot
be considered as the part in life where everything is peaceful and in harmony.
Secondly, techno and house cannot be characterized by total avoidance of direct
sexuality. Eroticism is transformed into dance style itself, sexuality expressed
in a ritual form. The dance itself becomes a formula for sexual intercourse,
beats and rhythms imitate different states of orgasm. The dancers release their
sexual tension by ecstatic shouts which is a diffused one because it is not
fixed on a potential lover or friend (maybe a form of cybersex?). Direct forms
of sexuality which were always the unpleasant aspect of dancing pleasure for
girls in the clubs are suspended. The male wish for easy sexual gratifcation
has no longer a chance being realized in the rave world.
Despite all positive implications for girls, commercialisation spills of efforts for equality by reproducing parts of the old inequalities. In fact there are very few female DJ´s and producers. Exceptions are DJ Marusha or the Dutch Miss DJAX ( DJ and founder of the record label DJAX UP BEATS). Girls are less involved into active producing of music and djaying, therefore they are not found that often in the record shops to listen to and buy new records on vinyl for the dejaying on weekends.
The raver´s paradise. All-day politics or just commercial hype?
"There are so many dangers (drugs, sex alcohol....) so many social and political issues ... that rave turns away from this heavy load headlong into a culture of avoidance and almost pure abandonment." (Mc Robbie 1995:172)
It is quite obvious to a point that the ravers want to escape from
the burden of the responsibility they are expected to carry because the rave
event is a suspension of everyday rules. Ravers are not able to transfer these
virtual experiences into reality, because it only functions for the virtual
space of the rave event.
That leads to the question whether a dance movement like techno could have a political impact. To discover a political message in a culture which ask from its fans to `shut up and dance´ (McRobbie) one has to look closely to notice that immersion in rave (as a parallel to virtual reality into which one emerges) which influences patterns of love and friendship. (McRobbie 1995:172)
In Germany there has to be a social and political impact in a youth culture, a kind of message in the music. This has to be directly expressed in words. Music for amusement and entertaining has the stigma of not being creative. This is an elemental dictum for a lot of researchers of the social and cultural sciences. It derives from the theoretical background based on the statements of the Critical Theory: Movements developing out of the structures or within realm of the "Kulturindustrie" (Adorno 1989) may not have the power to raise a political statement. The lack of a clear message leads to a series theoretical attempts to interpret the phenomenon (the latest attempt: Richard/Neuke Klanten 1996).
The most peculiar example for this discussion: "Does techno have anything to do with politics?" is the argument between the administration of Berlin and the organisizers of the LOVEPARADE over the last years. The LOVEPARADE has to be announced as a political demonstration otherwise the organizers have to pay fees for the cleaning of the KU-DAMM and for the policemen to secure the parade. It becomes a political act because ravers occupy public space just for fun, a party demonstration for peace, a kind of everyday politics. What is more important is that ravers take control over Berlin´s most important representative alley for their purpose. They demonstrate party presence and this puts an end to this discussion by declaring the right to party as an elementary political right (which is an essential one if one considers England´s Criminal Justice Bill). In Germany techno is not interpreted as some kind of political movement which is the case in the UK, otherwise the Berlin administration would have never allowed the Parade.
Beside the question of politics it is a fact that techno is one of the styles together with the HipHop culture that is very fixed on products and brands. It is a consumer´s style reflecting the excessive consumption of western societies. In 1995 there is a complete world of products especially designed for the raver market from clothing (clubwear) and food (energy drinks) to special sports (snowboarding) or raver´s holiday camps (Richard 1995, Techno-Kit).
The differentiated techno style shows the astonishing simultaneous coexistence of subcultural and main stream commercial forms. On the one hand commercialisation attracks new kinds of people who are not familiar with the origin of that dance scene. On the other hand the still existing underground goes back into the small clubs, back to a personal atmosphere and develops something new.
Techno is a very democratic and productive style because it offers - like punk also did - possibilities for many young people to produce and sell their own music. In Germany a new independent national system of producing, distributing and selling electronic dance music has developed: Small labels produce small editions of vinyl records for the direct use by the DJs in the clubs.
Techno has to be accepted as a form of cultural production, a form of "profane culture" (Willis 1991) reflecting social attitudes. To discover a political impact in the youth cultures of the nineties, traditional methods especially those who are based on a division between commercial and authentic styles have to be transformed. Just having fun and to be an excessive consumer can be especially provocative towards a parent generation belonging to the rebellious 1968 generation that tries to live a very reflective and conscious lifestyle (Richard 1995:323).
For the youth cultures of the nineties there are no powerful utopian paroles left which can be reproduced except the hope for a loving peaceful and unifying community. International rave culture could be regarded as an experimental laboratory for the western societies where they could learn that forms of peaceful human relationships still exist. But a direct transfer out of the rave system is not possible.
The rave zone appearing as a virtual paradise before the original sin remains a non- reflective and self-contained zone.
" ... rave is an orgasmatron, a system for generating euphoria and excitement out of nothing, and for no good reason." (Reynolds 1995:106)
Love, peace and unity as the absence of the evil, form the unreal, not transferrable status of the event. It remains a zone without "Begehren" (desire) of Lacan or "Wunsch" (wish) of Freud, a room of plentiness without a deficiency.
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