So get this: it was certainly a rave. And by that I mean it had all the definitive elements: thumping music that hits like a fist to the chest, technicolor lights that pulse a-line to the cerebrum, a crowd of young, reaching, general inebriates, close proximity, sweat drenched, always gyrating.
Is this what our generation considers fun? Yes, apparently it is, because by my approximation, it was a damn good show. The general consensus says so, too.
With that said, reviewing a rave strikes me as a strange thing to attempt. The success of one isn’t measured in the music. Few shows are. It’s in the energy, the perceived vivacity of the crowd, the vibrating moments which, in all their elusiveness, are the most potent sort of intangibles.
But to give you an idea, at the show I ran into about a million people I knew, and everyone had these big stupid smiles on their faces. These looks that said something like, “I know, I get it,” which I returned to them, genuinely, because in that place verbal communication is voided by the blurring of everything. Music, light, nearness, drugs, and mutual experience and so on all blends into a surreality that is, when you really get into the swing of it, nearly subconscious — the rhythmic hypnosis of it all, in other words.
What are raves, anyway, but overwhelming assaults on all things sensory? That is, the process of burying and overwhelming the active mind and the willing surrender of the self toward something that is beyond control.
Sure, one could say that goes for other shows, like rock, but what does it more thoroughly than a rave? What’s more blatantly constructed toward that end?
I seriously doubt many go to raves to feel like themselves. And I don’t personally think people go for the music, either. Not strictly; not ultimately.
The music is the label and the vague incentive toward something more: the promise of something greater, like unity, or love, or some other obscure “E” themed emotion that is sort of synonymous with transcendence.
Transcendence … is Steve Aoki a transcendent figure? Hardly. But he’s selling it in a slick package like so many other DJs gallivanting around the world, living something like ideal lives — at least to this generation where DJs are the new rock stars.
Comically, some say Aoki wasn’t even DJ-ing at the show. Apparently, he just puts his music on like a glorified iTunes play-list and just gets drunk (so some say).
Good for him! I hear that, and I think wow, he really gets it, because it was never about performing the music (electro-techno-house-dubstep-whatever) with adroit skill, or displaying instrumental mastery, or even one’s own music.
For the audience, it’s about going out on a Wednesday night and forgetting utterly and completely about Thursday morning. And for the DJ, it’s about providing that.
At this point, Aoki has it on cruise control.
I don’t doubt that there are about a million people who would love to argue with me on that, but I think they’re kidding themselves. The pseudo-performative nature of the DJ is nearly all of its nature. Only rarely do we get someone who actually works outside of that mold, and in all honesty, their live shows generally aren’t as fun as something like Aoki’s when we really face it (though their music might be better).
When we do face it, what raves really are, it becomes clear that they are something we might call sinister. An almost black hole, to speak melodramatically, of collective escapism in which we, the young, assault our numbed senses with the heightened everything so that we may feel.
But hey, it works.
At the end of the night, Aoki jumped into the crowd, his shirt off, his hair all ragged with sweat, and all these people that were rolling and drunk reached out to touch him like he was Jesus reincarnate. And I’m just thinking, this bastard Aoki, what a lucky guy, and then I reached out and tried to touch him, too. It was a good time. Thursday morning, I imagine for many, wasn’t so hot, though.
JAMES O’HARA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.