The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subcultures

By Hutson, Scott R. | Anthropological Quarterly, January 2000 | Go to article overview

The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subcultures


Hutson, Scott R., Anthropological Quarterly


At raves, young men and women dance to electronic music from dusk to dawn. Previous scholarship treats the rave as a hypertext of pleasure and disappearance. However, such a postmodern view does not attend to the poignant and meaningful spiritual experiences reported by those who go to raves. This article examines claims about altered states of consciousness at raves and the therapeutic results-"spiritual healing"-such states are said to bring. While physiological processes (exhaustive dancing, auditory driving) may contribute to altered states of consciousness, symbolic processes create appropriate frameworks for spiritual healing. Such therapeuticism can be more fully understood in the context of other modern western spiritual subcultures. Placing raves within the context of these other subcultures foregrounds questions for further research. (raves, shamanism, youth culture, American spirituality, symbolic analysis)

Ever had an experience that makes you sit up and re-evaluate all your ideas, thoughts and incidents in your life?'

Introduction

The question above was voiced by a young man who had just returned from a rave: a dance party, usually all night long, featuring loud "techno"2 music, also called electronica, in which participants often reach ecstatic states, occasionally with the help of drugs.' Initially, in the late 1980s, when they first appeared in Britain, raves were underground events, taking place in makeshift and occasionally secretive venues such as warehouses and outdoor fields. By the mid-1990s analysts could comment that "the scale is huge and ever increasing" (McRobbie 1994: 168). Fully licensed and often held in nightclubs, raves now penetrated to the center of British youth culture. Combined attendance at dance events in Great Britain in 1993 reached 50 million, which was substantially more than at "sporting events, cinemas, and all the `live' arts combined" (Thornton 1995: IS). Commercially, the 1993 British rave market brought in approximately $2.7 billion (Thornton 1995: 15). In Germany nearly two million youngsters and post-adolescents united in the so-called "rave nation" of the mid-1990s (Richard and Kruger 1998). Following this initial north European florescence, rave hot spots emerged around the world at Rimini (Italy), Ko Phangan (Thailand), the Balearic Islands (Spain), Goa (India), and coastal Mozambique. Though they have never been as popular in the United States as in Great Britain, raves have been a fixture in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York since the early 1990s and some of techno music's strongest roots are in Detroit and Chicago.

Raves today are remarkably diversified. In fact, in places like London where raves have their deepest roots, the rave "scene" has fragmented into many successor sub-scenes, usually centered on divergent varieties of techno music, such as Big Beat or Drum $`n Bass. Raves in the traditional sense-semi-legal and located in factories and outdoors-are rare. Nevertheless, rave's various offshoots all feature what I believe are the critical elements of rave: dance music, long duration, and ecstatic experience. As in London, most all-night dance parties in U.S. cities with a long tradition of raves have blended into the regular nightclub scene and are no longer called raves. However, in smaller cities and especially in the Midwest (Champion 1998) and the Southeast, raves in the traditional sense are alive and well.'

Demographically, most people who attend raves-often called "ravers"-are between the ages of 15 and 25, thus making rave a "youth" subculture (see Epstein 1998). The socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds of ravers are not nearly so predictable as their ages. For example, early raves in Great Britain attracted people of various backgrounds, mostly from the working classes (Reynolds 1998a: 64). This socially mixed tradition continues today in most urban venues. At the other extreme, in the midwestern United States, for example, most ravers are white and middle class. …

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