A work-colleague was once surprised that I admitted my age, suggesting that I didn’t need to really put that info out there — as obviously, us guys are sensitive about getting older as well. But unfortunately, I can’t really help it with the subject of this post: it ‘dates’ me by default.
Back in the early ’90s, there were these secretive night-time gatherings I would attend called ‘raves’ which seemed to hit their stride around 1992. They copped a lot of bad press; some of it for good reason — but the rest of it I can now surmise was that age-old fear and jealousy that the older generation has about the younger generation, about the things they are getting up to on their own.
I remember one day tuning through the radio, and accidentally coming across a university radio station that was playing this crazy music. I had absolutely no idea what it was, but I jammed in a cassette and started recording. The guy hosting the show, did a ‘what’s-on’ half-way through, talking about events with funny names and giving out 0055 numbers that you could dial on the night to find out where the events were being held.
A few months earlier, I had met a guy at a student council camp who said that he’d been to one of these ‘so-called’ raves. He was a goth in full black clothing with teased Robert Smith hair. He showed a few of us in the dorm room how people danced at raves; it was a kind of wild pumping, both fists alternating up and down; and he told us that the reason some of this music was also called ‘acid’ was that you took ‘acid trips’, a big part of the overall experience.
Now, I wanted to go to one; but it wasn’t until the following year that I would find one to go to, that had the added attraction of projecting old 3-D horror films all night. Being a big fan of horror films, this was my excuse to go.
Well, even though some of my friends didn’t like it, I wasn’t disappointed. I danced all night in completely inappropriate 14-hole Doc Martin boots, and went home the next day with blistered feet. But that was the start of a quick transformation from a spotty alt-punk-metal-grunge teenager, into a full-blown, and possibly very pretentious, raver in baggy gear.
I had no way of estimating numbers in the way that I can now; but the biggest raves around that time were around 2000 people (circus tent-level raves) with the more underground parties being around 300 in derelict warehouses and underground Sydney-city car-parks.
Alas, I didn’t last that long in this scene — about 11 months before hitting peak disillusionment. But there are still lots of aspects of raves that have stayed with me, and one of the things that I often think about are the chill-out rooms.
These were little smaller areas of the event, which would have their own dedicated DJ playing what at that time was widely regarded as ‘ambient’ music. Still very electronic, but not as beat-driven as techno. If you looked at it in black and white, the way I did at the age of 17, techno music and ambient music were opposing, but complementary forces: one was for dancing, the other for relaxing.
Ambient DJs would play new music by the likes of Pete Namlook and Air Liquide, but also Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Klaus Schulze and Popol Vuh — a lot of electronic music from previous decades that was completely new to all of us, who were sprawled out on plush cushions, watching strange projected images on screens, the smell of dewberry spray, or maybe nag-champa incense, permanently indenting on our long-term memory.
Chill-out rooms were the ‘safe spaces’ of back then. If you were having a ‘bad trip’, or just a bad time in general, you could sit in there and regroup. You could catch up with a friend that you hadn’t seen since the last rave and talk excitedly about what new Ingmar Bergman film you just had seen. Or you could relax alone, and let your imagination run off with the music, which was never scary, but soothing and creative.
Chill-out rooms seem to have been something that have sadly disappeared (as far as I know), even though ambient music is still around. I remember asking Johan Agebjorn, who has a great solo ambient project under his own name, about whether he would put on a chill-out type ambient event to perform his work at, and he told me that he had once tried to organize one, but very few people turned up.
Of course, genres of music and youth movements, all move on; they reform as something new, with fresh experiences attached.
But one thing I did realize was that raves were not a sudden bright flash in the middle of a boring century — but were part of a continuous thing, that went back to house music, and disco, but also prog-rock and the whole psychedelic sixties experience. The term ‘rave’ had actually come from English events, like the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave from 1967 which the Beatles performed at — as well as having a connection with Buddy Holly’s song ‘Rave on‘ from 1958. Raving belongs to a beloved tradition, even if secretive and underground.
And although now I think lots of things should be left in the past, I do think some things can be reinvented and brought into the present moment; the idea of Nietzsche’s ‘Eternal Return’; and I think that a good chill-out room should always have a place in the world.
Anyway, here is one more track to end with; Dreamstate Logic is a current maker of ambient music, and would fit right in with a 21st century chill-out room.