Chris Riha Freelance Photojournalism
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June 14, 2014
The Affluent Rave / Applied Antrhopology
“You understand, they’ve got a plan for us
I bet you didn’t know that I was dangerous
It must be fate, I found a place for us
I bet you didn’t know someone could love you this much?”
-Big Data, Dangerous
$9 for Budweiser. $10 for a Budweiser with fruity flavors to cover up the fact it’s just shitty Budweiser. $5 per bottle of water (Free, if you were smart enough to walk over to the medic tent and feign hyperventilation. Or bring a Camelbak). $75 for a General Admission ticket if you got them in advance; $120 if you lacked the foresight of weeks of planning, like myself. The imperfect storm of the three day, VIP, late-purchased tickets would set you back over $300. Photographer press credentials were seen on eBay and Craigslist going for up to $800.
This is not the rave for the underemployed or the cash-strapped.
I just wish I’d had enough cash to get drunk.
Most raves aren’t cheap these days, though. You get headlining DJs that fill stadiums with bleacher-shattering bass and synthesized sound. They play the SAMF after-parties in exclusive clubs whose covers are three times that of a SA ticket (And seeing as I just bought a Subway sandwich this morning and paid entirely in quarters and dimes, you can bet your ass I’m not covering one of those anytime soon). Record labels try hard to tap into the electronic dance music crowd these days, throwing insane amounts of cash at DJs—some of whom I’m pretty sure only want to manipulate a large group of people into being their mad, inhuman thralls.
I hate to sound like the cranky old bastard (I don’t, actually. Being a cranky bastard is what gets me out of bed in the morning), but in my youth, raves were in dark, cramped spaces, out of the way and concealed in an obscure warehouse in Chinatown. They were dangerous; people got hurt and pickpockets could clean house. There were drugs galore; and experiments with formaldehyde and overdoses by the truck-full. You brought your own booze; because liquor licenses in Illinois are worth the venue’s weight in gold. And the water was either handed out at the door, shot out of a hose at you, or was sold for just a dollar by the old Hispanic or Asian lady who ran the nearby bodega.
Spring Awakening was a far flung departure from the last rave I had the displeasure of attending. And they even had security; nearly an hour waiting in a tight line of mad crazy ravers trying to hide and conceal and crotch their smokes and pills. No unopened packs of cigarettes. No professional cameras—suckers couldn’t tell that my Sony A7 cost nearly twice as much as my “professional” camera. No prescription or over-the-counter meds. In practice, they only stopped about a quarter of the drugs snuck in—and one hopes those kept out were the shitty drugs, laced with whatever the pusher had under his kitchen sink, whose side effects include cannibalism and taser-immunity and Hulk-like strength.
With all that said, you can’t help but appreciate the advantages of the locked down, heavily secured, high priced, search and seizure mentality. Cuts down on violence; gets the knives and guns out of play from the morons, bangers, and paranoids. Not going to get a blade in unless you’re pretty damn clever, or don’t mind compromising your rectal integrity. And pickpockets aren’t going to pay $150 to lift half a dozen empty wallets. It cuts down—but never could eliminate—the drug use, so hopefully we don’t have a bunch of 17 year olds ODing on some meth head’s crazy basement mix of MDMA, formaldehyde, orange juice, and matured cat semen. And it keeps the party as a whole going on despite some of the wayward elements. The cops won’t come in and bust everyone's heads over a few kids sneaking in joints or pills or refilling E-Cigs with a mix of nicotine, flavoring, and LSD.
And now, with all that said, this is what control looks like.
Whatever you may call those of the ‘mainstream’ of this country—the man, the rich-man, the white-man, the straights, the normals—always start off trying to get rid of the outliers that cause trouble—the freaks, the dissidents, the outsiders, the weirdos, the scum. Almost every time during the last American century, this has been met with failure; but was only given up when those in power found a way to profit off the dissidents. The Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s survived and thrived only because the mainstream found a way to turn a profit on African-American culture and music. The Hippies of the 60’s and 70’s bred some of the best American music at free concerts where free drugs and free love ruled the free day. That music now costs $1.29 on iTunes, and the drugs are several times scarier and more expensive. Those music fest's admissions now cost hundreds of dollars, and concert tickets empty your bank account.
The raver and EDM movement started with guys and girls in basements with old turntables and synthesizers with less tech than MS-DOS and five dollar admissions just to cover the free water, with no hope of making a profit in those days. And now, it’s taken over Soldier Field, with four stages of DJs who make millions a year. This isn’t selling out a culture; it’s simply how sub-culture finds its way into the mainstream. This is not supposed to be a rant against consumerism; this is watching capitalist acceptance at work.
It is terribly flawed, there’s no question. The lessons and ideas could get lost. The whys and hows of setting up these massive parties of noise and music become just stories that only a few will ever learn from. The point has to be keeping those lessons and ideas alive, not just propagating the music for the fun and splendor of the dance and movement, and letting the mainstream charge you for the privilege of destroying your ideals.
But I saw something at Spring Awakening. While part of me got the definitive ‘useless Millennial’ vibe from a few, not going to lie.
(Sorry guys, but you know you left the house looking like that)
That wasn't the majority.
As much real expression as madness, maybe. But it’s so damn alive.
The Civil Rights Movement may’ve ended with the mainstream’s profit over black American culture, but it still ended in a win for human rights and African American acceptance and identity. The hippies did the same with Vietnam. Bob Dylan may suck live these days and they’ll charge you an arm and leg to see him, but that culture helped end a senseless war. There’s hope in the Millennials yet, I’m convinced. Every culture that mainstream America absorbs into itself shapes it. Maybe we’ve got a shot at shaping it for the better. Just curious as hell to see how.
But for the love of God, for $10 bucks, at least shape it so I can get something other than fruit-flavored, pseudo-German piss-beer to drink.