It’s Friday night 5.00 AM in the weekend of Amsterdam Dance Event. I used to sleep at this time, but today I’m visiting a DGTL, one of the many dance events which is organized this weekend. I’m there with two of friends dancing the whole night on fantastic techno beats. Due to the late time I feel that I actually have no energy left, and my body says that we should better head home. I looked one my friends in his eyes and while we are having eye contact, it seems clear that we are thinking the same at this moment. The environment is too beautiful to go home now. The music is too good to go home now. And most of all, the people who are here now at this party are too pretty and kind to go home now. When I realise what a beautiful place this is, my tiredness vanishes suddenly. We have to stay here till 8.00 PM till the party is over.
The narrative as described above, is about my most recent techno rave party which I have visited. Every now and then I visit techno raves. In my opinion, the experience of such a techno rave is magnificent. This experience is not only the result of the fantastic music which is thrilling through your body, but also the whole atmosphere at these parties contribute to this impressive experience. Since I can say for myself that visiting techno raves is one of my greatest passions, this theme triggered me to discover more about it.
Raves and music festivals are becoming more and more popular. This is not only the case within the techno scene, but festivals in other music genres are growing as well. Especially in the summer season more and more festivals take place. Young people and students in particular seem to be the most important target group for these festivals and parties. Furthermore, festivals (and rave parties) are not only about the music and the artists who are performing. The whole total experience also plays an important role.
The growing popularity of (techno) festivals and raves goes hand in hand with another development. Techno raves are well-known about the high degree of drug use at these parties. The stimulating drug XTC, which is often described as a ‘love drug’, is the most commonly used drug at techno parties. But also other drugs as speed, cocaine or ketamine are used frequently in the clubbing scene. The current clubbing generation is often portrayed as a ‘chemical generation’ (Nabben & Korf, 2011). The number of young people who has ever tried an illicit drug at least once seems to grow as well (Nabben & Korf, 2011). This high degree of drug use can contribute to a terrifying image for an outsider who is not familiar with the techno scene. Mainstream thoughts about illicit drugs are usually quite negative, where drugs is seen as something scary and dangerous. There seems to be some truth in this thought, because the use of (illicit) drugs can indeed be dangerous. The use of XTC for example, can lead to sweating tremendously, depersonalization or an acute depression (Freese et al., 2002). However, these probable dangers are negligible apparently in the eyes of a raver, since many ravers are using drugs frequently.
Judging from my own experience, I can confirm that there is a lot of drug use within the techno scene. When I’m attending a techno rave, it is striking to notice how many people are influenced by a stimulating drug. You don’t have to be a fortune teller to know whether someone has used a hard drug. Facial expressions of ravers betray usually if one has used a drug. All my friends who visit techno raves frequently, also admit that they use a drug most of the times when visiting a rave. Although it is still illegal to use XTC or other drugs at raves, it has become normalized to take a drug on such occasions. Techno raves seem unimaginable without drugs.
Research question & methodology
At first sight, there seems to exist an inextricable relationship between the techno scene and drug use. But what does this mean exactly? If a techno rave is an appropriate place for using drugs, there should be a reason for this phenomenon. In addition, people should have some feelings with this relationship. Therefore, the following research question will be the main point of this essay: ‘’How do young people within the techno scene experience the relationship between drug use and techno raves?’’ In order to answer this research question, I have conducted five depth-interviews with techno ravers. All research participants are aged between 19-24, three male and two female, and are all students at the University of Amsterdam. In order to guarantee the anonymity of my respondents, fake names will be used in the rest of this essay when quotes of my research participants are used.
The main reason for using depth-interviews as research method is because the stories of techno ravers should be understood. These life stories can create a valuable insider perspective of the techno scene. What exactly is the position which a raver takes within the techno scene? Once this position of techno ravers is explored, the next step is to investigate more deeply the research question. Does there really exist a relationship between techno raves and drug use? And what does it mean for a raver to take a stimulating drug on a rave?
The techno scene
Firstly, I will give a general description about the techno music in order to create a clear image of this world. This description is based on both my own experience and the interviews which I have conducted for this research. Let’s begin with the techno music itself: techno is a form of electronic dance music, in which the rhythm of a techno number has the same speed. The melody is often dark, in which the sound if often experienced as ‘space music’. At a techno party, there are several stages where the DJ’s play their music. Depending on the size of a techno party, there are several music stages. There is a dancing floor at each stage, where people dance to the music beats. At one stage sometimes ‘hard’ techno is played, while on the other stage a ‘softer’ form of techno is played. Dance floors are usually decorated with visual art, and laser shows are used in order to give a boost to the atmosphere. Besides the dance floor, there is usually also a ‘chill area’. Dancing the whole time on music beats can be quite tiring, so chill areas are appropriate places to rebuild your energy level.
In the techno scene, an important distinction can be made between festivals and indoor parties. Festivals take place during the summer season in open air, and are characterized by a more complete picture. Besides several stages where music is played by the DJ, festivals consist also of some areas with other attractions. There are hammocks, some extra chill areas at the lake, or you can do a spiritual session in a tent. In other words, festivals are characterized by a more complete image, where the experience of a party is much bigger than just dancing on the dance floor. The ‘dancing’ aspect comes forward more prominently at indoor parties. The dance floor is usually very dark in which light shows have a bigger emphasis than at outdoor festivals. There are fewer opportunities to relax, so a visitor is often bound up to the dance floor and the music which is being played by the DJ. It was mentioned in my interviews that ravers have a slight preference for festivals over indoor parties. Robbert explained that in this way:
I like indoor parties too, but festivals are for me something more special. I’m entering another world, everyone is free, the weather is good, and everyone is in a good mood. And it’s not just about the music at a festival, there are also other attractions. If I’m done for a while with the music, I can go play twister. All those aspects are not available at an indoor party.
During my interviews one of my first questions was usually how ravers ended up in the techno scene. The answers to this question were quite similar. All of my respondents were part of a circle of friends. Those friends were already visiting techno raves on a regular basis, and this consequently raised a curiosity to visit techno parties and festivals too. In other words, initially there were no specific characteristics of techno raves which attracted my respondents. Their involvement in techno raves happened because friends were doing that as well. Though my respondents were introduced into the techno scene by coincidence, they all mentioned that they were still visiting techno parties on a regular basis. Therefore, there should be some motivations why people visit raves. Two motivations came up in my interviews several times. These motivations are the music played at raves, and the good atmosphere experienced at a techno rave. I will elaborate these two aspects now, and it will become clear that ravers experience a strong relationship between drugs and these two aspects.
A first aspect which came up in my interviews was the music played at techno parties. At first sight, it seems obvious that music plays an important role at techno raves. During the time you’re present on a techno party, you’re bound to the music which is played at the stages. As already mentioned, there are usually also some other attractions at techno parties. Nevertheless, the musical and dancing aspect is often seen as the main activity of techno raves. Because of this, one should think that almost all ravers do like techno music. However, three of my research participants mentioned that they do not experience any affinity with techno music itself. Sofie explained that in this way:
I actually hate techno, I even think that you cannot see it as a real music style. It’s just the same beat for 10 minutes long, without any song in the music.
Statements such as this are quite remarkable. There is no any affinity with techno music, but nevertheless Sofie loves it to visit techno parties frequently. Further, Sofie (and other raves too) has to spend approximately 40 euros in order to attend a techno party. Simultaneously, all respondents saw the music as an important factor to visit techno parties, even if an aversion with techno music is experienced. How can this be explained? The answer on to this question can be found in the drug experience of a raver. Out of my interviews became clear (and I can confirm that from my own experience as well), that XTC, among other things, gives you an effect in which music and sounds are experienced in a much more pleasant way than without XTC. Techno music isn’t just music anymore then, but the music turns into the best sound you’ve ever experienced. When my interview with Sofie continued, she mentioned in addition to the previous quote:
I don’t know, if I’m taking XTC the world changes completely. I do not like techno, but at a party the situation is so different. Normally, you dance on a music beat, but when I have used XTC, the music adapts to your dance moves. And that feeling is incredible.
The example of Sofie illustrates that by using drugs the meaning of techno music changes. This changing function of music is experienced as one of the main ingredients of techno raves. For that reason, Sofie and other ravers see drug use indeed as a condition to visit techno parties, and therefore experience a strong relationship between drug use and raves. Without the drugs, they won’t be able to enjoy the party. However, not all of my research participants shared the view of Sofie. Some of them have more appreciation for techno music in daily life. Dewi and Bram mentioned that they listened to techno music in their spare time too, and that this music can help them to get through the day. Therefore, Dewi and Bram don’t need drugs necessarily. This was caused, among other things, by the fact that they’re able to enjoy the techno music without using a drug, and experience to a lesser extent a changing function of music. That doesn’t mean that people such as Dewi and Bram don’t take drugs. They brought up that taking a pill on a techno rave can contribute to a magnificent experience, but they do not see it as a main condition. Bram looked a bit astonished when I asked him whether taking drugs is a condition to visit a techno party:
Of course it is not an obligation. Don’t get me wrong, I love the effects of some drugs. But the day before a festival I’m busier with other things such as the line-up. I’m thinking then, oohw I would like to see him, ooh and I would like to see him too! I get more excited about the music than the probable effects of the drug which I’m going to experience. And sometimes I even do not take a drug, because I’m satisfied with the situation as it is at that moment.
Bram remarked in addition that the musical experience at a rave is the most significant factor whether a rave is a successful rave. Drugs can strengthen the musical experience, and in that sense Bram also experience a ‘changing function of music.’ But this changing function of music and other positive effects of drugs are obviously not the most significant things on a rave for Bram. Thus, there is a clear division between techno music lovers and non-techno music lovers. The first group does not see a necessity to take a drug on a rave. That does not mean that the techno lovers do not take drugs most of the time on raves. The motivations for taking drugs only differs sharply with the non-techno music lovers, who see the drug experience as the main ingredient, which allows them to enjoy the music.
Considering this sharp division within the techno scene, it may be interesting to cite the concept of ‘cultural hierarchies’ (Thornton, 1995). This means that in each subculture exist a hierarchy of their members. This hierarchy is determined, among other things, by a division of the ‘hip’ and the ‘mainstream’ within the subculture (Thornton, 1995). Although the division of the hip and the mainstream was originally introduced to define a particular subculture against another subculture, it can be applied now within one subculture, namely the techno subculture. There seem to be two different groups within the techno scene. On the one hand, the group of ravers who do like techno music, and on the other hand, the group of ravers who do not have any affinity with techno music. The ‘techno music lovers’ see themselves as the leaders of the subculture, and can therefore be viewed as the ‘hip’ category. Dewi, who identifies herself as techno music lover (just like Bram), explained that in the following way:
I’m disappointed in some people who are visiting a techno rave. I’m there with my friends for a musical experience, but some people are taking too much drug, don’t have self –control anymore, and are primarily on a rave to go as ‘hard as possible’. I’m thinking then, ‘what are you doing here’? These kinds of people are messing up the atmosphere on parties.
Dewi seems to have little understanding for some groups of people who attend techno parties. In that sense, she appropriates for herself a higher status within the techno scene on grounds of her advanced musical knowledge in comparison with others. In terms of Thornton’s theory, Dewi appropriates for herself a ‘hip’ status, whereas she gives other people within the scene an inferior status, which can be seen as the mainstream group.
Another aspect which came up often in my interviews was the atmosphere experienced at a techno rave. A few general quotes which were often mentioned in my interviews are ‘everyone is so pretty’, ‘ nobody is judging each other’ and ‘ it’s one big spacing community’. Thus, the good atmosphere primarily is expressed in terms of a ‘good click’ with other people. For this reason, the concept of ‘solidarity’ is applicable in this situation. Ravers experience at techno raves a high degree of solidarity towards other ravers. Many different theories about solidarity exist, but a general definition is that ‘’solidarity generally refers to the degree or type of integration in a society or within a social group’’ (Kavanaugh & Anderson, 2008, pp. 184). A high degree of solidarity can result consequently in a stronger collective identity of certain music scenes (Bennett, 1999).
The link between raves and solidarity within the electronic dance music style has been researched before (Kavanaugh & Anderson, 2008). This relationship seems to be complicated, but anyway, exist out of two components. On the one hand, solidarity within the techno scene seems to be caused by the ‘sense of belonging for other participants’ (Thornton, 1995; Kavanaugh & Anderson, 2008). This means that by being together, and dancing with each other, a certain connection with other ravers is created. Some studies even suggest that raves can function as a ‘meaningful spiritual experience’, which can contribute to an even greater solidarity (Hutson, 2000). On the other hand, solidarity within the techno scene is seen as a direct consequence of drug use. XTC in particular, is well-known for the emphatic effects towards other people. Due to the effects of XTC or other drugs, the solidarity towards other people should increase tremendously (Kavanaugh & Anderson, 2008). From this perspective, drug-use is seen as the primary cause of solidarity. This should mean that without drugs, solidarity won’t be imaginable within the techno scene.
Thus, there is ongoing debate about the role of drugs in creating solidarity within the clubbing scene. Since all of my research participants do experience a high degree of solidarity, it may be interesting in which way they experience the role of drugs towards solidarity. So, when a research participant mentioned something about solidarity, I tried to anticipate on this. I would like to show one example of that. During an interview with Thijs, he was very enthusiastic about ‘Pleinvrees’, a techno rave which Thijs visited one week ago. He couldn’t stop talking about all the beautiful experiences on Pleinvrees:
Thijs: Everyone was my best friend on Pleinvrees. Everyone had beautiful haircuts and beautiful shoes. And the music was soo wauuww magnificent. Everything was just so beautiful.
Me: Do you think that’s because of the XTC that you liked everything?
Thijs: Yeah, definitely. If I wouldn’t use XTC, there wouldn’t be any chance that I like all the shoes and haircuts and all that kind of stuff. But because of that, I was talking with unfamiliar people about the most useless and funny things. A certain interaction arose because of the effects of XTC.
This quote makes clear that solidarity may indeed be a consequence of drug use. Thijs emphasizes that XTC causes several effects which cannot be experienced when you haven’t used drugs. Those effects determine, among other things, what Thijs was doing and feeling on Pleinvrees. Those activities (such as talking with people about their ‘beautiful haircuts’), contributes to a certain interaction which this person wouldn’t do when he hasn’t used XTC. As a result, a stronger solidarity is being created with other ravers. This was one example of how solidarity emerges as consequence of using drugs. However, my interviews show that solidarity can be created in other ways too. Bram mentioned passionately:
If I meet people on parties who are vague acquaintances of mine, people of which you don’t expect that they visit those kinds of parties, then I’m hanging out with these people for the rest of the day sometimes. I even maintained extra friendships with these people after a techno party.
Another side of solidarity is shown here. This quote makes clear that solidarity at techno raves isn’t only caused by the use of drugs, but that also other circumstances can play a role here. This is an example where it is demonstrated that a raver meets familiar people by coincidence. Bram hadn’t expected those people here, which contributes to a higher degree of solidarity. This kind of solidarity fits well with the ‘sense of belonging for other participants’ theory of Thornton (1995). A friendship is created due to being together at one place, in which the solidarity increases.
Thus, both forms of solidarity of Kavanaugh and Anderson (2008) seem to play a role within the techno scene. Solidarity seems to be caused for a large part by the use of drugs, but the ‘sense of belonging’ felt with other participants is at least as important.
The meaning of visiting techno raves
Up till now I have described how ravers experience a techno party, in which the music and the atmosphere were the two most important elements of a rave. But perhaps more interesting is what this really means now. As Thornton (1995, pp. 5) argued, ‘’belonging to a club culture gives alternative interpretations and values to young people; it re-interprets the social world’’. One can wonder whether this reinterpretation of the social world also takes place at techno raves, because it is doubtful whether the techno scene is a subculture. Many visitors are just going to these parties by occasion, and have little affinity with techno music itself. Rather, the concept of a neo-tribe (Bennett, 1999) is better applicable in this case. According to Bennett (1999), youth’s musical and stylistic preferences are fluid and are constantly shifting between different youth culture groups. Since many ravers (at least in this research) are feeling that they’re not a full member of the techno scene, the concept of neo-tribe can be applied perfectly to the techno scene.
If the techno scene is a neo-tribe, what does it mean for the visitors to be part of this neo-tribe? My interviews show that the meaning of raving seems to differ again for each person. On the one hand, techno raves are primarily seen as an experience, which never will be experienced in other settings. Three research participants (Robbert, Sofie and Thijs) view it as an escape from the world, in which only the happening of a techno rave is important at that moment. Robbert explained that in the following way:
You’re having a dream night, where you’re dancing constantly. At this pink cloud you’re escaping from the world for a few hours, where only the party is important then. And that feeling that you don’t have any responsibilities is so enjoyable.
Robbert doesn’t experience any extra meaning in a techno party. He views a techno party as a world where there isn’t any connection with the ordinary world. In that sense, the techno scene isn’t a real subculture, but rather a place where you can release some emotions. Techno raves are experienced as if these parties don’t have a connection with the ordinary world, but rather as separate occasions. This view was shared by Sofie and Thijs, but not by Dewi and Bram. Bram, who attempts to visit techno raves every week, doesn’t see techno raves as an escape from the social world, but rather something which is connected with the ‘ordinary’ world.
From the moment that I started visiting techno parties, my life has changed completely. First I was a bit insecure about myself and was dealing with social problems, but due to raves I noticed there are also other forms of hanging out with other people in a more pleasant way. I’ve gotten more self-confident because of this, and I take this along to daily life.
This quote makes clear that a techno rave can be experienced in several ways. Besides the rave itself, Bram experiences several other aspects such as an increasing self-confidence. This is perhaps an individual case, which decidedly isn’t applicable for each raver. But this example shows the diversity of the techno scene, and that each raver can experience it in their own way. Each raver can give an alternative interpretation to the techno scene. The fact that someone can gain self-confidence from visiting techno raves, is in my opinion a beautiful phenomenon. It was also very surprising for me that someone mentions this. This goes to show that the techno scene is very multidimensional, as I argue in the conclusion.
In order to answer the research question, ‘’How do young people within the techno scene experience the relationship between drug use and techno raves?’’, I have attempted to outline a general image of the techno scene and the role that drugs plays in this scene. Outlining this image was a bit more difficult than I had expected, due to the fact that each respondent within my research had different opinions about the scene, and the position which they take within the scene differed too. Nevertheless, this research has demonstrated that the relationship between drug use and the techno scene is a strong one, but that there are large differences in how this relationship is experienced.
Broadly, there is a division within the techno scene, and this division is a determinant factor for how drugs plays a role within the techno scene. On the one hand, there is group of ravers who every now and then visit techno parties. Robbert, Sofie and Thijs were part of that group within my research. This group has less affinity with techno music and the techno scene in itself. Nevertheless, this group of people enjoys to visit techno parties every now and then. By visiting techno parties, they are able to step out of the ordinary world and to enter a dream world. But in fact, the techno scene doesn’t mean anything special for them. Techno parties are just occasions which this group of people just visit a few times a year. Because these people are visiting these raves just by occasion, drug is something which is inextricable related to this occasion. Drugs, in particular XTC, can make a techno experience much more intense. This intensification of a rave is expressed, among other things, by a changing function of music. This changing function of music is experienced as one of the main ingredients of techno raves for Robbert, Thijs and Sofie. Therefore, taking drugs is seen as necessary in the eyes of this group.
On the other hand, there is also a group of people who see the techno scene as an important part of their identity. Bram and Dewi were part of that group within this research. This group has a strong preference for techno music in daily life, and techno parties are the best occasions to find a sense of belonging. Because of this, they see raves as an alternative lifestyle, where you are together with people with the same preferences as them. Just like the first group, this group also uses drugs at techno raves, but the motivations for using drugs are quite different. There isn’t any necessity to use drugs, but rather the use of drugs can enhance the wonderful experience which it already is.
Because of the fact that the techno scene has grown enormously and just five interviews were conducted, it is quite hard to outline a general image of the techno scene. Each research participant seems to have other motivations for visiting techno raves. This was also the main obstacle during the research process. I was forced to look very far in the research data in order to look for similarities. But perhaps, that’s a characteristic of the techno scene that it is so multidimensional and complex. Nevertheless, techno raves are offering something special for each visitor. Each visitor enjoys these kinds of parties, only the type of this pleasant experience differs strongly.
I look back to this research with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I did this research with much pleasure. The fact I am part of the techno scene myself definitely contributed to this. Conducting the interviews was the most pleasant part of this research by far. I noticed that my research participants shared this view, because I noticed a smile on their face during the interviews constantly. This was true for Bram in particular, who was talking sometimes passionately for a few minutes without I wasn’t able to interrupt him. That shows that people are willing to talk about this topic, and that all of them enjoy it to visit techno raves.
On the other hand, I have experienced difficulties while conducting this research. This was caused primarily because I’m part of the scene myself. Before I started this research, I had expected that being part of this scene would help me, but that was not the case. I had several assumptions when I started this research and especially in the starting point of my research I experienced difficulties with releasing my assumptions. However, the more I continued in my research, the more I realised that the techno scene is multidimensional. All in all, I have conducted this research with pleasure where I have learned a lot.
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