The Underground Isn’t Dead

Maybe this is a given to people around the world, but in midwestern America, the culturally-always-two-years-behind part of the world, rave culture is a fragile concept.

Maybe this is a given to people around the world, but in midwestern America, the culturally-always-two-years-behind part of the world, rave culture is a fragile concept. I say fragile in the sense that it’s something that has existed in metropolises like Chicago and Detroit for decades, and as underground culture in smaller localities across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa for not quite as long. EDM is something that has just now seeped into the pop culture of smaller cities, rural suburbs like “Urbandale” and “Coralville” (which, actually, has no coral) are no strangers to the term dubstep — a word still considered imaginary in these same places not four years earlier.

Rave culture has been around for ages as an underground concept, but the arrival of EDM has ushered in a sort of bemoaning amongst many fans (perhaps rightfully so) that it is a bastardization of the trendiest concepts of rave culture with none of the cultural impact or meaning beyond sexualization and profit. I mean, #notallEDM, but most. You get my feelings on it at this point.

That said, there’s also a lot of people bemoaning that this bastardization of so-called “authentic” dance music culture is some how killing or harming the existence of an underground culture and it’s time to straight up say it — this is, and always has been, total bullshit. I say this for three reasons, and these three reasons are three different shows in different cities I have been to since March. I could say this for 12 or 20 or 75 reasons, but this is a blog — let’s be sensible.

The first was SXSW in Austin, Texas. In a fucking utopia of branding and corporate influence making every move they can to associate their names and likenesses with the trendiest audio visual art of the year, there also exists a rigidly anti-capitalist (yet oddly and immensely profitable) electronic music scene for anyone who bothers to walk by Barcelona or Chupacabra or any handful of other venues on 6th or Rainey where artists are playing whatever they goddamn please to massive crowds (who paid no ticket or cover), essentially on rich peoples’ money.

Yes, there is a corporate influence to SXSW that is undeniable and partly toxic at many events — there is also a completely ignorable corporate influence that purely fuels parties where people take advantage of the freebies and proceed not ever giving a fuck about the company again. God bless America and groups and DJs like TeklifeHyperdubMishi KatsuPeligrosa and a handful of others who kept it 100 with consistently amazing talent showcases that were among the freshest and most communal, familial-feeling events I’d attended in years — delightfully void of neon and screaming, I might add.

Reason number two was a mid-May show produced by a rave promotions group called Solar Cathedral in Cedar Rapids, Iowa who hosted a massive, hangar-sized rave for German techno gargantuans, Pan-Pot. Long-time veterans of the likes of BerghainWatergate, and countless venues around the world, SC’s head honcho Matt Rissi raised well over $10,000 to bring the duo to a region with maybe 150,000 people in a 50 mile radius on a good day — almost diametrically split down the middle between those who have had some indoctrintation into midwestern underground rave culture (itself existing for just over two decades at present), and those who couldn’t discern between techno, dubstep, and EDM if they needed to save their thot-raver little sibling (of any gender, mind you — boys are also thots, especially at raves). I digress — the party was simply the coolest I’ve ever seen in the state of Iowa, without contest or question. Nearly 1,100 people turned out in a fairgrounds warehouse the size of a small airplane hangar for a 100% techno line-up, again completely devoid of anything other than dark lighting and decisively non-EDM, yet wholly electronic, influences. The better thing? Nobody fucking complained. People dug on hard techno from gates-open at 9pm to closing at 2am — and then to an afterparty at a strip club until 6am. In rural Iowa. Rissi ended up taking a loss on the event, but the response of Iowa has been universal social media praise, creating a gofundme to recoup his investment, and people asking for more (and getting it with another rave massive and two-day electronic music festival in Central Iowa).

I don’t need a third reason, but I’ll stunt on you. Owen Bones, himself getting interviewed for PressPlay by the homie and recent LA-temporary-transplant Staley Sharples, played a supporting set at Primary in Chicago for Rone, himself a French musician with – you guessed it – a largely underground, far-left of mainstream following in North America. Primary is a swanky nightclub (in the sense of a nightclub wanting you to believe they are swanky) in the Gold Coast (read: richest) neighborhood of Chicago. The fact that the turnout was in the hundreds for the small joint was already great, but the idea that the people were assembled for an artfully-arranged audiovisual presentation from two non-EDM artists in a joint I’d expect big house from. Respect to all parties — it isn’t every day the underground gets such a visible, yet unintrusive pedestal.

You can read this as “hey Josh went to a bunch of cool shows what a bragger” or you can look at it for what it is — some schmuck from Iowa who scraped up some pennies found out that the underground is not only visible, but inviting and accessible in most cities you strike out to look for it. You’re silly or lazy if you don’t. EDM is great and all, it’s a bit constructed fun. I honestly do not hate it, as problematic as I know it can be. I don’t hate it because it hasn’t affected the underground (which I’ve always loved dearly) — an underground which on a worldwide scale has arguably never been stronger.