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2000 MTh Theology and Ethics of Media and Communication New College, Edinburgh University
This Paper is about technology and its impact on the religious imagination of club cultures. In what ways are its search for the essential and the ultimate quality of human life shaped by technology and what are the main features and the operational dynamics of its shared religious imagining of the world?. This brief 3D sketch of the religious imagination of dance cultures, which attempts to trace to its source: the roots of electricity and electronic music technology, is intended to provide a launch pad, which will open a way for theological reflection in further papers: ‘The Vibe of Christ: Exploring Church in Club Cultures’ and the dissertation: Angels in Clubland: Generation E and the Future of Christian Identity.
2. SONIC RE-PUBLIC: EDINBURGH 2
The word Transition, seems to be appearing everywhere at the moment; in: Philosophy, Social Sciences, Politics and Economics, Systems Theory, Cultural and Media Studies, Religious Studies and Theology, storms and floods of change are catching us by surprise; it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict patterns of change. Bio- and Nano-technology, weather systems, market economics, unexpected media events, Internet communications, expanding information flows, travel, digitalisation processes and globalisation, have become too complex, interdependent and chaotic for any one discipline or approach to handle. We need to understand global and historical patterns of change, particularly with respect to the current expansion of global rave and club cultures, but these understanding and critical refection needs to be grounded in their real, live, particular local scenes and city expressions across the world The birth of rave culture in Britain in the late 90’s took everyone by surprise, including those involved. The interpretative lenses were, perhaps too narrow defined, and over-dependant on US writers and thinkers, shaped by a social and religious imagination, which is heavily influenced by their geography, their history, ‘their constitution’, ‘The American Dream’ and shared understanding of generational patterns of flux and change. A linear succession of youth music cultures since the 1960’s ‘should’, if we follow their line of
reasoning, continue as it has in America, rave and dance culture should continue for a short while, then a new ‘generation’ will produce a new ‘thing’, as in the 60’s; young people will grow up, have families and settle into the ‘norms’ of a ‘British’, ‘mainstream’ way of life. It seems the Church in Britain, is not the only institution that expects its youth to come home to its hearth one day. I would like to suggest a slightly different approach; one which widens our understanding of what electronic ‘media’ is, by including, a new, more hidden form of > public media <, one which for many, as in the case of television, press, radio and Internet, can powerfully reorientate the individual to the world and shape his or her religious imagination. The Sonic Hinterland: The Other City of Edinburgh Writer, Nik Cohn, travels and writes about a burgeoning undergrowth of a ‘people’ within England from multiple age groups and subcultures; what he calls the Republic - “a nation within a nation, populated by the millions outside of the Britannic mainstream....their weird and wonderful stories form unlike any vision of England that’s ever existed before. Outlaws, insurgents, rampaging natives and incomers, clubbers, visionaries, street fighters, born against, fetishists, new age travellers, anarchists, graffiti artists, rastas, bikers, squatters, faith healers - their voices capture a world cut loose from tradition and all certainties.” Even within Britain we need to be aware of how much our understanding of the world and its issues are shaped by the communicative medium of television and the British press; it frames, supports and holds together, not only a dynamic core of shared values which are seen to allow debate and mutual opposition, but a particular social and religious imagination that shapes and supports an ‘us’ - within the shores of these Islands. In the ‘other Edinburgh’, moving among groups as diverse as ‘anarchists’, ‘gay culture’, graffiti artists, drug and sexual health workers, community art projects, underground magazine writers, performance poets, DJ’s music collectives and promoters, tarot card readers, jugglers, drumming bands, musicians and artists, there is a feeling of an ‘us’, that is, if represented at all, in the media, it is framed as an experience of the ‘eye’; the core experience of clubbing, in a nightclub is impossible to portray on TV, it is boring to watch and cannot impact the public imagination as a 'visual’ experience. All the people that I know from the above groups, go clubbing. In many
ways it has given many of these distinct groups a shared tethering; a bigger ‘us’, the effect of time space nightime and a shared feeling of being outside British institutional trinity of media, church and state. However, I would argue that club culture is part of a wider global phenomenon of social and religious change, because, at a time of neo-liberal capitalist expansion, it fills a global need at the heart of ‘human identity’. A ‘black hole’, precipitated by superfast change, generated by 20th century, technological development from electricity to communications, ripping people from village, regime, family and tradition.
3. CULTURAL ROOTS, ELECTRONIC ROUTES
It’s the emptiness of the city that puts the wholeness in the music - DJ Derrick May 3.1 UNITED STATES: THE BIRTH OF A NEW MEDIA HYBRID Dance Chroniclers trace the myriad genres of clubbing experience from its roots in what many describe as a kind of ‘black hole’; the sensory and cultural deprivation of urban cities and ghettos in Detroit and Chicago (black soul and disco) and the machine-like city experience of crowded European cities (white punk and electro). In which, the convergence of technologies and artforms exploded, to birth a new media hybrid: Electronic Dance Music. The concept of the new ‘media hybrid’ and its production of new environments and language, is based on the work of Marshall McLuhan. In this case, the joining of computer and music synthesiser, produced a new medium, which found its ‘place’; its environment, through the combination of > record deck and Sound system technology <. The breakthrough occurred when artists ‘accidentally’, used ‘synthesisers’ to produce their own unique sound, rather than emulate acoustic sounds. And, when DJ’s ‘by chance’, stumbled on to the continuous effect of ‘mixing’ records simultaneously, rather than playing records as a linear collection of separate performances. Sampling was introduced, during the early days of ‘Hip-pop’, by adding ‘tape loops’ of sounds and musical performances into the ‘mix’. The ability to achieve the surprise of ‘contrast’ and juxtaposition, often ‘spinning in’, older
rock, funk, soul, classical or well known television, film soundtracks and even extracts from Martin Luther King’s recorded speeches, into the new electronic breakbeats, suddenly brought the world of film and media into the ghetto in a way which smashed the rules of copyright, ownership and production. Through the cobbling together of second hand music and sound technology, artists, DJ’s and crowds discovered that they could reclaim a world which they felt increasingly alienated from. This electric mediated world could now be ‘owned’ and controlled by the ghetto; cut up, stripped down and remixed to produce their new sound, their own interpretation of this world. The overall ‘effect’ produced and experienced by those on the dancefloor, was expressed in terms of a religious encounter; an overwhelming feeling of love and family, unity, joy, catharsis; a homecoming for those experiencing years of poverty, racial and sexual marginalisation, expressed in the language of ‘exodus’ and ‘promised land’. The same technology that exacerbated social deprivation and alienation in the ghettos of New York and the industrial wastelands of Detroit and Chicago, has been recombined, remixed and reconfigured to provide, what many of them regarded as their ‘church’, vibrant techno-communities, trumpeting a message of hope and healing in 3D, in their ‘house of God’; through their ‘House Music’. 3.2 UNITED KINGDOM: 1988 ACID HOUSE AND RAVE CULTURE The UK, increasingly recognised as a cultural and political bridge between the US and Europe proved to be fertile ground for intense growth. Because of the peculiar relationship between State, Media and Public on this small crowded island, reports of abandoned airfields and motorways filled with thousands of its young, dancing to pounding beats, acidic schelches and may have provided the conditions for amplifying the powerful unifying experience of rave. Even the tabloid press and police were praising the new carnival atmosphere among the young; genuinely puzzled at the marked reduction in violent crime and drunkenness on the streets and football matches, until they discovered its ‘real’ source: Ecstasy. The Music Industry and the Alcohol Industry, joined Politicians in the condemnation of their youth ensared by an illegal drugs industry. The fact that the do-it-yourself rave phenomena was decreasing sales in rock music and alcohol consumption, and dancing together for a brief time, almost made youth crime passe’, ofcourse had nothing to do with it. New legislation was passed in
record time outlawing ‘repetitive beats’, forcing the ‘rave’ into the licensed premises of the ‘club’ and from there into the mainstream of British life. The epic mass rave, rather than disappearing, continues now in the more controlled environment of the ‘festival’, whether as pilgrimages to Sunny Ibiza and Ayia Napa or in the current explosion of festivals occurring every year, over a five month period, dotting the countryside of Britain. Why has this curious hybrid of music technology, drugs technology, new forms of art and community become associated with religious experience? Why has it captured the imagination of so many young people across globe at this particular moment in history? Why is sexual and drug experimentation regarded as non-transgressive, celebrated even, by millions of young people at the heart of the club spectacle? Why was it seen as such a threat by the British Establishment? These are issues which worry Social Analysts, Religious Groups and Governments across the world, to many the sheer numbers involved are terrifying. Understanding this global volcano of change or transition in terms of social, political, artistic, economic or cultural factors only go so far in showing us the whole pattern, it is my suspicion that facing up to the effect of our technologies on our senses may give us some of the missing pieces of the puzzle, and in this electronic climate of Internet, communication and information technology, may open new doors to a theological and religious imagination for a global digital age.
4. ELECTRIC LIFE: OUTERING THE IMAGINATION
Marshall McLuhan, argues that we in the west may have completely underestimated the effects of our technologies on our psychic and social well being. “Our world flipped around the year 1900” McLuhan announces; tracing a history of western technologies and its effect on the human psyche and perception. He also contrasts the effect of two key technologies and their broad impact on sensory priority: printing catalysed the visual priority of the eye and electrification catalysed the sonic priority the ear.
McLuhan suggests that over the last century, much of the west has flipped from left brain dominance to right brain dominance, from logical, sequential analysis to holistic pattern recognition. The power of Electricity, according to Eric Davis, has given rise to technologies that outer the self; humans are now ‘beings of vibrating sensation, floating in an infinite sea of pulsing waves that roll and resonate between the synapse and the farthest star’; a techno-animist world soul. Discussions of style, symbols, brands and identity, within subcultural studies focus on this outering of self, but in terms that almost evoke a kind of cartoonish, late-modern techno-medievalism. A world where everything is: ‘out there’; where young people ‘put on’ cultural identities and costumes like protective clothes, and where ‘cool’ brands can act like magical gates to kingdoms of belonging and culture jammers, use magic, media weapons to fire at logos, the Achilles heels’ of the giant corporate monsters that roam our planet. Are are back in the mythic world of tricksters and magic?. The buzz word at the moment is: globalization. A catch-all word for everything global; a New Jerusalem of free exchange and competition, where those outside the gates gain entry by accepting conditions of democracy, debt repayment, disarmament and national policy on education, health and population control. Are we now in the Greco-Roman world with its vision of a sparkling blue heavenly city of marshalled peace and goodwill to all men?. There is no Creator present in these visions of the world, the unpredictable powers that surround us; power outages, weather, money markets and damaging media events have to be fought with or placated in some way. Apart from the magic of ‘redemptive violence’, which Walter Wink sees coursing through the veins of western civilisation, is it not also about, the magic of media craft and the magic of money; whereby the essential currency of the world is: inspiration and temptation; those who capture our imagination, rule.
THOSE WHO CAPTURE OUR IMAGINATION > RULE <
Among the crowds at the Jordan River The western imaginative landscape is far more complex and plural, ofcourse, the main point is that the overall effect of outering on a global scale, is perhaps, making it very difficult to maintain an internal sense of self; the pull to locate causality, authority and allegiance outside oneself in a new global world, is for many, becoming the new quest. A single private self, needs a reasonable amount of ‘outer stability’, the nation state where most of the country orbited a shared allegiance, no longer provides sufficient shelter, from the fragmentation and heat of globalisation; the fragmented private self that is ‘let go’ in the experience of the ecstatic crowd, perhaps may not be felt to be a great price to pay for a more temporary tribal or corporate identity. Through the Outer Gates of the City This ‘outering’, I suggest therefore, has profound implications for the theology and practice of the church among emerging cultures of the western world. It also provides the backdrop to understanding some of the key patterns of religious imagination and perception among club cultures. WHERE, THE ‘INNER’ WORLD OF RELIGIOUS IMAGINATION FLIPS INTO AN OUTER, ANIMATED WORLD, IN THE NOISE AND BUSTLE AND COLOUR OF OUR ENVIRONMENTS; SALVATION COMES IN THE FLESH, THROUGH THE GATES OF OUR CITY, RIDING ON A DONKEY.
5. TECHNOLOGY, VIBRATION AND RELIGIOUS IMAGINATION
Pierre Babin describes the shaping characteristics of an electronic universe in terms of: Vibration, speed, interconnections, dematerialization, globalism and it is these properties, which he asserts, give ‘shape to new moral conditions.’ These are, in a sense, the laws of the electronic jungle that have cut deep into bones, nerves and sinew, intuited and acted out as the prime life mode for the vast majority of people living in Britain today. Coming together to dance, to help each other and to take care of each other, are commonly heard among clubbers; THE REDEMPTION FROM THE ‘DEATH’ OF ISOLATION AND ANOMIE HAS BECOME ONE OF ITS CORE MORAL VALUES. MUSIC CREATES MEANING OUT OF THE NOISE AND CHAOS OF THE CITY, THE GLOBAL THEATRE AND THE COSMOS, OR AS A YOUNG FRIEND OF TEX SAMPLE, EXPRESSES: “I vibrate therefore I am” The vibe (vibration), resonates at the core of club culture’s religious imagination. To experience the vibe is to enter its sensory 3D world; to ‘get it’, to receive and understand the message. I have collected a few of my own themes that borrow from and add to Babin’s list of characteristics, in a way that weaves social and moral concern with the electronic and musical metaphors of clubland, around the language of ‘vibe’, in the context of a shared dynamics of a 3D religious imagination. 5.1 THE VIBE OF THE TRIBE: IMAGINING THE MESSAGE Approaching club cultures from the direction of vocabulary, language,
expression, ideas, stories, reports, one is drenched in a sea of electrical and music metaphors, punctuated by the words and phrases of, what many of them regard, as a lost Christendom. The ‘buzz’ of people and places, the ‘hum’ of systems, the particular ‘vibe’ of a crowd are mixed freely with events and clubs, entitled: Resurrection, Heaven, God’s Kitchen, Home, The Church, Unity, Exodus, Faith, Promised Land, Joy, Hope, Life, Paradise, Eden, The Sunday Service, to name only a few. The music technologies of ‘mixing’, ‘sequencing’ and ‘sampling’, where samples can be taken from any culture, any place, any time in ‘recorded’ history, cut and pasted, resampled, and sequenced into ‘patterns’ alongside performance and live material, arranged into: ‘tracks’: bassline, rhythm track, synth stabs, chords, vocal snips etc. Are then mixed until the ears, the emotions and the body are satisfied, above all it needs to be tested on the dance floor. THE ‘MAGIC’ HAPPENS WHEN THE CROWD GOES WILD; WHEN THEY FEEL IT AS THEIR SOUND, THEIR TUNE, A SCENE CAN COME ALIVE WHEN IT FINDS ITS OWN SOUND; ITS OWN VOICE AND IDENTITY. THE VIBE OF THE TRIBE CAN BE CAPTURED AND CAUGHT BY OTHERS MOST POWERFULLY THROUGH ITS OWN UNIQUE SOUND. WHEN THE POUNDING RHYTHMS, THROBBING BASSLINES AND SKIN TINGLING FILTER EFFECTS ON SYNTH CHORDS AND ACHING STRINGS EVOKE WONDER, BEAUTY AND UNITY - THEY CAN BE IN A WORLD WHERE THE SPIRIT OF THE MUSIC ‘SINGS THEIR SONG’. Vibes are very important to aural cultures, in a world of signals and sonic signs, the whole 3D event of a communication or an interaction can emit vibes through: body language, sounds, attitude, emotions. If these signals differ from what is verbalised or projected to the perceiver, they create dissonance. The ability to feel and hear subtle as well the strong vibes of people, groups, corporations, churches and systems with the body is the ability to discern, and
discernment in an electric culture is survival
This obsession with discernment and the symbolic use of biblical themes to strengthen identities is matched only by an importance attached to process; it matters ‘how’ things are done; the quality of aliveness and the ‘realness’, the musical ‘signature’ of soul and the warmth of passionate human family-like
community, are the supreme values for a growing number of single people who live, travel and work among the increasingly fast, plural, wired cities of SpaceStation Earth.
5.2 THE VIBE OF LIFE: IMAGINING THROUGH MIXING The dynamic mix of technology, art-media and community is the genius of club culture. Club culture knows that humans create culture, so they try to create the kind of culture that they would like to be part of, and they do this by creating their own vibe. Within each scene or genre, one can discern the emphasis, its core message (in its strong vibe/vibration) quite quickly, and how it impacts, resonates, or dissonates with its core community need or projected visual identity-image. PEOPLE ARE DRAWN BECAUSE THEIR BEING RESONATES WITH ‘WHAT ITS ALL ABOUT’, IT HAS A SOUL ‘SIGNATURE’, LIKE THE RECOGNITION OF THE FACE OF A LONG LOST FRIEND, THE RIGHT BRAIN RECOGNISES THE WHOLE PATTERN AND REMEMBERS; BELIEVES BY HEARING A VOICE AND RECOGNISING THE FACE OF A LOGOS. These vibe-signatures can vary widely. The ‘Hip-pop scene’, for example, creates a whole lifestyle because it’s high emphasis on community and neighbourhood, the BPM’s are slow, there is high participation in art and graffiti, and they depend on word of mouth and micro-media. ‘Trance music’, on the other hand, mixes hi-tech effects, hi-machine control, faster BPM’s and epic orchestral shimmers of sound. Public media advertising attracts a more mainstream crowd to huge events, with a more intense but temporary feel of community. Their particular vibe of life is - all in the mix. 5.3 THE EROTIC VIBE: IMAGINING THE INTERFACE In an age of technological convergence through the internet, there exists in club culture, beneath the need for connection and belonging, a struggle to learn ‘how’ to interface as human beings in some essential way, with each other and our technologies. Erik davis, describes two opposing tendencies of electromagnetic imagination; one a gnostic flight from the body into a neoplatonic heaven of pure spirit and the other, a desire to erotically charge the body with soul. The intertwining histories of drugs, music and media technology are quite revealing, not only in their mutual interdependence, but in their electrical convergence toward one goal: stimulation of empathy or desire
through the human nervous system. Where, to vibrate, to stimulate, to inspire, to affect, to be impacted is, increasingly becoming the currency of human exchange that thirsts for an ultimate quality to human life in an electric world. Whether, in football stadiums, shopping centres, new year celebrations, street parties, protests and dance festivals; the desire, as the advertising world of media and communications is becoming increasingly aware of, is too vibrate together - as an epic spectacular public. Welcome to drug:uk, to the big techno-chemical-info-media re-publics of the 3rd millennium, to a world increasingly unable to ‘imagine’ or interface with: spirituality, religion or god without intense stimulation of desire via the body and the human nervous system. Electrical stimulation through the technology of: sonics, sex, drugs and media, may not be the end of the story however, if we listen, we may hear prophetic voices from the margins, or detect novel attitudes of resistance spring up in the most surprising places. Among the diverse, continually shifting scenes and tribes of clubland, these tendencies to fetishise stimulation can vary and mix; the pre-pubescent styled angelic bodies of clubbers at Gatecrasher in Sheffield, are felt to be erotically charged by the playful costumes and body paints, enhanced by the use of ‘Ecstasy’ or ‘MDMA’, which creates a feeling of innocence and asexuality. Club-goers like the combination because women find the ‘asexual vibe’ safe and fun, the erotic costumes are said to ‘give the place a real buzz’, ‘leching is not cool’, another adds. The history of this particular drug can be traced to initial experimentation with MDA (the ‘love drug’ used in seventies gay discos) and PCP (‘angel dust’ - used to help fuel all-night dancing in early house music). IN AN ELECTRIC CULTURE, THE QUEST FOR THE ESSENTIAL, AUTHENTIC QUALITY OF INTERFACE IN A GLOBAL DIGITAL WORLD IS VALUED AS, A KIND OF: INTENSE RESONANCE OR EROTIC INTERPENETRATION. THE MERGE AND UNION OF THE CROWD WITH THE SONIC VIBE AND THE FACE TO FACE PRIORITY OF FRAGILE, SURPRISING, HUMAN EVENTS OF COMMUNION ARE PART OF A SEARCH FOR A QUALITY OF LIFE IN THE HUMAN FLESHY WORLD, THAT CANNOT BE MEDIATED, MECHANISED, REPRODUCED, PROGRAMMED, DIGITISED OR HYPED. IN CITIES WHERE ELECTRONIC TECHNOLOGIES HAVE VIRTUALLY SEVERED HUMAN CONNECTION TO NATURE, THE HUMAN BODY, FOR MANY, IS ALL THAT REMAINS OF THAT CONNECTION, THE
DANCE OF HUMANS AND MACHINES, MAY BE ITS ULTIMATE METAPHOR FOR THE QUEST FOR HUMAN IDENTITY, IN THE MIDST OF THE SATELLITE, THE ANDROID AND THE LIQUIDIZER.
5.4 THE HUMAN VIBE: IMAGINING SOUL The relationship between the fleshly-humane stuff of life and the autonomous control of the machine, runs like a golden dancing thread, through the history of club cultures. In the dynamic tension between bpm (beats per minute) locked computer control of a pounding kick drum with the syncopation of a rumbling bass on the offbeat, moving the body into the ‘way’ of dance and the ‘groove’ of direction. It can be heard in their language of: putting soul back into the machine, into life, into music, our community, our city and our environment. It can be heard in the tension between the love of warm and gritty, ‘analogue’ soul sounds: old analog synths and bass sounds, the crackle of vinyl records, the tape machine, resonance/filter/eq of fm and am radios, contrasting with the pure, platonic, calculating, ‘digital’ clarity of 24 bit-rate samplers and computer hard-drives. None of this would be possible without the engine of clubland: the amplifier and Speakers. PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT FEATURE OF THE CLUB OR FESTIVAL IS ITS ABILITY TO IMMERSE IN A WIDE FREQUENCY RANGE, ESPECIALLY AT BASS AND SUB-BASS LEVELS. THE ‘FREQUENCIES’ NEED TO IMPACT THE BONES OF THE HUMAN BODY IN A WAY THAT BREAKS DOWN INHIBITION AND SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, STIMULATING BODY MOVEMENT AND THE FEELING OF DANCING ‘AS ONE’ WITH THE REST OF THE CROWD. SOUND CAN CREATE A FEELING OF < TERRITORY > THAT CAN < S T R E T C H > AS FAR AS THE RADIUS OF THE SOUND BUBBLE. ‘RHYTHM IN CHAOS’, ‘MOVE ON UP’, ‘LET THE RHYTHM TAKE YOU HIGHER’, ‘LET THE RHYTHM TAKE CONTROL’, ARE WELL KNOWN CLICHED SAMPLES, WHICH ARISE FROM THE CONCERN ABOUT THE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGIES ON HUMAN QUALITY OF LIFE: THE ACCELERATION OF CHANGE AND THE SPEED OF CITY LIFE.
5.5 THE CHILLED VIBE: IMAGINING THE RHYTHM OF LIFE The ability to CONTROL BPM (beats per minute), in speeding up and slowing down the tempo of the beat, altering timbre and emphasising low frequency sounds to create the illusion of ‘slow time’, the use of the ‘chill out’ room and ubiquity of the ‘smoke’ together, creates the effect of slow-motion, that can be carried over into lifestyles of meeting and greeting on the street, taking your time, building a ‘vibe’ of quality friendship and ‘organic’ process over efficiency in partnerships and businesses that can evoke a tribal sensibility. The musical rhythm can also be speeded up to build energy and to simulate and stimulate catharsis, release, joy and feelings of well-being and bliss. The important thing that is felt is that speed can be controlled, that techno-systems can serve as well as control human community. Apart from this ‘virtual’ approach to regulating the flow and speed of life, through computer-control, an important element of the club night, the chill-out room, usually placed away from the noise, the buzz and the crowds, could be a highly innovative, humanising feature of this culture. A culture which is steeped in technology and media, may be recognising, astutely, that the quality of human life is also affected by the speed of living that these technologies generate. Electric moral values, emphasising the dehumanising effects of unbridled systems of accelerating change, may be warn society that humans need time to adapt; that: ‘speed can kill’. They already recognise the need for places and times and spaces of slow motion in the club and on the street. They are already modelling, ways of living, adaptations that allow for human imperfections, difference, psychic disturbance and confusion, lifestyles that value chance meetings on streets, time with strangers and friends. THESE EMERGING HABITS AND SPACES OF LOW-STIMULATION AND SLOW-MOTION - COMMUNITIES AND LIFESTYLES COULD BE A PARTICULAR GIFT THAT CLUB CULTURES MAY BE MODELLING TO THE REST OF SOCIETY, IN A WAY THAT IT EMBRACES NEW TECHNOLOGY, BUT DANCES WITH IT IN A WAY THAT ATTEMPTS TO COAX IT TO SERVE HUMAN COMMUNITY FIRST. HUMAN COMMUNITY AND LIFESTYLE THAT WEAVE IN SLOWER RHYTHMS OF LIFE AND AUTHENTIC RELATING TO AN OTHER - AS AN OTHER, A MYSTERIOUS GIFT, NOT MERELY AN IDENTITY SHAPED BY ITS TECHNO-ARTEFACTS AND CULTURE, ARE SENSIBILITIES
THAT RUMBLE BENEATH THE SURFACE AND SPILL OUT IN CONVERSATION AFTER CONVERSATION; FOR MANY, IT IS AN UNUTTERED SPIRITUAL QUEST, AND THEIR TRUE MEASURE OF THE ‘REALITY’ AND ‘QUALITY’ OF LIFE. 5.6 THE SPIRITUAL VIBE: IMAGINING GOD The externalised religious imagination of club cultures find their most revealing expression in the club space itself. As I proposed in a previous essay, ‘Club Cultures: 21st Century Churches? Exploring Social, Semiotic and Religious patterns of Club Culture’: “the Club night is the ‘ground zero’ of club culture spaces, the primary event which reorientates the individual towards his/her social place, within neighbourhood, city, nation state and global space”. How the 3D environmental space is arranged, often mirrors and shapes certain values and priorities; the cathedral shell can amplify, reverberate, echo and resonate with the religious imagination of the promoters, artists, D.J.’s, and clubbing parishioners. If one imagines a labyrinth. At the edges, we have the streets, the shops, the market, the media, the television and its popular public. On entering the club, we leave that world behind. Moving further in, we meet and greet friends and socialise in the bar area, we may notice the decor or posters, as we move through into the heart of the club, the music gets louder, until we are enveloped in the sound. Around the walls or on hanging sheets we may notice video clips, animations or slides. Moving into the centre of the labyrinth, we arrive at our destination: the dancefloor and join with the crowd, where the pulsing and dancing of light strobes, sounds, smoke and bodies converge together. ALTERNATIVELY, WE COULD IMAGINE THE CLUB AS A SEMISPHERICAL HOUSE OR TEMPLE; AT THE CORE THERE LIES THE DANCEFLOOR, AT THE HEART OF THE SOUND BUBBLE. FROM ABOVE, LIGHTING DANCES AND PULSES TO THE TIME OF THE BEAT, SLICING AND PUNCHING THROUGH THE ATMOSPHERE INTO OUR BODIES. THE SURROUND ENVIRONMENT APPEARS TO BE SECONDARY; VIDEO AND SLIDES ACT MORE LIKE ANIMATED WALLPAPER, EVEN THE DJ IS NOT, USUALLY SEEN - BUT HEARD. IF ONE COMPARES THE CLUB OR DANCE FESTIVAL TO A THEATRE, THEN IT IS THE CLUBBERS THEMSELVES WHO MOVE CENTRE STAGE, IT IS THEY WHO ARE THE THE ACTORS AND PERFORMERS; INTERPRETING
AND IMPROVISING FROM THE SAME SONIC SCRIPT; A HUGE ORCHESTRA PLAYING IN CONCERT OR A MASSIVE CHOIR SINGING IN HARMONIC UNITY IN A ONE-OFF NEVER TO BE REPEATED PERFORMANCE IN WHICH THERE ARE > NO SPECTATORS< 6. CRITICAL REFLECTION Are clubs 3D animated catechisms?, storytelling entities which speak to its adherents about another way in which our world could be ordered; inculcating its inherents about what is essential about human exchange; what should really be valued as the core of human existence?. Or, are they 3D virtual reality temples, crafted by sonic magicians; remixing the old games of ancient mystery rites, under the spinning satellites of a Global Corporate Empire?. A mixture of both? Do they not call into question, perhaps, all religious communal practices as: possible virtual realities; as technology-craft which mirrors or simulates our religious and social imagination; whether of cathedrals and temples, monasteries and Zen gardens, shrines and churches. Tom Beaudoin, in his exploration of Gen-x religion, sees the value of virtual religiosity as a catalyst for reclamation of the real thing; the virtual, in other words, can perform a vital prophetic role. “Virtual liturgy”, he argues: “exposes the amount of ‘simulation’ in a real liturgy, and real liturgies illuminate the amount of ‘reality’ in a virtual liturgy”. Nightclubs, although, untethered to Christian tradition, engage young people in body shaking-arms in the air, all night worship experiences, available every night of the week across Britain, with profound levels of commitment and vibrant participation, making many an evangelical youth services seem decidedly pale in comparison; does this not call into question what ‘real’ liturgy and worship is? Clubbers emphasise: mobile, fluid 24/7 community lifestyles, breaking down boundaries and barriers between race, class and gender, getting people together to care more for each other, mixing technology and art to heal fractured human community, getting together to do something about the anomie and despair of city life at street level; does this not call into question what ‘real’ church and religiosity is? Lastly, what about the core quest of club culture: human identity; asking: are our technologies changing us into virtual humans? Reality, for aural cultures is perceived and measured in the overall effect of an environment or system. Emerging cultures are drawn to immerse themselves
within the ‘sound bubble’, ‘inside’ the environment, where everything comes at us 360°, from every direction, simultaneously, where the spirit, or the vibe of the thing can be experienced. Is the club or street party, a prophetic exposure of the hidden electric currents that we are already immersed in? Is it a virtualisation of that which we have become used to, unconsciously affected by and uncritically dependant upon: the 20th century technologies which are increasingly hardwiring us to, and immersing us in, our hidden electric, media and communication environments?. Are these club events, street parties and festivals, that are lighting up Europe and beyond, like a Christmas tree, forcing the reality of these effects out into the open, in a way which struggles to
a m p l i f y the vital presence of humanness, of bodies, of soul and of
musical meaning, on to the centre stage of our world theatre? Are they alerting us to the potentially dehumanising effects of enveloping our planet in a digital screened enclosure by playing with the wiring and creating virtual underground alternatives? What does become clearer, perhaps in the exploration of a new shared religious imagination among emerging cultures, is that this strange feeling of unity through electronic dance music and the cultural systems they inculcate, may reveal, not only the effects of technology, but their creative adaptation to these effects, adaptations that provide release, freedom, bliss and catharsis, experiences which can often evoke awe, wonder and religious sensibility. IT IS, PERHAPS, THEIR ‘EYE’ IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRANSITIONAL STORM; THEIR CHILL OUT ROOM AT THE HEART OF THE MACHINE-LIKE CITY, THEIR SPACE TO IMAGINE WHAT ‘HUMAN’ MEANS IN AN ELECTROMAGNETIC ENVIRONMENT; WHERE SOUL IS NOW SOUGHT FOR IN THE HUMAN PROCESS, WHERE THE BODY BECOMES THE ELECTRICSONIC, EROTIC INTERFACE AND THE SPIRIT OF A PERSON OR SYSTEM IS DISCERNED IN THE TRANSFORMATIVE EFFECTS OF ITS WHOLE 3D ENVIRONMENT. AND THE REVERSAL OF SENSE PRIORITY TO THE BODY - EAR, WHICH ‘OUTERS’ RELIGIOUS IMAGINATION AMONG WESTERN CULTURE AND ENACTED IN EPIC, DAVIDIC, CELEBRATION BY THE CHILDREN OF
WONDERLAND, MAY EVEN DRAW THE CHURCH, LIKE SAMSON, BACK TO HER JEWISH ROOTS, HER TRUE VOCATION, WHERE THE GOD WE ENCOUNTER IN THE TREMBLING VOICE OF THE PROPHET, AND FEEL IN THE AWKWARD, BROKEN BODY OF HIS SON WILL ONE DAY BREAK THROUGH THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY - AND ALL; A WHOLE WIRED PLANET OF US WILL SEE HIM.
Beaudoin, Tom, Virtual faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X, San Francisco: Jossey - Bass Publishers, 1998. Broughton, Frank and Brewster, Bill, The Manual:The who, the Where, the why of clubland. London: Headline Book Publishing, 1998. Cohn Nik, Yes We Have No: Adventures in Other England. London: Vintage, 2000. Davis, Erik, Techgnosis: myth, magic + mysticism in the age of information. New York: Harmony Books, 1998. Garratt, Sheryl, Adventures in Wonderland: A decade of Club Culture. London: Headline, 1998. Howe, Neil and Strauss William, Millenials Rising: The Next Generation. New York: Vintage, 2000. Klein, Naomi, No Logo. London: Flamingo, 2000. Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co., 1999. Sample, Tex, The Spectacle of Worship in a Wired World: Electronic Culture and the Gathered People of God. Nashville: Abington Press, 1998. Pierre Babin, The New Era in Religious Communication, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991. Reynolds, Simon, Energy Flash: A Journey through Rave Music and Dance Culture, London:Picador, 1998.
Thomson, Paul, Club Cultures: 21st Century Churches? Exploring Social, Semiotic and Religious patterns of Club Culture. 1999. Wink, Walter, The Powers That Be: Theology For A New Millenium. New York: Doubleday, 1989. http://www.mcluhanmedia.com/index.html For example: Howe, Neil and Strauss William, Millenials Rising: The Next Generation. New York: Vintage, 2000. Cohn Nik, Yes We Have No: Adventures in Other England. London: Vintage, 2000. Back Cover, p XV. One of the originators of Detroit Techno in the late eighties, Quoted from: Reynolds, Simon, Energy Flash: A Journey through Rave Music and Dance Culture, London:Picador, 1998. p. 12. The Marshall McLuhan Centre For Communications, develops the theme, tying together a number of his ideas around the concept of the media hybrid and its effects in creating new environments: http://www.mcluhanmedia.com/index.html; INTERNET. The famous squelches from the ‘Acid House’ sound can be traced to: DJ Pierre, Spanky and Herb Jackson reportedly ‘messing around’ with the ‘Roland 303 Bassline’, a synthesiser originally intended to emulate ‘real’ bass sounds in 1987. See: Reynolds, ibid., p. 25. Frankie Knuckles, DJ at Chicago’s, predominantly, black-gay nightclub in the 70’- early80’s:‘The Warehouse’ described it as a ‘Church for people who have fallen from grace’, in: Reynolds, ibid., p. 22. The Criminal Justice Bill became law in 1994. Further details which exploretheir effects on British rave culture can be found in: Broughton, Frank and Brewster, Bill, The Manual:The who, the Where, the why of clubland. London: Headline Book Publishing, 1998. p. 28. Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion. Toronto:Stoddart Publishing, 1999,p. 53. Davis, Erik, Techgnosis: myth, magic + mysticism in the age of information. New York: Harmony Books, 1998, p. 75. See, for example, Ch12. ‘Culture Jamming: Ads Under Attack’, in: Klein, Naomi, No Logo. London: Flamingo, 2000, p. 279-309 Wink, Walter, The Powers That Be: Theology For A New Millenium. New York: Doubleday, 1989.
Luke Ch. 19:30-46 Pierre Babin, The New Era in Religious Communication, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991. p. 41. Sample, Tex, The Spectacle of Worship in a Wired World: Electronic Culture and the Gathered People of God. Nashville: Abington Press, 1998. p. 37. Tex Sample uses this phrase, in his description of storytelling dynamics in spectacles: Sample, ibid., p. 84. Davis, Erik, Techgnosis: myth, magic + mysticism in the age of information. New York: Harmony Books, 1998, p. 75. Garratt, Sheryl, Adventures in Wonderland: A decade of Club Culture. London: Headline, 1998. p. 41. Thomson, Paul, Club Cultures: 21st Century Churches? Exploring Social, Semiotic and Religious patterns of Club Culture. p. 4. Beaudoin, Tom, Virtual faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X, San Francisco: Jossey - Bass Publishers, 1998. p. 39. Matthew Ch. 26: 64