Raves, Stranger, Superficiality
„If wandering is the liberation from every given point in space, and thus the conceptional opposite to fixation at such a point, the sociological form of the „stranger“ presents the unity, as it were, of these two characteristics.“
At raves, be they in prestigious, hard to get into and architecturally seductive clubs, or in the middle of secluded forests and abandoned industrial spaces (as tradition has it), everyone is at once a stranger and exceptionally not estranged. We encounter in Georg Simmel’s definition of the “Stranger“ a figure emancipated by its paradoxical relation to space: liberated, independent, objective and always unraveling the possibility of leaving or maybe staying just a little longer. The Stranger is the sympathetic yet distant face we selectively draw our focus to when wandering away from the communal, acoustic and physical transcendence of the dancefloor. The Stranger is the character whose appearance, for whatever reason, seems to entice and accommodate our sedated eagerness for sociability, communication, confession and lengthy verbal articulations supported by variously inflicted states of mind. The Stranger remains antithetical to the estranged, because it is the comprehension of our distance towards this individual as positively connotated potential instead of fear driven concern which enables the exploration of another, or the exploration of ourselves within another. And more than that, it is not only this person who is the Stranger. In that moment, you feel yourself to be, equally and simultaneously, a Stranger, too.
The distance which marks a Stranger cannot be measured in metrics or quantities, it is a semantic distance only felt within the temporality presupposed by such an event as a party or a rave. This temporal space, whose architecture, or better yet, scenography, consists of immobile (rooms, floors, windows, trees) and mobile (people, sounds) elements, is best described as an in-between state outside of normative societal structures and cognitive fundaments, such as our understanding of time and how to “manage” it; liminality is queer-time on limited offer for everyone to indulge in. In this in-between state we are blissfully and entirely inefficient. Inefficiency is powerful and subversive, as is implied by Ulysse Carriere-Bouchard (@deleuzean_catboy) in the following argument about wearing cat ears and making Instagram memes on urinating at Applebee’s: „(…) It’s like a silent queerness that gives itself as pure spectacle, but also it’s a figure that seems inoperative. The catboy radiates inoperativity, it looks clumsy, as if the catboy can’t really do anything. Would you imagine a catboy at work? So it’s somewhat of a destitute figure, because it’s not an individual, it can’t be put to work, it’s just there, like an excessive presence.“
In the spatiality situational to a rave or a techno-club, individuals (as far as they are not present by contractual obligation) lack operative context, tasks and societal roles which must be fulfilled. Excessive presence is the juncture at which the phenomenon of estrangement and the sociological concept of the Stranger violently repel one another. The physical and mental spatiality relevant in the context of party recollections could well be summarized as liminal. While the term’s recent applications (especially in the context of contemporary art discourse) have ranged from loose to utterly disorientating, the present inkling is almost, if not literally, afforded by one of the anthropologists responsible for its original release into the world of many words conveying many meanings: „(…) Society, moreover, is a process in which any living, relatively well-bonded human group alternates between fixed and – to borrow a term from our Japanese friends – “floating worlds.” (…) These liminal areas of time and space – rituals, carnivals, dramas, and latterly films – are open to the play of thought, feelings and will. In them are generated new models, often fantastic, some of which may have sufficient power and plausibility to replace eventually the force-backed political and jural models that control the centers of a society’s ongoing life.“
Liminal as an adjective describing the spatial and cognitive grasp of progressively hedonistic – at times even anarchistic – “floating” parties also implies that partygoers arrive home the following day(s) never quite the same as before their departure. Realizations must and should be made, even if they are simply the acknowledgement for a dire sobriety break. The temporal nature of this carnival (equally stimulant of both the sight and the psyche) is the prerequisite for its ritualistic qualities. Our inhibition of the Stranger role is as much conditioned by the environment, as it is by the nature of our limited access to it. The question remains if, as Strangers, at parties, in clubs, we are merely co-reflections of one another, continuously interacting with ourselves. In which order are we a Stranger? Here we arrive at the ancient philosophical conundrum of where to place the “I” in relation to “think” and “am” and, in this case, “Stranger”.
Often imposing itself above and in direct opposition to the individual Stranger is the “crowd”. In club life terminology the “crowd” plays a pivotal role in the description and assertion of any given party or event. When reflecting upon such experiences the emphasis is therefor often laid on the social body in its elementary appearance – encompassing aesthetic qualities – as a whole. The crowd desirable at a party is often believed to be homogeneously eclectic: not in crushing contradiction with itself but not too repetitive, either. If one ought to reliably report on such matters, one need only but take a good, deep look at what is happening on the dancefloor. The crowd’s complementary success should reflectively shimmer in the general physical involvement and atmosphere therein. If the music and the crowd are in sync, then an otherworldly ecstatic mayhem installs itself like a form of enjoyable mass-hysteria. The observation of this may be easier said than done, for, while expression like “feel the energy” have surely graced the lips of many, if not most, linguistic descriptions of dance parties and concerts, it is sensorially overwhelming and practically improbable to feel or see that energy all at once. Instead, our minds selectively canoe the streams of what we see, graciously copiloted by highlighted fragmentations of what we already know and feel, seeking to harmoniously frame our emotions in harmony with the music. There arises a taxing and at once profoundly empowering, libidinous, transcendent feeling of one’s own wellbeing seeming inseparable from that of the group. This perception may alternate depending on the different potential substances tinting one’s self-reflections and the different external triggers at play, but it remains most convincing that in these ecstatic, physical moments there is little probability that the “I” exists inseparable from its external surroundings. In her essay Ecstasy, Jia Tolentino comparatively reflects on the parallels between theological rituals (hyper-capitalist American evangelical communalism, to be precise) and the testimonies of drug fueled party epiphanies.In binding the knot between these two cultural realms, she recollects the feeling of “decreation” coined by Simone Weil: „Perfect joy excludes even the very feeling of joy, for in the soul filled by the object no corner is left for saying ‚I‘.“
I call bullshit on that. Having arrived at the never resting and perpetually incomplete trap of writing about perception, I can henceforth unmask the “I” as a firm and decisive co-author of this text. It is an essay about me as much as it is about any Stranger, or crowd, or liminal space; actually, probably, considerably more so. An alternate title for this may be “Memoirs of a Mid-Late-Pandemic Party Twink” and it feels positively relieving, joyful even, to offer context and space to the “I”.
It all began in late spring. My patience towards every aspect of my pandemic reality being micro-managed by the state and the supposed morality therein was running thin. When I heard my friend Josef say Kyiv was “sick” and cheap and you could rave there in clubs wearing your surgical mask as a chin scarf, I called my other friend Charlotte and we both decided to have our plane tickets be printed in blue and yellow, thanking Ryanair and the VisitUkraine.today website for facilitating an easy passage towards escapism internally referred to as the “bye-bye-train”. For anyone possessive of able eyesight it was obvious that the crowd of passengers waiting at our designated Gate – Berlin to Kyiv – consisted of two camps: normies juxtaposed by Club Kids. Club Kids today are the nationless, nomadic, young, fashionable, loud and out-of-this-world manic crowd whose faces and bodies are deemed as regulars at world renowned institutions of congregation (I promised myself not to include the B******n word in this essay). Put together, they represent a culture consisting of many little communities and friend-circles. They make situational jokes about “front-left” and dispose of an above-average Instagram following. Everyone in this tribe wears everything and nothing at the same time and they all look hot doing it. They share sprinkles of an invisible dust radiating self-assured, wholesome and unapologetic behavior. I am not describing here a collection of clones, but a vast accumulation of individuals that seemed to live more for and in the moment than anyone I’ve ever before encountered. On which gradual trajectory of shallowness this moment finds itself is debatable, contingent and irrelevant for the interest of my essay. I felt tremendously intimidated and unknowledgeable about where they were sourcing this dust from (no pun intended). And even worse, for the first time in my life I felt comparatively simple. At arrivals, Josef introduced Charlotte and I to his Ukrainian lover Daniel (presently also a friend of mine – who BTW. looks so beautiful seeing him in a club makes you think someone spilled acid in your drink – @danielnikiforow), and we all went from there.
That first night I rejoiced with a part of myself long forgotten and danced so much I left with my spatial senses and cognitive abilities completely disintegrated, drenched in sweat and at last, happy. I will avoid getting into cringy detailed descriptions about how “the beat carried me” and on which “higher level” I got as the closing DJ released RuPaul’s Supermodel (original mix) on us all. The following day, we went back to the same club and continued dancing in the outside area. The architecture of this space, which resembled the concept of an amphitheater with its multiple heighted platforms facing the DJ booth, configurated a panoramic view of semi-nude bodies stacked on top of one another, defying gravity between artificial laser-rays and natural shimmers of sunlight dispersed with occasional outbursts of sporadic stage smoke. One such platform stood out in direct opposition to the others, facing the crowd and not the DJ. I watched as people intermingled on the dancefloor in what seemed like perfect bodily chemistry. I watched their hips and shoulder blades rub on one another and caught flashes of the twinkling black eyes crowning their flirtatious smiles. I watched as individuals entered the radiating crowd and left as a group, and as couples dispersed into the dancefloor shifting their attention to and from one another. I watched tall, muscular gay men make-out in closed groups and different personalities, less conforming of gender norms, uplift each other, laugh and twerk. I watched people asking strangers for water and sharing cigarettes. I watched the lonely dancers as well as the ones constantly holding hands in an infinite group hunt for that one lost friend. The spectacle unfolded in front of me like a constellation of synchronized ever-shifting camps, a moving topography of people’s relationships to themselves and others. Most seemed to partake in these exchanges with an attitude of ease, nonchalance and enjoyment. They looked so comfortable being so close to so many bodies. At every turn they could meet eyes with someone else, mate, and a world of opportunities and exchanges hidden from me would unfold. If observing Club Kids at the airport made me feel comparatively simple, then observing this tableau reminded me that I am also comparatively short.
To meet eyes with someone else, one has to be on the same level; literally and figuratively. The experience of a rave is physical not only within yourself, but also outside yourself. Perspective is determined by architecture and the physicality of the governing body. As the individual height lowers, crowds become harder to navigate. The feeling of not knowing where to stand, who to dance next to and possibly with, the insecurity triggered by people overseeing you as a body, climaxed a history of un-belonging I was battling with for most of my short life. Add to that the body-image beauty ideals of the cis-male gay world in which the tall Adonis reigns on top of the hierarchy and I was left with plenty of reasons to not feel good enough – a me-problem non the less. The self-confrontational spiral triggered by this feeling had to be deserted at all costs. I intuitively climbed the platform opposing the crowd, uplifting myself as I got higher, and continued my observations while unleashing tribal hip shakes, arm swings, chest pops and other sexually connotated moving postures amounting to a full-on performance. While doing so, I kept on watching, this time narcissistically indulging in the certainty that I was being watched in return.
“Uplifting myself as I got higher” became the name of the game and soon before you knew it, my above-ground-level dance routines became a mechanism employed in many clubs and at many parties, on repeat. Privileges and validation came along with it. I had more space to experiment with my dance moves which became increasingly more herculean and racemic. I started wearing puka-shells and second-hand sequence crop tops and military attire that accentuated my glutes and showcased my abs; mirrored sport glasses – also a signature look. I frequented the gym regularly; my physique became more accentuated and my Instagram content more nude. I started addressing virtually everyone by the acronym “babes” and begun collecting colorful stickers on my Iphone case. Validation would come in form of smiles, flirts and passing compliments which made it through the invisible net separating me from the rest of the party, spatially, in the most literal sense: I was always standing somewhere nobody could get me to come down from. I did not yet manage to directly belong but methodizes a way of safely testing my belonging and exuberating copious amounts of dopamine in the process. I think the longest I’ve spent performing on one podium without break is around eight hours. Months passed in till that narcissism became optional. But it did – and in the superfluous performance, the excessive presence with myself and others, I harnessed a form of self-sufficiency that continues to carry me far beyond the Uber ride home. Today, dancing on a platform is a choice and not an obligation.
In her essay titled Dance Until the World Ends, Hannah Baer critiques a handful of cliches associated with rave culture, its institutionalization and the ideologies informative of the widespread situational naivety she seems to address from the shadows of a post-apocalyptic world. In doing so, her observations and the fundament of her arguments are mostly derived from night life and raves experienced during the pandemic in NY and its surrounding boroughs, experiences she attests as being overall undesirable, yet still potentially enriching. While in different socio-political settings, and continents, in a time where locality started being relevant again, Hannah and I shared our fascination for the nuances of the same subject. It is primarily due to this actuality and the stark relatability I felt during the reading of her concise and intelligent writing that I feel the dire need to counter-position myself in opposition to segments of her piece.
Following a short breaking-down of how people go out “the normie way”, exclusively recounted in cynical and economic terms which render any dance venue as only but another vile and exhausted way of making the rich richer, while any action that escapes accusations of transactionalism is looked down upon as a process of “making meaning out of meaninglessness”, she proceeds by stating the following: „This whole process then gets narrated as “subversive,” as a way of being part of a “community,” when in reality people’s dominant emotion in the space is around inclusion/exclusion.“
The emotion described here seems to me a rational intrinsic reaction of the self when confronted with extreme sociologically charged settings. Not seldom does my own mind have to battle this creeping ghost, the ghost of insecurity, as I’ve already made palpable in previous paragraphs about crowds, heights and highs and Strangers. That this obstacle of the psyche is symptomatic of/caused by the lack of community and lack of real subversivism in the act of raving and clubbing does not resonate well with my definition of the former or the latter. It does however neatly tie together the next segment of her piece onto which I will further expand my criticism in more detail. In “Protagonism”, Baer recognizes the potentiality of self-conceptualization and design as positively influenced by the implicit environment in question. „Perhaps one of the sweetest parts of the rave is the part where anyone gets to be a queen, everyone gets to debut their look, everyone gets to experiment with being seen, with feeling themselves.“
According to Baer however, this feeling can only ever be truly consummated by the few, the privileged, the people positioned at higher levels in the hierarchy of the crowd. As a result of this postulation, we can go back to recontextualizing everything within the framework of capitalist commodification as the base for all forms of existence; compare & compete is the indispensable modus operandi. I shall not dispute that people, alerted by the insecurities of a self-conscious mind, can resort to comparison and competition. On the contrary, it is logical that reflexive coping mechanisms mirroring the capitalist logic will be the first to arise in the face of unfamiliarly hedonistic otherworldliness. Ascribing this phenomenon as a consequential product of the rave/club, instead of recognizing it as imported from the dominant capitalist reality habituating the mundane, is errored and miscalculated. The liminal space does not possess, or favor, any one logic or way of thinking over the other. It does not forbid it either. Unlike birth, which really no one ever asks for, going out is a conscious choice, a goal requiring significant amounts of effort, money, travel, time, dedication, insecurity, exhaustion. In the accomplishment of finally arriving, autonomy is granted by implication. You chose this for yourself, what comes next continues the same lineage.
Baer further borrows the term “protagonism” from a recent pamphlet written by Left Roots, a revolutionary think tank whose core manifesto I honestly wouldn’t know how to distinguish from identity politics, which are everything but revolutionary at this point. To save the rave from becoming yet another incitation of self-commodification where the floor is split into losers and winners, she argues, means to center everyone at the party, regardless of age, sex, gender and so on. Kind of like a dancefloor communism where everyone gets to “experiment with feeling themselves” in an equally distributed amount. Everyone is just as centered as everyone else; no one needs to feel left behind or excluded. The hypothetical application of this ideal implies that either everyone at the party is equally responsible for everybody else’s wellbeing and inclusion or that a higher instance, like a multi-functional hyper upgraded awareness team turned micro-management apparatus, needs to oversee and intervene whenever someone is feeling themselves less centered on than someone else. That to me sounds like a party killer.
No one present is actually responsible for lifting you up. You are left to your own devices and have to negotiate and invent your own terms and conditions of how to cope and with what. The liminality we inhabit in this context is valuable because of the exulting immediacy with which pleasure and insecurity strike at once. It forces us to act or leave, be decisive in our choices and the paths we choose to navigate. The rave is not subversive because it forces us to subvert capitalism with our actions, it is subversive because it offers space to strip ourselves away from context, identity and goal, leaving us with a deserted arsenal, an unusually blank rulebook of how to exist and why. Yes, as Baer says, we still make meaning out of meaninglessness while consuming our bodies to extremes, but it is precisely those extremes which present us with new incentives. As we trade the meaninglessness of our daily lives for the meaninglessness of our partying nights (and days), we pause and differentiate between that which seems to be lacking in one or the other. An example of this is how the libertarian set of social principles (as opposed to rules), perpetrated by liminality, afford the potentiality of autonomous self-conduct; a stark contrast in the backdrop of our current reality, a reality in which every action involving contact to anyone other than ourselves is unfortunately polluted and surveilled by omnipresent state governance, and rules.
To those who know me personally it may come as a surprise that this essay is not a mere excuse to overshare lengthy dissections on my Napoleon complex. Having arrived at a conclusory stage, I should very much hope that the double-entendres of this self-case-study have by now made themselves evident in successfully contradicting this assumption. Here is what I’ve learned from raving: in clubs, at parties, like during the rest of our lives, we are always also short of something. This is an essay about coming to terms with oneself in an extreme and performative environment, as well as it is an essay about experimenting with prioritizing the image over the self.
To close this essay, I shall like to make a final excursion into asking why and how shallowness can also be good for us. I’ve so far spent most of my artistic practice critically discussing flatness, the iconographical world as a one-sided code of conduct, in attempting to discover the depth I yearn to compensate with for whenever reality simply comes across as dumb. My attempts continue a lengthy discourse on the affluent role imagery assumes in contemporary experience, exemplified by W.J.T. Mitchell in his text The Pictorial Turn.
While the general public, unless interested in post-modern theoretical discourse, finds it useless to question which parts of our lived experience assimilate more to two dimensional images than abstract notions of what makes reality feel real to us, it remains a common trope to position superficiality on the negative spectrum of characteristics. Acting superficial means being shallow, it means only being interested in the appearance of things and therefor ignorant of the “real” attributes this appearance may mask. People usually assume that naming or identifying something as being shallow automatically signifies you surpassed this shallowness, when, in reality, the image is hardly a force that can still be omitted, let alone ever truly transgressed. As Baudrillard argues, experiencing and reproducing reality through the lens of appearance and spectacle (or image) is already so ingrained into our consciousness that, should we ever succeed at relinquishing all forms of these exterior expressions, the world would probably stop making any sense.
It is consequently pointless to think of shallow things as morally inferior and to denote superficiality as a characteristic of the simple-minded. My experiences partying taught me to rethink flatness, to accept superficiality as a partially indispensable quality of the fabric weaved into contemporary culture and to understand that drifting into the image can also become a method of radical rearrangement, a method of making change possible and easily accessible. Flat pictures are not just consumable and easily digestible, narratives that are one-sided are not just ignorant, people that perform are not just incapable of escaping the icon they’ve already created for themselves. Susan Sontag’s jottings on Camp as aesthetic sensibility and reflective idiom come to mind, and I can not help at find refuge in the following: „(…) To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater.“
In readjusting my appearance to fit the party scenes I inhibited, I was offered an easy passage to inflicting profound and meaningful change within myself, beginning to embody that which I expose. Insecurity, exclusion, anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed with what is in front of you can force you to come up with quick methods of reinvention. They may not be thought thru or filtered as making logical sense with everything else that you choose to do or represent, but you’re not required to ever fully commit to any one identity and, based on that, these self-instatements offer fluidity, ease. They make the act of becoming playful and unrelated to the self-historical narratives which often govern why we can’t be one thing or the other. So, is grinding on a filthy metal bar, surrounded by tonal waves so loud and obnoxious a sober person would faint, on Sunday noon, after eight hours of partying, wearing nothing but puka-shells, nebulous biker glasses and a pair of jocks, thinking about your sweating muscles and letting the music throw away your brain cells like useless garbage actually subversive of capitalism and emancipatory of the self? Absolutely.
 Georg Simmel (1908). Soziologie: Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesellschaftung. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.
 Günseli Yalcinkaya (2021). From 4chan to Theorygram: how catboys became a symbol for the post-left. In: Dazed (online): https://www.dazeddigital.com/science-tech/article/54881/1/deleuzian-cat-boys-the-post-left-and-philosophical-shitposting (15/12/2021).
 Victor W. Turner (1969). The Ritual Process. Penguin Books.
 Jia Tolentino (2019). “Ecstasy” in: Trick Mirror. Reflections on Self-Delusion. 4th Estate.
 Simone Weil (1947). Gravity and Grace. Libraire Plan.
 Dr. Steffen Damm, Lukas Drevenstedt (2019). Club Culture Berlin. Club Commission Berlin e.V.
 Hannah Baer (2021) “Dance Until the World Ends” in: Artforum, Vol 60. Nr. 4.
 Baer (2021).
 I am not implying here that it is in any way acceptable to see someone in serious need of medical (psychological/physical) l help and look away. I should, in addition, stress the contractual common ground agreed to upon entry of such spaces. This entails the pledge not to harass anyone by any physical or verbal means. The violation of this pledge requires enforcement and legitimizes the presence of discreet on-sight management resulting in the offenders’ expulsion.
 W.J.T. Mitchell (1992). “The Pictorial Turn” in: Artforum. Vol. 30. Nr. 7.
 Rex Butler (1999). Jean Baudrillard. The Defense of the Real. Sage Publications.
 Susan Sonntag (1964). Notes on Camp. Penguin UK.