Why does it hurt when the beat misses my heart? The Techno- and House scene's dance, spheres and fashion
Over the past few years, the Techno- and House scene has conquered
a large part of the commercial and parts of the spheres in the alternative discotheques.
It has developed various forms of "celebrating," individual events,
called rave or event, and frequent Techno- or House clubnights. The so-called
raving society, positioning itself in the public in great events like the annual
Mayday- and Loveparade, considers itself a large community, a community with
its own autonomous culture. A new network of new types of comunication like
events, scene-boutiques or record-shops and studios has been developed. The
scene's musical and aesthetical manifestations (flyers, magazines, websites...)
are dominantly characterized by the opportunities computers offer. The Techno-culture
refrains from verbal political statements and sticks to "love, peace and
unity." It is therefore a typical phenomenon of the 90s, which, as a political
demand, "only" seeks the smallest common denominator, a selective
and peaceful social life. Dancing is the consolidating social element at the
centre of the cult-like celebrations. The scene celebrates an ecstatic cult
of the youthful body under its full physical capacity, generated by technical
media. Ordinary time patterns, like a working weeek and a recreational weekend,
In a first step, the approach to the interpretation of the aesthetics of a contemporary style of youth culture will be explained. It will be followed by an analysis of the structural characteristics and patterns of reference of the style reflected in music, dance, clothes, spheres and the internal social formation. The concluding observation positions the scene and its profane every-day culture within a society defined by technical media.
Methodical approach to a current youth culture
Preceding the analysis, the multi-layered methodical apparatus
that is used will be shown. The theoretical background is provided by the Culture
Studies, especially Hebdiges' interpretation of the "secret signs of grace"
of a particular style and the appreciation of the "grounded aesthetics
and profane culture" by Paul Willis, 1991, as well as the vital role of
the Visual Culture (Mirzoeff 1999), aiming at opening up the dogmatic science
of the arts and supplementing the "lingustic turn" with the "pictorial
turn" (W.J.T. Mitchell 1994) without abandoning its semiotic basis.
The major basis is the emphatic participation in representative events of the scene (see e.g. "Hingebung an das Feld", Hitzler/Honer 1991, referring to Wolff 1976), to understand signs, emblems and forms of communication (cf. Trendbüro 2000, Wörterbuch der Szenesprachen) of a scene (see also Girtler 1991, p.384 about the necessity of immersion into the scenes). The first level is the immediate, undetached involvement (the character of the complete participator after Gold 1958., quoted in Flick 1995, p.153). The second level is the documenting, interactive involvement (the character oscillates between the participant as an observer and vice versa), detaching itself through the apparatical view and expressing itself by the photographical and audiovisual documentation of events. Both levels of participating observation have to be characterized as open, unstructured and unsystematical (according to Flick 1995). They serve as a necessary precondition for further enquiries into the matter at hand. Participating observation includes different coordinates, comprising all places of the cultural network, and tries to capture the setting, the complete topology of the scene. Adding to Spradleys social situations (1980, p.78, quoted by Flick 1995, p.160) the microscopic observation focusses predominantly on aesthetical situations, aesthetical activities (dance), objects (clothes) and spheres. The object, in an aesthetic field-research newly to be founded, as it represents the condensation of codes and meanings of the scene, replaces the protocol. Participating observation is the basis for the continuous collection of objects in the Jugendkulturarchiv Frankfurt (www.rz.uni-frankfurt.de/fb09/kunstpaed/indexweb/start), whose immanent analysis of colour, form and material supports the development of the hypothesis. The collection safeguards a small exemplary part of the cultural history of everyday-life. It is mostly ignored by theorists of arts- and design-theory/education, although it is providing major explanatory patterns for the genesis of contemporary languages based on forms (cf. Richard 1990). The collection supports the reconstructing, archaeological dealings with foreign cultures within one's own culture and tries to appreciate cultural practices and codifications of youth cultures.
The perception of the contemporary culture as a "marketing culture" (Bolz, in the CI concept of the Trendbüro Hamburg 1999) requires the observation of the youth culture on its level of consumption, of its own cultural production and its interdependencies in the mechanisms of a commercial market. This means, that an observation of the infrastructure of the market of small boutiques, record-shops and big department stores to appreciate the transfer of forms between generations and to follow the developments of trends and their realization is necessary as well. This includes, for example, visiting major trade-fairs like the Interjeans in Cologne, which generate trends in fashion, to see, how the goods on offer are regionally distributed. The design of scene-wear is highly dependent on local club- and streetwear manufacturers. Open field-research (Girtler 1991, p.386) registers both open (streets, parades) and half-open (clubs and shops) and closed (organisation and executive boards of clubs, Legewie 1991, p.191) settings. The character of the participating and observing scientist is not unlike the role of a trend- or wordscout as a medium or transmitter between target group and successful marketing for particular market segments. The scientist, as an eye-witness and insider, is looking for peculiarities, not, to be sure, to discover a new marketable trend or the early detection of "opinion leaders", a possible equivalent to "key persons" (Flick 1995, p.159), but rather to look for the style's common features, repetitions and stereotypes. The instruments of trend-research (e.g. of the Trendbüro Hamburg), like monitoring and scanning, predominantly aim first of all at the unstructured observation of the scene. On the next level, this method of scanning in trend-research is used, and all cultural products of the scene like flyers, magazines and music-videoclips are analysed. Aesthetic field-research subsequently considers the media-products and objects of the scene and their reception in the media and, via the unstructured collection and condensation of phenomena, creates a hypothetical terminology. The parallel analysis of second- hand observations, photographs and video, is intended to support hypotheses about the observations, with the premise, that no technically produced picture can serve as a document (Flusser), kept in mind. Another step involves putting questions to members of the scene at various events (e.g. Mayday, Nature One) in open interviews, which may, for example, focus on fashion. This self-reflecting statements, however, play only a minor role in the analysis, since this, closely following methods of the arts-sciences, is focussing on the vivid character of the aesthetical manifestations.
The results from these multiple and diverse sources of observation will be combinded by an aesthetically immanent approach, fed by a thorough interpretation of visual signs in everyday-life and the various media of the youth cultures, rather than by theoretical preconceptions like the inflationary secondary sources on Techno.
A semiotic panel (Horx/Wippermann 1996), based on the exact description of the style's aesthetical phenomena, will be developed, e.g for the Techno- and House scene. The manifold process of cultural style-development is thus observed from many directions; the developing cultural universe can be observed in its whole process of cultural reproduction, reproduction in the media and the creation of cultural capital and symbolic added value. The following analysis does not deal with other social implications, subversive strategies and the scene's behaviour in production and consumption. The next step after this analysis, which can only produce statements of limited scope, would be the expansion of the study into a critical theory of style based on the aesthetical manifestation of the scene.
Ride the rhythm: music, dance, cult
A subtly differentiated consideration of the Techno-culture shows
that it is not a homogenous scene, but that the youth culture subsumed under
Techno and House consists of musical trends differing from each other. Modelled
on the places of origin of this music, the clubs in Chicago, Detroit and New
York, where DJs in the mid-80s developed putting-records-on into a new art-form,
this trend of dancemusic, after a complex exchange- and transfer process, develops
in Germany. At the beginning of the 90s it starts to assert itself on a broader,
more commercial basis. The original scene's roots date from the late 60s, when
fully electronic popmusic had its beginnings (Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake and
Palmer, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze or Brian Eno). German pioneers of electronic
pop like Kraftwerk, Neue Deutsche Welle-bands (German New Wave) like DAF or
the Krupps open the way. Techno, House and Drum+Bass have developed various
crossovers and sophistications. Some defining terms may be mentioned here, without
further characterization of the style: House, Trance or Hardtrance, Acid, Goa,
Ambient Intelligent/Minimal Electronic Listening, Gabber, Jungle, Speed Garage,
Electro, Big Beat, Downtempo, Two Step, Illbient (see Richard/Krüger 1997
raver's paradise for an exact description).
House and Techno are dominated by the pulsing rhythm of the bassdrum (the so-called "kicking bassline"), which, to the outsider, let's it sound rather monotonous. The basis of Drum+Beat is the breakbeat, with the bassdrum missing a beat. What in Germany is called House (in the US, in the beginning the whole trend was called House) is centred on vocals reduced to certain phrases. It developed by combining disco-dancemusic from the 70s (like the entirely synthetical Munich Sound of Giorgio Moroder), Boogie, Soul, the so-called PhillySound (e.g. by Barry White) and computer-generated rhythm structures in New York and Chicago.
Decisive principles of the purely synthetical music beside sampling, an electronic method for processing stored components from the archives of musical history, are mixing and re-mixing. The music is not a unified whole; rather, it is assembled from diverse sources, e.g. two vinyl-records on two turn-tables. Re-mixing dates from the introduction of the twelve-inch single in the 70s. Techno turns the method into a working principle: the tracks are not closed, but subject to permanent processing by diverse producers and DJs. The ideal at the beginning is to anonymously produce music, like a machine, exemplified by Kraftwerk. With the expansion of the scene into a mass movement, the ideal of anonymity is dropped. Scenes in youth culture require role models.Thus, the DJ becomes a star. Owing to the great number of raves lasting several days and new clubs, there is a high demand for new DJs. Among the youngsters, the wish to become a DJ replaces the wish to become a rockstar. Therefore, youngsters get the chance to become DJ or even producer, and Techno, like Punk, can be regarded as a democratizing push, which, albeit temporarily, breaks up the established rules of the music business.
For the effectiveness of a new trend in music, beside the "monotony" the strange, "funny noise" is decisive, an era-specific glitch in music, growing into a totemic sign of a new cult of style (Diedrichsen 1994, p.27). From a technical viewpoint a malfunction, for the older listener it is a reproduction of ordinary noise. These sound-interferences, like the 303, scratching, the rave-signal etc., are deliberate manipulations of consumer electronics (Kittler 1989). This misuse leads to "displaced motor functions" in dance, the "funny" motion. Since the 50s, the objection to music and styles of dance follows the same pattern: the older generation complaints about the length of dance events, monotony, volume and the intoxicating ecstasy of the music, whose automatism triggers sick, mad motions and behaviour. Even a pure form of dance music like Techno cannot be completely unpolitical, when it is able to provoke fierce opposition. A liberal generation of parents is stunned by the ecstatic dance movement Techno, just having discovered dancing as a liberating form of self-expression and return to nature (e.g. belly-dancing, African dance) in alternative dancing courses. For the first time in the history of youth cultures mechanisms of dissociation are reversed. The youth culture integrates older dance-enthusiasts. As a countermove, post-adolescent cultures cut themselves off from real "youngsters" and their styles of music and dance in discos and pubs that guarantee a "Techno-free" environment, so that their illusion of perpetual youth, which would not enable them to survive an "allnighter," will hold. In the history of post-war youth cultures the Mods in the 60s were the first (Charleston and Swing preceding them) to celebrate over the whole weekend and to compensate for the lacking physical condition with "speed." The Techno scene chose the synthetical amphetamine Ecstacy, also popular among managers and yuppies. A sedating, "natural" drug like hashish or marijuana, preferred by Hippies, does not fit the concept of the scene. The drug is not supposed to increase the physical capacity, but provides pure, "narcisstic" satisfaction. At first, the legal drug alcohol did not play a dominant role (the exception is Jägermeister, a herbal liqueur), it is rather energy drinks lie Red Bull that do the trick. When Techno became the normal dance event on weekends in the late 90s, alcohol was again to be found more often, implied by a shorter duration of the events.
The dance is not acrobatic, but a marathon-dance requiring stamina
(for the history and categories of adolescent styles of dancing see Richard/Krüger
1995) and a mixture, "sampling" gestures of various cultural backgrounds
just like the music. Not all musical trends of the scene develop their own style
of dancing, like, for example, the "sexy House music", showing more
"pelvis motions" (Günther 1982), i.e. motions of the hips, chest
and bottom. The open style of dancing does not prescribe any elements and leaves
space for improvisations of the dancer. The dance is characterized by a certain
monotony of motions, there is no abrupt alternation between fast and slow motions,
as to be found, for example, in Pogo. Changes in rhythm and breaks are "processed"
by ecstatic cries, not by violent body motions. The almost mechanical stepping
on-the-spot and stamping, the "Techno-jog" or "hamster in his
wheel", performed in a bended collapse-position and related to African
tribal dances, (see Günther 1982) are the characteristc motions of feet
and legs. The English Mods developed the first pure form of a club-dance to
jazz- and soul music (e.g. Tamla Motown, Detroit), which, beside a complicated
leg-work adapted from the twist, showed the turns and hand-loops, which later
were typical of Techno and House.
At first, the Techno- dance scene shows gestures in mime with white gloves, not representing any particular occurence in motion. We find a partial emptying-out of behaviour based on gestures. The spinning movements of arms and the turning of palms can be associated with traditional Balinese dances as well as with Tai Chi and defensive holds in the martial arts. This emphasis on the upper extremities does not correlate with European dance traditions, in which the arms, as in ballett, are kept motionless as stabilising elements. The loop-like motions correspond to the loops in the music. They refer to the circular, the closed forms, which are constantly returning und subject to modulations, to the "being thrown back at yourself", broken up by the feedback provided by other dancers. An opening gesture, however, is the stretching out of arms, pointing to an undefinable yearning expectation of a symbolic or real embrace by other dancers or the whole dancing community. Gasmasks or lollies seal off the body against the outside, so that the dance is a permanent alternation between individual dissociation and opening-up.
Techno- dance is a permanent pose and an excentric collective self-portrayal. Since no individual dancer is able to stand out from the dancing crowd, we find the "gogo-syndrome", the de-professionalized revival of dancing on pedestals, enabling dancers to contrast with others. Gogo-dancing is now an opportunity to show off the male and female bodies proudly and narcisstically, not, in contrast to the 70s, an act similar to striptease.
Raising arms above the head expands the available spaces for dancing. This upward motion of the arms points to the longing to take off ("fly" is the battle-cry of DJ Steve Mason), to leave the gravity of the earth behind. This desire for weightlessness corresponds to the European tradition of dance.
Arms and hands draw figures, which push towards an imaginary expanse of the sky and hint at mentally leaving the real spheres occupied. Music and dance symbolize mobility and locomotion, e.g in parades traversing spaces without a definded destination. Carrying everything with them and close to the body, purses on a chain, small backpacks, items of clothing with a lot of pockets, the scene can leave the earth any time. The dance-space itself is put in motion as well; it moves as a closed spatial entity. To make this possible, all conventional means of transport are used: phenomena like the ravetrain, rave and cruise (ships), camel the move (airplane) or the ravemobile (Cologne Amsterdam) create an immaterial dance-sphere, using the speed in locomotion to leave ordinary life behind. The dancers move on in their steps, and only when they rest switch into the role of on-lookers.The permanent motion of the dancers makes it hard to define a position or point of reference in space. For the first time in the history of adolescent dance cultures the seperation of dance-spheres and surrounding spheres, always adhered to in the past, is abandoned. Everything becomes a dance floor. Dancing is no longer restricted to a small square on the floor.
Techno means an extension of conventional dance-spaces; space-time vectors of dance and dance-spaces point in all directions: a new conquest of vertical spheres (arms, airplane), of horizontal spheres (traversing the dance-space, train, parades) and an extension of the dimension of time (a complete weekend).
Techno as a style of dance allows for the physical presence in some form of virtual reality, a "drifting from normal spheres into spheres not yet covered" (Karcauer).
Ecstasy, dance and religion
The Techno-event creates spheres beyond ordinary life, in which
a desire for a community of equal minds is expressed as well. This latent longing
may quite possibly be equated with seeking a new form of religiosity. Looks
and gestures are often pointing above, dancing leads to ecstasy and mystical
rapture. Pushing towards the above without seeking divinity can be observed
in events like the crusade, which took place in Hamburg and Frankfurt in the
Katharinenkirche in February 1996.
The scene includes the cult-status of music into its style without any detachment and declares itself a religion. In the booklet of the CD "Mayday The Religion" we read, for example: "In music and dance I express myself as a member of a higher community, I have forgotten how to walk and speak and I am towards flying into the air."
The theologian Buschmann finds a diffuse, individual religiosity among adolescents, in spite of diminishing ties to the institutionalized forms of religion (cf. Buschmann 1998). To the Techno-scene a functional concept of religion applies: "Dealing with religious content is less important than the meaning of religious forms of expression." (Dumke 1997, p.208) Form dominates content and meaning and self-statements of religion fade into the background. Techno is described as a "religion of experiences without dogmatism" (Daiber 1992, p.752).
This is definitely true; religion is used as a form, the Techno-scene uses, like other youth cultures, the inventory of religions, but focusses on techniques to create ecstasy and on a community-spirit, rather than on Christian symbolism. The infinite dance on weekends reanimates the spirituality in dancing and avoids the ordinance of observance of silence on the seventh day found in the bible, thereby breaking up the cultural patterns of Christianity. The permanence of dancing and the uninterrupted rhythmical repetitions of bars of the dance-motion reveal an orientation towards non-European, non-Christian cultural backgrounds, like ritual African tribal dances. The necessity of a monotonous rhythm in Techno derives from ethnic techniques to create ecstasy. Traditionally, these have the objective of experiencing the divine in body and soul (cf. ancient Dionysos-cults, dancing dervishes). The exact form and technique of dancing is supposed to lead to ecstasy generated by the body, in which the human being experiences him-/herself as divine, because he/she is seized by a god or a spirit of an ancestor (Günther 1982, p.7). Techno-dance becomes a collective ecstatic experience, with a great number of people crying out mystically enraptured, when the rhythmic structure of the music changes. The difference between ethnic cults, Christianity and Techno-dance is, that with the latter the ecstatic infinite dance is performed by the whole community and not only by a priest, shaman or a few chosen ones.
What's more, ecstasy and rapture turn the dance into a sex-surrogate; passions and narcisstic longings are excessively realized in the rhythmic motions of the body. Thus, this cult represents a technique of self-redemption of the individual. Techno is an up-to-date realization of cult-ecstasy on the basis of structures of the computer-age in an artificial sphere characterized by media-Technology. The existence of a hostile, destructive outside-world, not permitting strong positive feelings like love, creates the desire to be sealed off against it as long as possible. The outside-world represents the spheres of contradictions, while the event-sphere is dominated by the heavenly harmony of the bassdrum and shelters the whole raving community. The dancers do not go through the divine, but the social experience, the communicative existence of people of equal minds and a selective equality of all (cf. Richard 1995).
The evolution of androgyny in the dance
Techno brings about a major change in gender-specific dancing-behaviour.
The unequal relation between on-lookers (mostly male) and dancers (mostly female)
is abandoned, since the whole audience is in constant dancing motion. Dancing
as a harmless opportunity for physical self-experience, as a means of erotic
self-expression and a demonstration of a female care-free mentality (McRobbie
1985, p. 128) has a special meaning for girls and women, while for men, it is
often only an inconvenient and redundant preliminary stage for courting girls.
They only accept the opportunity for male self-affirmation in the performance
of acrobatic elements, as in Rock'n roll and breakdance. For quite a number
of men the mass dance-movement Techno for the first time provides them with
the opportunity to experience the auto-erotic, ecstatic dimension of dancing
and to form their own physical image by consciously choosing a particular style
Male physical images tend to a visual crossing of borders towards the opposite sex, to androgyny. Fashion softens the hardended structures of gender-construction, even though the androgynous forms often only serve an aesthetical differentation. Men wearing make-up or skirts stick to these experimental poses, they rarely are true cross-dressers, transvestites or drag queens. Poofy postures becomes a fashion phenomenon. The decisive fact, however, is, that in the laboratory of Techno-events or House-clubs the visual experiments of redecorating the male physique is possible at all.
The change in male physical images and experiences was largely inspired by the cultural practice of the gay, black minority-culture in the USA, which came to Europe via the early English acid House scene and House clubs in the 90s. For the Techno- and House culture they are "opinion leaders", which through a mixture of "street credibility", black coolness and gay dance-ecstasy can vouch for an authentic party culture (see Poschardt 1995, p. 246). The ecstatic and erotically charged House scene infuses gay physical consciousness as well as forms of celebrations of the homosexual way-of-life and self-confidence, which, like Christopher's Street Day and the London Notting Hill Carnival, are the roots of the Berlin love parade. The male "fashion victims" perform narcisstic poses they get from gay strategies of style and are described, for example, in J. Livingstones film "Paris burning" as "vogueging." Female crossings of borders towards the male gender can also be observed in transformed sports-wear, bulky shoes and the adaption of gay dance-gestures. The scene's cross-dressing strategies demonstrate the weak construction of visual gender-norms.
The shape of the event- and club culture
One feature of the shaping structural principles determining the
style is artificiality. The new structure of the phases of sleeping and staying
awake in the so-called "allnighter", which can last over a whole weekend,
ignores the natural rhythm of day and night. The music with its individual components,
computer-generated, is artificial too. The pitching of the natural voice creates
infantile, Mickey-Mouse-like tones (e.g. in glabber-Techno).
The reference-area childhood demonstrates the deliberate stylistic dissociation from the adult world. The denial of getting older and the cultivation of a shrill infantile taste are the basis for an unprejudiced community and the security of all in the big surrogate family of an event.
Infantile elements dominate the club- and event scene, clearly shown by terms like girlie, cutie, babe or boy. "Heidi"-plaits, hair slides, the miniaturisation of accessories like backpacks, toys (water pistols) and sweets (tablets of lemonade powder on necklaces) are an important stylistic element. The infantile look is comprehensive; even drugs, the ecstasy pills, get a childish face marked with smileys, Fred Flintstone, dinosaurs or dolphins.
The original "girlie-" image of the Techno- and House scene does not create an individualistic anti-feminist social climate (Graw 1997, p. 80). It is not regressive, but gives shelter to girls and young women. Parallely, mostly women and girls symbolize an autonomous and innocent handling of their bodies by using the original girlie-concept of a pre-adolescent and pre-sexual outfit. They show, that sexual attraction is not the objective of the partial exposure. By assigning themselves to an infantile category they signal their desire to be left alone. The demonstration of this barrier shows men that they are untouchable. These also wear large necklaces with wooden pearls and, as a fun-guerilla armed with brightly painted pumpguns, delight themselves in a childish squirting of water from their water-guns. By reverting to infantile elements, men can do without macho-poses for the purpose of being sexually impressive and may try to deal playfully and naturally with the other sex.
Dyed hair and false eye lashes, the loud neon-colours and fabrics like unusual synthetics in clothing point to the artificial and technically generated.
Nature, like sun flowers or green meadows, always apears in artificial reproductions. The emphasis lies on special fabrics, chemically made and designed by man, heavy duty stuff, either water-, fat-, or oil-repellent, not easily inflammable and almost indestructible.
The hermetic isolation of the style in its culminating form, the event, rave or clubnight as the higher level, constitutes another principle. The premises used are closed laboratories, in which various combinations of party people are tried out to create the night's right "chemistry". This hermetic isolation includes certain criteria of exclusion. Like all subcultures, Techno asserts equality within the defined limits of the style, but only there. Social differences, like class or gender, age or political leanings are indeed abandoned during the event, are evened out in dance. Therefore, Techno is a selectively integrating and democratizing adolescent cultural movement, the postulate being met only at the time of the event.
Hermetic exclusion, in Punk or HipHop this also defines events, is not applicable here. However, strict and permanent selective criteria regulate access, e.g. the doorman-policy of the club scene, and create a different kind of social order. Internal hierarchies of the style, like the differentiation between a "dancing, submissive crowd" and a privileged elite of DJs and producers, remain latent. Men regain the advantage in the formerly equal participation of genders in dance and fashion. Dancing temporarily conceals this deep split, which, despite professing "unity", characterizes this scene as well. Just like the Swinging London of the Mods, the classless society in the Techno-scene is only a construct of representation. The internal hierarchy of the style finds expression in a market differentiation of product lines: the CD-compilation is produced for the user, the vinyl-pressing or the white label for the active DJ. These hierarchies are less observable in fashion, but rather in facilities like VIP-lounges, membership cards and strategies of scrutinization.
Beside a social division, the individual body tends to isolate itself symbolically from outer influences by fabrics and accessories. Close-fitting and tight surfaces like neoprene, rubber, synthetics, leather or items like dummies, lollies and gasmasks seal off the body openings, preserve it like a mummy or isolate it from surroundings hostile to the body. Body- heat and energy is stored for an event, like wearing a diving- or space suit, a paradoxical undertaking, since drugs and heat enhance processes like "contamination by radiation."
Changes in perception, e.g. by reducing eye-sight through dark sun glasses or welding goggles, sense of smell and breathing capacity through gas- or coarse-dust masks and freedom of movement in dancing through bulky shoes are counteracted by the immaterial or mental expansion through chemical means, like substances for inhalation (Wick Vaporup) and designer-drugs.
Clothing creates associations pointing beyond the actual fabrics. Clothes are simultaneously an imaginary protection against invisible dangers (lasers, x-rays) or hazardous substances (acids) and a conscious exposure to these dangers. One expression for being "high" after having taken drugs is "being contaminated by radiation;" one musical trend is called acid not only because of the noises generated by the 303 machine.
The literal superficiality is the next structural principle, from which two others, reflection and layer, derive. All clothing, including sleeves and the interior, is shaped at the surface by imprints, sewed-on badges and layout.
Design and formation no longer penetrate deeper dimensions. The special high-tech fabrics turn bodies into reflecting and communicating, thus partially immaterialised reflecting and projecting surfaces, moving between walls of colour created by light. Clothing becomes an image-carrier, a screen, which represents icons, brands and emblems like a permanent frozen image. The body becomes a medium, reproducing the arbitrariness of the symbolism and surrogate-iconography of emblems and signs of the consumer society devoid of content, while displaying it in the figurative context of the style. Layer unfolds in the surface sound pattern of the music by mixing and remixing techniques creating overlaps and interweaving. Labels, i.e. record- or clubwear companies, with a number of sub-labels represent a layered, non-hierarchical structure. Layering in clothing develops from a combination and overlapping of particular temporal elements; items from the past, purchased on flee-markets, and high-tech fabrics from the future are combined. The members of the scene wear many layers of clothing, e.g. T-shirts, on top of each other, creating the practical onion-look. They are tied around the trousers at the front and the back, the imprint well visible. Some layers are turned inside out: underwear becomes a visible partydress. Layering is superficial, like the design of flyers, and therefore remains two-dimensional. Emblems like logos and trademarks are the only parts of clothing that develop depth, created by three-dimensional effects like flashing labels or OpArt structures.
Reflecting labels and neon warning colours correspond to the structural principle of radiation and visibility. The body emits light-signals via electrified, selectively flashing clothes. Luminous sticks, held in the hand, in the mouth or put around the neck, and laser pointers increase the impression. The selection of clothes takes into consideration that the dancing individual only exists when the clothes reflect the light-signals to let the individual stand out from the masses and the surroundings.
Micro-society of the future: symbolic representations
The Techno- and House scene fashion creates a very disparate reference
area, which refers to various functions in society by the expropriation of objects
and structures. The central field of reference, interwoven with all others,
is work. Its adaption by using workwear includes protective and working clothes.
These are durable, especially robust products from the US, which are available
there as items of mass-production (DocMartens, carhartt, Dickies). Two contradicting
spheres of production are visualized, in this case past and future: the sterile
high-tech production of processors and chips, not really requiring physical
contact, working in weightless or virtual worlds with accessories like white
gloves is put alongside the traditional area of manual labour or labour supported
by machines with heavy, bulky protective fabrics, welding goggles, gas- or coarse-dust
masks. Workwear visualizes the transformation from concrete to immaterial labour.
Reflecting jackets of road workers, dustmen, motorway maintenance workers, sewage
workers, shoes of drivers of excavators (e.g. Caterpillar Walking Machines)
promise "real" physical, though low-paid work, held in low esteem.
The road sweeper's jacket is an interesting feature, not only for its warning
colour and reflecting strips, but mostly because it hints at the discrepancy
between waning industrial labour and high-tech and IT-jobs for a few chosen
ones and macjobs, low-paid jobs in the service sector. Furthermore, the symbolism
is taken from a special area of work, work in extreme situations: emergency-,
accident-, disaster relief services and hazardous substances. Concrete borrowings
derive from public security and industriual safety: police, fire brigade, emergency
doctor, security, drug enforcement, disaster relief and permanent emergency
are an ordinary permanent state of affairs in events, symbolized, for example,
by the emergency siren, the rave-signal and terms like mayday. Techno shows
the preparation for survival in x-treme situations. Workwear takes another turn
when it takes up the subject of future work in space. The stylization of "utopian
clothing" (Loschek) takes place closely following visual chiphers of old
and new science-fiction novels, films and TV-shows (Enterprise or Orion crews).
Another field of reference is sport. Sport becomes labour, a perpetual marathon performance. Sports-wear is either directly expropriated or reanimated, like the blue Adidas- sports jackets from the 70s, or succinct parts like their stripes are used. The signalling character of their basic colours and the clear form of their brand-logos make Fila, Helly Hansen or Tommy Hilfiger clothes so popular. As outdoor-wear they use catchy forms and simultaneously high-tech protective fabrics. Sports from which elements are borrowed are motocross, sailing, snowboard, soccer, skiing and skating. The predominant use of outdoor-wear is remarkable. The clothes are not really suitable for warm rooms inside a building and demonstrate a shift of the exterior towards the interior. The interior is simultaneously the interior and the public exterior. The exterior gets entry when the outside world and the public are pulled inside cafes and clubs via the internet.
As a style, Techno is a pardoxical mixture of opposites. "The naturalness" of the naked male trunk, of the partially exposed female body, the natural material and ethnic symbolism, included by musical differentations like goa, contradict the complete synthetic character of the dance. The direct manipulations of and imprints on the surface of the body by tattoos and piercing let the recreated primitive bodies rise above music, light and space in contrast to the Technological inclination.
Nudity and exposure do not unveal a natural body, but a body designed at the surface by workouts and wonderbras, and thus demonstrate the possibility of constructing physical images. Striving for utmost robotization and enhancing alienation can also be found in phenomena like the current shape of platform shoes, the "monsterlette" ("Buffalos").
Revival and old-school elements bear witness to the parallelity of several temporal layers, brought together in style: past, present and future. Etymologically, revival includes the dimension of change in reanimation, for example by reintroducing shining fabrics of the disco-scene of the 70s like satin, lurex, PVC, sequins, paste and the colours gold, silver, copper into the club culture. We also find a return of the plump, misshapen in oversized trousers widening at the calfs, platform shoes and oversized or round shirt collars. The visibly shrill and the high-tech fabrics of the Techno-scene are counteracted by the proletarian small-mindedness and the "bad taste" of the 70s. The "caretaker-look", consisting of sport jackets, vests, plain poly-acrylic sweaters, tank tops in cream and brown colours and correctly parted hair, is considered to be subversive only rather late, if at all.
This new petit-bourgeois small-mindedness, however clearly dissociates itself, like the English mod culture, from the expensive, achievement-orientated conformism of the preppie in the 80s, using the deliberately unspectacular, the unmarked, the cheap proletarian ordinary product.
In contrast, the so-called old school phenomenon in Techno shows a completely new form of self- referring recollection. Reverting to original forms of the style in its stage of development as an internal revival -e.g. the "Adidas old school"-trend of the early 90s, when old synthetic track-suits of the 70s from the HipHop-scene were taken up by ravers, returns in the late 90s (Adidas superstar model)- clearly shows the autopoiesis of systems of youth cultures.
The Techno- and House scene creates a closed symbolic system, transferable
to a lot of places in the world. Style and working life co-exist and are not,
in contrast to Punk, incompatible. As partially identical parallel worlds they
are used for the rehearsal of parallel lifes in a number of virtual and natural
worlds. Important social areas, work, spare-time, sport, struggle, war, management,
emergency, Technology are represented distortedly in a micro-society independent
of a particular location. Like all social formations, the Techno- and House
scene contains hierarchies and is a distorting mirror for characteristics of
the adult world. The values of the society as a whole are unfocussed, exaggerated
or consciously filled with meaningless blanks. The scene, via symbols and emblems,
points abstractly to the future and to Technology. Flashing appliqués
on clothes, small lamps, luminous lollies, laser pointers and other reflecting
radiant items are Technologies of minor complexity, generating an unconscious
image of new Technologies by infantile means.
The Techno- and House scene in events simulates in a pre-Technological stage the existence in a material-physical world, dominated by immaterial impulses and stimuli. The switch between the material and immaterial occurs, as analyzed above, abstractly symbolically via medialized clothing, closely resembling the real Technological processes like "wearable computing."
Motifs like astronaut, cyborg and alien offer a whole spectrum of new physical spheres, reaching from the dicovery of alien life forms to the desire of being extraterrestrial or becoming a Technoid machine. The symbolic robotization of the body, e.g. in certain dance motions, leads to identification with alienation and non-human shapes. The loud hair-colours are not supposed to provoke, like in Punk, but extend the natural spectrum of hair-colours, thought to be to narrow, hinting at a new species. This species requires its own spheres to develop. Techno-discos and temporary megaraves in the 90s take place in, among other venues, vast factory buildings, thereby borrowing from the English wareHouse parties (which were, incidentally, illegal). The club provides a weekly continuity at a concrete location. In Germany, for the big events easily available multi-functional venues are used. To turn the premises into a specific venue for raves, a special design using decorations, light and animations is necessary. On weekends, the Techno- and House scene disappears into these venues, sealed off from ordinary life, for hours on end or even the entire weekend. To make this disappearance perfect, the rooms have to dimmed, so that the "lightning storms" are set off. Computer-generated lighting effects, reduced to a particular colour- spectrum, a lot of white light and stroboscopic flashes are dominant features. Space is transformed into an immaterial cosmos, a parallel world, resembling computer-generated virtual realities. The room, mostly box-shaped and rectangular, becomes a screen, a phenomenon created by effects like stroboscopes, fog and black light. These elements of design refer to the interior of a screen, virtually turned inside out. The colour design of the rooms, reduction of the colour spectrum, a lot of white light, follows the principle of colour seperation; information on the screen is build up by single dots and lines of colour.
Lighting design is not supposed to brighten up the room. Light and projections raise the room into another dimension. The floors are mostly dark, and lighting too shuts off the rooms towards the floor and opens it up towards the above. Room design and clothing suggest a calculated elevation without actually leaving the floor. A good example are the platform shoes, which ensure adhesion to the floor despite weightlessness, an experience similar to the first astronauts'. The stroboscope is not supposed to create an atmospheric room design, but ecstasy and disorientation, the selective suspension of the sense of time and space. The dancers enter a physical-mental sphere, detached from ordinary categories of time and space and determined by abstraction, dissolution of contradictions and of the world of objects. Through the reduction of material objects (e.g. the Berlin Techno club Tresor in its founding years), these rooms do not provide a lot of static points for orientation. It is only the other dancers, who, though disappearing again into the room's darkness, confirm the individual dancer's presence. The scene's yearning for physical contact is supposed to provide the assurance that the other person is actually physically present.
Apart from special chill-out lounges, there are no areas for rest. The rooms do not offer facilities for lingering, being seated or verbal communication, but predominantly for dancing. Objects like platforms, which may or may not be found, are intended for gogo-dancing, letting individual dancers stand out from the crowd, but not for resting. The evacuation of all objects only permits absolutely necessary infrastructural elements like the bar and the DJ-desk.
The scene has taken over dark cellars, bunkers or strongrooms and old power stations. For outsiders, the doorman of the club "Tresor" seems to open the gate to the seven circles of an inferno, in which damned adolescents compulsively fulfill the Sisyphean task of "meaningless dance excesses": fog and smoke clouds and the regular beat of the bassdrum pour out from the door opening. Space, music and light in combination generate a kind of creative elemental force. The combination of acoustic and visual stimuli represents a certain compulsive quality. The "Tresor", the former germ cell of the Berlin Techno scene, with its lockers and bars, symbolizes the voluntary locking up, the shutting out of the outside world. This isolation does also apply to clubs specializing on House-music. However, these rooms have a different design. They over-emphasize material and ornaments. The interiors are characterized by golden frames, red plush, baroque bordello-kitsch (often, the clubs are located in former bordellos, e.g. the "Unique" Düsseldorf's old town), brocade wallpaper, lava-lamps and many accessories which bear witness to a cultivation of the bad and trashy taste of the 70s combined with "baroque from Gelsenkirchen" (proletarian taste with the pretension of sophistication). House dance venues are retro-rooms dominated by objects. The popularity of "sweet" devotional items can be put down to the transfer of the principle of travesty to the general design. This is the artificial-ecstatic exaggeration of the "feminine," pointing to the existence of a gay culture with its own aesthetics. The personal furnishing of these clubs is a hallmark; even a living room can turn into a party room or its model. The world characterized by designer-chic and celebrations in the ruins of former industrial buildings is counteracted by the frowned-upon principle of grandmotherly cosiness and a petit-bourgeois version of a playful drawing room in rococo-design.
After having visited a House-club or a Techno-event as an ecstatic excursion into a virtual future, on early Monday morning, the nightly party nomads reenter ordinary life. Even the illegal parties of the "underground", using anonymous normed and neglected non-locations like tunnels, passage ways, areas beneath motorway bridges, underground garages and building sites, are, in contrast to English raves, not really conspicuous in Germany. These are places of decay or the unfinished, of through traffic, uncomfortable places, not really inviting you to stay. The nightly occupation resembles a racket, the party squatting no longer has anything to do with the appropriation of dwelling space by real squatters. The party nomads are able to find these places everywhere. They do not stick to particular locations.
The parades (Love parade Berlin, Streetparade Zurich, Union Move Munich, Hamburg G-Move...) and processions, numerous now, are their symbol of physical presence in the streets. This means the Techno- and House scene's selective conquest of the street, which formerly wasn't developed as a dance venue by any other scene of youth cultures. It fights for its right to parties and celebrations, which, against the background of the Criminal Justice Bill in England, can be considered a basic right. The occupation of public spheres as a party zone during the day focusses on arterial traffic routes in city-centres. The explosive growth of parades (Love Parade 1994: 100,000 people, 1999: 1 million), the commercialization (MTV, carts of the "Junge Union" <Young Conservatives> on the Love Parade) and their established role as part of the cities' public relations efforts, however, diminishes the subversive character of these public demonstrations of physical presence to a kind of carnival or funfair. This kind of celebration has become part of local customs.
However, parades are only a single ghost-like appearance for one weekend, a self-assurance of the globality of the community. At other times, dance and ecstasy are less public and serve the selective re-appropriation of social abilities to communicate on a local level, even though the exchange of information and energy takes place on the highly reduced level of gestures and visual reflection. The nonverbal dancing gestures embody emission and reception of signals. The momentary existence in spheres/on screen is only confirmed when the bodies are hit by pencils of light, when they reflect light. With a very high requirement of energy, the dancing body produces a minimal dialogue, a binary communication, resembling the computer's heat generation while computing, and also permitting analogies to anonymous and reduced dialogues on the internet. Emphasizing movements of arms and legs as extensions of the body and remaining on the spot hint at parallels to locomotion in cyberspace. In contrast to cyberspace and communication on the internet, the body is involved and its dissociation from the working patterns of the information- and communication society is compensated for. Luminous materials are, because of their own brevity as phenomena of light, no paradoxical antidotes to the fleetiness of the body in the virtual spheres of rave events, but they rather show the inconsistency of a physical existence in virtual spheres. The voluntary transformation of the body into an immaterial, selective phenomenon of light leads to a detachment from communication with other people, while simultaneously seeking this communication. Owing to the lighting design of Techno venues, which produces fragmented motions resembling silent films not shown in real time, the other dancers are perceived as if they perform in such a film, artificial creatures in strange motion.
By dancing as if on screen, the dancers have both entered an area of the media and cyberspace. They do not face the images and projections, but are part of them. Effects, light and music, combined with the dancers, create an abstracted video-clip, projecting nothing but themselves. The consistent repetition and the circling of empty space demonstrate that Techno is an up-to-date stylistic comment on principles of an information- and consumer society.
The analysis above has shown that dance as a nonverbal form of communication, expressing itself in succinct forms and design, in interdependency between music, fashion and spheres, produces an aesthetics that cannot be reduced to the aspect of filling spare-time and having fun, but gives us a shifted comment on social formations. Dance, fashion and the music of the Techno- and House scene are integrating mechanisms, leading to the creation of international tribes, which, as chosen families and communities, partially replace old social bonds and follow community-forming traditions of non-European cultures. The self-labelling as a tribal community and family hints at the fact of a lacking involvement in a greater social pattern, which the scene perceives as a deficiency. Dance and music, by this process of self-tribalization, regain their ritual meaning. As the linking social element they become the focus of cult-like celebrations. This re-ethnification turns negatively perceived and, for social reproduction, unimportant pastimes like dancing, associated states like ecstasy and a monotonous rhythm into positive symbols for trying out new social formations.