Dance music has always been about transcendence, the freedom of the moment, just as raves have always been a vanguard, an explicit harbinger of counter-culture. So it should come as no surprise, even to the most misanthropic, that the events in Georgia have unfolded as they have. It should come as no surprise that solidarity is woven into the culture, into the abstracted and decentralized global community that exists not only on the dancefloor but around the dancers and deejays themselves, wherever they are. Which, for many, was in Tbilisi this last May.
In case you missed it, after a heavily-armed police raid, directed at various clubs including, notably, the world-famous Bassiani, a kaleidoscope of people from world-class DJs, producers, and promoters, to dancers, fans, and techno-heads from all over the globe arrived in Georgia to join the protests, which took the form of a multi-day dance party on the steps of parliament. Lending their voices and the shuffling of their feet to a protest that unfolded with exceedingly minimal overt conflict. Even the encroachment of reactionary counter-protests failed to disrupt the commitment to peace and progress. Giorgi Gakharia, Georgia’s Minister of Internal Affairs, issued an apology and promised improvements to the nation’s draconian drug policies. Rather surprisingly, this has amounted to more than empty placations, as Georgia has since legalized smoking weed across the nation. Swift victory for the protesters and progressives.
Georgia is of course in a somewhat tense social, political, and cultural position, its recent history marred by the economic collapse that characterized the disintegration of the USSR, continued tensions with modern Russia, and ongoing internal conflicts. This is perhaps part of why Tbilisi’s nightlife culture has become such an acclaimed beacon within the dance music world, the underlying counter-cultural tendencies of the rave blossoming in a vibrant city where the realities and memories of instability and conflict are fresh, tangible. The White Noise Movement, a political group aimed at drug decriminalization affiliated with Tbilisi’s underground dance music scene, was a key organizer in the protests that unfolded.
The question is what does this say about dance music culture across the rest of the so-called developed world, much of which is characterized by a long stable sociopolitical context, ossified into beatific civility. Underground dance spaces across the urbane West offer an outlet for us to exercise (or exorcise) our subdued alienation, but they are in most cases only symbolically attached to the teeming undertow of dissent. When the dance space becomes the steps of parliament, you’ve changed the nature of the party.
Dancing – in the way that we do it, in the spaces and communities that we do it – speaks to unity, safety, and freedom. For the musicians, DJs, and dancers of Detroit at the apex of its decline in the 90s, it also spoke to the lingering oppression of systemic racism. For many, many of us today, as then, it speaks to the ongoing process of dehumanization, class warfare, and disenchantment that sometimes seems to be the core ambition of our modern civilization, as so many before. But the step towards turning this exercise in freedom and unity into something that has material social, ultimately political relevance is mostly one yet to be taken. The way in which the dancefloor of the 21st century speaks is passive, offering comfort and solace. We tend to seek escape from our own pain rather than investment in the pain – and attendant causes and motivations – of others. While many of the vestigial and symbolic aspects of the rave-as-revolution continue to exist tangibly within the culture of underground dance music, their impetus is largely paralyzed by the zeitgeist of consumptive commodification that suffocates modern society, reducing them to affectations. This mirrors the trajectory anarchist theory has taken over the past few decades as well, ideals of collective action dissolving into lifestyle-oriented individualism that negates praxis, that allows the capitalist shape of our society take the lead in defining the motivations and behaviors of alienated individuals.
What happened in Tbilisi this last May was a testament to the potential synthesis of this dualism, a coming-together of collectivist effort in the interest of making an impact with all the trappings of the dancefloor, love and camaraderie included. This event has already garnered tangible, material victories in Georgia. There are lessons to be learned here, in a time when the UK, USA, and EU seem in a vaguely surreal state of subdued turmoil, within which the radically progressive communities and microcultures that give rise to the dancefloor underground seem to exist now as tumors, as politically benign as they are impossible to assimilate into the established order of a more ‘polite’ and conservative society. Let’s move them onto the parliament steps. Protests are, after all, much better with a huge sound system.
“Behind the Bassiani helmet stands an angry warrior, who fights for the new ideas and who won’t back down from the struggle for freedom. We won’t stop and will continue to fight against the unjust system and inequality. Thank you very much for your unconditional love and support. In this war for ideas and values our only hope is our truth and people, who have always stood with us.”