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Wolfgang Sterneck:

ISLANDS

- Party, Tribes and Politics -


Some people think that dance-movement is like an island, but most of them forget that every island is surrounded by an ocean.

My first Techno-Party was in 1990. It was one of those legendary nights with Sven Väth at the Omen-Club in Frankfurt and I was very surprised. The whole club was moving and everywhere people were dancing, even on the tables. Some of the time there were seemingly endless, monotonous tracks, and the dancers began to scream when there was the slightest new element, a new sound. There had been no scene, no party before that night, at which I had found that kind of euphoric and ecstatic atmosphere

In this first night I was mainly an observer: but at the parties which followed I became more and more a part of the party itself. Until that first party I hadn’t danced a lot. At different Independent- and New Wave Parties I had danced for the two or three songs I liked most. But I had been dancing with my head, that means I had thought about how to move my body, how the others might see me, what they thought about my way of dancing. And after my favorite song I soon left the dance floor. At the Techno-Parties I began to dance and didn’t stop. At the beginning I still danced with my head, thought about anything, but then I went more and more into the music itself. My body was moving by itself and in my head there was more and more a kind of emptiness, an emptiness in a positive sense, and I fell into a state of trance.

Until that first Techno party my impression had been that Techno had no message, that Techno was just a new product of the music-industry. The dancing showed me a totally different level: We live in a society, which is based on control and rationality, in which feelings and body are controlled by the mind. With this background such a night is an eruption, Trance and a state of ecstasy are an eruption. And I understood that Techno has a relation to politics. Of course not politics in the normal sense, but politics on a different, deeper level. In a world of intellect and control Techno can become a politics of flowing, a politics of the body, a politics of ecstasy.

Some people think that dance-movement is like an island, but most of them forget that every island is surrounded by an ocean.

If you take Rock’n’Roll, Punk or Techno, all those movements started in the underground as a counterculture, as a separation to the mainstream culture. It was always about social free spaces, about the possibility of self-development, of being creative, of realizing common projects and basically about a self-determined life. And always when the counter-culture ceased to respect certain pre-determined limits, the State and the Establishment hit back.

The development of Elvis Presley is symbolic of this process. At the beginning he had a rebel image; he shocked the parental--generation with his erotic style of dancing. But then there was a clever manager, who smoothed off the edges and within a few years Elvis had become a bloated singer, slushy and schmaltzy, whom mother-in-law found just as good as the former rebellious son. Symbolic too is the history of all those former Punk bands, who first called on their audiences to resist and rebel, but were later signed up by the music-industry and changed to superficial Rock-bands with more or less banal lyrics.

Symbolic too is the development of Techno. At the beginning a turning away from conventional musical structures, from star-cult und commercial business. But it took not very long and the industry recognized the commercial potential. And suddenly there was in Germany a Number1 Hit ”Somewhere over the rainbow” by star DJ Marusha. For sure basically a Techno-track but without any edges, a song with a soothing refrain and a structure like a pop song.

Some people think that dance-movement is like an island, but most of them forget that every island is surrounded by an ocean.

In the middle of the nineties Goa became a new fashion. The Goa scene based on a autonomous connection of elements of the West European and the Indian cultures. Goa parties are known for an especially imaginative decoration, for a special atmosphere, for a mostly very friendly relation between the people and for a search for alternate states of consciousness. The energy of a good Goa party which can hardly be described became an alternative to the more and more commercialized and impersonal mass raves.

But the connection of these cultures lead also to many superficial clichés. Not many people knew the meaning of all those old Indian gods and symbols, which were used on leaflets and decoration materials. Often they were only used to give the party a special atmosphere without considering that some of those symbols stand for absolutely repressive structures, for the caste system and for discrimination against women.

After a time in the underground there were more and more Goa party organizers, who didn’t see a party as a common celebration, but as an event to squeeze in as many people and to squeeze out as much profit as possible. A very sad but typical example for the attitude behind such events was a party in Offenbach, a bigger town in Germany. The day after the very successful event the organizer commissioned a service-agency to clean the party-hall. And the agency sent a group of people from India who live in Germany... A German organizer made a Goa-Party with Indian flair, made lot of money with it and at the end there were a group of people from India who has to clear the dirt away for probably a very, very small payment.

Some people think that dance-movement is like an island, but most of them forget that every island is surrounded by an ocean.

Every year thousands of party-people fly to Goa to celebrate at the beautiful beaches. But Goa isn’t the only place anymore. It’s already possible to book journeys to different African countries, even countries of the so-called ”3. World” to special party events. Who cares that some miles away people have to live in inhuman conditions, maybe have to starve, provided that the ”paaarty is great” and the drugs turn on. And even the party-paradise Goa isn’t so beautiful anymore, if the beach is swamped with beer cans and other trash.

But there are still projects, which go an other way, like the Playground-collective from Frankfurt. The Playground was founded in the Michael-BarraX, a former alternative living and culture project which has by now mostly been closed by the local authorities. The basis is the idea that every man and every woman is an artist, that all of us have a creative potential, which is often blocked by different social influences. At parties they offer mostly in the morning hours different instruments, drums, guitars or electronic instruments, for everyone to play. They also offer for example gear for juggling or pens and paper to paint. All guests of the party could take part, and always many make use of these possibilities. Sometimes it sounds at the beginning a bit chaotic but soon there is a strange rhythm and the division between artists and guests disappears.

Last year the Playground made a tour to Kosovo which is still damaged by war and repression. They toured not as the famous DJs and artists from Germany, who jet in to play three or four hours, take the money and say ”Goodbye”, but as a collective which is interested in a reciprocal cultural exchange based on equality and new experiences. There was no pre-set tour plan, in some places they didn‘t get permission to enter certain areas by the millitary authorities. At the places they stopped, they tried to get in contact with the people there and sometimes jointly to organize parties. Conni, one of the Playground members, told me once that those parties were often a possibility to overcome prejudices. But it also became obvious that music doesn‘t overcome all frontiers. At a Playground music workshop children of different ethnic groups refused to play together ...

Some people think that dance-movement is like an island, but most of them forget that every island is surrounded by an ocean.

The original features of the Rave- and Techno-Culture were the departure from traditional musical forms of expression, the overcoming of the star-cult as in pop-music as well as the distinctive need for creative development and self-determination. The Rave culture also reflected also many people’s search for ecstatic states of mind and changed conditions of consciousness. A good Rave party corresponds to a big trance-ritual. As in numerous traditional ethnic cultures people dance to monotonous rhythms so as to fall into trance.

Side by side with the commercialization of the Techno-culture there still exist different underground scenes, which in some cases still have an important role in breaking ground both musically and in content. However, here also the spectrum of projects is very broad. Some projects orientate their work primarily on the goal of commercial breakthrough, some others are basically interested in good music and intense parties. But there are also groups which represent a clearly counter-cultural point of view. They understand for example their parties and events as social free spaces in the sense of a temporary autonomous zone, which is based on collective and non-commercial values.

The concept of the Cybertribes comes from this kind of underground scene. It’s the idea of a network of small, de-centralized groups, which replaces authoritarian structures by collective ones. Like a modern tribe, the Cybertribes refer to the knowledge of old cultures as well as to contemporary developments. Shamanistic rituals have as much place in the Cybertribes as Internet surfing. The using of psychedelic substances has as much place as resistance against repressive political structures. According to the Cybertribe concept these currents are not in conflict, rather they are a step towards a new culture.

In 1999 in Berlin about 35 Cybertribes founded the ”Sonics - Cybertribe-Network for Rhythm and Change". Some groups of the Network have their focal point in the organization of imaginative parties, some others experiment with forms of musical expression, some projects have a counter-cultural point of view, some provide information mostly about psycho-active substances. They have a great variety, but they are all idealistic communities, they are little cybertribes.

One of the main activities was the "Join the Cybertribe” festival as a connection between party and conference, which included workshops, performances, rituals, live-acts, films, exhibitions, sessions and experiments about subjects like culture, consciousness, politics and cybertribes ...

In a manifesto they state "With our projects we all want to create inner and outer rooms in different circles of life. Rooms in which we dance, laugh and love. Rooms which stand for development and ecstasy. Rooms in which we create together something new in daily life. Rooms with which we resist. Rooms which we dream and rooms which are real at the same time. Rooms as an imaginary experiment. Rooms as an expression of change. Rooms as floating rhythms...”

Some people think that dance-movement is like an island, but most of them forget that every island is surrounded by an ocean.

Years ago in England some people started a group called Spiral Tribe. They lived in big ex- military caravans and travel around. When they made a stop and some people came together they build up their sound system and start a party, mostly without entry, just for free contributions.

I spoke with some of the Spiral-members and they described me their philosophy which is based on three terms. The first term is Marxism. Marxism in the sense of a refusal of exploitation and repression, in the sense of a classless free society. But Karl Marx is dead for a long time and some of his ideas became outdated so itsuggests itself to see him in a more undogmatic, colorful light... And this leads to the second term Psychedelics. You can read Marx more easy with a joint in your hand and with some mushrooms you surely get some new innovative impressions of his theories... The third term which connects everyone is tribal culture. Tribal culture in the sense of a common autonomous way of living together. This includes, for example, trance-rituals as they were practiced in different tribes in any time. But today they mostly don‘t use wood-drums, they use electronic instruments. Basically the Spiral Tribe is a Cybertribe, a modern tribe which connects old knowledge with the developments of the presence.

In England the Spiral Tribe became in the nineties more and more popular and the people came from all over to their parties and raves. In Castle Morton they organized a festival where they expected mostly some thousand people but at the end there were 50.000 people at the biggest free festival in England ever. And they celebrated for days a party without negative incidents, without security, without entry, without authoritarian structures, without commercial aims, without star-DJs. For some days the festival became a free space, a temporary autonomous zone.

To prevent Raves like that the authorities tried to stop the Spiral Tribe. They had to go to court because of organizing parties without official permission, for not paying taxes, for violation of drug-laws and so on. But the Spiral Tribe fought back and planned to put on a rave in the center of London on a big building site for a new bank. A rave as an expression for a different life. The police shut off the district and tried to arrest the tribemembers. But they left England and from that point on, they have traveled around through Europe from one place to another to create for a time a free space. The conservative British goverment passed a law some time laterer, the Criminal Justice Bill, which basically tries to repress every expression of an alternative way of living, including traveling in caravans, squatting empty houses and organizing parties and raves without official permissions.

Some people think that the dance-movement is like an island, but most of them forget that every island is surrounded by an ocean.

In Frankfurt (Germany) for several years now the so called Night Dance Demonstrations have taken place. It started as a protest against restrictions of the alternative partyculture in Frankfurt. A protest against the closing of clubs by the officials, a protest against the very tough regulations for starting a new club, which can only fulfilled with a weighty financial background. People danced the whole night long to the sound systems of different caravans in the streets and declared their protest.

At the third Night-Dance-Demonstration these contents were expanded, because more and more people understand that the restrictive politics against the alternative partyscene is not an isolated phenomenon, but a part of a political concept which is based on a very conservative and business-oriented ideology. Frankfurt is the most important European city for banking and therefore it’s also known as ’Bankfurt’. In this world there is no place for Undergroundparties, but there is also no place for squatters or, for example, for junkies or homeless people, no place for people who whether consciously or not refuse the pre-ordained life path.

With this background, with this understanding of cultural politics the slogans and the call for the Night-Dance-Demonstration changed. And the authorities and the police also reacted in a different way. At the first two Night-Dance-Demonstrations, there were some raving people who danced the whole night long in the streets, but at the third the main elements were not only party but also politics. And for this reason, there were at that third demo water cannons and hundreds of policemen in battle uniforms. It’s was an impressive picture: on the one hand the grimacing policemen and on the other happy dancing people. But suddenly the police got the order to stop this party and they started to destroy the sound systems and to beat the unarmed, defenceless party people who mostly had no idea why. Weren’t they merely dancing ...?

Some people think that the dance-movement is like an island, but most of them forget that every island is surrounded by an ocean.

I could tell many more of these stories. For example, that of Exodus, a project of unemployed people, who started a collective to renovate an old farm to live, work and party there together. Or the story of Soluna, a grouping which is focused on the relation between party, consciousness and change, the relation between inner and outer change. Or the stories of the ‘Reclaim the Streets’ -demonstrations or ...

There are many stories like that ... There are many more Cybertribes. But we should not only look at the stories and projects of others. Everyone of us carries the first words of such a story inside ourselves, everyone of us is a seed from which such a project can grow, everyone of us is a seed of a cybertribe, whatever they may look like.

Some people think that dance-movement is like an island, but most of them forget that every island is surrounded by an ocean.

Some people think that dance-movement is like an island and forget that every island is surrounded by an ocean... But some of them open their eyes and start to see.

Some people think that dance-movement is like an island and open their eyes and start to dance, not only on the dance-floor, but also in the streets, in their classrooms, in office-rooms, in supermarkets, in the parliamebts, at the meetings of the World Trade Organisations... And dancing means change, means radical change.

Some people think that dance-movement is like an island. And they understand. And they dance. And they dream. And they fight. And they laugh. And they love. And they change.


w.sterneck@sterneck.net
Gathering of the Tribes - Los Angeles - 26. April 2001 -

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