The Rave Machine: an open mind and body system

Our art education was in Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, and London. But it was not in the Schools of Art in which we were enrolled, rather the after-hours, warehouse parties, and quarry raves. This is where we found our true education – not that we knew it at the time, of course. These spaces of rave were undeniably the first time we felt at home and inspired by a community. Looking back on this time of rave, many memories pour in. Joyriding with strangers in stolen cars to get to a location, watching people triple drop love hearts, sitting in a molding bathtub for hours tripping out on acid trying to warm up after 24 hours in a field,  dancing to breakcore beats under wind turbines. These images feel like yesterday – fresh but blurred. The strongest parts of those memories are the people, the glint in the eyes, the grins, the tears, the vomiting mouths, the tight hold hugs you needed when you could barely walk anymore, the crappily rolled cigarettes, and the throbbing bodies on dancefloors and in toilet cubicles. Everyone was caught up in memetic beats and lo-fi hustling of their own souls. These places operated in different worlds with characters that could only ever be played out inside them. Rave as a life choice is a long one – it's never just a few hours, it lasts for days. Surviving it becomes just as important as living it. Eating, sleeping, and breathing become communal activities. All resources are shared for better or worse in order to keep each other in the zone. 

Replicating this set-up became the driving force behind Omsk Social Club’s practice. In 2016, we started the first works, initially in private, playing with life and its narratives in sequenced test spaces. We went public in 2017 with PLAY RAVE in Zurich. It had over 400 live identities and was set just outside of the city. To find the location you had to follow the River Limmat out of the city, under a motorway bypass and into the first alpine forest clearing. It was set up as an illegal rave supported by Kashev, a local Zurich crew. It ran for six hours, starting at midnight. Players applied via an open call email and were assigned identities at random. The new identities were inspired by speaking to and studying four different generations of crews, promoters, DJs, producers, dancers, and cult figures in Zurich that had organized illegal raves in the city, the earliest of which were from the squat raves of the 1980s, through to Jan Vorisek who still runs “House of Mixed Emotions.” The identities were not constructed from facts but from emotions and were informed by interviews that focused on ravers’ lives, memories, crushes, and pains. The person interviewed remained anonymous to the player who received their capsule of thought. Names were changed, but attitudes, politics, and nostalgic memories remained true. Mashed together with common political phenomena – such as the up and coming G20 summit in Hamburg, autonomous p2p ideology, and survivalism we birthed 400 new identities, who played, danced, and roamed in alternative states, questioning what was authentically real and what was not. 

It was the last part that really sent a chill down our spines. We never aimed to create seamless characters, polished defined bodies acting out directions – we wanted to bleed between reality and the unknown. We wanted to shake people’s connection to the architecture of rational thought, and let them do the same to us. This was our first piece of participatory role-playing co-immersion. We knew right at the start that we were not writing Live Action Role Plays (LARP), although we had heard of the term and attended one in 2016. In brief, LARPing is originally from the European Nordic countries and is a specific type of role-playing game in which the participants physically act out their characters' actions to a set storyline derived by a game master. Our language is different, as is our incentive to play. For PLAY RAVE, we didn’t want people to act; we wanted them to explore. We were more interested in chaos than a controlled narrative, and we wanted our spaces to be test sites that had the potential to permutate our “real-life spaces.” We called our spaces “Real Game Plays.” Our definition of Real Game Play works fluidly between the state of your former self and the state of the self you have been given to play out. It places itself inside a zone called “bleed,” which is fairly controversial in LARPing. Bleed is a highly disputed tool inside the role-playing genre – most LARP communities argue it should neither be encouraged nor cultivated. The phenomenon occurs when a character’s emotions affect the player outside of the game or vice versa. In other words, emotions affect the character in the game to such an uncontrollable point that they are unable to return to “reality” in the same state as they had left it. We want people to be able to draw from experiences that are useful to them when they return to reality. We are interested in using bleed as a tool for compassion, solidarity, trauma release, empathy strengthening, and othering. This is not to say that these feelings should be overpowering after they have been conceived by the user. We hold workshops before each piece so that people can learn tools to help them practice bleed effectively and link with people in their playing community. This type of work is not for everyone, just like any artwork, but it is open for all to experience. Some bond to it, and return over and over again, others hated it for not being different from what they expected. Every experience is unique and unrehearsed, but we do run workshops before to enable participants to have a richer experience. No one person is the same and neither are their experiences. This is the essence of Real Game Play and is our motivation in working with it. However, atmosphere and commitment are the foundations of the work, just like the raving was in our formative years. Raves are often pitted somewhere in a void space, far from typical societal rhythms. They are the gateway, the rabbit hole abyss that everyday life can’t reach. This was where we wanted our artworks to be situated.

There is one large difference between traditional raves and ours, and that's drug consumption. We do not advocate traditional chemical drug use, but instead, harness euphoric collectivism via dance, breathing, and touch. These skills are taught during workshops where we instruct people how to release natural DMT which is stored in the body, show them dynamic meditation techniques, visualization strategies, and how to be physically close to strangers in safe spaces. The people who attended these workshops are easily recognizable. They dance all night, glowing and grinning. Losing one's inhibition is possible in any space in which one feels safe. Real Game Play uses techniques that enable this freedom, just as alcohol or drugs typically would.

The rave format was our initial point of departure.  We have gone on to create a lot of our work to revolve around this setting, continuously stretching further away from its original point, but never forgetting the primary elements of its nature. One of our most well-known pieces is the Cryptorave Series that was in collaboration with Swiss art group !Mediengruppe Bitnik. It was set up as a party structure: People mined their identities online to gain access to the rave by donating 11 hours of their CPU [Central Processing Unit] to a Monero mining pool. Monero is an open-source cryptocurrency that was created in April 2014 and focuses on fungibility, privacy, and decentralization. Simply put, the process is accessed via a typical URL that is supported by a Monero cryptocurrency miner. People paid for their Cryptorave tickets by mining monero hashes on their computers through the URL for a set number of hours. Over the course of 11 hours, the user received the location of the rave, their character traits, their social group, a crypto reader, and eventually, a QR code which was their rave ticket and would be scanned at the door upon entry. The public Cryptoraves we set up with Bitnik have so far occurred in Berlin, Athens, Basel, and Barcelona with producers like Amnesia Scanner, Bill Kouligas, Panasiagirl, ¥€$Si Perse, Primitive Art, Crystallmess, and Suutoo performing. The music at Cryptoraves is underground harsh, organic, nostalgic rave electronica. The idea of Real Game Play evolves from simply gaining a new identity into the use of the technology used to instigate the Cryptorave itself. When viewers mine crypto from their own computers, they immediately see the domestic potential of such technological progression. For most, the idea of mining a cryptocurrency was completely foreign, but then, the work became a gateway to connecting to these new decentralized technologies, all within the comfort of one’s own home. This potentially leads to demystification and higher curiosity to explore peer-to-peer technology and crypto further. 

This leads to another important part of the work, and that’s viewing rave as a tool. We didn’t set up the first Cryptoraves – they had been running for a few years from a tightly guarded closed group, mostly attended by technologists, peer-to-peer enthusiasts, and creatives from both the art and music world. They were organized via encrypted key text messages, similar to old school raves where you had to dial a number between 10 and 12pm. The number would lead to a recorded message that revealed the rave’s location.  The difference with these new keys is that they are stored on public blockchains, or take the form of decentralized tokens distributed by DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations). Each token represents a single secure ticket. The concept of the tokenization of – literally – everything is common in the world of crypto. However, in our case,  it leads to secure networks, meaning that you can track who is coming to the rave and how they got the invite. The process wipes out the potential of police infiltration, right-wing trolls, Silicon Valley scouts, and unsavory hackers. The raves are naturally in line with the crypto space interest in cryptography and privacy, but what we learned was that the rave itself was also the perfect vehicle to bring these ideas to the public.  And so, we started to work with people to create public cryptoraves dealing with these issues and adding a layer of identity shifting, or: Real Game Play. This meant that attendees of the original cryptoraves could enter the public raves seamlessly and distribute information whilst the public could feel empowered and belonging, armed with new identities and knowledge on a scene that they had harvested themselves from personal research. This created a new ecosystem that both disseminated knowledge and chaos into the conversations surrounding crypto, trust, autonomy, and decentralized systems of organizing. We found this way of constructing realities very effective when it came to creating test sites for people to explore topics – be it rave culture or crypto. In a way, our Real Game Plays became environmental chambers and test sites for participatory models to be played out in ways that were not so directed that they would become theaters, but instead, acted as models for both the community and the individual. Historically, one could link our practice goals to activists and art movements like Luther Blissett, The Letterists, The Invisible Committee, Bernadette Corporation, Xenofeminists, and many more – all of which worked with hyperstition and let chaos reign in the name of development.

This mode of thinking can be aligned with the theories of second-order cybernetics, which states that societies and communities are made up of systems and social-ecological rituals that perform positive and negative feedback loops on a recursive basis. This would explain why we have been seeing a rave revival happening. In recent years, rave’s sound, aesthetics, and movement have become more popular. Its signature style is found in fashion, graphics, and contemporary art. Even the art world is writing reviews about it. Take Jenny Schlenzka’s Frieze review of Berghain. Not that Schlenzka is alone in this: Love at first sight is common with rave. Our friend, the artist Joey Holder, collected rave flyers before she was even old enough to attend a rave herself. She stashed them in a box and pinned them on her bedroom wall, salivating in anticipation over the day she could finally go and dance. The difference between Holder’s and Schlenzka’s experience is dedication. Rave is not a seasonal product, it's a culture. It’s a way of life, and we try not to take that lightly in our own work. 

We believe that experience is the new currency of change. Not just in the world of rave or role-playing, but also in domestic and political spaces. This morning, a quote by Extinction Rebellion environmental movement co-founder Gail Bradbrook caught our eye. She is calling for a mass ingestion of psychedelic substances in protest at the criminalization of drugs and for the return to spiritual nature. At Breaking Convention, a  conference on psychedelics held in London, she stated: “The causes of the crisis are political, economic, legal, and cultural systemic issues, but underneath that are issues of human trauma, powerlessness, scarcity, and separation. The system resides within us, and the psychedelic medicines are opportunities to help us shift our consciousness.” Bradbrook doesn’t mention second-order cybernetics, but we can easily align her thoughts to the belief that we live in a constructed reality, and that we ourselves are machine entities living out patterns. Our bodies are continually being rewritten, but who and what writes these codes is still up for debate. We desperately need new circuits if we are to create a better environment for ourselves and future generations. These new circuits can only be found by bringing the mind, body, and psyche into a space of the strangely familiar, the uncanny – a place where they can function but won’t easily fall into a predefined rhythm of our oppressors. Now more than ever, we need these spaces of post-entertainment. Be it a rave, a role-playing environment, or using psychedelics, they all have the ability to alter the mind of the user inside a temporary zone. One hopes that the user can then extract these new positive circuits and input them into their old negative patterns.

Words by Omsk Social Club

Taken from WIP magazine issue 04, SYNTHETIC MEMORY is an extensive dossier, marking the 30th anniversary of the “Second Summer of Love,” when Acid House exploded across the UK, while also examining the power of cultural nostalgia.