and Power (Oxford, New York: Berg ) 1999
Chapter 7 - Even Furthur:
The Power of Subcultural Style in Techno Culture
by Kim K. P. Johnson and Sharron J. Lennon
thumbnails to enlarge front cover or read back cover synopsis
power, whether it be from above of from below, whatever level
one examines it on, is actually represented in a more-or-less
uniform fashion throughout Western societies under a negative,
that is to say a juridical form. It's the characteristic
of our Western societies that the language of power is law, not
magic, not religion, or anything else. (Foucault, M. 1980)
In Western societies, it is a recurrent view that youth activities
must be restrained and/or modified through rules and regulations
like music censorship, curfews, and dress codes. One contention
of the 'parent' culture, or the culture at large, is that the young
are biologically and emotionally immature and therefore incapable
of making many of the decisions that affect their lives. Young people
are seen as a disenfranchised group without political, economical,
and social power (Cote & Allahar, 1996). Because some youth
perceive these given roles as incomplete and void of any real meaning,
subcultures emerge by developing their own culture in an attempt
to find worthwhile identities (p. 20). Youth subcultures are generational
groups that differentiate themselves from the culture at large through
distinct activities, values, particular uses of material artifacts,
and social spaces (Clarke, Hall, Jefferson, & Roberts, 1997).
Styles is 'the active organization of objects with activities and
outlooks, which produce an organized group-identity in the form
and shape of a coherent and distinctive way of "being-in-the-world"'
(p. 108). Subcultural style is manifested through look, sound, and
performance, yet dress is a subculture's most powerful means of
communication because of its high visibility. For youth subcultures,
power is the negotiation of style within given cultural parameters.
In this chapter, I explore the relationship of style and power in
the rave subculture located in the Midwestern region of the United
States. My approach to this topic is interdisciplinary. I draw from
diverse writings on youth and style in the fields of clothing and
textiles, cultural studies, sociology, and youth studies in order
to present a multi-faceted interpretation. The data collected from
my fieldwork in the rave scene provides the primary basis for my
discussion on one particular rave event, Even Furthur.
the life period of youth, style is a powerful means of giving a
subculture an alternative approach to status attainment. Dick Hebdige
(1997) maintains that while anonymity is a common characteristic
of the powerful, subcultures respond to observation by posing and
displaying themselves. He argues that this act feeds our voyeuristic
tendencies by allowing us to gaze at strange appearances and activities
from the safety of our own social locales. He concludes: 'Power
is inscribed in the looks of things, in our looking at things' (p.
404). Youth subcultures define their spaces through styles of music,
dance, dress, and rituals that are first unfamiliar and subsequently
portrayed as threatening though media distortion. Moral panics may
result because the meanings being communicated by the subculture
through dress and appearance programs do not coincide with the meanings
assigned by the viewer in their review of the programs (Stone, 1962).
It is through deliberate aesthetic reconstruction of mainstream
cultural practices that it is possible for subcultural groups to
achieve a sense of empowerment. The symbolic power of style is a
subculture's ability to symbolize otherness.
example, bell hooks (1990) believes in willfully choosing the margin
as a site of resistance rather than accepting it as a place of imposed
oppression. By making this distinction, it is then possible for
marginalized groups to live in spaces of creativity and power. Through
her lived experiences as a Black woman, hooks describes how a powerless
position can be transformed to one of strength through aesthetic
evolution. hooks writes:
We are transformed, individually, collectively, as we make radical
creative space, which affirms and sustains our subjectivity, which
gives us a new location from which to articulate our sense of
the world. (p. 153)
The power of cultural expression distinguishes subcultures from
the mainstream, the un-hip, and the inauthentic. Metaphorically,
it releases them from the authoritative grips of commerce and media.
Most youth with subcultural membership will emphatically deny any
connection with the conventional, and will often discard a style
if the feel it has been commodified. Hebdige (1989) contends that
commodification is an attempt to control and tame the subculture;
that the diffusion of style leads to the defusion of the subculture's
subversive power. It is at this point that subcultures negotiate
their styles so they can re-authenticate their appearances (Thornton,
1996). Authentication can be viewed as separate, elitist entities
in order to authentical what they view as unique existences. the
radically baggy and long look of skateboarding styles has now been
commodified by the Levi-Strauss clothing brand in their Wide
label jeans. One skateboarder in Minneapolis, MN confided to me
that he is now choosing to wear a less baggy pant since skatestyle
has been diffused into mainstream culture. When his style was incorporated
by the mainstream, he experienced a loss of power. As this skater's
style evolved to maintain the authenticity of his subcultre, there
was another shirt in power. Power, then, is a process of negotiation
for a subculture.
is a subculture's most immediate form of communication, yet the
meanings are complex constructions because how youth experience
style is subject to various interpretations across time and space.
One example of hip-hop dress of the 1980s, which consists of knock-off
designer emblems such as Gucci and Chanel, is stylistically different
than the current fashion trend of wearing Tommy Hilfiger clothing
or other phat gear. Likewise, the politics of gangster rap are understood
differently by a Black, urban youth as opposed to a White, suburban
youth. The meanings forged from such sights and sounds are understood
clearly when attention is given to gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic
Black Noise, Trisha Rose (1994) explores rap music and Black
culture in American society, and is particularly interested in the
power struggles that exist between male youth and female youth within
the rap community. She contends that the hip-hop appearance of Black
women rappers is reflective of a working class, Black youth aesthetic.
Their distinctive dress is an attempt to resist images of sexual
objectification seen in music videos, and to claim cultural visibility
within the dominant popular culture (p. 170). In this instance,
the visual presence produces a subcultural space that is empowered
by female youth in relation to both members and non-members.
particular subcultural moment I explore is rooted in the contemporary
spaces of techno culture. A culture characterized by technological
and conceptual advances, the current techno culture experience is
described as being fractal; a nonlinear means of constructing one's
reality through computers, appearance, electronic music, psychedelic
drugs, and pagan-like rituals (Rushkoff, 1994). While the cultures
at large is suspect of such postmodernist thought, this culture
is embracing alternative ways of seeing their world. The subcultural
group that practices these tenets is most popularly referred to
as the rave community.
1995 and 1996, I acted as a participant and as an observer at several
raves in the Midwest region of the United States. Entering a person's
lifeworld by participating and gathering anecdotes is referred to
as close observation (van Manan, 1990). I also regularly explored
Internet web sites, discussion lists, and chat lines devoted to
rave culture to deepen my understanding of how this subculture reflects
a techno culture. Because understanding the ways people subjectively
experience style is the basis for my inquiry, I choose to use an
interpretive science perspective as my mode of inquiry. When I attempt
to understand how style is integrated in the experiences of youth,
the descriptions I receive are an interpretation of the lived experience
of the event of understanding through discourse. As a participant,
my own lived experiences become a valid component in the interpretation.
During a rave, it is not possible to conduct formal interviews because
documentation would not be possible in the existing conditions of
dim light and loud music. In addition, the weather conditions at
Even Furthur were not conductive to taking photographs or recording
conversations. My interpretation of this particular event uses close
observation as the method, and the technique of field notes to record
in the United States
the two years of my fieldwork, I observed various subcultural configurations,
which made each rave I attended unique. Although what is produced
and consumed at each rave is similar, the fusion of elements varied.
The Internet web site, Hyperreal.com, is a techno culture resource
created and maintained by its members. They describe the rave concept
a party, usually all night long, open to the general public where
loud 'techno' music is mostly played and many people partake in
a number of different chemicals, though the latter is far from
necessary. The number of people at the event is unimportant; it
can range from 50 people to 25,000 people. The cost of attendance
is also unimportant - there have been good raves and bad raves
at both end of the cost spectrum (though in practice, the higher
the price, the more commercial the event, and the lower the quality).
At a rave, the DJ is a shaman, a priest, a channeller of energy
- they control the psychic voyages of the dancers through his
or her choice in hard-to-fit music and their skill in manipulating
that music, sometimes working with just a set of beats and samples,
into a tapestry of mindbending music. A large part of the concept
of raves is built upon sensory overload - a barrage of audio and
very often visual stimuli are brought together to elevate people
into an altered state of physical or psychological existence.
Raving is also regarded as a spiritual revolution and many participants
continuously pursue the activity as a hopeful vision of what might
ultimately be possible for the future of humankind. While this really
represents a synergy between the abstract and the physical, four
ideals make up an acronym that is followed by some ravers: P.L.U.R.,
Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect (Fogel, 1993). One of the guidelines
of Even Furthur illustrates the concept of P.L.U.R.: 'Through kindness
and positive attitudes we can help in the process of change that
makes everyone open minded' (Promotional Flyer, Even Furthur, 1996).
A rave then, cannot be easily defined, but rather described by the
elements of music, dance, dress, drugs, and the ideology that comprise
the ritual experience of rave.
rave is a ritual of style and philosophy that has been growing for
over ten years throughout the world since its birth in Europe and
the United States in the late 1980s. Like the origins of techno
music, ravers debate whether the first rave was help in Spain, the
U.K., or various cities throughout America. The largest rave I attended
during my fieldwork is what I regard as the quintessential example
of this creative evolution - Even Furthur. Next, I describe the
Midwest raver's most prized techno culture gathering, and explore
how this style experience empowered 4,000 youth.
Like lovers we close our eyes not to be disturbed, anxious for
a most exquisite avalanche of sweet consciousness. We have again
set the stage for creativity, serenity, and irony - to poetically
frolic in the passionate bloom of youth...it's time to hurry up
and start living, people; hurry up and start staring at flowers
until butterflies appear; and hurry up, with gushing detail, and
start preparing to assemble. (Promotional Flyer, Even Furthur,
A celebration of the Midwest's rave scene, Even Furthur is a four-day
electronic festival promoted by Milwaukee, Wisconsin's techno lavel,
Drop Bass Network. A Memorial weekend tradition since 1994, I attended
the third Furthur that was held in a camp ground in Gotham, Wisconsin
from May 24th to May 27th in 1996. I can best describe Furthur as
a place where technology and nature converge. Thousands of youth
were immersed in rain and mudslides as they danced and listened
to various genres of electronica music (techno, house, acid, gabber,
jungle, trance, hardcore, ambient). Throughout the camp, cars, trucks,
and vans outlined the tents and campfires. Some people set up trampolines
for playtime as they watched intellebeams, or laser lights beamed
from projectors, lighting up the sky in sheets of green rain. Also
visible was cigarette smoking, the drugs Ecstasy, Acid, and nitrous-filled
balloons. There were constant hugs and kisses between new friends
and old friends, and dress ranging from hip-hop to hippy.
reflected the indefinable nature of the rave as well as the dogma
of the culture, as it was an intersection of many types of youth
and styles. The New York Times (Strauss. 1996) reported that
Even Furthur was a mixture of people ranging from age twelve to
thirty who displayed both rave gear and dress of the Grateful Dead
fans. However, dress was not limited to the standard phat pant and
tie-dyed shirts commonly associated with ravers and hippies. Fashion
at raves consists of unique ensembles that are highly volatile.
On display at this particular even were body-conscious clubwear
paired with platform shoes and elaborately applied make-up for both
male and female youth. Extremely baggy pants and jeans; many of
them homemade or re-inventions of store-bought apparel, were worn
in wide and long lengths to effectively drag on the ground while
simultaneously covering expensive athletic shoes. Hooded sweatshirts,
skate shirts adorned in graffiti-style illustrations, Hilfiger and
Polo shirts, tiny-tees, and athletic logos such as Nike and Adidas
were also visible in cotton, metallic, and knit fabrics. Ravers
had various parts of their bodies pierced, tattooed, and painted.
Hair was worn short or long, styled in Afros, and was dyed a variety
of colors including blues, pink, and oranges. Others wore wigs,
baseball caps, or hoods to cover their head. A variety of backpack
styles were used to carry supplies such as food and drink, candy,
cigarette, illegal drugs, toilet paper, glo sticks for viewing and
dancing, and may toys. Many old skoolers, or those who have been
in the rave scene for a number of years, wore dress that was appropriated
to the natural environment: layers of clothing, rain gear, hiking
boots, and rolled-up jeans.
the campsite was filled with hills and paths of deep mud (everyone
I spoke to told me it had been the same in previous years), most
ravers opted to wear their personal uniforms, choosing fashion over
physical comfort. Being a raver is a complete transformation of
the everyday as temporalities and corporealities are challenged.
When the music changed to softer ambient sounds in the late morning,
the ravers went to sleep until late afternoon and arose again to
scrape off the mud from the bottoms of their pants and shoes in
preparation for another night of dance and music. Many ravers informed
me that dancing and the use of drugs like Ecstasy also influenced
their dress. They asserted that loose, cotton clothing is more comfortable
to wear in intensive dance, and the euphoria caused by such a drug
makes textured fabrics feel desirable on the body. On display was
not a group style of dress, but a mixture of vernacular style unique
to each individual. Dress style was influenced by other lifestyle
choices outside weekend raving such as skateboarding, clubbing,
and hip-hop culture.
streetstyle, Polhemus (1994) describes this kind of hybrid
of subcultures in the nineties as 'the gathering of the tribes'
(p. 128-9). He argues that all subcultures have shared media intrusion,
and have thus united together to fight the establishment in order
to maintain the authenticity of their cultures. In doing so, he
believes that styles and ideologies inevitable fused together to
produce new subcultures like the rave scene. In stylesurfing,
Polhemsus (1996) further states that subcultural style has evolved
to the deliberate presentation of confusing and complex appearances
in order to avoid the categorization and labels that are characteristic
of a modern ethos. This type of appearance management signifies
a departure from homogeneity, and allows an individual to both conceal
and reveal meanings that must be negotiated through visual and verbal
discourse (Kaiser, Nagasawa, & Hutton, 1991). Visually, Even
Furthur reflects this ambivalence. Although each person appeared
at the festival under the umbrella of raves and electronica music,
their experiences with style varied. From choice of dress to choice
of music tents visited, each festival participant was able to construct
his or her own realities in these four days, without regard to the
rules and regulations enforced by the culture at large.
massive display of style exhibited at Furthur took place in a more
private than public arena, transforming it into a space of resistance
and acting as a metaphor for social change. Hebdige (1997) proposes
that we are currently seeing an evolution in the activities of youth
subcultures. He writes:
We are witnessing the formation of new collectivities, new forms
of social and sexual being, new configurations of power and resistance....All
these shifts in power mean that older cultural traditions which
provided the basis for collective forms of identity and action
are being disrupted and eroded and that new ones are beginning
to emerge. As power is deployed in new ways, so new forms of powerlessness
are produced and new types of resistance become possible.
can be seen as attempts to win some kind of breathing space outside
the existing cultural parameters, outside the zone of the given.
They can be seen as collective responses on the part of certain
youth fractions and factions to dominate value systems, as forms
through which certain sections of youth oppose or negotiate, play
with and transform the dominant definitions of what it means to
be powerless, on the receiving end. (p. 403)
It can be argued that subcultural empowerment emerges in new aesthetic
expressions like those observed at Even Furthur. In her discussion
of fashion and postmodernism, Morgado (1996) writes that youth subcultures
'might be explained as expressions of postmoders culture's rejection
of authority and its embrace of the principle of pure difference'.
She continues 'this condition could hold promise for inclusion and
empowerment of excluded groups and oppositional movements, and for
the revitalization of culture' (p. 49).
control of social space through a rave style also indicates a shift
from modernism to a postmodern interpretation of aesthetics, with
dress being the most visible evidence. Morgado (1996) asserts that
there are identifiable features of postmoders dress. First, the
end of progress and original design is being suggested in contemporary
appearances that seem to be recycled from the past and chronologically
are confusing. Fashion change is interpreted as volatile, as compared
with the rhythmic cycles of modernism. Aethetic codes and traditions
are challenged about how dress is worn and co-ordinated. There is
disharmony in styles and fabrics and emphasis on categories of age,
gender, race, and status are distorted, allowing a number of styles,
including those previously marginalized, to coexist (p. 48).
Even Furthur, elements of subcultural and historical fashion styles
were worn such as the tie-dye shirts inspired by the Grateful Dead
movement; phat gear that was first used by skateboarders and hip
hop followers; and danceclub dress such as hip-huggers and platform
shoes modified from the fashion of the 1960s. Many people wore pacifiers
around the neck or in the mouth; some held stuffed animal toys and
backpacks; others continuously consumed lollipops and other candy,
borrowing from what is usually thought of as infant and toddler
change at rave parties is accelerated, making a fashion cycle difficult
to assess. Each person chooses an eclectic mix of dress that is
purchased, reconstructed, or homemade, making the act of dressing
similar to choosing a separate costume for each event. Traditional
rules of fit are challenged in the wearing of shirts that are several
sizes too small, and pants that are several sizes too large. Other
Western aethetic codes are challenged in adorning the body with
multiple piercings and painting the face with lavish makeup and
glitter. The dress I describe did not appear to be gender-specific
or disclose a particular ethnicity.
style is interwoven with the other elements of the rave. Like dress,
electronic music is an arrangement of recycled music samples and
original sounds that span a variety of rhythms and beats. The event
is also perceived to have roots in ancient ceremonies as ravers
participate in the ritual of individual dance and soul-searching
to reach what they define as a collective pulse. The location of
Even Furthur combined aspects of the physical and synthetic worlds
in the interplay of technology and the natural environment. I posit
that the experience of these combined conditions is empowering to
a social group who is seeking transcendence.
is a function of all cultural production. Youth interpret their
social positions as powerless, so their marginality becomes a place
of creative development and fashion innovation. The postmodern perspective
of aesthetic expression, as illustrated through the style of Even
Furthur, is a time of subcultural empowerment as these ravers continue
to break away from the tenets of modernism and seek new ways of
constructing their realities. Nonlinear assemblages of dress and
music, combined with the spiritual practices of dance, drugs, and
ritual, represent elements of techno culture.
rave philosophy proposes that members act as a collective whole,
I would suggest further research that explores power relations,
specifically those involving gender within the rave culture. Because
raving is limited to weekend commitments, tensions may also exist
between rave space and the return to everyday life. Researching
youth subcultures and their highly visible styles enables us to
learn new cultural perspectives, and better prepares us for a future
that seems to be mapped through a bricolage of elements.
Power through youth style, then, can be viewed as one cultural indicator
of social change as we look towards the new millennium.
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