Trapped in an ideological bubble of your own choosing? Go out raving and get it pricked, says Joe Muggs
If nightclubbing teaches us anything of value, it's how to deal with strange bedfellows. Without getting all starry-eyed about it – and while accepting that there's prejudice, cliquishness and financial barriers to entry in the dance music world just as in any other sphere of life – when it's done right, there's still no other zone in the modern world that has as much potential to expose diverse individuals to one another as clubbing. And not only does it put those diverse people together in one space, but it does so with character armour and ingrained presuppositions if not removed, then at least significantly weakened. Some people, indeed, are very explicit about making all this part of the way they run their parties.
Obviously this is not always a good thing. If you have any degree of experience of extended nights out, you almost certainly have memories of coming to your senses at some carry-on in the far reaches of god-knows-where to realise with horror that the random you've been chatting gibberish to for the last hour is a racist / homophobe / conspiracy bore / wants to initiate some specialist sexual or chemical activity a long way away from your personal preferences / all of the above. Just because you are in a space with all walks of life doesn't mean you need to, or are going to, be friends with them all.
But that's how club/rave culture, in all its corrupt, self-absorbed, bickering, pointless glory, somehow manages to keep itself not just together but thriving through the decades. Obviously those of us of a certain age point to the peak years of 87-93 or so, when an alliance somehow formed between hooligans, crusties, reggae soundsystem and gay club personnel, hip hop heads, Psychick Youth weirdos, soul weekender crews, indie kids, and on and on. Some looking askance at one another, some actively loathing one another, but still all part of the same machine. That was unsustainable in its full intensity, but the same kind of interaction was there before 87 and it's never gone away since. Especially since dubstep and grime revitalised the one-degree-of-separation hybridity within the club world, the unlikely, uneasy crossovers, collaborations and cultural meeting points have kept on coming.
Which is all well and good – but it gets more interesting if you start applying the lessons about tribalism and shifting scenes to the outside world, and especially to politics. Politics (with big and small P) as it is conducted across our media, social and otherwise, is increasingly polarised: increasingly built on the big lies that allegiances are total, that ideologies are consistent, that if the people you agree with and are friends with are right about one thing they must be right about another, and that the outgroup must be as completely wrong about everything.
And yet, thanks to social media, the actual flux of groups and their day to day interactions are more visible than ever. The more I look at those with the loudest political views, the more their manoeuvrings look like any other scene politics, including the kind we're used to in music. The same shifting views, surreptitious self-reinvention over time, I-was-into-X-before-you-were-into-X or more-hardcore-than-thou one-upmanship, confusion of friendship with shared tastes, jostling for proximity to key players, in-jokes, in-crowds, bullying and all the other ego games that make up life for social animals. Party politics is a lot like party politics.
Looked at like this, most highly politicised people – much as they'd love you to believe that their views are solid, consistent and unchanging – aren't like those oddballs who get into hard house at 18 and are still listening to nothing else and putting dayglo putty in their hair and going to Tidy Weekenders at the age of 40. They're more like the rest of us, who may hold tight to core tastes and principles in some respects, but who evolve over our lives in terms of interests, understandings and the people we want to be around – and who, crucially, have a lot of close and lifelong friends in other, very different scenes. Our filter bubbles are multiple, overlapping, and get popped on a fairly regular basis.
We all know someone who's got deeply sketchy views but is exemplary in another way. That mate who quacks on about Mao and Stalin or God or some other tyrant but also puts the hours in supporting women's refuges or refugee support or other causes abandoned by society. Someone who uses crass language about race or sexuality, but is actually a million times more generous, inclusive and understanding in their interactions with everybody than people who are more carefully right-on in the way they talk. The woo-spouting vaccine denier who's a brilliant and open-minded educator on other topics. Crims, toffs or oligarchs who genuinely want to put something back. Maybe we've even been on a night out with the whole lot of them together.
Again it's easy to be over-romantic about this: “everybody under one roof raving” as a utopian vision. We all know that's bollocks. Plenty of irredeemable arseholes, racists, scammers, misogynists, cultist weirdos and worse are drawn to club life, and use it for nothing better than mutual self-destruction and greed. It's not taking anyone to the promised land any time soon. But by the same token it's easy to be over-cynical, and to get blasé about the unique qualities that club life and the whole culture that surrounds it has: not just to bring people together (man) but to to give us understanding of how sects, cliques and filter bubbles really work.
The old groaning mechanical dinosaur ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries are leaking oil rapidly, and worship of the old gods of “the invisible hand of the market”, “the will of the people” and “full communism” are looking more and more like the ning-nang-nong superstition that they are. Far left and far right converge on awful conpiracy-mongering demagogues like Assange and Ken Livingstone, Liberalism is often anything but, and people polarise further and further into self-made crank obsessions. Tech companies are buying up our lives and acting like supra-national fiefdoms. Old white male supremacist totalitarianism hasn't looked so powerful in a very long time, while the new and old movements that resist it are in a state of extraordinary flux and internal conflict, while all-out global warfare hasn't looked so likely in half a century or more. Climate change is going to reshape whole continents. Every one of us is compromised unless you live in a vegan isolation tank and probably even then: the car you drive, the drugs you put in your body, the milk you drink, the servers storing your daily brain-farts: all of them are causing suffering, somewhere. It's a fucking mess.
There's no utopia, there's no fundamentally good answers, and people who insist there are are part of the problem. But maybe, just maybe we in the world of club music have something that we can be proud of and that can be of use to others. "If you're not problematic you're not punk" says Chino Amobi of NON Worldwide – one of the newest, best and most exciting manifestations of night-time culture's awkward squad – and likewise we might say that if you haven't conversed with three deeply problematic people before midnight you're not a real raver. Club culture is a rickety, rackety edifice, but it endures, and it carries with it hidden in its shadowy crevices some strong values. It can not just get people from strict doctrinal bubbles interacting in ways their bubbles wouldn't usually allow, but maybe, just maybe it can help us understand why and how they get into those bubbles in the first place.