What the #SaveOurScene protest tells us about the current state of “our scene”

By Dr Giulia Zampini

Photographs: Dr Eveleigh Buck-Matthews

Our scene is divided. Covid has exacerbated and made manifest political divisions that existed long before lockdown, and the #SaveOurScene protest on June 27th was a prime example. 

We cannot keep the politics out of the rave. During a crisis, political divisions, in this case between individual freedom and the collective good, tend to deepen. This crisis is unprecedented in size and scope for an industry that has been growing for at least 30 years and absolutely booming globally in the last 15, notwithstanding clubs’ closures that have characterised the UK scene in more recent times.

The electronic dance music industry is no stranger to a capitalism of hierarchies and oligopolies. There is a class system for DJs, a tiered structure. The DJs who are closer to the bottom of the hierarchy have suffered the most during this crisis. They will have less or no work, and they might become more conscious of their political and class positions (if they weren’t already). At the same time, those at the top of the hierarchy who have grown accustomed to a certain status and lifestyle might, depending on their politics, struggle to turn down offers to work in places less regulated – something resembling a race to the bottom. Racing to the bottom is a typical strategy of corporations in a globalisation context: multinationals move their production to countries with less labour regulation to raise their profit margins. 

Meanwhile in clubland during the pandemic, the split between capitalist libertarians and public-health-conscious anti-establishment people has become more visible, defining the scene with further political undertones. Some political crusaders have taken to social media to denounce their frustration and disdain at the inequality and hypocrisy of it all, through public shaming and condemnation of individuals who played parties during the pandemic and the agencies facilitating and profiting from those parties. Initiatives like Business Teshno exist to call out those – mostly first tier – DJs who are not-so-secretly playing ‘plague raves’ in places like Mexico or Tanzania. 

Capitalism has a pernicious tendency to create parasitic institutions that feed off the producers. With the promise of platforming creatives, these institutions take a big chunk (and sometimes all) of the revenue. Giants such as Resident Advisors (RA) and Boiler Room have been criticised for their parasitic tendencies. With RA becoming the beneficiary of a large public grant from the UK cultural recovery fund while clubs and night-time workers were left behind, the anger and frustration towards the old model have risen. 

Back to the protest, Secret DJ tweeted:

“In case you didn’t know. The ‘protest’ on Sunday was organised by Resident Advisor. 

They are ‘Save our Scene’.

You may recollect they started this during COVID as a system for not paying people their money back from tickets.

It was ‘save resident advisor’”

Many ravers seem to not particularly care about the vested interests of Resident Advisor, or the broader issue of inequality in the industry (and perhaps even elsewhere); they just want to dance and be free to do what they want, which is what this protest was about for most punters. Distinctly apolitical. The issue is, of course, that nothing is apolitical – people are political even when they do not intend to be. 

As James Grieg wrote in the Guardian

‘mass revelry isn’t always an act of resistance. But the fact that it provides pleasure and meaning in people’s lives makes it a worthy enough end in itself.’ 

Another way of looking at it then is that individualistic, pleasure seeking behaviour is in itself political, albeit in this context, such resistance may be cast as irresponsible, or be co-opted by the anti-maskers and the antivaxxers, as the protest was feared to be. The uneasy relationship between politics and hedonism has existed in the rave space since time immemorial. At the protest, while the guy on the mic was talking about unemployment, club closures, frustration and desperation, most people appeared to just want him to shut up and get on it. 

The rave perfectly expresses a contradiction between the pursuit of individual freedom and the search for collectivity and belonging as primeval emotional needs. 

Being at the protest left some intense feelings of ambiguity. The desire for connection, the need for self-expression and outburst was palpable on the streets of central London. This pent-up need came out in people’s mask-less smiles, smiles we had not seen in a long time. 

 Business Teshno observed

It was really weird to see a mixture of far-right figures, antiv*xers, COVID19 deniers and DJs who’ve been exploiting other countries vulnerabilities bond together to #SaveOurScene at this #FreedomToDance rave.

The natural connection between individualist libertarian and anti-mask sentiment is obvious, but the antivaxx movement was neither particularly visible nor out in force on the day. Most punters were young. Young people are less likely to die from Covid. Therefore, they tend to be less conscious and less risk averse and cannot be judged in the same way as we may judge, say, a Piers Corbyn. Though generally very partial to a Marxist whole-system analysis (can ya tell?), we are wary of blaming individuals, even more so if those individuals are young punters whose freedom and self-expression have been muted and restricted over a period of almost 16 months. 

Our feelings of ambiguity were heightened by the picture left behind.

The littering was intense! (Despite calls from organisers to PLEASE KEEP THE STREETS CLEAN), which made us feel quite disgusted (thank you to all the impromptu litter pickers that we saw busily collecting bottles, tins and canisters as the march advanced in the spirit of collectivism). 

We are united in our love of music, but we do not all share the same politics. The relationship between hyper-consumption that often goes hand in hand with rave spaces, and wokeness – particularly of the environmental variety – is a little explored, dirty little secret that deserves further attention. Granted, disorganised fun is at the very essence of the rave. Despite the lack of tight organisation around public safety, stewarding, road safety, and littering, there were no major incidents, no violence, nor particularly rough encounters with the police. 

In a great tweet that aptly summarises the protest (actually the whole thread was lovely), Ed Gillett said:

“It’s felt clumsy and half-baked in places, actively problematic in others, replete with cringey rhetoric and flimsy ethical justifications for just wanting to get trashed, but undeniably powerful and resonant despite that.”

This certainly resonates with us. For now, we are going to embrace the ambiguity, understanding the confliction felt within the scene while acknowledging the systemic problems that plague it. 

In appreciation and sympathy for all political crusaders who are venting their anger and frustration at systemic problems via social media, an invitation to consider empathy. 

Share your thoughts and comments with us on Twitter @PDancefloors 

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