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[Written by: Shayne Jones]
Raving: A Community
Starting out in the 1950s, raving has been a statement about breaking societal norms through a rebellion. What began as an underground movement was lost for almost 30 years before slowly reintegrating its way back into society in the 1980s. While raving may have been known as a means of evading police by hiding in secret locations and outdoor renegades, raving has shifted from its original illegal origins to now being a centrical piece of modern society. Despite raves once being behind closed doors, the largest event in the world, Tomorrowland, drew crowds reaching over 400,000 attendees. What is it about these events that keep people coming? The general consensus? The sense of community experienced through freedom of expression and a space holding no judgment.
Jeremy McCleary has been raving since 2010 and not only attends events but also professionally dances at them. When asked how raving has impacted him, Jeremy responded that it “saved his life”.
Prior to starting to rave, Jeremy felt of himself as an outcast. “I grew up where I was called homophobic names at school, because I was a dancer,” Jeremy shared.
“I was in a very depressed time in my life. I nearly lost my home, my grandpa got diagnosed with lung cancer, my other grandpa had a stroke, and my dad had Stage 4 prostate cancer. My whole life was in shambles. I was suicidal, because I felt as if I had nobody. I had no happiness.”
Despite life falling apart, Jeremy overhead a friend listening to dubstep, a genre of Electronic Dance Music that is known for heavy drum beats and quick tempo, and immediately got hooked. Jeremy was supposed to attend a boxing tournament, but after it got canceled, a friend invited him to go to his first rave. It was there that he met his friend, Orion, who told him he loved his dancing as well as pointed it out to others. Jeremy said that “one rave changed [his] life, because [he] felt truly accepted instead of being the weirdo at school who could dance.” He went on to say that, “Ever since then, raving has been an escape to a happy place and an escape from all outside troubles. Going to a rave, I was able to set aside all outside troubles that I had going on. Whatever struggle I was dealing with, I could let go of [while I was there].”
Axel Chellberg shared a similar sentiment. While Axel started raving in 2015, it was 2017 that changed things for him. Axel was in a serious car accident that resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury which led him to face a bout of severe depression. He said that instead of shying away during that time, he let himself be embraced by the community going on to share that it was Bass Canyon in 2019 that really impacted him.
Going into the festival, Axel felt really depressed about how the car accident and how it had disabled him. Being disabled affected his ability to fully participate in the festival as it meant walking around and dancing with everyone was painful. “I was really doubting my ability to sustain relationships with anyone,” he shared. He went on to say that he was feeling suicidal and that after the weekend, he had plans to die.
Given that Axel was disabled, he was given a wrist band for the ADA bus which drops people directly at the bottom of the Gorge Amphitheater right in front of the stage. He found his way into the crowd and shared with a follow raver how he was feeling.
“They reassured me that life’s worth living and to just look around me at all the amazing human beings coming together. [They pointed out that we are] meshing all creeds, cultures, sexual orientations, genders, or lack thereof, [and that we’re all] changing. After that point, I thanked the group I was spending time with, but I forgot to get their contact information, because I was so caught up in the moment. I began mingling with the crowd and enjoying the music and visuals which brought me away from my pain and personal suffering. As the weekend progressed, it got greater and greater. I ended up meeting Dubloadz, one of the DJs playing that weekend, up at the campground and spent probably an hour talking with him about how to make festivals more sustainable. I showed him some of my art, and he told me that he believed in me. That’s not the only moment that raving has saved my life. It’s positively impacted my self-growth and appreciation for life itself. EDM (Electronic Dance Music) has taught me that there is a long way to go, but that the potential of such a vibrant community sharing our passions with one another is boundless.”
Another person interviewed, Rose C., spoke about her life prior to raving. She shared that since she was 12 years old until about three years ago, she struggled with an addiction to heroin. “I had pretty severe mental illness from a very young age,” Rose said. “The first time I drank, I was ten years old. It was the first time I remember ever feeling okay. It stayed to heavy drinking and smoking weed for a couple of years, but I fell into a much older crowd. I went to a house party at 13 and was offered lines not knowing it was heroin. I was instantly hooked- It felt like Heaven on Earth. My addiction to heroin was a pretty rapid spiral down after that.”
Raving, however, changed everything for her.
“I had been in the rave scene on and off through that [addiction], but shortly after the last time I used, I completely uprooted my life. I moved to Baltimore with a few friends I’d made in the [rave] scene. The more raves I went to, the more people I connected with. The more people I connected with, the more I realized that the biggest reason I had used for so long was [that I was] lacking those true friendships. What really got me clean was leaving an abusive relationship thanks to the people I met through the raving scene. I needed to get out [of that abusive relationship] as quickly as possible. A friend [from the scene] rented an apartment for the two of us to share on the condition that I got clean and stayed clean.”
Rose shared that she went to her first festival, Flower of Life, in 2019. It was at that point she knew she was never going back to her old life.
“Meeting people of all ages and backgrounds that came together with a conjoined love of the same music really changed things for me. I got out there and lost myself for a few hours which gave me a whole new lease on life. It taught me just how beautiful the world really can be. I knew at that point that I had no interest in returning [to my heroin addiction]. It gave me the motivation to stay clean.”
Shortly after that rave, I met both my best friend and my boyfriend through the scene. I let them in and saw how much they loved me unconditionally. This forced to learn to love myself. The genuine acceptance of my past allowed me to accept the wrongs I had done and to move forward from them… The rave scene took me down to the core of who I was and helped me rebuild myself into the person that I can say I am genuinely proud of today.”
Raving didn’t just make a lasting impact on Rose for the sake of herself, however. She openly spoke about how she hoped to pay the acceptance that she found forward.
“Meeting people I admired gave me role models, and those role models helped teach me how to spread love and good in the world. Looking out for others at raves whether it be people needing water or just a friend [to be with] turned into me being able to do that in my daily life.”
Trevor Little got into the raving scene when he was 18. What started as being a show attendee quickly shifted into his desire to DJ. “[The shift to wanting to DJ] was pretty immediate,” Trevor said. “I’d rather orchestrate a party and help contribute to the experience rather than participate myself. I had friends [at that time] who I knew DJ-ed, and I started to constantly bug them to learn on their equipment before I finally got into it on my own.” Trevor got his own DJ equipment towards the end of 2011 and devoted time into learning to play just for fun, but in May of 2015, he got the chance to play his first live show at Foundation Nightclub opening for Nom De Strip. That one show eventually led into playing one of the Seattle area’s three massives, FreakNight, as well as getting to play three days at Seattle’s biggest music festival, Bumbershoot, which has hosted artists such as The Chainsmokers, Flume, ODESZA, REZZ, and Louis the Child.
For Trevor, however, it isn’t just about playing shows. It’s about the people, connection, and the ability to be authentic that really stood out to him.
“I feel like prior to raving, I always strove to fit whatever was expected of me regardless of how I felt. Going to raves/shows was one of the first experiences in my life where I made my own decisions and explored uncharted territory. The freedom of expression I witnessed from attendees, dancers, DJs, etc. is what my life was missing. I knew this was my passion. It was a huge turning point in my life. Playing sports and acting and whatnot, there was a feeling of fellowship but never like this. The sense of community [in raving] is unlike anything. I remember walking into my first big show, and Wolfgang Gartner was playing his Beethoven remix. At that point, I knew I was home forever. While I kind of got lost in it for the first couple of years, I was able to find balance and [then] apply that mentally to my everyday life.”
Almost every person surveyed poured out sentiments surrounding how raving has changed their lives for the better. From the outcasts who felt like they had no community to those struggling with addiction that found freedom to even those who were facing feeling so alone that they grappled with suicide, raving became the means of giving people a meaning for their lives. Of the 26 people who responded to the survey, every person saves 2 people said that raving gave them a sense of community- A place where they can freely express who they are and a space free from judgment.
The verdict is in: For ravers, it is a sense of home.
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