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Artillery Row

The coddlin’ of the British dance

How Britain’s anarchic rave scene turned authoritarian

Dance music has always been counter-cultural — but when did it stop being cool?

I wasn’t aware of who Yuval Hen was last Friday. Nor have I ever visited the club E1. My days of wearing sunglasses at night and sharing bottles of water with compassionate strangers are (regretfully) behind me. With that said, I do still follow the odd rave account and have old friends still “having it large”.

It was through my network of yesteryear that I discovered that it had been reported that Yuval Hen, cofounder of London club, E1, had resigned as director following allegations that he had recently served with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza. He stepped down, reportedly, following pressure from the self-appointed spokespeople of rave culture, Ravers for Palestine, who “urged all ravers and DJs to boycott the venue” on Instagram.

“No-one wants to lose another rave venue in London,” the account stated with sufficient gravitas.“But there can be no place in our culture for actors engaged in colonial violence — especially those in positions of power and ownership.”

Yuval’s public-shaming led to “Sex-positive” party, Klub Verboten, (a kink event for lonely thirty-somethings in gimp suits) cutting ties with E1 via a statement on their Instagram Story. Whilst deciding that Friday February 16th would be the last Verboten hurrah at E1, the headline act, Grace Dahl, would not play because she simply couldn’t “turn a blind eye to recent allegations that have been made in connection to the venue.”

If these part-time promoters and disc-jockeys, part-time warriors in the fight of Good vs Evil, had taken their Standpoint Theory lectures a bit more seriously — dare I say “educated themselves” — they might have learned a bit more than postmodern platitudes and vibe-based politics. They might have considered that Hen, an Israeli born man, likely has family in Israel, and his own personal motivations for wanting to engage in a fight with Hamas. His “truth”, in other words, would have been informed — at least in part — by his personal connections, and emotional attachments, to his homeland.

The news that Hen fought with the IDF was broken by Ravers for Palestine, uncovering a since-deleted photograph of him donning IDF uniform posted to his personal Facebook. I’d guess that these witch-finders posing as guardians of the realm, and high-priests well-practiced in postcolonial parlance, also discovered that Hen is a photographer and visual artist whose work explores “themes of identity, displacement, and belonging.” Sounds pretty right-on, right? In fact, it sounds better than bloody right-on; it sounds nuanced.

In 2017, Hen even released a feature-length documentary film titled The Land Between Us which “explored life on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through interviews with people living there.” He hardly sounds like Benjamin Ketanyahu.

According to the official statement given by E1 to MixMag, Hen “stepped away in October due to being deeply affected by the ongoing crisis across Israel and Palestine. E1 were quick to distance themselves from their now-former owner. In their first statement addressing the matter on Instagram, the nightclub reasserted that E1 “a place for music and dancing” — one would hope — with “no connection to political movements”. E1, they claim, “will continue to provide a safe space for people to enjoy club culture in East London.”

And rave overlords are popping up everywhere

As somebody previously attracted to the in-yer-face creativity, and let-loose anti-authoritarianism of the underground Drum and Bass scene, watching self-appointed arbitrators enforce lock-step moral homogeneity across all raving venues is discomfiting.

And rave overlords are popping up everywhere. On top of now-ubiquitous harassment policies — keep your bloody hands to yourself!  — The Association for Independent Music (AIM) — the non-profit trade body “looking after” (how kind) the UK’s independent sector — have elbowed their way to the front of the crowd and jumped on stage because they’ve got a big announcement! Shhh. The music industry is suffering from “endemic” misogyny. Confused ravers shuffle awkwardly. An uncouth miscreant, two pills deep, shouts “Oi mate! Where’s the choons at?!” before being swiftly “dealt with”. Shushes abound again. AIM thinks Big-Brother endorsed re-education for males is the only solution. Confused cheers — but do they know what they’re cheering for? In AIM’s utopian world, where we trust the government to regulate interactions between the sexes, boys and boneheaded men are forced to learn about misogyny, consent, and the barriers faced by women in the music industry. During their school-time, no less — where boys are already faring worse than girls and white-working class boys are performing the worst of the lot.

The group, Ravers for Palestine, have put pressure on other venues, too. According to the group, it’s not enough for nightclubs — struggling in the recessionary aftermath of the pandemic — to merely express sentiments of solidarity. Ravers for Palestine are demanding that venues make “concrete commitments in service of solidarity [to Palestine] that would actually diminish their bottom line.” In other words, the same hippy-ish, left-wing, and anti-establishment energy that used to put on illegal raves is severely misfiring: it is being directed towards further diminishing an already-dwindling number of venues.

Of course, the group would deny that closing clubs is their intention, and they’d make reference to the fact that raving has always been a form of protest connected to broader political movements. As is known to the aficionados of UK Sound System Culture, when the Windrush generation were not running from racist Teddy Boys, or taking undue hidings from the police, they were being refused entry into nightclubs. So the recent emigres from Jamaica pursued freedom by putting on their own dances: in the streets and in the basements of crowded flats. 

In fact, dancing has often been a symbol for transgression against moral certitude. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche writes that “the new spirit dances freely upon the corpse of morality,” and notes proudly that his own “Zarathustra” is “a dancer.” To dance, in Nietzschean terms, is to eschew received values and to author one’s own.

Obedience to enforced morality, however, is the opposite of dancing; it is the opposite of a physical expression of freedom: it is an intellectual concession to constraint. If rebellion is kept alive in the fight against compulsion, then the inverse holds true: the rebel becomes a tyrant when he compels the orthodoxy of revolt.  

As former rave-goer, and fellow Critic contributor, Jacob Phillips, wrote “what was once an energy of stubborn independence against police and society, with creativity of mind and anti-authoritarian thinking, is moving in a very different direction.” It’s like watching a reverse story of Moses, where ravers are led astray by ideologues: out of the land of freedom and into the sea of tyranny, the herd switches from the Garage two-step to the Middle-Eastern lockstep, and are helpless as their hands that used to throw shapes stiffen into wagging fingers.

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