dimanche, février 24, 2008

The Day After: Aches and Gains

So, after last night's insanity, I limped home around 7:30am (thankfully I found a decent parking spot!) and put myself to sleep. By 1pm, I was back up and getting ready for my professorly duties. I spent an hour or two reading the articles and essays for this week, then threw on some clothes and headed down to campus. My friend and course assistant, bless her soul, showed up and helped me run the screening, which I really appreciated. I was awake and able to speak in complete sentences, but I was just barely holding myself together through the magic of coffee.

Anyway, there were a few thoughts that I had last night that have managed to survive the neurochemical blitzkrieg I waged upon myself. Most of them point toward potential ideas for my doctoral project, so I'm sorry if a lot of this seems obtuse or disorganized...

The Body Undone

As I was really getting into dancing last night, I began to feel like my body was all surface--all flat and curved planes that intersected sort of like those abstract polygonal models you sometimes see in 3D rendering demos. My insides didn't so much disappear as become part of these same surfaces, continuous extensions of my skin. Another way of putting it is that the feeling of my body as a body, a whole object saturated with "me," began to feel like a jumble of bits and pieces--like bundles of flesh that I can swing about.

At the same time, though, my body felt intensely granular. I would be doing my usual house-informed "liquid" style dancing, rolling and undulating my body like it was a rubber band, and I would twist and lift my foot and I would feel everything. Again, I didn't feel my body as continuous and uniform, but rather as a collection of small components joined together: knuckles, toenails, muscules, joints, blood, skin and so on.

Deleuze & Guattari, in their two-part tome, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, make a distinction between the molecular and the molar, insisting that the body and life more broadly should to be understood first as a collection of innumerable tiny machines and only later as a solid form. Between the feeling of the body as smooth surfaces and packed particles, I think what I was feeling here was a sort of undoing of my molar body into something more molecular. Instead of a dense and opaque thing called a "body," I felt my dancing world as both smooth, transparent surface and pebbled, translucent granularity. It was as if my body (my self?) stopped being coherent. I was both a jar of glass and a cluster of marbles; but no longer was I a solid mass.

The Wet and the Dry

Throughout that night, I kept on thinking of how the space of the party was both wet and dry. I was imagining the "magic" of a solid and intimate social scene as somehow wet: smooth and slick, with only whorls and ripples rather than scratching and grinding, warm and continuous. Much in the way that drops are absorbed into a glossy puddle, I imagine this ideal crowd as a shimmering pool of continuous bodies—or maybe a roiling river of flesh and feelings. At the most literal-minded extreme, a "wet" social space would resemble a Crisco-lubed game of Twister-turned-orgy.

And yet I was surprised again and again, all night, at how dry the crowd was: for all of our dense dancing-together, there was still empty space between bodies, the occasional cracking and breaking of the social skin as people sometimes failed to get along effortlessly, the fine and irregular grain of the room and the non-identical bodies in it. This was not a smooth crowd.

But it was certainly hot and steamy, no? I know that I'm literalizing my own metaphor here. Up until now, "wet" and "dry" were metaphorical terms for different textures of social togetherness. And yet the humidity that built up in the room filled these spaces and put our bodies on a path of becoming-solid (I remember a child of a friend of mine complaining--in the height of a Chicago summer heat wave--that the humidity was "like breathing pudding"). There is something about effort, burning energy in this dense milieu, that makes this jumble of hard and incongruous objects feel like it's turning into something continuous, supple and yet solid.

The revelation for me during this party was that this, here, is the place and the context and the event of solidarity--populated not by the idealized or generalized category of "party people" to which we ambivalently subscribe and not filled with stylistically pure and emblematic "techno" (or whatever), but by these bodies currently in the room, the music playing now, the space that is available to fill. Something happens to connect the grainy particularity of me and you and this girl and that guy to a vague, unfocused but ontologically dense event of generalized togetherness. This relation between the feeling of possible solidarity through the generalization of the self and the event of its immanent emergence/becoming in the dancing crowd is not an imaginary one, but I'm not sure what kind of relation it is otherwise. Any ideas?

The Magical Real

More and more, I think that there is something about this "feeling together" that has connections to Magical Realism and the re-enchantment of the everyday in the "night out on the town." I haven't properly thought this out yet, but I think that the experience of a "good vibe" or an otherwise successful party / rave / soirée isn't some dialectic of the magically singular and the boringly common (e.g., "buying the drinks is boring, but dancing is magic!"), but is instead the magical and the mundane at the same time: a simultaneity of at least two temporalities. Maybe it's the re-enchantment of the everyday, but I'm not entirely convinced of that quite yet.

Virtuality and Danger

Something that I have retained from my reading of Brian Massumi's Deleuzian (and, in turn, Bergsonian) notion of virtuality, is that the accumulation and intensification of possibilities is at it's most valuable when it is also at it's most dangerous (Parables for the Virtual, 2004). A lot of crowd theory, for example, pays close attention to how, historically, crowds that are "on the brink" of something are just as likely to tip into chaos and violence as into positive action, synchronization or even "fun."

I was thinking of this last night as, at several points during the night, people reached up above their heads and started banging on the metallic heating ducts running across the low ceiling of the basement where the party was taking place. The ducts shook, and while tonight's hosts seemed to be pretty unconcerned, I could imagine other hosts freaking out at the potential damage to the house's infrastructure. Thankfully, nothing happened--but what if someone got carried away?

Notably, all of these moments occurred during a buildup or climax in the intensity of a DJ's set. Some would start pounding as they perceived the various sonic indicators of a coming climax (increase in volume, sudden absence of the bass, sounds that rise in pitch, continuous noises that resemble drum rolls, etc.), as if helping to "prime the pump" and prepare a scene for the moment of fullness and flow. Others would start to bang at or after the moment of "arrival," the return of the bass beat and the re-organization of musical elements, as if trying to sustain this emerging plateau of intensity and vibration. But this work of preparation, entrainment and maintenance took aproached something disruptive as well.

Well, that's all I have to say for now. I think I've exhausted myself, anyway.

Record Releases, Birthdays and Bon Voyage, Sam!

Well, it's been a really busy Winter Quarter--especially these past few weeks. Ever since my workload suddenly changed from 1 full course + 1 course assistanceship to 2 full courses, I've been working on a relentless schedule. For the first couple of weeks after the change, every hour of my day was taken up desperately keeping up with lecture preparations, marking and the complexities of individual student issues (sicknesses, cheating, failing grades, etc).

In the past week, I began to feel like I was finally mastering the workload. I was still completely busy with work, but I could sense that I was getting faster and more efficient in my lecture preparations. I had been ready to spend the weekend preparing several lectures in advance...but then this party happened. A good friend of mine--also an internationally-touring DJ, techno producer and promoter--had recently announced that she was going to move to London, England along with her husband, who is also a very active in the scene. As some of the central figures in the techno collective, Naughty Bad Fun, their absence will be a sore and deeply felt one. So this weekend's party became not just a record release party, but also a bon voyage party for Sam and Ryan (and also a birthday party for another friend).

Anyway, long story short (too late!): I ditched my plans to work ahead on my courses in the interest of seeing Sam off.

00:00-02:00: Dirtybird & Sassmouth

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Before heading out to the party, I forced myself to at least finish my lecture notes for Monday morning. Thank gawd I did! This party rendered me nearly useless the next day. I finished the notes around 11:45 and started racing to get ready. I had already missed the opening set by my friend Kev a.k.a. Cap'n Can't Get Right, and I was about to miss Jenna & Sam's set! I showered and changed, dashed out the door and zipped over to Sam & Ryan's place as fast I could safely could.

After climbing my way over hard-packed ice, through their back yard in Humboldt Park in pitch-black darkness, I finally got to the back entrance to their place just as someone stepped out. After a moment of surprise, the person at the door (a friend of the hosts and an acquaintance of mine) let me in.

After throwing a few dollars to the hosts for the communal beer keg, I ran down into the infamous "Rave Cave" / "Rave Dungeon." You see, Sam & Ryan live in a lovely vintage Chicago 2-flat, where they share an unfinished, concrete-floored basement with the tenants on the second floor. Luckily, their upstairs neighbours are part of a punk collective, so between the two of them, they take turns hosting music events in the basement. The basement is really well isolated--deep in the ground and concrete-walled--so that they could keep the music pumping loudly all night with minimal complaints from their neighbours. Admittedly, this is Humboldt Park, and they live on a street of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos that frequently hold their own block parties, so I don't doubt that they would have much more trouble throwing these parties in Lincoln Park or Lakeview. You can get an idea of what the Rave Cave looks like by checking out the pictures and videos below; the rest of the space is pretty similar: a palimpsest of graffiti on concrete and second-hand furniture.

Anyway, I made my way into the basement and made the "arrival" rounds--that set of social calls you feel compelled to make when you arrive into a social event. Who do you know? You better find out and hug them. Or kiss them, grope them...whatever's appropriate. Anyway, I made my presence known, made the gestures of warmth that would begin the story of "partying-with" my friends, and declared my desires for getting fucked up tonight. It had been a long while since I had had the opportunity to really party; this wasn't really a good opportunity to party, either--I had to be "normal" and responsible by 4pm the next day--but it was Sam's sendoff party and I wasn't going to wuss out. Over the past few weeks, I've come to the realization that there is never a "convenient" time to get messed up and disorganized, and if I wait for that perfect weekend where I have nothing else to do, I'll always be partying half-heartedly until I find myself back on the plane to Paris. Not that I mind going back to Paris, but I only have 6 months left to make good fieldwork. Just typing that makes me hyperventilate a little.

With all of that sorted out (I'm not giving any details on here, but I'll just say that I had an opportunity to get fucked up in a way that I haven't been in a good 6 years), I snapped a few pictures and video of Sassmouth & Dirtybird spinning and got my dance on. As it turns out, one of my friends (and part of the Naughty Bad Fun collective) had set up a camera and was streaming this event live on the web (yay!), but I found out later that the streaming wasn't saved anywhere (wah!), so my dream of having a continuous record of the whole night fizzled. Anyway, I got some pretty choice shots on my own camera. There's a shot that doesn't show the two DJs all that well, but highlights the setup of their gear (Serato Scratch with laptop and 2 turntables; a webcam + laptop setup for the streaming video); there's also another shot that's blurry but vivid--a good reflection of my own perceptual world throughout most of the night.

Dirtybird & Sassmouth's set was great, and a bit surprising. I've always associated Sassmouth's sets with driving, dark, sometimes aggressive techno--that room-filling sound consistently associated with "Detroit"--but their combined sound tonight was much more sparse and pointillist. It wasn't quite the click-pop minimalism of Cabanne or FoundSound records, but it wasn't the head-banging minimalism of Ricardo Villalobos or Luciano either. I'm not sure where to place it, but I really liked it. I've managed to capture a bit of it in the videos I've attached after the pictures. What would you call this sound? Post your answer in the blog comments...

That's Sassmouth on the left, Dirtybird on the right.
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Check out the gear!
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This is how I felt...
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02:00-3:00: Rex Sepulveda

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As soon as Sam got off the decks, we began what would become a night-long trend of "Have fun in London! But we'll miss you! But good for you! But Chicago will never be the same!" At this point in the evening, it was mostly wistful smiles and warm hugs, but as the night went on, eyes became wet, smiles became pained, and some of us clutched her and sobbed.

I should say right now that I'm really not interested in having the debate about whether people would have felt so strongly about Sam's departure if they hadn't been high / drunk / etc. People do lots of things to their bodies to alter or intensify the way they look, feel, act, etc. Regardless of what happened before or after, these moments felt intensely real and achingly bittersweet.

Of course, the rest of the night wasn't just some rave-y version of a tearjerker film. There was lots of dancing, lots of cheering, and very high energy. I even have a shot of Sam humping the coveted Rave-Pole!

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At some point during this set, I had a conversation with a friend at the party who is an artist and very well read in philosophy and critical theory, and we had a conversation something like this:


"Holy Fuck! DELEUZE!!!"

And so on. Neither of us was particularly coherent, and we amused his girlfriend to no end.

For similar reasons (i.e., incapable of understanding the concept of "camera"), I don't have much in the way of photos and video of Rex Sepulveda's set, but it was great. From what I did capture, you can see/hear that he was doing a live set that was on the darker side of minimal techno, somewhat downtempo compared to the sets before and after him. At some point shortly after his set, I we had a conversation that went something like this.

[I compliment him on his set and ask him where he's from (Detroit)]

Sepulveda: This is actually my first time in the Rave Cave.

LMGM: Wow. Really? Welcome.

S: Heh, yeah, thanks.

LMGM: This is sort of a baptism by fire.

S: Heh, baptism by fire...heheh....Hahaha ...HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA [slaps knee]

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03:00-04:00: The Punisher

Michelle(a.k.a. The Punisher)'s sound has shifted in an interesting way since the last time I heard her play (which, admittedly, was a long while ago). Her set tonight reminded me more of the Katapult and Circus Company minimal nights in Paris, or maybe the Perlon sound. Anyway, her set had a lightly housey, clicky feel to it, but the whole set was grounded with the sort of solid bass that I associate with Deeeeetroit! techno. I may have been too retarded to take many pictures, but I did manage to get some good video--probably because the flashing lights on her equipment were soooo pretty...

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04:00-06:00: John Overfiend

Alas, I don't have any pictures of this set (although I do have some video...see below!), because I spent almost the entirety of this set out by the back entrance. Sorry mister Overfiend! Sometime at the beginning of this set, I went upstairs to get a bit of water and I realized that our hosts, Sam & Ryan, were guarding the back door with their jackets on (it's really cold back there). During the previous set, people had started arriving that the hosts didn't know; at first it seemed like mostly friends-of-friends-of-friends, but more and more it became clear that some of the after-hours crowd was spilling over from clubs and bars around town. While some of them were friendly and innocuous, many of them were sketchy and/or excessively fucked up. As the vibe in the room began to shift, Sam & Co. began to feel control over the crowd at the party slip away. So they set themselves up right at the back entrance to the house, trying to keep out any new strangers, while others in the group went around attempting to diplomatically (and, later, less diplomatically) shoo out the sketchpads downstairs.

Feeling bad for their plight, I put on my shell-top and stood by the door with them. As the drama continued and the hosts had to run around and keep things running smoothly (or at least positively), the crew of people keeping me company shifted and changed, but there was a constant feeling of camaraderie-in-the-trenches. As we complained about the random-ass strangers traipsing up and down the stairwell, we had some of the funniest moments of the whole party. My memories of the jokes are pretty fuzzy at this point, but I do remember Michelle and Kev making jokes about a cracked-out "Rave Squirrel" in a christmas tree, surrounded by blinking sequencers; I don't know why, but I laughed until my sides hurt.

At one point, I was trapped in the stairwell with a well-meaning guy that likes to practice his French with me...endlessly...even when I really don't want to. In the middle of this, a rather messed-up girl looking like she just walked out of an afterschool special stumbled down the stairs from the washroom. Walking through our rather stilted French conversation, she suddenly decided she needed to make herself the center of attention.

Random Skank: I don't know what you're talking about, but you're talking shit. I know that much.

LMGM: Uh-huh. That's nice.

RSkank: [over her shoulder, from the bottom of the stairs] Io parlo italiano (I speak Italian).

LMGM: Ed anche io lo parlo (I speak it, too).

RSkank: Oh yeah? Well, fuck you and your Italianspeak. [disappears into the basement]

Jenna: Oh, that bitch has got to GO.

And Jenna disappeared into the basement after her to defend my honor. Alas, the strained French conversation lasted for much longer...even though his date was very obviously eager to get home and get it on before work. What kind of guy takes his time to practice his French when his date is standing by the door and gesturing to her crotch?

6:00-?: Nathaniel Shreve

Sigh. I'd like to say that I was able to stick around for this and enjoy his set, but by the time I escaped the door and warmed back up, it was time to go home. I really wanted to stay all night and party until the last person fell asleep, but I had to get home, force myself to sleep, and then get back up, read some academic articles and run to campus and run a screening for my Sex&Gender class. Oh well, I thought, I more cautious version of me would've gone home at 2am, so I suppose I did well.

With only a bit of difficulty, I made it outside (aaagh! sunlight!!) and got myself home.

Phew! I'll be posting a few more thoughts on the party in tomorrow's blog post, but here's a fantastic glam-shot of Sam and MLE during the party:

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By the way, you can see more pics from this event here and here.