A hard dance sensibility has come to define the post-Covid-19 clubbing experience. With breakneck BPMs at times doubling 120, the typical speed for techno, outrageous maximalism is everywhere. This yen for intensity feels in part a sonic response to an era of ambient permacrisis and TikTok doomscrolling, mirroring the sensation of change occurring so rapidly that keeping up becomes its own challenge. Yet in spite of its confrontational quality, today’s raves are also shot through with a comical thread. Across the past year, I have heard remixes of the Eastenders theme, “Candle in the Wind” and the Canadian National Anthem to the pulse of Berlin techno. Echoing the hyperactive energy of the defunct record label PC Music – something of a guiding light for the scene – the sound flickers between homage and parody so rapidly that the binary between the two dissolves.
This is an idiom that demands hyperbole and speaking in prescriptive terms about this stylistic sensibility can feel antithetical to its spirit. It exists closely in tandem with the raves in which it is played, and speaks to a wider cultural movement predominantly created for and by queer people. Responding as much to a post-pandemic sense of abandon as it does to the past decade of stodgily macho tech-house nights, these raves are providing a richer form of nourishment to a new generation of clubbers. As prohibitive licensing laws clamp down upon the right to dance and the British press grows ever more vicious in its attacks on trans identity, these spaces have become essential for the self-expression of its attendees, perhaps finally returning the rave to its radical roots.
TANK spoke to four of the most exciting artists on the scene, in collaboration with Khrisjoy, who dressed DJs, producers and musicians in their statement puffer jackets. These artists examine the genre’s capacity to deliver a cold shock to the system and celebrate those dancefloor moments that remain pristine in one’s mind, deep into the Uber journey home.
The archetype of the Fool is characterised by their ability to speak truth to power. For Leeds-born Stolen Velour, “jester-y energy” is the guiding principle for his divergent mixes of what he calls “weirdo freak bitch club” music. “I like drawing strange connections between genres, especially in ways that are goofy and funny”, he says. An avowed metalhead before an encounter with the Bar9 dubstep classic “Midnight” set him on a radically different path, he began mixing drum and bass at age 14, with post-dubstep and UK funky excursions following after. A harrowing move to London for university threatened to swallow him whole, yet he grew to appreciate the city’s polymorphic club scene and how “its sound evolves so rapidly there’s no time to stick genres onto it.” He dotes on the community that has embraced his anarchic vision. “It’s changed my life. People are so courageous in how willing they are to bring their very specific visions to life. I feel like it’s allowed me to unlock parts of myself that had been dormant and spiritually suffocated since those metal days. I feel eternally indebted.”
Acceleration is key to the mixes of Dextra Mandrake. Merging hardcore sonics with jack-hammer pop edits, her neo-hardcore DJ mixes are a whiplash-inducing tour through the last two decades of club music. A theoretical principle underpins her approach, as she says: “I used to study analytic philosophy, and over time I registered my disgust over this way of thinking about politics and morality”, finding closer allegiance with xenofeminism and metamodernist schools of thought, as well as Shane Lyons-Cording’s recently published Geish Manifesto. These ideological underpinnings and their sense of endless flux and possibility can be keenly felt across Mandrake’s wildly divergent sets. “As a hyposensitive person with autism and ADHD, I’ve always been someone who seeks intense, overstimulating experiences.” A former full-time model, Mandrake grew uncomfortable with the industry’s “bioessentialist, neocolonial thinking”, and its denial of tattoos and body modification, finding solidarity within a tight-knit artistic community she discovered after attending London Trans Pride. It is this communal focus that continues to inspire Mandrake. “Although DJing is one way I interact with the scene, what I love about it is you can make hyper-nostalgic moments while creating electronic noises that have never been heard before.”
If TAAHLIAH has been particularly phased by her past few years spent sharing stages with heavyweights like LSDXOXO and the late SOPHIE, she does not show it. “It’s something I always dreamed about; I didn’t realise I’d get here so fast!” she says with a chuckle. It was only in 2018 when the Scottish-born artist began DJing “out of sheer spite to my tutors at art school”, drawing upon the glossy sheen of Eurodance and hyperpop’s frenetic bounce. In her 2021 EP, Angelica, her signature synth onslaughts came sweetened with a deeply personal sensibility, which extends to her real-life presence. She is thoughtful about how her identity as a trans woman of colour factors into her positioning within a predominantly cissexual, white electronic music landscape. “I can find it quite difficult playing for heteronormative crowds. As a DJ you want to be enamoured, not necessarily challenged, by the crowd. A lot of the time, they’re there for certain aesthetics or sonics rather than the experience of being at a party. I don’t like being put in that box.” In spite of some misgivings, she remains modest about her meteoric rise to prominence. “I think someone like me being in this space is a good thing, it’s a question of whether I’m being treated the same as other people. And if I’m not, I just take the cheque and run!”
With its tendency to sincerity and melodicism, trance music is often dismissed as techno’s irritating hippie cousin. Yet for Polish-born DJ dogheadsurigeri, who prominently features the genre in her mixes, it is a source of childhood nostalgia. “When I was 10 years old, all I listened to was Tiësto on my dad’s MP3 player. Trance takes me on a journey,” she says. She began her career as an events organiser in Warsaw inspired by New York’s GHE20G0TH1K parties, learning to DJ to contest the “boys club” atmosphere she was in. “They gave me a lot of support but I had to ask: where is the space for other talents who don’t identify as male?” Her question was answered when she joined Oramics, a feminist art platform supporting queer, female and non-binary Eastern European voices within electronic music. Instigating change in an industry that looks for tokenistic solutions to structural problems is an uphill battle: “We should look at who is in power, instead of just 50/50 lineups. Who is the curator? Who is the booking agent?” Still, she is keen to stress the pleasures of her job. “You have a function as a DJ – react with an audience and give them fun. It is such a privilege.” ◉