Despite the lockdown and the ban of mass gatherings, many people across Europe have been going to raves and block parties. Now the question is: what’s driving them to put at risk theirs and other people’s health?
Since summer has started, too many illegal mass gatherings of people at music events have been organized, although the risk of a second wave is very high.
But, as the musicologist and sociologist Beate Peter explains, it is basically impossible to keep the security distance at raves because the point of these parties is to be very close together.
Dr Peter has first-hand experience of rave culture in her homeland, Germany, and in the UK, where she’s a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is an expert in the psychology of raving – professionally and personally – and she can understand why people go raving despite the virus. She explains that when you are on the dancefloor, you free the mind from your thoughts and stop overthinking. However, with all the issues that we have to face in this period, she doesn’t feel like going out.
“You would have to ignore what’s going on at the moment. But with my level of awareness of what’s happening, I wouldn’t be able to get to a state, where I can get what I want out of a rave,” she says.
1. The connection between mind and body
According to Dr Peter, academics often focus on a “body-mind dichotomy”, in which the mind is favored over the body. But on the dancefloor that dichotomy cannot exist because body and mind are connected. When dancing, you are physically engaged in it, but also mentally. “And that is true with or without drugs,” she adds.
A rave party is the perfect moment to lose yourself on the dancefloor, free your mind and forget the pandemic. Maybe this is why people have gathered at raves and block parties all across Europe: there have been major mass gatherings in Manchester, London, Berlin, Paris, Nantes, and Porto.
2. The resistance of young people
For Clifford Stott, professor of social psychology at Keele University, mass gatherings at free parties involve also fundamental rights. Before the epidemic outbreak, we gathered together all the time. But young people did it more than others. Now they can’t gather anywhere; they can’t even go to nightclubs because they are all closed. But in Berlin something might change. Ramona Pop, a German politician, is urging district majors to find open air public spaces that can host events organized by Berlin’s club and techno scene.
In the UK the situation is different. In particular in the north west of the country, local authorities have closed free parties down, causing the anger of young people.
According to Professor Stott, young people consider gathering and socializing as a fundamental part of themselves. “These free parties are happening in a context of restriction, and that’s an assertion of resistance to those restrictive measures,” he explains.
3. The role of drugs
In the UK some of the parties even involved criminal activities, such as drug use and stabbings. There is also evidence of the participation of organized crime groups (OCGs) in the financing and organization of the events.
Stott suggests that OCGs may see free parties as a way to capture the right audience to sell drugs. However, the majority of people participating in those parties won’t probably care about who organized the party or paid the DJ. They will simply go there to dance and socialize with other people, including those using drugs.
“Drugs like MDMA are illegal, but it is hard to enforce the law at a free party,” says Stott.
MDMA, most commonly known as ecstasy, has always played an important role in rave culture. People using this kind of drug said that it allowed them to stop worrying about how they appeared to other people, or care about society’s expectations. This is particularly relevant in this period, during which people are constantly recording their lives using a smartphone. Because of this constant recording, it is impossible to dance like nobody is watching and immerse yourself in the dancing experience.
And today, after a forced isolation with very little human contact, the sense of connecting with people on the dancefloor is even more important than the drugs that facilitate it.
4. The concept of muscular bonding
Dr Peter says that in rave culture the important thing is the beat of the music, rather than its melody. During a rave party, participants dance together on the beat and move in unison, creating a sort of muscular bonding between them.
The concept of muscular bonding was created by the historian William McNeill. The term is related to a sense of connection felt by a group of people and generated by rhythmic, synchronized movements, performed unison.
“In rave parties you develop a norm of connectedness with strangers,” says Stott. “In other contexts, they would remain strangers, but in this context, there is a form of empathy and solidarity, ” he added.
5. The joy of rebellion
The sense of solidarity can have different meanings. According to Stott, group actions are normally driven by notions of identity or power relationships between one group and another. This is what happens to rave parties: people break the law and go there to assert their power. This power assertion wouldn’t be possible if people acted alone; they need to come together with other people and act collectively.
“And there is a lot of joy in that,” says Stott. “It makes us feel good because you can express who you are.” The same happens on the dancefloor.