Reality no longer existed for me.
Only vibrations from electric basslines could shake my consciousness. My eyes were transfixed by stunning beams of light that were behaving as if the laws I knew to belong to reality were a joke, in my limited experience as a two-legged, conscious organism on earth. The wave pulsations I was accustomed to were not there to distract from the perfection of the jade beams that connected sky and tree in one web of light and sound. An amethyst underbelly resulted in a contrast within this new filament, more a focused ray of intense light than what we have been dazzled by before. As I watched the light play across the sky, I became distinctly aware that I couldn’t think of anything beyond the right now. I might need water in awhile, or a bathroom break, or perhaps food, or maybe even sleep. All that mattered was where I was, right now, with this crew, completely enveloped in the light. Right. Here. Right. Now.
In Fractal Forest.
But, evolution of what? How could I be so enthralled and inspired by something so trivial as partying? The answer, of course, is that there is nothing trivial about partying, or the way we do it. Let’s take a step away from the dizzying wonders of the Shambhala Music Festival, as much a four day rave as it is an ongoing experiment in social freedom. To explain where I think we stand now in history will require a bit of context. So let’s jump in a fucking time machine.
The tradition of partying dates back to our earliest cultural roots, and considerable research and discourse has being made about the earliest festivals of antiquity, the Bacchanal (or the Dionysiad during the Greek Era). Bacchus (Dionysus) was the God of Wine, Fertility, Theatre and Ritual Madness – as elemental as earth, air, fire and water for some. For a set period of many days, the entire culture would put aside all non-essential work to celebrate life, community and the arts. Live music and plays would be performed, revelers would dress as Gods and magical figures, most famously the Satyr.
The tradition outlasted the Roman Empire, and today civilizations worldwide engage in some form of ‘Carnival,’ a brief “turning-around” of society itself as a means of enhancing the communication among its members (in the definition of Carnival credited to Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin). In Rabelais and his World, the philosopher stated that a carnival (or festival) is a “temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order; [marking]the suspension of all hierarchical rank, priveleges, norms and prohibitions. Carnival was the true feast of time, the feast of becoming, change, and renewal.” I believe that the modern counter-culture festival, particularly Burning Man, the local major event Shambhala and its contemporaries and tributaries represent the truest aspect of this psychologically fulfilling aspect of festival culture. When the denizens of a society can actually look at and see the social body around them engaging in a shared act, community is fostered.
In many communities a unique group of people come together to celebrate and enrich their surroundings, hoping to educate those who are outside this sphere of life about what makes it important to those that participate. The promoters, musicians, set designers, audio engineers, construction crew, artists, workshop teachers, emergency services workers, food preparation workers and festival attendees all have their own personal reasons for supporting and attending cultural festivals, volunteering or even working to earn their way in life through this community connected by partying as much as anything. It is a common problem at the local level in small towns everywhere that young people feel a lack of connection to the community and leave; I have seen in my travels though the festival landscape that those who are involved in throwing parties have a greater sense of connection to their community and are more likely to develop something they believe in in their home social sphere rather then move elsewhere to employ their talents in potentially more profitable corporate work in major population centres. There are even many who remain connected to their home communities through the festivals despite living in these metropolises out of necessity to merge their passions with paying their way through life’s steady stream of bills, fees, taxes and accidents.
The underground dance scene is often referenced as having started in the 1970s but I feel a case could be made that they are more the modern incarnation of a certain breed of edge-pushing idealists who congregate around the furthest evolutions of the popular arts. The house and jungle legends of the secret desert and warehouse raves of the 80s were following in the footsteps of the boundary pushing rock acts at Woodstock and Monterey Pop, and so on through history. Burning Man is clearly the largest example of the underground bacchanalia thriving in modern culture, so much so that it has been lampooned on the Simpsons and thus become part of the Official Trademarked Landscape of American Culture, which that show has become. Electronic music also burst through to mainstream awareness and profit levels in the form of big-room dubstep and ‘EDM’. Not everyone involved in the true outskirts-Dionysiads is happy with the way the glamorous Las Vegas side of the industry has co-opted the fashions and choice party favors but not necessarily the same open-minded exchange of potentially cosmic and world changing ideas.
I propose this is threatening and upsetting because, to us, what is going on in the underground Canadian rave scene is STILL the most relevant and exciting form of community interaction that we have. We all love that moment when we are at a festival and we look through the throng of lights and bodies and make eye contact with someone you’ve never seen before and maybe never will see again and you both know you’re both thinking, ‘yeah. This is my JAM.’ That’s what has caught on perhaps more than some of the other community elements that can make one feel all warm and fuzzy at a festival. We can come together as a fraction of society united into something that feels substantial and meaningful, and work hard and look out for one another and support the artists that constantly inspire us and bring us together in shared awareness.
This is where Canadian raving comes in. Water is free to anyone to drink at every non-sponsored festival I can recall; while profits are being made, there is clearly every attempt being made by the organizers and community to make sure people are being taken care of (of course, some people do fall through the cracks, and a bad attitude can turn a hopeful situation into a disaster). Shambhala is a leader in Harm Reduction, which is actually information and awareness about drugs. Larger corporate festivals are still under the thumbs of sponsors that prefer to not address the issue of drugs with any kind of information that could be construed as supportive of drug use, which can happen anywhere. This is as effective as the church’s refusal to condone Christians using condoms in regions where Missionaries and colonization left the thumbprint of Western ‘civilization.’ There is a growing class of new rave-festivals in Western Canada that adopt similar attitudes to drug awareness and seek more to take care of people who are somehow in a bad way because of drug use. It’s about right here, right now, how can this person be helped? And harm reduction is just one example, along with open minded workshops, a wealth of focus on healthy food and living options, and of course, those amazing Fractal Forest lasers and them booming PK Sound and Funktion 1 speaker stacks, our party community is all about exploring the boundaries, the limits of what is possible right now. As one elderly gent at Astral Harvest exclaimed to me, “you kids aren’t having a party, you’re having a conference to save the future!” EDM getting big doesn’t have to mean that this has been lost in the rush to make profits – it’s an opportunity for us to expand the potential of our whole world community by supporting our Canadian Rave scene and saying ‘this is how the community wants to take care of itself.’ That same influx of first-time Shambhala attendees that the longtime veterans are complaining about are being brought into their world, just as they too were once immigrants to a new way of thought.
The poet John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” In this conveniently Google-able phrase, he describes the unavoidable connection between the individual, the geography and the community. As a person cannot live in a vacuum, a community does not merely happen because dwellings are built and people live in them in an area linked by geography. A community is something that is grown and nurtured by the gradual interaction and collaboration between the people who have chosen or were circumstantially driven to live there. They are defined in metaphorical texts written in shared language, in cultural practices celebrating shared values and symbolism. Only once the people of an area have learned from each other and established a way of life that reflects the interests and philosophies that reflect the communicated will of the majority, does a community truly occupy a place. Legendary futurist Gene Roddenberry stated, “If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”
Words By: Leonardo Jones | Photos By: Xavier Walker