Dance Yourself Clean: The Power of Techno

Author : 6AM
February 12, 2021

Dance Yourself Clean: The Power of Techno

Guest post by Lydia McDowell

A year ago, back when we could get together on the dance floor, I had no idea that the mind-melting acid and techno throwdown from 999999999 at WORK by Synthetik Minds and 6AM Group in Los Angeles would be my last for a long time. This was written in the afterglow of that incredible night.

Music has the ability to touch the deepest wells of rage, sorrow, and grief within us. Dance allows us to shake and untangle the experiences living in our bodies. And breath is the current that evaporates it all into the ether.

Anger has a temperature and a texture. When activated, it’s hot, in-your-face, propelling, churning, heavy, thundering, boiling, compressive. The freight train in the dark. The whistling pressure cooker. The snap of the snare. The war cry. If someone is riding the crimson tide of anger, you can feel the vacuum of it sucking all surrounding energy before you even enter the room with them. Anger is intense. And it is a natural human emotion.

It’s our legitimate response to the incongruences and injustices of our world. If you’re a human on this planet and you’ve been angry about something, congratulations! You’re alive. But in our contemporary culture, feeling anger is largely frowned upon, and without a channel to process and diffuse it, fury often gets channeled into either the unhealthy path of destruction or that of suppression. In the latter case, anger lives as tension in our bodies, most often in the shoulders and chest, and is called to the surface when we’re triggered by something externally.

For most of my life, my anger was the closest emotion I had access to. Growing up in rural Appalachia, my experience was illuminated by incredible natural beauty and shadowed by profound inequality. At a young age, I couldn’t understand why the sermons I was hearing in church about charity, helping the downtrodden, and Christ’s love were at stark odds with the reality of how minorities, women, and workers in my community were treated. A lot of things didn’t make sense at this time, but in the core of my being, I knew they weren’t right. So I was pissed off a lot, and being both an outspoken and rebellious straight-A student, I was a conundrum that teachers funneled into gifted programs and detention in equal measure.

In high school, frustrated with sports that involved balls and teamwork, I started running cross country. This was probably the first time that I was able to start to process my angry energy. I enjoyed any training run that got me outside, but the long-distance days were where I really shined. Along ridges and streams into deep rhododendron and cedar-lined canyons, I learned how to be with myself; that being with what I thought and felt wasn’t a dangerous place. Propelling myself through layers of physical and mental resistance, after several miles I could fall into a steady rhythm of flow. Things were moving within me and with each footstep on the ground, each exhale into the sky, I could feel the tension in my body loosen. In these long runs, I felt expansive, connected, and clear.

Running in nature was a dependable place I could go to access my inner world — to process, to find inspiration, and to empty out my head.

 

The steep and winding trails of the Blackwater Canyon were where I fell in love with running. Photo of Blackwater Falls, Davis WV by Stephen Walker on Unsplash.

Anger has a temperature and a texture. When activated, it’s hot, in-your-face, propelling, churning, heavy, thundering, boiling, compressive. The freight train in the dark. The whistling pressure cooker. The snap of the snare. The war cry. If someone is riding the crimson tide of anger, you can feel the vacuum of it sucking all surrounding energy before you even enter the room with them. Anger is intense. And it is a natural human emotion.

It’s our legitimate response to the incongruences and injustices of our world. If you’re a human on this planet and you’ve been angry about something, congratulations! You’re alive. But in our contemporary culture, feeling anger is largely frowned upon, and without a channel to process and diffuse it, fury often gets channeled into either the unhealthy path of destruction or that of suppression. In the latter case, anger lives as tension in our bodies, most often in the shoulders and chest, and is called to the surface when we’re triggered by something externally.

For most of my life, my anger was the closest emotion I had access to. Growing up in rural Appalachia, my experience was illuminated by incredible natural beauty and shadowed by profound inequality. At a young age, I couldn’t understand why the sermons I was hearing in church about charity, helping the downtrodden, and Christ’s love were at stark odds with the reality of how minorities, women, and workers in my community were treated. A lot of things didn’t make sense at this time, but in the core of my being, I knew they weren’t right. So I was pissed off a lot, and being both an outspoken and rebellious straight-A student, I was a conundrum that teachers funneled into gifted programs and detention in equal measure.

In high school, frustrated with sports that involved balls and teamwork, I started running cross country. This was probably the first time that I was able to start to process my angry energy. I enjoyed any training run that got me outside, but the long-distance days were where I really shined. Along ridges and streams into deep rhododendron and cedar-lined canyons, I learned how to be with myself; that being with what I thought and felt wasn’t a dangerous place. Propelling myself through layers of physical and mental resistance, after several miles I could fall into a steady rhythm of flow. Things were moving within me and with each footstep on the ground, each exhale into the sky, I could feel the tension in my body loosen. In these long runs, I felt expansive, connected, and clear.

Running in nature was a dependable place I could go to access my inner world — to process, to find inspiration, and to empty out my head.

Enter the techno party. The highways are empty save for the last cars returning punch-drunk bar-hoppers to their beds, and the keepers of the graveyard shift. Arrive at a dot on the map in a neighborhood you’ve been advised to avoid. Step out onto the street and adjust to the hazy desolation of this hour. Walk past a line of tents and shopping carts. A fight breaks out outside of a warehouse down the street. It’s stocked with goods from China, waiting to be picked up in the daytime and conveniently delivered by semi-truck to hungry American households. Violence, blind consumption, poverty, and other grim specters of urban life are the backdrop you can expect here in the nocturnal upside-down. Feel your body tense. Check your back. Turn down an alley and step over empty cans of spray paint. Watch out for rats.

WORK presents 999999999. Photo by @nightmovesme

Follow the low rhythmic pulse and feel it build in your chest as you approach a shadowy threshold in a barbed-wire fence. Exchange cash for passage. Weave through other figures dressed in shades of black, doing their chatting and smoking outside. Conversations are quickly drowned out by the pummeling drive of a bass drum in a high tempo assault of the brick walls around it. Find the door. Sense the change in pressure. Step into the abyss.

The sound hits you with the force of a hurricane. There’s no time for your mental faculties to adjust. Any resistance in your body quickly surrenders to the pounding current of the subwoofer. Heavy mechanical kicks in the characteristic 4×4 rhythm melt with squelchy bass lines and clashing industrial noises delivered in sequenced loops. You close your eyes and slip into a state of meditative awareness invoked by the repetition. Your head and limbs move freely through space in rapid, jerky motion in time with the high-octane beat. Your heart syncopates with the rhythm and the boundaries of your sense of self dissolve into the wild organism of the dance floor. The effects of reverb and delay weave throughout the set, bending time and space. Sonic patterns condense and collapse to later reappear stretched and hollowed out. Here you’re free to traverse the inertia of the present and the future onto which it opens.

This is the soundtrack of the wormhole. This is a portal into the shadowy underworld of our personal and collective subconscious, where our pain and rage lie dormant and taking up space. This is the evolution of a sound with roots in the prophecy of dystopian Detroit. This is Paula Temple’s 1’s and 0’s screaming that children shouldn’t be locked in cages. This is a Jeff Mills sci-fi technonovela painting the reality of what we’ve sacrificed to our machines. This is the transmission of our confusion and rage as the world’s population multiplies and our servers of information burn holes in the sky. This is a dance with our demons so that by knowing their faces, they lose their power. Techno is the music of the witching hour. That window of time where we enter a liminal space between our world and the invisible other side.

Your muscles clench and relax throughout the punishing cadence of sonic tension and release wielded by the dark maestro behind the decks. You sense the energies of agony, frustration, wrath, sorrow, and despair coming alive in your body. You feel their tightness and constriction, their heat, and emptiness. You continue to dance into the storm, under the strobe lights slashing the dark like lightning. You open your eyes for a moment and glimpse the split-second frames of other dance floor creatures deep in their own journeys.

You rage, rage against the dying of the light.

You can’t track the moment when it happened but there’s a distinct lightness to your composition when you step outside into the quiet lavender dawn. You take in the chill air, smile at your friends, and feel yourself float into a new day, serenaded by one last, distant, wandering track.

They may seem like polar opposite sources of therapy, but in long-distance running and underground raving, I found that I could completely drop into those elusive, transcendent states of present-moment awareness. In nature and on the dance floor, no movement, no emotion, no sensation was too much. These places have been pure receptacles vast enough to hold whatever I come there to process.

Ravers and revelers often get the ill-informed perception as being people who are trying to escape reality. But I’d argue the opposite. Dance for hours in the sensory deprivation tank of the techno dance floor, late at night when your brain is wired for dreaming, and enter a moment-to-moment experience of only feeling and sound. How many of us are feeling and listening at this level (or at all) in our everyday, waking lives? By and large, we experience the world through the busy hum in our heads. Experiences and emotions get lost in the analytical default of our mind’s filter and we miss out on so much richness that being alive offers. Through movement, we wakefully touch into the world around us. This is how we experience art.

Music is an experience of feeling that transcends language, analysis, and leaves logic at the door. Techno has always been a style of electronic music rooted in the counter culture and a sounding board of political protest, its characteristic 909 drum machine sound roaring in rapid-fire against human rights atrocities and totalitarian rule. Warehouse parties in Chicago and Detroit were created by Black & queer communities to be safe spaces of expression. The best warehouse parties in hidden urban enclaves still live up to that sacred origin.

Until we can gather together safely on dance floors once again, you’ll catch me cruising the dense, emerald trails in my backyard here in Oregon, smiling at the closely touching trees as they sway with the melody of the wind. With a favorite dub techno set on my headphones, long enough for the miles ahead, the light coming through the branches bathes my revolving limbs in flashes of color and reminds me of late-night dance floor cleansings. I close my eyes for a bit longer between breaths, and any bitterness or anxiety I’ve carried as of late is purged by the fire beneath my heartbeat that impels me forward. And every step, on every beat, guides me to the place I feel the most free.