Rave Culture. The Alteration and Decline of a Philadelphia Music Scene. Tammy L. Anderson. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 2009.
ISBN: 978-1-59213-934-7 (hardcover), 978-1-59213-934-7 (paperback)
RRP: US$79.50 (hardcover), US$25.95 (paperback)
Manchester Metropolitan University (UK)
In her book on the Philadelphia Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene, Tammy Anderson uses rave culture to reflect on why and how particular youth cultures decline. Her ethnographic methodology, turning her into a participant-observer, is helpful as it provides invaluable insight into the organisation, production and marketing of electronic dance music. Investigating the rave phenomenon from a cultural perspective, she places a scene primarily defined by its music consumption into a wider social, political and cultural context. This approach allows her not only to analyse the forces within the scene that led to its alteration and decline but also to look at external factors that might have affected the perception and development of the EDM scene in Philadelphia, USA.
Comparing the past raves with contemporary EDM events, Anderson traces the development of such events over time. Her historical narrative of the genre opposes the notion that rave is a musical form of a particular time, commonly situated between 1989 and 1992. She creates a rave-club culture continuum that categorises EDM events according to their representation of commercial or rave-like values. By doing so, Anderson successfully shows that the multi-faceted space at EDM events abolishes the idea of authenticity and commercialism as a binary opposition. Applying cultural markers, Anderson locates several types of events within this continuum and promotes the idea of a spectrum of values that show how the identity of rave culture has changed.
She also introduces six different types of participants, categorised according to their insider or outsider status. As entertaining as it is to read about the difference between loyalists, clubbers, pretenders or spillovers and their personal motivation to participate in an EDM event, this model struggles to explain the interest in or absence of a collective identity. Although the ethnographic data collected from interviewees gives an interesting insight into the upbringing of insiders and offers an explanation for the sense of belonging that some aim for on the dance floor, other participant categories are ignored, making a distinction between the ideal types of clubbers and their attitude towards the creation of a collective identity inappropriate.
Anderson's analysis of the forces of cultural change is one of the most interesting aspects of this book, not just from the perspective of a musicologist but also because the alteration and decline of rave culture is presented as symbolising the general trend of youth cultures and scenes. First, the general schism between grassroots music enthusiasts on the one hand and younger fans on the other clearly shows how cultural and social values are embedded in a generation's attitude towards the production, marketing, promotion and consumption of music. Second, Anderson's investigation into the causes and effects of the commercialisation of raves relates back to rave-club culture continuum. Furthermore, the empirical evidence from her fieldwork shows that such development appears to be innate to youth culture and music. Thus, the mourning and resistance to change of original grassroots rave culture participants appears inappropriate, especially if it prevents a scene from surviving (new fans are not welcomed). Third, the aspect of cultural otherness and hedonism is closely linked to rave culture's prominent drug use. More interesting is the point Anderson raises in her discussion of deviation over the extent to which the notion of otherness can still act as a recruitment factor for a specific culture and the question as to when deviance becomes self-destructive. Again, Anderson formulates her questions in such a way that a broader debate is encouraged. Fourth, the aspect of formal social control includes an examination of the politics and policies in both the US and UK to provide a base from which to argue for a completely different attitude towards EDM to that of club owners, promoters and fans. Fifth, genre fragmentation is identified by Anderson as a result of commercialisation. With the original rave ethos having all but vanished, special events prevent fans from being exposed to various musical genres or styles. Considering some of the comments in the book, the fragmentation of the genre into a wealth of subgenres could also be interpreted as the escape from commercial exploitation, a move that might have been seen by some stakeholders as liberation from commercial restraints and expectations.
The chapter dealing with cultural forces is one of the work's strongest, since it puts rave culture's alteration and decline into a wider perspective. Moreover, Anderson shows how these different forces are interdependent and how they are linked to a particular society's understanding and appreciation of leisure time, music, and deviance: "Simply put, a culture's fate lies in attracting birth cohorts and demographic groups, the destruction in or diffusion of its elements and form, its exploitation via industry, and its suppression by the state" (112).
Chapter Five is similarly broad in approach, scope and applicability, dealing as it does with the types of cultural work that aim to produce both change and stability for a (musical) youth culture. Anderson's division of cultural work into restoration, preservation and adaptation makes it clear that the objectives of the various members of this youth culture differ to such a degree that the use of cultural markers on the rave-club culture continuum seems justified. Furthermore, it highlights that this continuum is expandable in all directions and establishes a proof for the diversity within the culture. The comparative study between Philadelphia, London and Ibiza in Chapter Six, however, lacks the depth and critical analysis of previous chapters. It is unclear why those cities were chosen, what they represent or even what the results mean with regard to pan-European research (USA, Spain, Germany), global youth cultures (nomads), the aspect of nationality (Britishness), or regionalism (lots of sunshine in Ibiza, non-organic setting).
Nevertheless, this weakness does not damage my overall evaluation of Anderson's book as not only a well-written account of the Philadelphia EDM scene and its historical changes but also the importance of its emphasis on scenes in general. In doing so her achievements are threefold. First, Anderson's use of broad categories and cultural markers that do not over-emphasise the significance of music make her research applicable to other subject areas. Her investigation of Philadelphia's rave culture is by no means exclusive in its articulation of factors internal and external to a scene. They are proof of the deep rootedness of youth culture in society regardless of levels of deviance. Second, Anderson's analysis of cultural work shows that youth culture cannot be seen as a fixed and stable entity that vegetates aimlessly. Instead, participants in a particular culture might be motivated for various reasons but they are very active in keeping their youth culture alive. Third, according to Anderson's participant categorisation I am a loyalist and as such very protective of a scene with great emotional investment. Reading a book about the decline of my favourite youth culture that, for many years, played a big role in my identity formation, meant I read Anderson's research with some scepticism. But, perhaps most important of all, her convincing arguments are refreshing precisely because they are free from the nostalgic longing for a grassroots rave culture.