BY McKenzie Wark in Opinion | 31 JAN 23
Featured in
Issue 232

Raving: Second Chances on the Dancefloor

McKenzie Wark shares how techno made her feel at home in her body

BY McKenzie Wark in Opinion | 31 JAN 23

I arrive at techno sleepaway camp with all the giddy emotions of a teenager. I never went to sleep­away camp during my teenage summers. It wasn’t a thing in Australia. Nobody thought kids should be sleeping in cabins and singing ‘Kumbaya’ around campfires. Glancing around the excitable ravers piling out of the bus, I suspect a lot of these techno campers spent adolescent summers at places like this. There’ll be parties in the huts tonight, tomorrow and the night after – with no camp counsellors to enforce bedtime. These are mostly people in their 30s, many queer or trans, for whom adolescence is different. For straight people, it quickly gives way to one or another version of adulting. Working class version: leave school, get a job, have kids. Middle class version: leave school, go to college, get a job, have kids. And then, I suppose, there’s the rich kid version where you never have to grow up at all.

Trans people, in particular, can have a weird, loopy version of adolescence. The one you went through as the sex assigned at birth, then the do-over. The second time, on your hormones of choice, you get your emotions turned upside-down by what some call a ‘second puberty’. Actually, I think of it the other way around: there’s puberty, which is first transition; then, for trans people who come out after that, there’s second transition.

Purrja @purrja performing at Lunchbox Candy, Berlin. Courtesy: Hari Tzanoudakis and Adam Munnings; photograph: Hari Tzanoudakis

I left my second transition very late. I came out as a trans woman in my 50s. It was fun/not-fun having a layer of myself that felt mature and balanced and, on top of that, a layer that was ugly-crying in coffee shops. The really fun/not-fun part was learning sexuality all over again. Trans people often make the same sort of dumb sexual mistakes as adolescents through inexperience, but people are far less tolerant of such missteps than of teenage fumblings. Trans people, particularly trans women, can get cancelled for minor sexual faux pas that, in cis teens, you’d just chalk up to inexperience. I’m over all that, thankfully, but techno sleepaway camp does give me high-school social anxieties. There are cliques and outsiders, cool kids and not-cool kids. There’s the awkwardness of joining a social circle – at least outside the dancefloor. In dancing, all that dissolves away. Techno sleepaway camp is for the hardcore, the heads. Everyone here really knows how to dance.

Friends and family at Adam Munnings' @adammunnings set at Lunchbox Candy, Berlin. Courtesy: Hari Tzanoudakis and Adam Munnings; photograph: Hari Tzanoudakis

Reconnecting with dancing was the great pleasure of my second adolescence. In the first, I’d been a bit torn between the arty post-punk music scene and disco. The former seemed serious and, despite the haircuts, for nerds. But the best dancing was at the disco. There I found joy, sensuality, femininity. It wasn’t easy to move between those two scenes. It was especially hard to dress for a night in the pub seeing bands then also for the disco after it.

When I came out as trans, and began dancing again, the sound that captured me was techno, which barely existed when I was a teen. Dancing always made me feel more at home in my own body, even though a lot of dance music seems made for bodies other than mine. For straight bodies or gays ones, but not trans ones. When it’s good, techno doesn’t sound like it’s made for any human body at all. It sounds like it’s made for aliens. Since all human bodies are alien in that sound, I feel as at home in it as anyone else.

Nancy @nancy.grrl performing at Lunchbox Candy, Berlin. Courtesy: Hari Tzanoudakis and Adam Munnings; photograph: Hari Tzanoudakis

I’m not one for musical nostalgia: I want the sound of now. But it does make me something of an anomaly. I had my 60th birthday at the legendary New York techno venue Bossa Nova Civic Club. It’s not lost on me that I was there, as I am here at techno camp, about twice the age of most of these ravers. That difference is real and always puts me at a slight remove from the scene. I don’t mind. And, on the dancefloor, don’t care. There’s a part of all this that’s not adolescent, but which retains some energy of that life stage, and channels it into a better form. A thing we all have to learn is how to collectively organize joy. We can lose ourselves on the dancefloor like we did as youngsters, but we don’t have to take too many drugs, or go too hard. We can take better care of each other. We can acknowledge our sad affects but come together to experience better ones. That’s what the rave is for. Our inner child is still sad and wounded, but our inner adolescent is dancing like mad.

This article appeared in frieze issue 232 with the headline ‘Rave Camp’.

Main image: Yvonne @yvonnenightstand and Phoenix @phoenixchasem performing at Lunchbox Candy, Berlin. Courtesy: Hari Tzanoudakis and Adam Munnings; photograph: Hari Tzanoudakis

McKenzie Wark is the author of A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard, 2004), Gamer Theory (Harvard, 2007), Molecular Red (Verso, 2015) and various other things. Her newest book Raving is set to be published March 14 2023. Wark teaches at The New School in New York, USA.