In her biweekly column for Document, McKenzie Wark explores the dance floor as an antidote to dysphoria
What makes raves more special than club nights is that they happen in temporary spaces, in disused warehouses or offices—brought alive just for the occasion with light, sound, and fog. They are special situations to which ravers bring our collective will and desire.
Jenny and I roll up to Fluffer at about 5 a.m. We’re wrecked from the energy we’d left on the dancefloor at another rave, Flanger, the morning before. But this Fluffer is a special one, so here we are. Our friend O scans our tickets and gives us a big hug on the way in.
We enter an industrial space, long and high-ceilinged. There’s a narrow row of windows, maybe 50 feet up, through which dull gray winter light will leak as the morning dawns. There’s seating around the edges, a bar, and a thick, black curtain covering the exit to the chillout yard—although it’s far too chilly for that this morning. In the middle is tall scaffolding, reaching toward the ceiling, under which are the DJ decks.
The DJ is facing the other way, and the whole crowd is on the other side. We take up a spot right behind them, with a view through the fog of the dancing, swaying mass. It’s cold. The official tenants of this space haven’t paid rent in ages, so there’s no heat or power. The rave runs on generators that are hidden out of sight. The cold might be what’s keeping the dancers in a tight mass on one side of the room.
It always takes a while to get into that special state, the one ravers crave. You have to let go. You have to let the rhythm shape you, let it lathe into your thoughts, your heart, your heart rate. I can do it sober, but don’t mind a little chemical assistance. If you’re going to mix drugs, go light on each. Layers of weed, shrooms, with a ketamine chaser.
“[Raves] happen in temporary spaces, in disused warehouses or offices—brought alive just for the occasion. They are special situations to which ravers bring our collective will and desire.”
I came back to raving after a 20-year chillout. After I finally came out as trans, everything got better in my life, but there’s this low-level, ambient gender dysphoria that just won’t leave me. Dancing is the only thing that works on it. Actually, sex works, too, but let’s leave that for a moment.
Four years ago, I was describing all this to Q, my trans mom, and she said, “You must come to the rave tonight, it’s one of the good ones. It’s called Fluffer.” That was how, as a freshly out, middle-aged transsexual, I found myself in this very space.
This morning, after dancing a while, I’m off into what Q calls ravespace. It’s not like raving stops me from overthinking, but the thinking churns on without me having to pay it any attention. The light on the assembled dancers is giving spooky effects. Sometimes, it looks like everything is in black-and-white except the dayglow green of the back of the DJ’s shirt.
It was at Fluffer, in this same space, four years ago, that I discovered ravespace. I was on a little molly that time. Q was there and her roommate Z, so I wasn’t alone. But I wasn’t close to anyone, and was feeling it. I bumbled through the fog to sit for a minute, only to discover what I took to be a cis man kneeling backwards on the seat next to me ,while another stood behind and fucked him. I felt both joy and jealousy at that moment, before discreetly moving away.
That was the first of many memorable mornings at raves in this space, in these special situations. Not all happy memories. Raving is not a leisure activity. Intense memories, ones that touch the varied qualities of aliveness. Memories I wouldn’t trade for anything. In those four years, I learned—or, rather, relearned—how to rave.
There’s something about the volume of this space that makes for a special sound. High ceilings are usually bad for dance-music acoustics, but big-room techno sounds great here. The slow reverb time favors a sparser, less detailed kind of track. Everything has an audible smear.
I signal to Jenny that I’m taking a break and she comes with. We find a ratty old sofa. I reload the vape to top up the weed layer. She gives me that smile. We’re making out, hard, in between vape hits. Ketamine has anesthetic properties, and I know we’ll both be feeling the afterburn of tweaking each other’s tits this hard later, but it’ll be worth it. A wave of fog swells over us and our little situation for two is lost from view.
“After I finally came out as trans, everything got better in my life, but there’s this low-level, ambient gender dysphoria that just won’t leave me. Dancing is the only thing that works.”
Dancing again. I’m in my feelings for a while. The first time I raved in this space, it was liberation, but I still felt alone. This time, I get to share it all with Jenny. We get to share a moment of being alone together, but also the feeling of merging into the sound, the fog, the clot of dancers. Raving is best when, as Fred Moten says, we “consent to not be a single being.” And consent to not be a couple being, either, at least in the straight sense of coupledom.
We’re behind the DJ again, where there’s plenty of room. Jenny likes it that way, so she can unfurl her long, lovely limbs. There’s a group of what I take to be three cis white millennials in front of the DJ in matching tees. Their intimacy is an easy one, but hard to read. I’ll Google the logo on their shirts later. Maybe it’s a porn franchise. Next to them, someone is dancing alone, shirt off, with the most beautiful whole-torso tattoo design I’ve ever seen.
Besides curious strangers, I can see some of the rave friends I’ve made these past four years. I see Q and her girlfriend N. They met at the same party here, that was my first. Behind them is U. Later, U will tell me that her first Fluffer was here. Now she works for Fluffer, and set this one up. Next to her is R, a writer whose work I admire, going off like the Energizer Bunny. L is here. I knew he wouldn’t miss this. He runs a private Discord for ravers that I’m on, where I’ll read his—contrasting—account of this rave later.
This is the last time this space will host a rave. All our spaces are temporary, just weird anomalies in the game of New York real estate. It’s best not to get nostalgic. A rave is just a “passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time,” as the Situationists used to say. There will be other times and other people. Only now, I have my people, and I don’t have to dance alone.