In her biweekly column for Document, McKenzie Wark writes about dissonance—in music, at the party, and in one’s own body
With Jenny out of town, I feel like getting up to mischief. I’m in a car on the way to Fluffer, one of New York’s premier queer raves. It’s a dismal night. The traffic lights at Knickerbocker and Flushing are out. My driver says it happens a lot when it rains. It’s as if everything in this city is broken. The radio is playing “Hotel California,” one of the Top 10 most cringeworthy songs of all time. It’s making me think we’re in Hotel Brooklyn—some weird mouse trap we don’t know we can’t leave.
This Fluffer is an epic production, a makeover of a three-story building. Top floor for house music, second floor for ambient, portable toilets and coat check on the ground floor, and techno in the basement—where it should be. I start in the basement. I’m early for once, so we’re all just warming up. The opener brings things to a simmer so that the second DJ can turn it up and milk the sweat out of us. It’s getting crowded, so I give up my spot in front and find a niche behind a speaker stack, where there’s a little more room and fewer people pushing past me.
I forgot my extra weed so I’m eking out what’s in the vape. Raindrops keep falling on my head. Now that, too, is a cringeworthy song, I’m thinking, but there are actual raindrops. The guy next to me looks up, then turns to me. “You felt it, too? Is it coming from the plumbing?” He seems a little alarmed. “I think it’s just condensation.” Blank look. Hard to hear a four-syllable word here. “The steam!” He gets it. Smiles. “You smoke weed?” He offers me his joint and I smile back, sheltering it from possible raindrops with my hand.
I’m feeling where my body is as it moves. Where its strength lies. This has always been hard for me. I’m thin as a stick and no amount of weight training ever builds much muscle. I always felt vulnerable to the world. This got a lot better after I transitioned and went on hormones. Turns out some of the bad noise I felt in flesh was just gender dysphoria. I feel more robust at 61 than I did at 41.
“One never achieves pure immanence, I’m thinking, but dissonance is possible, where you just vibrate a little to the side of your own being. You can’t close the gap in yourself, but you can enjoy it.”
There’s limits, still. I take a break and climb the damp, slippery stairs to the ambient room. It’s lit by red light in rice paper lanterns. Kiddo Sincere and Nick Bazzano of Pure Immanence are at the decks. I go over to fangirl. They’re probably throwing down three tracks at once. I think of what Ethan Philbrick, in his book Group Works, says about dissonance—how it’s a way for things that are similar but not the same to have relation with each other, to share a space. A way to come together without having exactly the same identity. Like at a good rave.
I’m dancing—more like swaying—to the dissonance. I’m offered more weed from one of the other dancers. The goddess is giving tonight. Time to rest my feet. I love an ambient room with soft furnishings. I’m lying on a gym mat next to a trio, laced together on top of one another. I read them as Asian—does this matter?—two topless cis men and a cis woman, down to her bra. The liquid sheen on their skin glows warm under the lights. They are motionless, merged. The one on the bottom is scrolling his phone.
On the other side of me, two men are fucking. Both Black, both cis, I think. It’s delicate and slow. It’s bad manners to stare, so I’m looking away, up at the lights. Every now and then they bump me, and apologize sweetly, and I say it’s okay. It’s all okay. I’m on my back for a little yoga: a hip opener, bridge pose, before easing into Shavasana, some square breathing, and a nap. It’s sweet that someone keeps waking me up to ask if I’m okay—but really, I am. More than okay.
One never achieves pure immanence, I’m thinking, but dissonance is possible, where you just vibrate a little to the side of your own being. You can’t close the gap in yourself, but you can enjoy it—stop being neurotic about it. Okay, this is getting head-trippy, and I need to dance. I’m up and ready. Not feeling the house floor up top. Circuit gays and dazzling light. So I try the basement again.
“If there’s a strength to this body, it’s that I know it, nurse it, push it against its limits, but not over… If we’re going to dom it with drugs and dance and exhaustion, we need to listen to the dissonance of the body as sub, when it utters the safe word.”
The third DJ is giving an endless stream of bangers. It’s not quite to my taste. I like it funky. The DJ and producer Gavilán Rayna Russom thinks that funk is not so much a rhythmic pattern as it is a kind of polyphony, where there’s different musical motifs in conversation, without any one of them dominating the others. For her, this is the key to Black music—what we owe to it, the possibility of a kind of social space that maps onto musical form.
This is not that. But still, I’m on it, locked into the sheer repetition. It’s what I think of as big-room German techno. Not my favorite, but I will give it this: The sheer monotony, the univocity, feels like you get to merge with the infinite. As if, for some uncountable chunk of time, you are in something like a fragment of infinite time. It’s almost spiritual, even though it’s not my religion.
When I go dancing with Jenny, we usually skip the openers, skip peak hours, and come late for the sweet, sweat-sheathed morning. Since I’m by myself, I try to stick it out through the whole thing, cycling between techno in the basement and the ambient floor. People keep offering me drugs. If it’s weed, I’ll take it from anyone. If it’s K, I’ll take it from anyone I know. Then there’s a little mushroom chocolate, just to add a little sparkle.
If there’s a strength to this body, it’s that I know it, nurse it, push it against its limits, but not over. It’s like our bodies are polyvocal, with both dom and sub voicings—and if we’re going to dom it with drugs and dance and exhaustion, we need to listen to the dissonance of the body as sub, when it utters the safe word. This body is saying, It’s time. One thing I know, from experience, is when to go home.
It’s such a perfect party, though. It’s tempting to stay till the end. It’s probably the second-to-last Fluffer, ever. Rumor has it the promoter wants to retire on a high note. He, too, knows when it’s time to go home.
I wish Jenny had been here. It would have been a different night. I’m mulling over how we might have used the space differently if we’d played in it together. But sometimes, it’s pleasant to rave with friends, and friendly strangers. And get high as fuck, knowing there’s friends around who’ll check if you’re okay. I gather my strength for the journey home. The birds are up and singing.