Introducing his monthly column with Document, writer and raver Evan Moffitt asks if the party can set us free
It began on a dancefloor. On October 7, Hamas militants breached the kilometer-wide strip of land mines, digital sensors, concrete walls, barbed wire, and sniper towers along the border of Gaza that the Israeli government calls the “security barrier” and attacked a trance music festival in the kibbutz of Re’im, just three miles away. Hundreds were slaughtered and more than three dozen taken hostage, in a widening attack that ultimately claimed 1,200 lives. In the ensuing assault on Gaza—which Israeli military officials have characterized as a “targeted” effort to eradicate Hamas, but which more closely resembles a genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people—over 20,000 have been killed, more than half of them children. It’s hard to imagine raving at a time like this.
In late September, I moved to London after living for nearly a decade in New York, where a diverse group of queer and trans ravers were a core part of my chosen family. One of them jokes that her golden rule is to “never talk about climate change at the afters.” This isn’t a deflection—she’s one of the most politically astute people I know—but a warning against self-pity when serotonin is in short supply. Still, in the weeks that followed, from club green rooms to smoking patios, I couldn’t help talking about the war with anyone who would listen. More than once, I left Fold, a favorite London spot for techno, in the early hours of a Saturday morning to attend a March for Palestine. Part of me was seeking assurance that facing the music would mean not turning our backs. How could we go on raving at a time like this?
On October 23, Juarez Petrillo, founder of Universo Paralello, the organizer of the Supernova Sukkot Gathering in Re’im, announced the company’s plans to proceed with its annual year-end festival, which drew thousands to the beaches of Bahia, Brazil, between winter solstice and New Year’s Day. “Now, more than ever, we must move ahead,” he said. Two days later, the company’s account posted an image of 100-odd people sitting on a sunny beach, smiling with their hands in the air, their bodies forming a giant peace sign. An acoustic guitar rendition of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love?” played in the background. “Through music, art and culture, revolution,” the caption said, evoking the clichéd refrain, increasingly popular in techno-academic circles, that the rave is a utopian space. Universo Paralello’s statement that it would “honor the programming” already in place brought to mind contracts signed and fees paid, evoking commercial pressures more than revolutionary politics. Most of the time, the rave is a capitalist space.
“Raving is not an intrinsically liberatory act,” the account @raversforpalestine wrote in an Instagram direct message last month. In late October, the anonymous collective posted an open letter signed by nearly 300 London-based musicians, DJs, and collectives on the social media platform. “We refuse to participate in spaces and collectives that ignore the violence of colonialism while simultaneously profiting from the creativity of musicians and artists from the global South and diaspora communities,” the letter declared. It’s one of the most substantial gestures of support yet for the growing Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement from those involved in nightlife. It also suggests that the capitalist conditions of club culture may in fact be a source of revolutionary potential.
Since 2005, the BDS movement has organized economic pressure campaigns, including boycotts, against individuals, corporations, and public institutions that profit from Palestinian apartheid. Such tactics have a proven track record: as I write this, the International Court of Justice is weighing charges of genocide against Israel brought by South Africa, whose former apartheid government is widely considered to have been a successful target of BDS in the 1980s. But BDS is a recent arrival on the rave scene. That’s because the myths we tell ourselves about rave culture prevent us from acknowledging parties—both above and underground—as places where people work or spend money. Their value to marginalized people as spaces of community and free expression doesn’t necessarily prevent them from being exploitative. And, if anything, the precariousness of raves makes them especially vulnerable to economic pressure.
The Ravers for Palestine letter was prompted in part by a boycott of Hör, the online radio station best known for livestreaming DJ sets from a white-tiled bathroom. On November 3, DJ Téa was asked to remove her keffiyeh during her set. That same day, Sam Clarke’s set was interrupted when Hör staff noticed his shirt had a map of Israel and the occupied territories overlaid with the Palestinian flag. According to Hör, the shift “could be perceived as offensive and calling for the eradication” of Israel. “I wonder what their response would have been if I had worn a shirt with the same map with the Israeli flag, even if it covered the last remaining specks of land that Palestine has been reduced to,” Clarke later asked in an Instagram story. River Moon, who was born in South Africa and is now based in Berlin, was one of several DJs to quickly pull their set from Hör’s website. “The term apartheid originated in my home country,” they told me. “I couldn’t stand next to something that supports something my people—my family—fought so hard to abolish for years.”
Federal law in Germany forbids speech perceived as critical of Israel by conflating it with anti-Semitism—a logic-defying gag order that has led to dozens of artists, many of them Jewish, and many more belonging to Global South diaspora communities, having their sets, performances, lectures, and exhibitions canceled. Hör wasn’t the first cop on the scene: in 2019, the Berlin club ://about blank canceled a party because its organizers supported a #DJsforPalestine campaign on social media, going further to ban keffiyehs and clothing with pro-Palestinian messages from its premises. Buttons, one of the venue’s most popular parties, signed an open letter called Berlin Nightlife Workers Against Apartheid. Since Israel’s bombardment of Gaza began, these efforts have only gathered steam. A petition called “Strike Germany” has been signed by more than 1,000 artists and writers vowing to boycott German cultural institutions, seriously undermining Berlin’s position as a nightlife capital.
It remains to be seen whether bigger clubs like Berghain—which the Berlin government has granted partial tax exemption for its cultural status—will be affected. Still, it’s not easy to make music when you’ve been silenced. (A recent meme compares the experience of being an artist in Germany to imprisonment in the panopticon.) Some artists, meanwhile, are eyeing the exit doors. Juliana Huxtable, who was beaten and detained by Berlin police at a non-violent vigil for Gaza in October, told me that after five years in Berlin, it might be time for her to leave.
Rave culture will likely never be the same. It should be liberating to disregard as utopian something that never really was—since being aware of our shortcomings is the only way we can work to make them better. Utopia, after all, means “no place”: it’s always over the horizon, even when it feels near. Rather than repeating platitudes that detach the rave from reality, we might find power in considering the material ways nightlife is bound up in struggles for liberation. On January 14, protesters held up a banner behind the glassed-in DJ booth at De School, Amsterdam that read: “to rave is to resist.” It will take collective effort to make it so.