Image provided by MMCA.
How do raves offer space for counter-narratives, placemaking, and remembrance? Writer Michelle Lhooq digs into one of the collectives behind PROJECT HASHTAG 2022, Lost Air, and places their raves that reclaim lost space in dialogue with performances in Los Angeles and New York.
A rave, deconstructed, is simply a mass of bodies moving through space and time, as the seamless scaffolding of motorized beats merge divergent desires into a collective emotional arc. Sometimes raves take place in nightclubs or music venues, but the best ones transpire in off-grid locations that blur the boundaries of possibility: a construction site in Seoul. A scrap metal junkyard in Los Angeles. A theater in New York. Really, a rave can unspool anywhere bodies are moving together toward pleasure, connection, catharsis—anywhere bodies are seeking to get free.
Lost Air is a collective of four female artists (Lee Woogyeong, Lee Dayoung, Park Juyeong, and Park Minju) that began meeting in the basement of the student union building of the Korea National University of Arts. This basement was haunted by its history as a former office for the Ministry of Security, which was in charge of anti-communist actions in South Korea in the 20th century. Later, it was repurposed as an indie performance space called Club DGBS, and when that club closed, the basement was left abandoned until Lost Air revived it again. Thus, since its inception, the name “Lost Air” conjured the collective’s mission: to recover and reclaim the lingering atmospheres of lost spaces that have succumbed to cultural erosion—including urban gentrification and pandemic restrictions.
Lost Air has organized a series of highly conceptual raves titled “Rave Geometry (our, has never stopped).” Each party was recorded using a LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) sensor that picks up the locations, speeds, and temperatures of bodies in motion throughout the night, amplifying a spectral sense of hauntology—a concept coined by Derrida and furthered by the cultural theorist Mark Fisher that evokes a present haunted by lost futures.
Photo by Swan Park. Image provided by MMCA
Lost Air’s first party took place in a venue called Acs.kr that is currently in the process of being demolished. Located in a neighborhood in Seoul that is slated for redevelopment, the destruction of this once-essential arts space became the backdrop for the rave itself, as musicians performed amidst the crumbling remains of exposed concrete beams. This eulogistic confluence of industrial sound and space evoked a performance titled “Black Bridge” that occupied a scrap metal junkyard in Los Angeles last fall. The artist formerly known as Total Freedom, joined by music producers Dani Rev and Hatechild, weaved a meditative soundscape out of live hardware, acrid washes of noise and muted screams resonating off the junkyard’s towers of compressed steel. While Rave Geometries mourned the loss of a pivotal space, “Black Bridge” was a more personal grief—the performance memorialized the passing of a rave activist named Brytani; this was a party as memento mori.
Another Rave Geometry party took the concept one step further—conjuring the spirit of Club Myungwolgwan, the oldest underground club in Korea. Myungwolgwan had been a pivotal space for the city’s electronic music scene since the nineties, but like many other underground venues in the bustling nightlife neighborhood of Hongdae, the venue was shut down in September 2020 due to financial difficulties caused by the pandemic. However, the owner of Myeongwolgwan later found a new space and started another club called Go Back. Lost Air then threw a party at the new club where DJs played jungle—a genre of dance music that the original Myeongwolgwan was renowned for—once again conjuring the bygone ambience of a now-extinct moment in time.
Image provided by MMCA.
Designing parties as performances of collective ritual and memory is an undertaking shared by Nocturnal Medicine—a rave series dedicated to repairing the harmful disconnect between people and nature while cultivating spiritual resiliency. Nocturnal Medicine’s latest rave, titled “In the Valley Pools Our Sorrows,” took place this year in a darkened theater in New York City built into a deconstructed nightclub, with a grave-like bed of soil and flowers serving as a moldable sculpture for the audience to dive into and play with.
Nocturnal Medicine’s organizers Michelle Shofet and Larissa Belcic wanted to address this uncanny late stage of the pandemic, where the capitalist modes of production are back in full swing despite mounting horror and grief. “It feels like we’re on this train that we can’t get off,” said Shofet. “We needed to create a space where people could pause and retreat.”
Photo credit Mengwen Cao.
“In party spaces, there are other forms of connection and communion—whether with the divine, the environment, or one another,” added Belcic. “We’re using the party as an opportunity to model what other forms of operating as a collective might be possible.”
Nocturnal Medicine shares both the sense of grief and hopefulness that similarly pervades the charged atmospheres of Lost Air raves. In memorializing the past, both parties play with concepts of time and memory to create new visions of what could one day be. “A party is a place to share the sense of the moment,” said Lost Air. “The mood of the party may refer to the past experiences, but the actions and creations accumulate to become the future.”