Love is the Message: An Essay in Response to the Orlando Nightclub Shooting
Lee Underwood is the Publicity Manager for Datsik’s Firepower Records
By the time this week is up, our dance music community will have seen the worst of what our culture can endure and the best of what it has to celebrate. This past weekend 49 people were shot dead, another 53 wounded, inside of a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and a reliable safe space for the LBGTQ community was turned into a slaughterhouse.
This weekend, the Electric Daisy Carnival will celebrate its 20th anniversary under the electric sky in Las Vegas with hundreds of thousands of beautiful people. In what is usually a time of elation, many of us are preparing for the annual pilgrimage to the Las Vegas Desert with a new kind of sadness in our hearts, because, for me at least, I am forced to confront the reality that even our seemingly invincible safe spaces can become susceptible to the worst kind of evil humanity is capable of producing.
The history of Rave culture begins in the gay clubs of Chicago, New York, and Detroit. We recently lost Frankie Knuckles, the "Godfather of House" in 2014 at the age of 59. As disco was dying, he mashed together a unique blend of soul and R&B records with a drum machine loop and played them out at a venue called The Warehouse. This led to the coining of the word "house" to describe the kind of music he was playing that you could not hear anywhere else. Although The Warehouse was patronized mostly by gay black and Latino men, it was a destination for anyone looking to experience this new form of dance music. But you didn’t have to be gay to go.
In his revealing new Memoir, Porcelain, Moby recalls that as an awkward heterosexual Christian at the time, he got his start DJing in gay clubs, and, perhaps ironically, felt much more at home there than anywhere else. It was attending the church groups and weekend prayer retreats, in which he begrudgingly participated, that Moby felt the most out of place and judged.
There are stories of how Richie Hawtin used to escape his confining adolescent world of Windsor, Ontario, Canada by driving into Detroit to hunt for dance records, go to parties at Saint Andrew’s Hall and Shelter, and be with kids who wanted to dress in black, wear eyeliner, and be weird together.
I know I am not alone when I say that the dance music community has provided me safe spaces in the forms of festivals, club nights, and warehouse parties where I can escape the day-to-day rat race of the "real World" with its mega-churches fueled by the worship of power, and money, and winning, and achieving. I am not too far off when I say that dance music saved my life, provided me with a brand new canvas to become somebody free from the artifices of a pre-packaged identity program the "real world" was anxious to thrust upon me. The results of buying into that world are etched onto the faces of so many of my so-called friends—the deep lines of disillusionment, the collection of wrinkles caused by toxic cynicisms, intolerance, fear, and boredom. The bags under their eyes caused by the sudden horrifying realization that they had, and lost, the chance to do something epic.
When we are on the dance floor, the politics of the person dancing next to you are a non-existent threat. Ethnicity, religion, ideology is as far away from our minds as the next planet in our solar system. It's only when we leave the festival, the club, the warehouse that the "real world" sets in with all deliberate haste to separate us, encourage violence, and to tear at each other's throats. This is a world that preaches hate and weaponizes irrational, ignorant, and fundamentalist ideologies. In here, on this dance floor, exists a model of how the world could be.
As I become an older raver (I will not date myself here), I have had the amazing opportunity to become a driving force behind the movement as a member of Datsik’s Firepower Records. I also get asked to play golf a lot now. For most of the people I play with, this is all they have—a few hours away from their mortgage and kids and unread emails and a wide-open space for them to register their complaints about, what else, their mortgage, their kids, and their unread emails. I just listen, feeling out of place here in this golf cart and with these binge drinking robots, knowing my true home is the rave, wherever the bass is hitting the loudest, together with my friends with weird DJ names and thousands of my fellow brothers and sisters in dance.
When we come together this weekend for the 20th anniversary of the Electric Daisy Carnival, let us have Orlando in our hearts, and let’s mourn appropriately for the lives lost and the wounds sustained. But let’s also remember that love is the only thing that drives out hate—ever has driven out hate. Love is what brought Frankie Knuckles to Chicago, Moby to New York, Hawtin to Detroit. Love is what is driving us to the Electric Daisy Carnival. So let’s dedicate this week to love and place our brothers and sisters from Orlando among the stars forever to be remembered as constellations guiding us through the wide, chaotic, and beautiful universe.
Cover photo by AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post