For the September 7, 2022 edition of Nowadays' Writing on Raving series, I wrote and performed this piece. The live readings were not recorded, so recording above was done at home. The backing track is Autechre - Bronchusevenmx [bandcamp], which I was inspired to use via Carlos Souffront's Honcho Campout set from 2021 [soundcloud].
5am. Front-right. Dripping head to toe. A friend turns to me and asks “Were you always a freak? Or were you born-again?”
It’s an easy question. My life couldn’t have started out further from the rave.
I am the son of a preacher, raised in a Christian fundamentalist sect sometimes known as the “frozen chosen”. “Chosen” due to our fatalist doctrine, “frozen” because we did not move during Sunday church services. That meant no clapping - not with the music, not for the musicians. No spontaneous outbursts, no chanting or cheering, no “amens” or “hallelujahs”. No swaying, no hands in the air and - of course, obviously, most certainly – no dancing.
Such quaint expressions would draw attention to ourselves and that would be stealing glory away from a jealous and silent god. We believed the best way to worship the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the infinite universe was by sitting still, hands folded neatly in lap. Because our worship was motionless, we saw no need for percussion - who needs drums when god gave us the metronome? Rhythm and groove were distractions from the pursuit of technical precision. We didn’t play the violin, we labored over the violin for perfection in fear of sinful mistakes.
At home, our musical diet was guided by the same values. We mostly listened to classical or perhaps the latest barn-burners out of the Christian contemporary industry, like Jars Of Clay or DC Talk. Any secular sounds were restricted to the soft, ambiguous, unthreatening likes of Enya and Yanni. Our music was preparation for a quiet, atomized life, destined for cubicles and cul-de-sac suburbia. This was the protestant work ethic in action, where pleasure is distraction, cleanliness is godliness, and silence is golden. In every way, the opposite of the club. Yet that is the first and only place where I found spiritual communion.
It was Monday night at Bossa Nova Civic Club. I came out on a whim and didn’t think I would stay long. The club was sparsely filled, the floor was sticky from last night’s party, the lights had been repeating the same inert purple pattern all night, and drunk tourists kept asking me for K. In other words: a typical weeknight at Bossa – except that AceMo was on the decks. That was all that mattered. In this most dubious of settings, under the guidance of an expert dance floor composer, I learned that god does speak. You just need some big fucking subwoofers to hear.
The divine conversation of the dance floor does not take place in such a paltry language as English, with the everyday violence of its grammar and syntax. The music teaches me how to speak with more than just my tongue, to use all of my body’s six-hundred muscles to embrace the full spectrum of sound.
It starts with hips and shoulders for the kick drum. Add knees and toes for the snare; some fingers for the hi-hat, then wrists and elbows for the melody. Time and repetition bring momentum; with each phrase, my trust in the music builds alongside trust in myself. I can feel the floor opening up around me; I am taking space. I can trip without falling; there are no mistakes. I am asymmetrical; my left can move freely from my right. I am gliding between the tourists with their concrete feet; I am dodging the boy carrying four beers. I am talking to god in the corner of Bossa on a Monday night.
I spent the first twenty years of my life, thousands of hours in prayer and study, chasing after the faintest whisper of spiritual engagement, to no avail. I had always imagined spiritual experiences as a visitation, a vision, a possession, or perhaps something totally out-of-body. This was the opposite: it was a re-embodiment, a joyous reunion with my own flesh and bone after a lifetime of estrangement. I was made whole, and without shame. In the face of such an enormous blessing, my body’s sole purpose was to express my gratitude and celebrate this sonic gift. In return, I received the baptism of sweat. If the club is my church, sweat is my holy water.
At home, I began exploring the religious history of dance. From Barbara Ehrenreich’s Dancing in the Streets, I learned that once upon a time, Anglo-European Christianity - by which I mean white Christianity - was a danced religion. The history of the Catholic church through the Middle Ages is littered with missives from cardinals and bishops, chastising their congregations for outbursts of dancing mid-service. Sitting in church may not have been an option at all; pews were often a limited luxury reserved for the wealthy, land-owning churchgoers. Bibles were rare and most people were illiterate anyway, so their everyday spirituality was first and foremost a physical, communal experience. By contrast, the static church of my childhood is a relatively recent phenomenon. But I’m sure the medieval papacy would regard the “frozen chosen” with approval.
Learning this history felt like I had uncovered my own personal Da Vinci Code: an enormous conspiracy, an intergenerational psy-op to separate the soul from the body for the sake of more efficient economic subjugation. If this project has its roots in church dogma, today it finds an institutional home in technology. Our world wants us to hate our bodies, to feel insufficient and dissatisfied, to become disconnected and broken. The club may not always be a sanctuary from this oppression, but more than anywhere else I know, it offers the opportunity to take a stand.
The dance floor is where I go to reclaim my humanity against the imperialist campaign of disembodiment. This is where I practice the truth that I am not a brain in a jar or a soul in a cage. I am my body, my body is me, and there is no room for shame when the music is this good.
5am. Front-right. Dripping head to toe. I am a born-again freak.