What is Rave Subculture?

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, learn the definition of the rave subculture and the importance of its secret and underground nature. You will learn its history dating back to the 1980s, including the music, customs, drugs, and style of dress associated with it.

An Underground Subculture

Due to its secrecy, many in the mainstream know little about the rave subculture other than the stereotypical portrayal of crazy parties and drug use.

The rave subculture is comprised of youth, mostly from the ages of 15-25, who enjoy all-night deejayed dance parties with techno or electronic music while doing illicit drugs to heighten their sensual experience. Although traditional raves are still secretive, clubs with deejayed electronic music where patrons dance until dawn is becoming increasingly popular in Europe and the United States. But the covert, underground youth rave subculture still exists, and it all began in the 1980s in the United Kingdom.

History of the Rave Subculture

Acid houses were popular in the United Kingdom in 1988. Acid houses were warehouses where youth would take Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), referred to as 'dropping acid,' while listening to music to enhance the drug's hallucinatory effects. Acid houses transformed into raves.

Law enforcement started cracking down on the rave scene when an acid house caught fire, killing some inside. Promoters moved the scene to big cities in the United States like Chicago, Detroit, New York City, and Los Angeles. In the late 90s raves had infiltrated smaller towns across the United States too. Somehow, underground raves with thousands of people still occur without being noticed by law enforcement.

There is no ultimate or conclusive source for the term, 'rave,' although some ravers say that it got its name from the way that people would 'rave' about the raging dance parties.

Music of the Rave Subculture

Techno. House. Acid Jazz. Trance. These are some of the names of the kinds of music that the rave subculture is known to love. It's electronic or produced by computers, has a speed of least 120 beats per minute, and typically involves sound bites from other songs. Techno music is made by deejays (DJs) who mix and synthesize beats together. Many ravers love this type of music because it stimulates imagination, creativity, and transcendence.

Drugs of the Rave Subculture

Drugs are a big part of the rave subculture, most commonly methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), or Ecstasy. Ecstasy is also known as X. Other drugs that are used are speed and LSD (acid). Ecstasy is so popular in this subculture because it heightens sensual awareness. It creates feelings of warmth and connection to others, as well as euphoria and happiness. Ecstasy was first patented in 1914, and not used by humans until the 1960s. It was criminalized in 1988.

Many ravers acquire Ecstasy on the black market. Negative side effects are aggression, psychosis, depression, anxiety, cognitive impairments, outbursts, appetite changes, and muscle tension. There have been deaths in the UK due to individuals taking Ecstasy and overheating, suffering from blood clots, or becoming dehydrated due to the psychomotor effects of the drug that are only relieved by movement and dancing.

Some ravers desire a more 'natural' high and opt for drugs such as Herbal X. But one needs about 6 Herbal X's versus only 1 or 2 pills of Ecstasy to reach a suitable-enough high. There are concerns of overdose on Herbal X due to the need to take numerous pills to have an effect.

Many ravers call it 'rolling' when they take X, because their eyes roll back in pure bliss and euphoria. The high from LSD is called 'tripping' due to distortions in perception of time while on the drug. If X and LSD are taken together, ravers will say that they are 'trolling' (a combination of the two). Alcohol use in this subculture is not as popular as is consumption of smart drinks that typically have fruit, vitamins, B complex (for added energy) and ginseng (also for energy). This drinks help keep ravers hydrated and energized during a rave.

Customs of the Rave Subculture

Of course the main custom of this subculture is attending raves and listening to electronic music. Raving promotes self expression, individualism, letting loose. This youth subculture's motto is one of nonconformity, much like that of the hippie, disco and punk scenes of earlier eras.

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