Book: Energy Flash

Simon Reynolds. [Energy Flash](, a journey through rave music and dance culture. 1998.

Reynolds’ history of ‘rave music and dance culture’ attracted me primarily in an anthropological way, as a loving report from an alien subculture. It’s helpful that Reynolds’ sympathies match mine. An intellectual left-liberal, and a believer in spritual and social progress through counter-culture, he drenches raveculture in his own aspirations

‘What the London pirate stations and the free parties conjured up was the sense of rave as a vision quest. Both transformed mundane Britain, its dreary metropolitan thoroughfares and placid country lanes, into a cartography of adventure and forbidden pleasures’ [xviii]

‘While rock relates an experience (autobiographical or imaginary), rave _constructs_ an experience. Bypassing interpretation, the listener is hurled into a vortex of heightened sensations, abstract emotions and artificial energies’ [xix]

Similarly, he shares the natural doubts. Coming into electronic music from years submerged in post-punk, he worries that ecstasy alone can’t save the world:

Is rave simply about the dissipation of utopian energies into the void or does the idealism it catalyses spill over into and transform ordinary life? Can the oceanic, ‘only connect!’ feelings experienced on the dancefloor be integrated into everyday struggles to be ‘better at being human’?

But the socio-political analysis doesn’t get out of hand: most of the book is filled with descriptions of the music; Reynolds somehow manages powerful and varied descriptions of music, without the ability to fall back to the crutch of describing the lyrics.

My only disappointment was how parochial Reynolds’ approach is. The cover doesn’t make it clear, but this is primarily an exploration of rave culture in the UK. Detroit and Chicago do get a chapter largely to themselves, but there is very little exploration of the european scene. Eurodisco, EBM and the like are more-or-less ignored.

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