An archive of ideas and dissonant thoughts.

Second Person

Dance Music as Escape

June 12

"You approach the dance floor as the sound of a synthesiser playing a single chord grows louder and louder, seemingly rising inside you as well, causing an almost involuntary sway... dips and crescendos changing the shape of movements around you, eyes widening and people smiling."

You finally manage to escape. From the day to day exhaustion of the job or family or school or college or whatever form of routine has ensnared you, perhaps just from boredom to finally see your friends. You hear the noises of the city as you walk to the bar, the distant hum of everything, the rumble of a train and the honking of horns. You feel a sense of excitement as you arrive.

You have a drink and then another, you catch up and talk about other friends and work and life and plans. You feel a strange sense of missing, a longing for things that may or may not be there. As more people join the group, you decide that you’re going out more after this. There are discussions and someone suggests a party at some dingy place you haven’t visited in years. You get there and wait in line, the echo of far away sirens and the buzz of conversation around you adding to the sense of nervous energy that pulses in you as you enter.

Inside there are people all around you, bodies going in and out, going towards the bar, crowding the dance floor, tinged by the dim neon lights and the reverberation of bass that you can feel. You think about how few of these people you know, then your friend pulls you towards the bar or the bathroom or just in some direction. You think back to the many times you have been in this scenario, overcome by a certain nostalgia for the novelty of the experience, when you were a teenager or a college student struggling to get in, when you first started earning money and finding a way to go out, when you travelled to other countries and jealously experienced their thriving nightlife.

You think of the time when you used to plan these kind of things, festivals you visited in the European summer or in an arena in America, the relationships that have drifted away. You take a shot, and suddenly are drawn back to the moment at which you realised that this rush, this stimulation and loud music and endeavour is just another business, and your continuing internal debates over whether that reduced it in some way, took away an essential aspect of people coming together. You shake your head away from these debates, straining to hear your friend talk, thinking sadly of certain naive and idealistic visions you had back in the day, of simply playing music until a group gathered, of a united tribe like the eager college friends who you rarely talk to, attending events all the time and living with a reckless abandon that has become restricted to holidays and particular weekends.

You approach the dance floor as the sound of a synthesiser playing a single chord grows louder and louder, seemingly rising inside you as well, causing an almost involuntary sway. You can feel the music energise and direct the crowd, its dips and crescendos changing the shape of the movements around you, eyes widening and people smiling. Your friend hugs you and disappears in another direction, someone from the group from earlier waves you over towards the bar, but you feel drawn to the speakers. You take a few steps past a couple and a laughing circle of friends, feeling each kick of the drum as though it were synced with your heartbeat. You see the shadows of dancing bodies, the proximity and the charge that seems to gather around the entire phenomenon. Your thoughts rush along with the music, your experience of it drawing you outside of yourself. You close your eyes and wave your arms, trying to hold on to the rhythm.

It feels like a journey beginning, a journey where time stops and you wonder how the simple pounding repetitions of bass and percussion can speak to you so deeply, you think about something you once read about the era of the mind being overcome by body, you forget all of that and think of various nights in dingy bars and clubs where you left feeling like your feet couldn’t stay on the floor, the moments that now amount to little more than a nostalgic memory. You think of the great debate you used to have with a lover, about whether the party was at its core about getting fucked up or finding a partner or being seen and noticed or just the music. You always said it was the last, even if you knew that it was just you hoping that, even if everybody else was there for something less romantic or escapist.

A vocal loop, a woman singing as the beat builds, pulls you back from this reverie and into this moment, into your dance, into the sensation of being a part of this group, of being led by music,  even if to the outside world you just look like a fool swaying and waving your arms around with your eyes closed. You don’t think about that, entranced instead by the shadowy, flickering neon lights, the bodies in motion around you, the single element of the music that seems to capture you. Minutes pass, then maybe hours, a friend says goodbye and you realize don’t really know anybody here anymore. You wonder about closing times and tomorrow, but decide to stay a little longer, to stay locked in this little groove.

You feel a great sense of togetherness, even with these strangers, especially with them, perhaps, united by this music, you imagine the minds of millions being carried away in the same fashion by a simple beat. Across generations and eras, from tribes in some forest to folk singers in a desert, from a group at some college party to a massive club in London or New York or Berlin, from classical philharmonic orchestras in auditoriums to festival processions on the streets. You feel this grand and probably silly sense that you are a part of some bigger movement, this naive sense that everybody should make and follow and play and promote music, even though it may be impractical or impossible. It is one of the few things that makes you forget yourself, that fills you with this optimism which will probably fade away by the morning,