“Surrendering to the sound, connecting to the people around me and becoming one body”. Arad Inbar, a member of the ICK ensemble and a fixture in the Amsterdam queer club scene, discusses his physical response to the experience of clubbing.
‘Body in Revolt x ADE’ which took place on October 18 at Mediamatic was co-curated by Inbar and Bogomir Doringer, an artist and researcher. The event focused on club culture as an initiator of social change; clubbing as an artistic expression where dancing can be seen as a form of activism in times of socio-political crises. Using ICK’s statement on the body -Body in Revolt- as the foundation of their collaboration, Doringer and Inbar created this event as a platform for discussing social and political liberation in the context of club culture.
In his ongoing PhD research project ‘I Dance Alone’, Doringer investigates club culture from an anthropological perspective, filming clubbing spaces from a bird’s-eye view with an aim to document and analyse the behavioural and choreographic patterns that emerge.
Doringer started clubbing in his hometown, Belgrade, during the Yugoslav wars and likens the experience to ‘mocking death’. He describes his experiences of clubbing under the imminent threat of bombs, and the refuge that dancing together offered the youth during the war. From this lived reality, he came to understand that clubbing and dancing can be a powerful tool against political injustice.
A sentiment that is shared among the other speakers invited to give talks at the event. Coming from different social and cultural backgrounds, the diverse group shared a common desire to make clubbing environments places of liberation, empowerment and political mobility.
CREATION UNDER OCCUPATION
Ayed Fadel and Rojeh Khleif of ‘Jazar Crew’ opened the talks with their story. Facing the difficulties that arise with being Palestinian and living in Israel, they feel a disconnect from their people and their culture. They tell of experiencing discrimination when going to parties, facing rejection at Israeli clubs because of their Palestinian identity. As a response, they created their own parties, or as they expressed during their talk “We started to create our own dance floor”.
“I can go to a party and ask for a beer in Arabic. This never existed before.”explained Ayed. It is a minor example, and although it might seem banal, it highlights the absurdity of the current political climate in Israel, and the importance of initiatives such as ‘Jazar Crew’. Through parties, festivals, film screenings and concerts they explore ways of making new connections. For them, the dance floor becomes a place of exchange.
However, realising their vision is not always easy. An outdoor music festival, which they regularly organize, is repeatedly shut down by authorities, and they respond by simply moving to different areas. They insist “No one will stop us from being together and dancing”. Small victories keep them motivated, as they continue to battle obstacles. They recently organised a tour with Nicolas Jaar, an electronic music composer, who refuses to play in Tel Aviv in protest against Palestinian oppression.
“‘Jazar Crew’ does not only exist for the sake of going out”. As a collective they aim to counteract racial and sexual discrimination in the Palestinian club scene. Their vision is to create a safe space, not only for Palestinians but for everybody, including Israelis, for the LGBTQI+ community, and for people who just like to smoke a joint without going to prison for it.
IF I CAN’T DANCE, I DON’T WANT TO BE PART OF YOUR REVOLUTION
In the next talk we heard examples from several young females demanding recognition and safe-er spaces with the aim to bridge political issues and celebrate diversity on the dancefloor.
Feeling unrepresented in the mainstream club scene of São Paulo, female collective ‘Mamba Negra’ was born out of a concrete sense of political urgency. Founders Carol Schutzer (Cashu) and Laura Diaz began their talk with some alarming facts regarding the situation in their home country. “The life expectancy of a transwoman in Brazil is 35, and every eleven minutes a woman is raped.” As Mamba Negra gained respect and their community grew, they became synonymous with art, feminism, the LBGTQI+ community, radical politics and a unique visual identity.Unfortunately, the recent rise of right wing politician Jaïr Bolsonaro has altered the social environment in Brazil, giving space to intolerance and police repression. Persistent hostility towards the black, LBGTQI+, and indigenous communities; and to women, emphasise the importance of Mamba Negra’s presence in São Paulo as they continue to celebrate sexual and racial diversity in the city.
“Love is resistance and resistance is revolt”states the nineteen year old DJ, producer and vocalist Lyzza, a rising star in the underground club scene. She was born in Brazil, lived for eleven years in Amsterdam and has recently relocated to London. Underground club music means more to her than just music. It is a movement that has been created from an urgency to create safe(er) spaces. “Not safe spaces, safe-er spaces”, she emphasizes, “because you never know when a space is completely safe”. She imagines club utopias, where people can embrace their vulnerabilities. “And this is just a first step. The aim is to break out of these four walls and create these spaces outside. In the world.”
Tijana T, who like Doringer grew up in Serbia, began her talk by praising the initiative to create an event celebrating diversity in the club scene at a festival like ADE, which she views as mostly straight, white and homogenous. She recounts events from her youth, experiencing first hand the effects of the Yugoslav wars. She explains that the techno movement in Serbia came into existence around the time when the country was being bombed, and describes how the Serbian youth began organizing parties to revolt against the consequences of war, and to feel connected with the techno movements that were developing elsewhere in the world. “Techno parties and the people organizing raves played a huge role in fighting the regime” she explains. After the revolution, techno parties became part of the establishment and underground movements gave way to imported American capitalism, becoming part of the mainstream. For a number of years following the war, there were no independent parties or clubs, with large scale techno festivals and events being supported by corporate money and advertising, resulting in the local scene almost disappearing. As developments in social media and modern forms of communication have advanced, independent techno movements have emerged. At the end of her presentation, for which there was no PowerPoint “because PowerPoint does not help to spread the word, it is people like all of us here, who do”, she expresses the hope that this initiative and new wave of interest in queer spaces will not inspire someone to capitalise on it.
WE DANCE TOGETHER
The last talk offered hope, that dancing has real power to mobilize change. Naja Orashvilii is the founder of underground techno club Bassiani in Tbilisi, Georgia. Culturally in Georgia, clubs are seen mostly as hedonistic spaces where people consume drugs and dance to escape the realities of contemporary society. The collective organizing Bassiani have proved that by clubbing, one can contribute to political movements.
War has has devastated Georgia for decades causing long term ecopolitical crisis and poverty, creating space for conservative political parties and religious groups to flourish. Bassiani was created as a safe space for free self-expression and inclusion. It also turned into a significant platform for social movements, collaborating with the ‘White Noise Movement’ to actively fight for reforms of the current repressive and strict drug policies. The raid on Bassiani is perceived, by the community that occupies the club, as an attack on the breeding ground for activism and social change. On May 12 2018, armed police forces raided the club. The official government statement claimed a relation to drug trafficking as justification for the raid and subsequent violent removal of all the people inside the building. The government and authorities had clearly underestimated the unifying force of the Bassiani community, who gathered the next day in front of the main parliament building in Tbilisi, to dance in protest against this display of power and intimidation. Images of this so called ‘rave-o-lution’ gained traction in the press and were widespread on social media.
Giorgi Kikonishvili who joined the protest explains how this community, looking for social change, has grown in Tbilisi. In Georgia, homosexuality was officially decriminalized in 2001. In 2013, a group of 50 to 60 LGBTQI+ rights activists who gathered on the street to protest against homophobia were attacked by a crowd of 20,000 people led by the Georgian Orthodox Church. Kikonishvili is promoter of ‘Horoom Nights’ – the first and biggest LGBTQI+ club event in Georgia, which takes place at Bassiani. Thanks to ‘Horoom Nights’, people that were always hiding realized they were not alone and could share their problems and find friends. Five years after the attack on the anti-homophobia activists, thousands of people gathered at their side to fight for equal rights. Bassiani reminds society that unity is possible. In light of these events, dance can be seen as political statement in contemporary Georgia.
WHAT IS YOUR DANCE ABOUT?
All these stories, coming from different locations and cultures share a fundamental and crucial motivation. It was touching to experience how the speakers, coming from different social contexts spoke the same language, arriving to a common conclusion: to create safe-er spaces, not only on the dance floor but also in society. These collectives and individuals use the dancefloor as a space for empowerment which has resounding impacts in societies outside of their local club scenes. This seems to be a relevant plea in light of increasing support for right wing politics across the globe. The recent election of Bolsonaro in Brazil seems to throw us back in time to discussions regarding race oppression, female sexual harassment and violence against LBGTQI+ communities; groups that must continue to find ways to survive the modern political agenda.
We dance together, we fight together, we win together.
Edited by Edward Lloyd
Pictures: Alwin Poiana, Ruben Theunissen