I Love That You Love This

Whenever I’ve hit that point in the night—Should I go home? Should I take another bump? I’m not feeling the music. Where are my friends?—I like to look at the people around me. Who are all these strangers alongside me on the dance floor? I wonder about their lives, where they came from. Then I try to find the person, or people, who are enjoying this the most. I start liking the music, because they like the music. I try to imagine myself as if I were them, let their body movements instruct mine. Sometimes this doesn’t work. When it does, it feels like a jolt of electricity.

On the morning of the second day at Dripping—a new music festival run by Daniel Martin McCormick (Relaxer) and Leo Miller (Baby Leo)—the writer hannah baer, author of Trans Girl Suicide Museum, staged a performative reading in the middle of a leafy clearing, where ravers sat on the floor watching her speak into the microphone. She spoke of the rave as a kind of simulation for all collectivities at large (e.g. a church, a political protest) where one can test the limits and potentials of how a self can relate to the collective. Each raver “is carrying a tremendous amount of electricity, like a lightning rod in a constant state of being struck,” she said. “You can do a thought experiment right now and imagine all the lovers you’ve ever had, and all the adults who looked out for you when you were a kid, and you can imagine that they are all at a rave together, and that they are all moving together, and then all those movements and convulsions coalesce into a kind of a symphonic polyrhythm, which is part of the electricity that moves through you.”

She spoke about how at raves, the audience usually stares at the DJ, but not each other. So at the end of her performance, she had each of us walk in a long line that curled in on itself, so that by the end of the walk, you could see the faces of each of the ravers who attended the performance. Some people looked uncomfortable, and some looked touched.

I had to hold myself back from crying. So rarely does a piece of writing telegraph to me in such a clear signal. I was rapt. I believe all forms of collectivity, like a monad or synecdoche, contain the logic of the world that is the total human collective, which is an easy thing to say, though it takes rigor and work to actually do that. In hannah’s piece, she did the work.

In that way, Dripping was one epiphany after another. I’m not really a festival guy—I don’t have the stamina, and this one was no different; by the second day, after relative sobriety, I was tapped out, burned out, fried—but I was still able to find moments of ecstasy. What distinguished Dripping from the other festivals I’ve been to was the sheer diversity of Daniel’s and Leo’s curation. There were music, readings, ambient performances, movement performances, and a puppet show. Sometimes, I’ll walk into the dance floor and just hear something that I know I like, and that was Nidia. Afterward was RP Boo—my personal highlight of the weekend—who opened his set with Screamin Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” which most people think is a cover of Nina Simone’s version, when it actually is the other way around; Hawkins is the raw, urgent original. For the rest of the set, RP Boo would seamlessly combine, or aggregate, Black music (blues, hip hop) with Black music (techno), something I for one have never heard done so seamlessly before.

The next day had a string of daytime ambient performances. I heard an excellent set by Time Wharp, who I was familiar with when she performed at Writing on Raving e-flux. Following was James K, who sang over ethereal washes of synths, mostly from her latest EP 036 (2021), ending with a vocal and guitar piece. People were mostly sitting down and not dancing, but I couldn’t help myself—I danced with my eyes closed, sitting.

Toward the end of the night, I was visibly tired, having not gotten much sleep. There was a puppet show by Poncili Creación, twin brothers Pablo and Efrain Del Hierro from Santurce, Puerto Rico. My friend Zoë had told me about the puppet duo long before the weekend, and almost everyone I talked to about it said it was amazing, wild, revelatory. I saw it from afar, but regretted not seeing it up close—you can’t catch all the acts, sometimes you have to listen to your body and take a nap in the tent, or take a cold shower.

“Is there no hot water?” I asked a girl in the shower trailer, putting on a full latex dress, red top black skirt, in front of the bathroom mirror.

“Of course not. It’s camping.”

After my (cold) shower, I told her, “You look amazing.”

“You know. It’s camping.”

But what was a puppet show doing at a music festival? Precisely because Daniel and Leo decided it would be. Was this even a music festival? It included a lot more than music. Perhaps one would call this a two-day rave. I like the word “rave” because it includes the dancers as part of its definition, as integral to its makeup, whereas a “music festival” is a show that people attend where they consume music performances.

When I ran into Daniel early on Sunday morning, on my walk to the lake, I told him, “I feel like I’ve been living in your brain for two days,” and he smiled.

I think deeply about how aesthetic experience can rejuvenate people to love the art that gives them pleasure, to love it deeply and seriously, and how that can teach us how to love each other. I felt as if I were seeing how much Daniel and Leo loved each of these acts, and they were some unseen presences over my shoulder, telling me how to love each of these strange curiosities. It was real diversity. I often think, on the left, we need to find ways of finding joy in true heterogeneity, or diversity, without neutralizing those differences or somehow finding ways that they “are the same.” Can we learn how to find joy in a diverse collective that celebrates difference? Dripping taught me a little about how. For the closing act of the weekend, Shyboi did a closing set in a shed called The Barn. I was dancing near the entrance, and saw Daniel, in an orange shirt, walk in, eyes wild with wonder and excitement. Sometime later, one of the members of Poncili Creación came in with one of the puppets, raised high over the dancing, cheering crowd. It was an embarrassment of riches, unfettered bliss.

Everybody who does this regularly, who has in fact devoted their life to it, knows that you can go to a party, where there’s music and dancers, but the rave doesn’t always show up. You can get everything right—the right music, cool lights, the right people—but the rave might still not come down. Except when it does, everybody knows. It’s not a rave if there isn’t joy: raw human energy declaring itself, unmediated. But at around six on Sunday morning, with the sun starting to rise, I knew it had come. The rave was here.