Sirens, F*ggots and Fascists: all together now

When A. arrived, I was in the tree. It was couched in bright green moss and perfect for the human form. I watched Saturday’s meandering, intricately concave daytime sets there, taking a short break on the carpeted agora beyond the dance floor to write, “I am here to be with the materials of writing which are trees and sound” into my big black notebook. There, I introduced myself to some of the only other visibly queer people at Katabatik’s 2023 Konclave in the Pacific Northwest forest, telling myself (and them) that I wanted to meet “the other dancers” with whom I held down the daytime sound in shamelessness and profundity.

When A. alit onto the woodchiped tarmac, I’d been saving a question. When I feel emotion in music, is the feeling coming from the sound or from inside me? I was asking her about transmission. A. creates some of the most important electronic music being made now. She stays haunted by ghosts, her channel fully open. Last Spring at the Ever Afters campout in Northern California, she spun tunes for hours at 4 a.m., mostly everyone on the floor in the yurt crying, then during Them Are Us Too, sobbing. One member of that duo was lost to the Ghostship fire. I touched the arm of the person shuddering next to me who obviously loved Cash Askew, and crying too, kept my hand there for the whole song. I knew A. would  have an answer: Lil bit of both.

Sunday, Ceremonial Abyss poured us a bright toned cassette laden morning juice. The project bejewels time in media memory, its sunrise notes arcing sweetly toward the horizon of beauty. A.’s set was lovely too, but the crowd this time was more like an enchanted train station than a psychic family living room. Amidst the hair of bright green moss, between the well considered meals, and among the paths winding to a friendly river, a permanent soft enclave of carpets enclosed a space, bordered by an altar. Are altars common at forest raves now? This might suggest we look at collective belief. Who are we, zoned up here together here? Is it just me, or are there a lot of men?  

Rave is one place where The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions (see Larry Mitchell, 1977) come together and build our energy. We are learning new ways to communicate, discovering otherwise pathways or portals inside time. We want to be entrained by each other; we want and need to be together. In the novel I’m writing, we fight subjectification (see Foucault 1975, 1976) by becoming psychically entwined with each other against the most basic element of neoliberalism: the self. One thing feels crystal clear. The Faggots and Their Friends do not come to dance with The Fascists and Their Friends. So what happens when a gathering for “esoteric cold electronics” books a DJ identified as a Nazi/white nationalist? Who was caged for environmentalist direct action via the “state of emergency” (still in effect) after 9/11, then called out by his own former jail supporters and anarchist community? To play the 4 a.m. slot?

I was wearing a pink satin bodice and a long black skirt when This Mortal Coil’s Song to the Siren'' washed through the speakers. I was filled with love, not only for singer Elizabeth Fraser, who weeks later would get an asteroid named after her, having earned the description of “God’s voice,” but for whomever contained within their will, the desire to play the siren’s song. On the floating shipless ocean, I did my best to smile, as your singing eyes and fingers, drew me loving to your isle. But it’s the voice of the Siren herself which gets me, and you said, sail to me, sail to me, let me enfold you, here I am here I am waiting to hold you. Do you know how much bravery it takes to love someone? I raised my arms in appreciation to the fascist DJ. I didn’t know who he was. He was not on the bill. [See Corrections]

Hours before, Conniptor’s incompossible bright green video glowed against the black night and the mushrooms I took made me oddly sleepy. So after Group Rhoda’s measured lyrical velvet pop glowing red, I crashed early in my tent. I awoke around 3:30 a.m. to the sounds of NMEMOTH jerking toward me through witchy trees. I lay superstitiously still in order to receive the angular, playfully menacing robot-fuck beat driven set. The next DJ sounded good, so I grabbed the cutest clothes I could find in my dark tent, and got up to dance. 

Perhaps the Pacific Northwest maintains its ever elusive sense of a shared world because the rain forest plunges its beneficiaries into wetness more than half of each year, inside a gigantic green canopy. The region is also a contested place, I mean obviously colonized, but its sweetness is disturbed by a contingent of white men pushing the Cascadian secession urge (which I also felt when I lived there) incorrectly into the concept of a white power nation. Many have discussed this history: Oregon passed its first Black exclusionary law in 1844 prohibiting Black residency for more than three years. In 1849, Black people were barred from entering all together. The Oregon Constitution in 1859 prohibited Black people from owning property and making contracts. Washington State’s Alien Land Laws prohibited residents ineligible for citizenship to own land. Katabatik has been challenged before for its politics. A somewhat unwieldy compendium of this reads:

Ásatrú Folk Assembly (one of the main sponsors of Stella Natura [where Katabatik ran a stage]) is a neo-Völkisch racialist Heathen organization initially founded as Viking Brotherhood in 1972 by white nationalist Stephen McNallen of Grass Valley, CA. McNallen also founded the Wotan Network…for the “future of the white race”... recruits[s] from the alt-right…and has openly supported the neo-Nazi “14 Words” slogan,“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” quoting them verbatim.

[See Corrections]

It felt odd to me already, when soon after “Song to the Siren,” this un-billed DJ with white dreads played long and varying iterations of the phrase “we are all together now” sung by voices of Black power calling for unity. But who is together now? I wondered, double checking that the 99% white audience (including me) was still that white. Are we together here dancing on these wood chips in the trees? The disconnect is vast. Someone could write an essay on it (assignment keywords: “appropriation,” “directionality” “power”), but I’ll simply write, not all power is available to front as your power. He keeps a Tumblr full of pictures of spiritual leaders, executions scenes and swastikas. It’s got the fetishy logic of a NorCal rich hippie living room, with a fascistic twist (it’s a spectrum!). Here, I’ll repeat the phrase, techno is black music. Together, let’s repeat: techno is black music. This can be true without returning to essentialisms or ethnostates. In my subsequent conversations with Pacific Northwest people who did recognize the DJ, and were surprised at his active presence at Katabatik this year, I wondered if what he was attempting to bring together was the tight Pacific Northwest scene rent painfully apart by his fascist turn. It’s been said that the political organizing there has not recovered cohesion nor potency. In a pile-up of politics, grand jury proceedings ruined alliances (and lives), then more relationships were destroyed by side-taking when awareness of his fascism emerged. A younger member of the Katabatik collective claims to not have known about any of this. It’s as if some forgetting needed to set in, or at least for the photo of “a model snorting a swastika-shaped line of cocaine off a sports car” as one friend describes it, to be buried too deeply in the fascistic Tumblr to find.   

I thought the set sounded great. I went with it and its externalization of my heart, i.e. my neighborhood where I do my working and playing and eating and healing with my neighbors, West Oakland where the Black Panthers were born and still today live. West Oakland composes my daily sensory environment; I keep my doors open and listen all the time, and for this pay gratitude every single day. I hear a resonant laugh, it brings life impossibly back together: Black joy. Mimicking this power is extractive, and in this case, satirically bizarre. In subsequent truncated and painful non-conversations I had about this, as in the ones with his community documented online, there is no sense of a shift. He is said to have worn swastika earrings to the Ghostship memorial. The Katabatik collective has been variously approached about this issue and others, but has little to say. So here, in the spindly intelligence of words, I push out a space against any and all ethnostates, against the violence of concepts with which Fascism has attempted to classify and conquer the world. I flash my tattoo at you (it reads JOUISSANCE across my knuckles in Sylvia Plath’s 1978 Bell Jar font) in resonance with deathless spirits who speak back to us in song, to overtake your project of separation. 

My point here is not to fulfill the fantasy of Exile’s chosen name. I mention this name only now because this feels personal, but we are not giving him energy. What I want here resonates with Tim Buckley’s sorrowful “Song to the Siren” original more than Fraser’s seductive version: I don't want to feel like I shared joy with a fascistic boy-cult. I want queers not only safe, but powerful. I do not want to be in white space. To be with the Faggots and Their Friends inside the Black history of techno, you cannot be fascist; rave does not exist without Blackness or queerness. Yet these concepts exist against the ideology of boundary: they were forged in its violence. To misappropriate their openness is to miss the party and to misunderstand the music. Music carries our desire and reforms it in real time; our movement expresses music’s desire, its transmission. Inside the plasticity of rhythm at four a.m., our bodies are conduits that open time out toward the future. This infinity is not to be fucked with. Perhaps it is enough to say that against fascist desire: we are alive, and we were there.  

Corrections 12/22:

1. The DJ is on soundcloud as Arktaion. The announcement flier listed him as RKTN.

2. Katabatik has stated that a member did sound at Stella Natura, and that labor is a right. The source cited in this essay indicates that some members knew of the politics of the event, then others found out at the event. It has not been clarified how many years Katabatik was associated with the event, i.e. whether labor was withdrawn or ongoing. The original source made an effort to associate Katabatik with this event without clarifying the details of the association. The phrase in the source, "ran a stage" is not synonymous with "hired to work the soundboard," which according to Katabatik, is a more accurate description.