Review

To Live Again

“In the temazcal, we burn copal,” the shaman tells me. I befriended her one night walking down Avenida Monterrey with a group of new friends. A few weeks later, she told me she was leading one of these sessions, sharing this ancestral Lakota medicine in her family’s yard in Toluca. A one hour bus ride later, I’m in front of a bonfire with massive stones at the center absorbing heat. The rocks are next to a makeshift windowless structure with a single door where the ceremony takes place. The shaman refers to them as abuelitas piedras, and they are. 

Before she guides us in, the shaman burns copal atop a chalice. She runs the delicious smoke over our bodies, incense rocks mirroring the blazing abuelas before us, stone becoming smoke becoming cinder. She reminds us we are children of the earth, air, fire, and water. After this blessing, she guides us one by one into the structure. As we enter, a cute boy whispers its proper name in my ear: “es un inipi.”

One by one, the abuelitas are welcomed into the inipi. They are placed in a hole at the center of the hut, where the shaman throws hot water and copal, filling the inipi with sweet smoke. The twelve or so of us sing and sweat and pray and move together. I peel off literal layers of dead skin and transcend my own body numerous times. I flail my limbs, singing. I invoke my grandmother, who passed three years to the day I found myself in this inipi. Some of us cry. I’m told the experience imitates a womb, that this sweat lodge is about renewal, that inipi in Lakota means “to live again”.

In astrocartography, Mexico City lies between my Sun and Pluto lines. New York, where I lived for nine years, lies to the immediate right of my Saturn line. The girls who know know I was gagged. Since coming here to renew my Venezuelan passport and making the snap decision to stay, everything seemed to align into a fated radical return to self. My already less-than-New York rent was lowered further, my lover blossomed into something stable and truly loving, and I fell in with a crew of my new girlfriend’s friends. They love to dance as much as me. They love snorting powders, and talking about fentanyl safety as they cut lines. They worry. They still buy. It’s a chilling comfort that reminds me of Brooklyn, and the way I always somehow end up in this situation. 

One of the girls is my downstairs neighbor. One of the gays lives to my left. We borrow each other’s projectors and blenders and cigarettes and laundry detergent. I’ve been nesting and, now armed with a decent kitchen and some semblance of mental health, will make the occasional feast. We feed each other. I used to think of it as an adult dorm situation, but I realize now it’s literally just the actual tangible community New York often purports to be. With luck, we have the same taste in parties. 

When Nick León announced a show here, the day after my inipi moment, I knew I’d leave my house stumbling with the girls in tow. The day-of, I’m getting ready following a raver’s spin on Joan Didion’s famous packing list:

To Pack and Wear:

Black fanny-pack (worn as a crossbody moment) with:

Because molly is happening I decide not to drink. After a disco nap, I head downstairs to pregame around midnight. It takes too long, which nobody minds as they rail ketamine. I mind, itching to dance and check the local DJs my boo put me onto. Still, it drags. Small talk gets smaller. I queue some techno and pass the poppers. Around 2ish the songs skew toward early 2000s middle school dance music — all respect to Nelly Furtado — and the group splinters between ravens and K’d out babes looking to party with DJ Blankie B2B DJ Pillow. I chug water and the molly en route. 

In ten minutes, we’re at an unmarked building in Juarez. Stray hotties are turning looks in front of the entrance. As usual, the security checks here give TSA. They’re nice enough: at least when they take my poppers and cigarettes they store them and promise not to throw them away. I get away with bringing in the gum. Quietly digesting the little purple pill, I trust I’ll find everything else.

We make our way up the stairs. The dancefloor is a windowless structure with a single door. Sweat covers the walls, throbbing bass covers the air, and everyone is moving shoulder to shoulder. The room is rife with smoke: weed, cigarettes, smog machine. I turn and realize I lost my friends, so I get lost in the crowd. We sing and sweat and move together, strangers and friends and lovers and dancers and dancers and dancers. Not long into the first set, I peel off the cunty patterned lycra in favor of the tiny orange rave top. I let tears fall. They mix with my sweat. I’m frenetic, alert. I put my earplugs in, and breathe. Near the front, a Palestinian flag hung behind the decks is illuminated by LED lights glimmering on the roof. 

Nick León comes on as the molly kicks in — perfect. I’m so busy jumping around I don’t clock the moment he changes into a tank top and lights a cigarette. The music gets faster, slicing into me the way only high BPM can. I find my friends — front left, somehow holding a conversation next to the human-size speaker — as he plays “Zahara” by Judeline. I lose them again on the way to the smoking area, a small open-air crevasse between the dance floor and the bar. I run into a friend of a friend and we go back in. When León plays his Bubbling mix of Hillary Duff’s “Come Clean” I’m near the back. In front of me, amid the roiling dembow rattle, I see two people having the best kiss of their lives.

We head downstairs for a smoke. When the guard sees I speak Spanish and am not a dick head — I’m surprisingly composed, for someone who’s rolling — he gives me back the poppers and cigs. We run back upstairs after buying water and gossip deliciously in the smoking area as “Volver”, the new Tainy with Rauw Alejandro and Four Tet, comes on. My body feels absolutely electric, and I use the space I have away from the crowded dance floor pa’ lanzarme un perreito. The room moves between reggaeton, dembow, techno, jungle and bass-heavy rave. No es por nada pero ma' si tu quieres volver / Sabes donde llamar, sabes lo que hay que hacer.

I recognize songs Nick has produced. I remember early party flyers in Miami announcing him. I remember getting into his mixes. Tenderness overtakes me for the city I was raised in, for the DJs that came out of the 305 and made it big, for the raves in Liberty City and on the beach at night, for the pretentious club kids at Space and Treehouse, for the genuinely cool kids at The Pickle and Floyd and Bardot, for the leather jacket boys I made out with at Churchill’s and Las Rosas and HOUSE, for the local collectives that make Miami so damn sexy, for the venues (most of the ones whose nights I carry in me) that have closed.

All the way in the back, entering the void once again from the smoking area, I hear the start of “Cyberia” by Meth Math. It’s the perfect song for jumping and fist pumping in the air, all fast-BPM and vocal distortions and modulations of drums and bass. How could we not go hard as hell for a few minutes?

I’m not here to theorize a South American rave to you. I can tell you as a Latinx from the States that it’s hard to find good parties spinning deconstructed Latin club or reggaeton the way it’s supposed to be spun: in the ritual of the sweaty, packed windowless room. I came to CDMX to get a passport and live in Spanish, to find my way back to myself in the context of my language. I’m often so overtaken with language I forget the silent thing I hold in my hips, in my shoulders. I remember at the rave, and I remembered it that night.

A few days later, I’m having a cigarette with my neighbor and rave brother Liam. We ki, and I learn that Francisco Manzano, better known as Akapriest, has died. It’s one that hit particularly close to home for a disparate group of ravers in Mexico. Liam had been in a car with his best friend on the way to Zipolite one New Year’s. He was someone I had hoped to run into while partying here. It was fentanyl, of course. My mind turns to Silent Servant. John Juan Mendez was another case of laced coke. He died in January. I loved the back of his head on the cover of Shadows of Death and Desire, which  stays on repeat. 

In holding all this drug-addled danse macabre I can’t help but think of my grandmother, who loved to dance but didn’t need the drugs. The day of her open-casket, in an uber-clean funeral home she would’ve hated, I cleared the space to be alone with her. I put on Yo No Lloro Más” by La Lupe and gave her one last dance, the ones we used to twirl to in the living room. This room had windows, and multiple doors. It wasn’t sweaty, save the heat of Miami outside. She was cremated and given to the Caribbean Sea, a swirl of ash and roses.

When my rave sister Monte got sober, I stood with her in solidarity. We’d go partying off water, poppers, coffee, and yerba mate soda until dawn. She told me about Diné traditions of dancing for perished warriors, of dance not just as purification but remembrance. Sweat is a remembrance. It’s how we invoke the ghosts of the rave and the sweat lodge, the evenings at venues gathering dust in the humid Florida air, the cold smog of New York, the windowless rooms and wide avenues of Mexico City. You might forget someone who made you sweat, but the feeling remains. You can forget who was behind the turntables spinning, but the sound remains rattling in your bones, a sentiment unearthed eternal at every party until you expire.