We Can All Live in This House

One of the first times I attended Soul Summit, it was at Restoration Plaza in 2016, behind the Applebees on Fulton ave. I had taken shrooms and went alone. I didn’t run into anyone I knew. The crowd was so very very Black. It was the first time I had seen a collective of Black rave elders. Aunties were set up in picnic chairs around the perimeter, and small children were running around them. 

There were two dance floors. One was covered by a white canopy, where most of the soundsystem was set up, soulfully echoing around the plaza. I felt the bass in my lungs. Melodic bass, it was familiar to me but unnameable, like jazz. The shrooms were making me look at everyone in the eye, or maybe I was just catching eyes because it was a place where I was truly seen. It felt glorious, to be held in a gaze like that. The gaze of people who held me familially, lovingly, but couldn’t name me. 

It was during the day, as all Soul Summits are, with the sunlight sanctifying the sweaty respite of an illuminated dance floor. Everyone who wanted to dance had the room to. Because I went alone, I wasn’t burdened with socializing, so I was able to dance in a way I hadn’t usually. That feeling of floating on the shrooms, a slip in the beat I was grateful for. Some of the uniform monotonous banging bass of what music in underground raving was becoming had been wearing me out. There is not much movement that a strict 4/4 beat can get out of me besides a two-step. With more, there is more my feet can do.

I remember what I was wearing that day, because of how it stuck to my body. Woven grey Sketchers, my fav grey linen pants, and a brown crinkle poly shirt. The shirt got sweaty and I was grateful. Mostly everyone I saw was Black, as am I. Everyone knows that feeling when they are at home, when they are amongst their people, their family. The intestines relax. The air smells pleasant. Your mood calms beneath everyone’s warmth and smiles. Heart open, I roamed around both dance floors, catching incredible vibes, and watching some of the best dancers I had seen in public. This was house.

Soul Summit has been ongoing in Brooklyn for just over 20 years. It was founded in 2002 by DJs Sadiq Bellamy, Tabu, and Jeff Mendoza. Soul Summit’s location moves around a bit, but Fort Greene is its home. The way people dance there, really moving all limbs, advanced footwork, spinning, and jumping. Dance circles open up sporadically, but you can usually find the best dancers closer to the vendors behind the DJ booth, where there is more space. The drum circle usually situates itself at the rear of the dance floor, and autonomous whistles blow throughout the crowd. Cheerful alcohol bootleggers worm throughout the festival selling nutcrackers, and if you ask them for water, they might laugh at you, full of mischief.

Soul Summit is so ubiquitous with Brooklyn summers that the idea could osmosis itself into my will. I name 2016 as the year I first went to Soul Summit, but I have earlier, more distant memories of being in a park, walking past a row of aunties in folding chairs while house music blared, and brushing past drum circles and a dancing crowd. Maybe it was 2010, my first summer in New York City. But, I had no clue where I was at any given time my first year in New York. I was too fresh out of the Black bubble I grew up in to appreciate the scenes of familiarity, to seek out the warmth of my people and the comforting timber of our voices.

Ever since that time in 2016, I made a point to go to Soul Summit at least once every summer. Something shifts at Fort Greene park when Soul Summit is happening. I went twice this summer. The first time, it was downpouring rain. The crowd still thumped with glee and revelry. I left feeling cleansed. I welled with tears, welcoming the rain with outstretched arms while “Another Star” by Stevie Wonder played—the song that always (always?) closes Soul Summit. 

There’s something so satisfactory for a Black person to be surrounded by other Black people who are healthy, living, thriving, and joyous. If you are Black, you know what I mean. There’s a warming clarity of how rare it is to be in a crowd of your own in peace and love, not shaded by grief, poverty, or the aggression and depravity that comes with captivity. While walking with my friends searching for the nearest bathroom that wasn’t a port-a-potty, a Black man walking towards the festival turned towards us and said “Black people are so beautiful.” You may find yourself or hear others saying such remarks. “Wow, look at us!”, “Black people so fine,” or “My people!!” I think that moments like this, of collective self recognition, are felt by everyone in the vicinity. Even if you aren’t Black, it must be nice to see us happy and beautiful, too. Even if just for a day. That energy coats the park and spreads throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. I believe Soul Summit sets the tone for all of Brooklyn on the day when it is happening. 


That time I went to Soul Summit in 2016, techno was in the peak years of taking over the underground scene in NYC. The music in nightlife was transitioning from ‘experimental club,’ an amorphous genre that sampled elements from a vast sonic range, from jersey to juke to ballroom, pop, industrial noise, and vocal snippets. What people were calling “the club” before was beginning to give way to “the rave.” And I was following the flow. I admit to missing the messier, more colorful club days, but long before the term rave resurfaced I had figured out that ‘raving’ was something I just needed to do. I was trying to heal myself from depression, and figured out that the sweaty overnight shift was crucial to my recovery. The clarity and cleanliness I felt after a purge like that, my joints lubricated after hours of movement, the safety I felt in darkness within a crowd. With no pressure to talk, I could ruminate and comb through my thoughts for hours undisturbed and un-alone. 

The reason why I fell in love with raving had to do with transcendence—altered states of being that open portals to liberation breaking through the redundancy of the day to day. It has to do with procession, in both the celebratory and funerary senses. The non place we go to repeatedly, the place that only exists in between days, that only exists when we show up. The warehouse, the dance floor, the darkroom are intangible spaces that only appear through coordinated efforts between the organizers, and the ravers. This coordination can adapt to political movements, where rave organizers can appropriate their skills to a march. 

Ravers can appropriate their bodies to show up to protest. I witnessed this intimately during the New York City George Floyd protest of 2020. The spontaneity and covert conspiring needed to throw a rave—the spatial and social awareness honed after hours spent in crowds, the mutual aid and care necessary to endure through dehydration or drug use—are all easily re-appropriated skills. The long streams of information, gossip of where to go, how it was, who and what to avoid, run just as easily toward the streets of protest. These rave behaviors were developed to evade police and surveillance, for Black, queer, and marginalized people to embody forms of liberation and authenticity prohibited in the current paradigm.

There is a struggle between the power behind dominant structures upholding whatever paradigm of the day and the power behind essential compulsions inherent to the social nature of humanity: the need to collectively burp. or celebrate. or scheme. or heal. or grieve. The rave as a way to collectively express our most ecstatic desires, and ritualistically manifest collective will is what is being discussed here. Collectivity is a substantive process, and crucial to our functioning. The special combination of resistance and liberation is what charges our form called “raving.” Like how the ancient Roman historian Livy describes a Bacchanalia cult festival as a murderous instrument of conspiracy against the state (Wiki).

The word ‘rave’ has origins within British language, and the UK undoubtedly is the place of some of the most infamous and iconic raves in known history. Lots of work has been done in recent years to remind people that the music of raves—techno, house, dnb, etc—is of Black origin, nodding toward a longer history, across oceans of the African diaspora, and by proxy every diaspora that has ever happened. Black culture (in the context of the Atlantic slave trade) has had a special role in the history of raving as a format of gathering and a practice of resistance. I know this to be true: through my fleshy memory, my sweat and pores, my feet dancing to steps I’ve never been taught. I think of notorious fetes, speakeasies, and séances held in secret. I think of processions of all kinds of movement: carnivals, funerals, and riots. Forms of ecstatic collectivity, so called ‘raves’, have a longer and much darker history than is typically discussed. Darker as in skin tones, and what is hidden, as in deep underground, in shade, in secret, and dark rooms occluded by night. Special shades that provide protection for what is sacred, and precious to life. It is in this context that raving exists and thrives today. Our enactment of freedom, our play, is a rehearsal and also the execution of our autonomy, our love, our joy.


The time I went to Soul Summit in 2016 was the day I met Jeff. Sitting on the side of the dance floor, he complimented me on my dancing. He flirted with me by making me guess his age. He claimed to be over 60 but wouldn’t tell me exactly. 

“The only reason why I’m not dancing is because my knees, you know, they get tight with age,” he said. “But next time, when I take you out, you will see.” 

We sat on the side and chatted. During pauses, he would scream, blow his whistle, sing along to the music. I was amused to be hit on by someone near retirement age, but also he seemed so familiar. We became friends.

Jeff took me around to all his raves: Soul Summit, Paradise Garage Reunion, Shelter, and Clubhouse Jamboree. He was from Queens and started going out when he was 14 years old. “Paradise Garage was It,” he said, screaming into my ear over sound systems between bouts of dancing. “The Loft was exclusive and mainly for the gay crowd” and “Studio 54 was for white people. Nobody really danced there anyways.” Paradise Garage was utopia because everyone, EVERYONE was there. It was underground to the whole city. Race, sexuality, and class didn’t matter. 

He described himself at times as an underage kid running wild, as a cool kid in his early 20s pulling an all-black studded leather look, and a professional adult, sweating out his button up shirt after a day of work. When he started working on Wall street, he would start at the Irish pubs in FiDi, and eventually make his way to the Village or Midtown. People would go out immediately after work, and it wasn’t all about the looks, the way it seems looking back now. It was a lot of regular folks with two sides: daytime and nighttime.

Once, when I was with him at a Paradise Garage Reunion party at Elsewhere, there were these fantastic dancers, house stepping, with vogueing and breakdancing elements. It was almost gymnastic. I was absolutely enchanted. 

“See that?” Jeff ranted in my ear. “That’s that Loft style of dancing, they take up too much space! This ain't a Loft reunion party this is a Paradise Garage reunion party. They need to take that shit elsewhere! I don’t like that, how they take up all the space and everyone has to form a circle around them, and ain't nobody else can dance unless they get hit in the face!”

Jeff was furious. I chuckled. I had gotten used to Jeff’s fluctuating temper. Once at Output (died 2018), we were dancing together on the main floor, and a group of white couples excitedly pushed through the crowd to find the center of the dance floor, where we were dancing. They pushed Jeff right out of the way. I caught his rage just in time before it blew all over these strangers. The white couples turned around looking confused, meeting Jeff’s eyes blazing with fury as I dragged him away. 

“These white people, they just try to walk right through you. And they can’t even dance on beat,” he ranted. “They don’t know where they are, they just want to be at the center of this thing they see that has history and looks cool. But they know nothing, they’re not connected, they don’t even see people. It's the same thing like this gentrification,” but of his scene, of his family. They come into an already formed and thriving situation, take over and threaten to kick the earlier generation out. And it wasn’t just about ‘white people.’ The scene ultimately is about acceptance and unity, but this specific kind of entitlement from this younger generation—they don’t know where they are, and don’t care, he said.

When I asked him about Soul Summit, he said he really liked that party, but admitted it was being taken over by young white people. When it’s in the park during the summer, it’s good but it gets crowded. When it’s at other places (Nowadays) other times of year, the crowd gets too white, and some of the spirit gets lost. He loves Shelter and Paradise Garage Reunion because there were more people and songs he knew, more familiarity, more memories. But according to him, all of it— Shelter, Soul Summit, PGR—was a part of a revival moment that started in the late 90s, early 2000s, and none of it has the energy of the original, of course. 

It seems like there was some burnout of Jeff’s scene generation starting in the late 80’s. They dominated NYC for nearly two decades, but the burnout Jeff alludes to corresponds with a natural turnover that comes with life (career, spouse, and kids), and the AIDS crisis. He talked about how many people of his generation were lost to AIDS, and how people were starting to get together in the late 90s for remembrance parties, to commemorate those who passed away. Also, sometime after Shelter closed, the club’s founder Timmy Regisford started throwing raves in different locations, and then the Paradise Garage Reunion parties got started, which brought out people from the original scene. And this house music revival scene was born. 

Hanging out with Jeff gave me a real education. Up to meeting him, I listened to hip hop, contemporary club, and a lot of funk, fusion and modal jazz, but I fell off hard between the years 1980-89. I considered myself a student of African American Music Studies, without ever going to school, but there were huge deficits in my listening history. I was tragically unknowledgeable of disco and all of the 80s. After going with Jeff to his raves, I finally began to understand how the same people who raved to disco, went on to create and enjoy techno. I was able to make the connection between the Black music I listened to, and the disembodied techno rhythms that were starting to dominate the city. Jeff explained to me that it’s not all about the voiceless beat instrumentals; that disembodied sound came from somewhere, and to restrict the mix just to the beat misses the musicians, lyrics, and powerful singers—the important origins of house music. Now, I began to hear the evolution of the music from funk and jazz, to disco to house to techno more clearly. 

House music and techno are often discussed today as if they are rivals. Other times, the genres are discussed as if they are polarities of a janus face: two faces on a head that sees in all directions. House music looks toward the past, looping disco favs into melodic echoes and familiar breakbeats, whereas techno looks toward the future, a space sanctified by the erasure of race, gender, and emotional human flamboyance. When disco was first electrified in the 70s, its incessant bassline awoke the giant monster, and it was house’s eyes that opened first, its face turning for wider views. Soon after, its face split, to view beyond the angels of its neck, spawning techno, its darksided twin. Its many faces fanning out from there, to create the multitude of dance music genres that we know and love today (acid, jungle, dubstep etc).

Yet house music defiantly holds the memory of Black music, squarely looking at the people: gay, feminine and free. A good house music set maintains a steady beat with a swing and heavy bass on the 2’s that the pelvis can keep up with, reminiscent of the iconic disco break. It’s indiscriminate of vocals, that call to Loleatta Halloway, or back even further to spirituals and gospels that sing for pain and liberation. A single set can span 3 or 4 decades of music, recalling history and signaling, loudly, toward the future, anticipating the arrival of more children.


Remembering is revisiting which is ultimately re-creating once again. What is legacy, if not the reassembly of past conditions to be experienced again and again in the present? To return, by reassembling ourselves, we blow pockets in time, air bubbles for us to breathe. Each breath of life expands our space, a space defined more by our unity than by location and time. To go once is to never forget, to go again is to never leave. To create definitions of unity is paramount to our ability to survive. How do we re-assemble? How do we find each other in the noise?

This past summer, a friend of mine who wasn’t able to come to one of the Soul Summits at Fort Greene texted me after asking me if the party had fully turned into a majority white event. She had seen stories on Instagram. There were barely any Black people in the crowd she saw. White attendees weren’t yet a majority, but had completely centered themselves on the main floor. In fact, right before my cherished memory in the rain, a white women leading a train of her friends tried to push past me to get to the center of the floor, which was just on the other side of me. I guess she assumed a space would open up for her. Instead, her push almost separated me from my friend, whom I grabbed close. At both Soul Summit Fort Greene events I was able to attend this summer, the floors were so packed it was almost impossible to move at all. Jeff and I texted in hopes that we would run into each other, but I couldn’t find him.

“Sorry I didn’t get to see you,” was all he texted after.  

Last year at the park, I had become psychedelically incensed by a human chain of white gays, creating a fleshy impassable block right at the center dancefloor. “This isn’t Basement!!” I screamed in a shroom-fueled tirade. I ranted to my friends, who all stared at me in a silence both amused and solemn. We sat in the park after the festival, lightning bugs tinkling around us in the dark. The magic of the day wouldn’t wear off for at least another 36 hours, despite my emotional disturbance. I was angered because of a phenomenon I experience in nightlife was happening at a daytime party I went to for solace, for familiarity, and for remembrance: being pushed off the floor by a muscle-gay orgy. I boiled at the thought of witchy Black aunties who fanned themselves and anyone standing near them being stepped on by white men oblivious to anyone besides each other and their own pleasure. Did they know where they were? Here at this space created by the very Black elders that structured the precursor of the nightlife they experience today, could they decenter themselves? 

As a Black person, it feels really eerie seeing our culture without our people. It's like seeing a body without its head, and you’re the head. It comes with the panic and the indignation of feeling murdered. The anger and frustration of being victimized, having been overwhelmed by your attacker. All of this emotion, but in a muffled, almost sedated state. You may find yourself laughing at the absurdity. 

Dying people laugh, too. This is a bit how I felt attending the Soul Summit at Nowadays. I went to their residency there on October 8th, mainly for the purpose of writing this. Albeit, it is an event in collaboration with Mister Sunday, so, it's really not a measure of the core community of Soul Summit. Also, the entry fee for Nowadays is $30, a deviation from the usual free, open air format of Soul Summit. Since capitalism is the current paradigm, I don’t have a problem with this. I’m glad that Soul Summit has some means to generate capital to sustain its space. But the price (and location) likely deters some of its core audience, and also likely exposes the event to a crowd that shifts the demographics of the party at other times of the year. There were a few Black elders there, full of joy and exuberance as usual, but the majority of the crowd was of college-aged white kids with that sort of smoothed face, uncomplicated sheen. 

It was the day after the attack on Israeli citizens by Hamas militants, and the beginning of the horrific retaliatory genocidal bombardment onto the people of Gaza. My attention was splitting between my reality and the ongoing violence. I eagerly looked to the Black elders there for eye contact to connect and ground myself, and I did magnetize briefly to an uncle, who complimented me on my head scarf. 

“You know that’s how they wear it in other cultures!” Yes, I knew, but I appreciated this little moment of familiarity, in that way of getting ‘schooled’ by an elder, and the subtle nod towards Islam. 

The rest of the evening, I spent sort of dazed, half-present. Headless, my consciousness seeped out to other times and spaces, as if diluted in a sea. My body, invisibilized, treaded on and pushed aside. I wondered if I was really there?

Looking at Soul Summit documentation on youtube, the turn is really apparent. In 2010 documentation of the festival, the crowd is majority Black and there is a lot more room to dance. In a 2023 video, there are stills where you can only count a few Black faces, and the crowd is so dense people can barely move. In a youtube interview, one of the founders of Soul Summit, Sadiq Bellamy, describes attempts to shut down the party by newcomers to the neighborhood, an effect of gentrification. He explains how the event has been restricted in Fort Greene Park, going from 10 events a summer, down to 2, “Soul Summit usually preceded the very people that moved in [to the neighborhood].” It seems the survival of the party is contingent on newcomers becoming aware of the history of this space, and the context for this tradition. 

Considering the reality of rave culture and nightlife today, I ask (mostly white) newcomers: Is it so necessary to create a white mass at the center of this event? Maybe use some spatial awareness for where you situate yourself on the dance floor and who you are displacing. Maybe try dancing elsewhere on the floor, around the perimeter, or set up a little picnic on the lawn with friends to enjoy the music. Get cruised by a Black daddy by the monument or support one of the vendors tabling around the park. Maybe, just walk around and simply observe this unique and precious instant of Black community and love.  

Returning sustains memory, repetitive return creates the contour of culture and the dimensions of a people. There’s the obvious linkage of the shifting demographics of Soul Summit to the colonial white supremacist project that displaces people, again and again. But another theme that keeps coming up for me in this moment is context. To know context, specifically your context, is to understand your relationship to place and everyone around you. Because the goal isn’t to segregate ourselves from one another and erect walls. Circulation is essential to the living. We must see and know one another, and bear witness to all life. We get to know ourselves better through our differences, and with the awareness of the boundaries that define I from other. Without grasping context, we will destroy the landscape and overpower memory with oblivion.