James Parker on “Rise: The Story of Rave Outlaw Disco Donnie” (Arthur, 2004)

What If You Never Come Down?

by James Parker

Originally published in Arthur No. 11 (July 2004)


Reviewed:

Rise: The Story of Rave Outlaw Disco Donnie DVD

(Music Video Distributors)

Directed by Julie Drazen

I remember raving. I remember Ecstasy. I remember chewing on a piece of gum until it broke—until it turned into something else, something weak and viscid, its gummy properties of twang and bounce quite exhausted. Symbolic? I thought so. I remember the mad foam of chemical brotherhood. I remember insisting, deep in some woofing, thumping London club, that two people I had just met stand next to me with their heads touching mine so that I could enjoy the warmth of their nude ears (we all had very short hair). And I did it in San Francisco too, where the loonies are—a man at a ‘smart drinks’ bar, wearing an Anarchic Adjustment t-shirt, told me that in the course of his psychedelic researches he had become invisible for nearly three weeks. 

I know a little bit about it, is what I’m saying, but Julie Drazen’s Rise —a movie about New Orleans rave promoter Disco Donnie—still surprised me, because guess what the kids have done now? They’ve taken raving—the most godless, pharmaceutically programmed, pseudo-spectacular trip there is—and gone and made a religion out of it. And because their minds have been weakened by drugs and flashing lights, they have christened this religion with the anaemic acronym PLUR. PLUR, for Peace Love Unity Respect, which they pronounce as a single syllable to rhyme with “purr.” Oh dear. “Jesus preached PLUR!” declares a girl with awful Ecstatic earnestness, filmed against a colourless background. The bass frequencies of an offscreen rave shimmer around her, and her jaw is lunging about like something trapped. “And he probably smoked bud too!” Her boyfriend is even worse, a drug-electrified fanatic, unable to do anything more than twitch his head in agreement. Rave as spent cultural force? Just say that word PLUR and hear the energy leaking out of you, away from that promisingly plosive beginning—the pop! of newness—into entropy, wasted breath, the heat-death of the universe etc.

Not to bash the kids: they have an absolute right to their foolishness. And if they make it through, if they don’t entirely ransack their life’s ration of serotonin and good luck, who knows, they could end up as wearily wise as me. But there does seem to be some synchrony going on here between the powers of Ecstasy and the credulousness and positivity of the American national character. British ravers, though drugged like shamans, were by and large a pasty-faced, sardonic crew. They kept it—I won’t say real, but realistic. UK rave had its cranks and ideologues of course: one thinks for example of the magnificent shaven-headed Spiral Tribe, illegal party planners and white label artists, speculating on mystical vortices, intoxicated with the number 23, bouncing grimly in churned fields and in the corners of squats. But an essential British narrowness was always part of it. This was part the distinct pleasure of the whole trip: beneath the skin of the most blazingly loved-up raver, his open arms extended zombie-like towards you, you could always discern the sunken shrewd skull-face of the morning after, the colour of an empty milk bottle. The spidery ironist Jarvis Cocker made fun of us all: and you want to call your mother and say /”Mother, I can never come home again/’cos I seem to have left an important part of my brain/ somewhere, somewhere/ in a field, in Hampshire (“Sorted For E’s and Wizz”). In America there was Timothy Leary in his robes. There was twinkling Terence McKenna, that one-man rocket-ship leaving the Ego behind. It was in America that someone actually said to me, muffled deep in an embrace, “I don’t know who you are, but I fucking love you.”

But back to Rise.

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LET’S BE PERFECTLY CLEAR

Study: “Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – Jan. 26, 2012) (via Joseph E. Stiglitz)

“Secret Handshakes Greet Frat Brothers on Wall Street” (Bloomberg News – Dec. 22, 1013)
“Sigma Alpha Epsilon has sent almost 3,000 men into finance, according to resumes on LinkedIn, which shows no other industry employing more than 1,800…”

Jarvis Cocker – “Cunts Are Still Running the World” (2006 – featured in the film Children of Men)

Well did you hear, there’s a natural order
Those most deserving will end up with the most
That the cream cannot help but always rise up to the top
Well I say, “Shit floats”

If you thought things had changed
Friend, you’d better think again
Bluntly put, in the fewest of words:
Cunts are still running the world (x2)

Now the working classes are obsolete
They are surplus to society’s needs
So let ’em all kill each other
And get it made overseas.
That’s the word, don’t you know
From the guys that’s running the show
Let’s be perfectly clear boys and girls,
Cunts are still running the world [Repeat: x 2]

Oh feed your children on crayfish and lobster tails,
Find a school near the top of the league
In theory I respect your right to exist
I will kill you if you move in next to me
Ah, it stinks, it sucks, it’s anthropologically unjust
Oh, but the takings are up by a third, oh so
Cunts are still running the world [Repeat: x 2]

The free market is perfectly natural
Do you think that I’m some kind of dummy?
It’s the ideal way to order the world
“Fuck the morals, does it make any money?”
And if you don’t like it, then leave
Or use your right to protest on the street.
Yeah use your right, but don’t imagine that it’s heard
Cunts are still running the world [Repeat: x 6]

"The mainstream is too strong. It's flowing too fast. These little jagged things go in there and they get smoothed off straight away."

Jarvis Cocker profile in The Guardian:

Early on, [Cocker] says, he really did believe Britpop was a new dawn – not just musically, but politically. If the alternative, rather than the mass-produced, could be embraced by the mainstream in pop, maybe that would be the harbinger of social change. “I had high hopes that it would be some kind of revolution within English society. But I think the mainstream is too strong. It’s flowing too fast. These little jagged things go in there and they get smoothed off straight away.”

What kind of revolution had he envisaged? “What makes society and life interesting is diversity, so if something that embraced that diversity could be accepted in the mainstream that would mean mainstream society would be more open and accepting. And that’s what excited me about it. That that could happen.”

He says he’s always been a bit naive, and it was hardly the first time he had been pulled up short from his dreams. “I’m always going through these false dawns. It was the same the first time I went to a rave. I thought, this is fantastic, people are dancing all night, they’re all being friendly to each other, they’re not really drinking, it’s not about pulling birds or having a fight. And I thought, that’s got to have an impact on society. When they go home after being all loved up and talking to everybody and being really inclusive, how can that not have some knock-on effect in normal life? And yet it didn’t.” He smiles, baffled. “That was the last spontaneous youth thing. I can’t think of anything that’s not been stage managed since then.