On a night out in Edinburgh, out of curiosity, I once asked someone if they had ever been to Cabaret Voltaire. “No, it’s so smoky and full of techno music,” was the reply. We all subsequently went to Atik, one of the most stale club spaces I have ever seen. Naturally, I spent my whole night wishing I was somewhere else. Yet, I’m sure some members of my party fully enjoyed singing along to 2000s club hits and would feel completely perplexed by the strange intensity of a techno club, with nothing tangible separating the constant pulsating beats. A newcomer to a techno club could very easily become disorientated by the environment, especially when observing the strange dispositions occupying many of the people inhabiting the dance floor. With pupils the size of dinner plates, and jaws swinging from side to side, they move, entranced by the beats and hypnotic flashing lights. Could these people possibly be under the influence of anything other than alcohol?
Techno originated in Michigan during the 80s, soon making its way across the pond to the UK in the form of rave culture. The rave scene and MDMA emerged hand in hand as a response to the disparaging social and economic climate of 1980s Britain. With a disenfranchised youth seeking new forms of hedonism, abandoned warehouses set the scene for a musical revolution in which sub-genres of techno such as acid house flourished, with MDMA at its roots. MDMA has become a favourite intoxicant for many party goers in the years since. The drug releases large quantities of serotonin, triggering a deep rush of pleasure and a flooding energy that can be difficult to channel. A techno environment facilitates the release of this energy, and the constant beats seem to become as much a part of you as your own racing heart.
Are drugs necessary to enjoy techno music? They certainly enhance the experience, if there were no appeal in drugs people wouldn’t take them. This isn’t to say that it’s the same for everyone, I know people who have had nightmarish experiences on MDMA, and when that happens it’s a serious matter. I have also had conversations with people that say they only ever enjoy techno music when they are on the drug. I try not to adopt this view as it becomes debilitating once you start relying on drugs to have a good time. Not to mention the various health risks which come with drug use, too many comedowns and the brain becomes starved of serotonin, leading to depression and sometimes permanent brain damage.
Nonetheless, it is undeniable that drugs are deeply rooted in techno music, and therefore somewhat responsible for its popularity. It has certainly intensified my own experiences at techno events. I am, however, by no means a techno aficionado, and rarely listen to it outside of the confines of a club. I’m more of a fan of the traditional bands who pioneered the dance scene of the 80s and 90s like New Order, Primal Scream, and the Happy Mondays. Despite this, I’m listening to techno for research purposes and inspiration as I write this piece, and I must say the consistency of the beats provides a nice backdrop to the rhythm of writing.
Those passionate about techno obviously enjoy it beyond the artificial means drugs allow one to enjoy music. Indeed, the ability to enjoy a night of techno without having to suffer the crushing comedown that follows is certainly an appealing prospect. People should feel free to enjoy these events however way they choose, it only becomes a problem when someone who doesn’t take drugs but still enjoys the techno experience is forced into situations when all their friends are on it and they’re not. This can create an alienating atmosphere which divides friend groups based on those who do enjoy MDMA, often labelled as those who “want to make the most of their night” and those who supposedly don’t. It’s an unhealthy way of viewing people’s preferences and it goes both ways. This often leads to half of the group begrudgingly going home early while the rest linger in the smoking area, anxiously searching for any way possible to keep the night going.
Under the influence of MDMA or not, the energy of a techno event is unparalleled by any other club experience. For the time you’re there, you’re completely immersed in the present moment, perfectly embodying the solace of escapism that defines all music.