The A Game: Rave culture fosters Asian American racial identity

Last December, I had a change of heart. After months of failed persuasion and coercion, I finally relented to friends and attended my first rave in San Diego. Dancing to deafening music until 4 a.m. and being surrounded by thousands of inebriated people didn’t exactly appeal to me. But by the end of the night, I was sold. I became one of them.

The experience of being at OMFG! NYE 2017 completely erased any of my preconceived notions about the rave experience and electronic dance music. That night, Adventure Club performed a remix to one of my favorite songs, “Crave You.” I was in the company of my best friends, hearing brand new sounds pulsating through my body and meeting new people all around me. It was an experience unlike anything I had ever gone through. However, one thing I couldn’t help to notice was the sheer number of Asian people who shared the same space with me.

I first learned about the rave experience as a high school sophomore. Many of the graduating seniors had planned their post-graduation trip, a three-day weekend in Las Vegas to attend Insomniac Events’ iconic Electric Daisy Carnival. Initially, I thought it was just a trend that would die out quickly. But it never did. I began to notice that raving was not a coming-of-age phenomenon only prevalent at La Quinta High School — it became a rite of passage for Asian American teens in Southern California.

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But even after becoming part of this experience, I still wondered: Is there a cultural motivation behind this Asian American youth movement? Part of the reason behind my fascination in this culture was learning of its continued popularity despite the news reports and public condemnation of drug-related deaths among young Asian Americans at events. How did the notion of PLUR permeate through the masses of unsuspecting first- and second-generation citizens?

Although there haven’t been strong ethnographic studies regarding the resurgence of rave culture and its racial impact, some academics are beginning to shed light on this topic. In a thesis report, Harvard alumna Judy Soojin Park argues that cultural belonging has played a large role in the Asian American youth’s participation in rave events.

As an Asian American myself, I believe there’s a much larger argument to be made about this entire movement — but Park’s reasoning is definitely a foundation for many of the underlying reasons why EDM and rave culture has manifested itself in today’s Asian American youth. One could point at the Second Summer of Love in Britain as a cultural parallel behind this 21st-century occurrence. During the late 1980s, the British rave movement exploded due to the influence of house and techno music in America, but more importantly, the cultural repression that British youth faced during the Margaret Thatcher era. The Second Summer of Love, which resulted in a massive boom in raves, represented a countermovement against Thatcher’s notion that “there is no such thing as society.”

In the same vein, the Asian American youth here in Southern California have been mobilized by an invisible cultural current permeating through the masses of society, regardless of their nationalities. The labels placed upon us — the model minority, the perpetual foreigner, the overachiever — may all be part of this motivation, along with pressures and generation gaps within families. For us, raves have ultimately become safe spaces for those looking to escape their realities with others just like ourselves. And consequently, we’ve created a cultural community under one collective racial identity.

Regardless of how they are perceived in the media, I still see raves for what they truly are: gathering spaces for people to express themselves without judgment. And if this is what it takes for young Asian Americans to discover their voices in today’s society, I’m all in.

Allen Pham is a junior majoring in public relations. He is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “The A Game,” runs every other Monday.