Be careful what you ask for
Make sure it's really what you want
Because your mind is made for thinking
And energy follows thought — Willie Nelson
Last November, I interviewed both ISOxo and Knock2, best friends from San Diego who are rising together in the EDM scene, for The Alternative. Then I got to go to one of their dual-headlining shows to see the magic in action. They played four sold-out nights at the Shrine Auditorium, a massive venue in downtown Los Angeles. I went on night 3, alone.
I was a little sad that I didn't have anyone I could call on to turn up with me to some trap and bass house on a Tuesday night, though it would have been a tall ask for anyone but the most freakish of fans. Before I moved to L.A. from New York, my husband and I had converted two of our (also married, also thirtysomething) friends to the raving lifestyle, and I really miss having buds to call on to try out a new club, or go a festival and have our spirits renewed beneath DJ Snake's bouncing laser eyeball...
But I do love going to shows alone. Solo raving makes me feel like a sneaky spy...a Lady On Her Own. And unlike rock shows, which I love but find a little insular (the standing-with-arms-crossed posture of the rock show persists since I first starting going to shows as a tween, and probably has existed since time immemorial), electronic music offers a higher chance of random social interaction. The drugs do work, and boy do they make one friendly.
I didn't realize until I grabbed my ticket from Will Call that the show was 18+, and then I got in line with a gigantic throng of college-aged folks in all-black ravewear. The security guy made me say my age out loud when I got my over-21 wristband! "Seriously?" I asked. "Seriously," said the security guy. "I'm 94 years old," I said. (I had just turned 34 the week prior.)
But YOU don't need another piece of writing about how old I feel when I go to youthful events. I wrote about that a little bit in the context of "millennial cringe" when I went to a 100 Gecs DJ set, and again when I was stoned at the intersection of music and technology at a deadmau5 NFT concert. Personal age discourse is officially BÖRING! All you need to know is that I am aging like a fine Cheddar cheese. Just don't leave me out of the refrigerator for too long and I'm good to go.
After scouting the perimeter of the big crowd, which was already screaming along as opener JAWNS played a buzzy remix of Sexyy Red's "SkeeYee," I settled on the far left side of the auditorium, posting up near a trash can, as I always seem to at these kind of events. I am the garbage raver, I thought.
Everyone at the show seemed to be part of a young and zesty 12-person friend group. Big smiles, reverent ohhhhs at crucial drops, arms around each other in small circles, hopping up and down. And this was just the opener! I mentally poured one out for dear Jon and Lucy, who probably would have dug on this scene, and then put in my earplugs, because the volume of the music was astonishing...
...and then a nearby couple in their thirties immediately introduced themselves to me because they'd seen me putting in the earplugs and clocked my age demo accordingly. Ear protection must be the sonic self-care dogwhistle of people born in the late 1980s and earlier. Okay, now enough age discourse. Wear earplugs at shows, my gorgeous readers. I just listened to a wellness podcast where the Gen Z hosts scoffed at the idea of taking care of their hearing, because they had bigger thing to deal with, like climate change. "L take," as they say.
The Shrine was gigantic and cavernous and booming with bass. The bar lines were negligible, but I had decided to rave sober that night. Still warming up, I engaged my spy tendencies and made some analytical observations. The audience loved to chant. They loved to churn up the energy by jumping up and down and saying AY AY AY AY AY. They loved to do the WOOP WOOP thing as well. I swear WOOP WOOPs are only increasing in popularity post-2020, though I know they have a history stretching back at least as far as the days of disco.
They also loved singing along to the little runs of synth melodies that lead up to the drops, syllabizing them into BA-BA-BAs or DA-DA-DAs, which felt Jock Jammy, hockey game-esque. And they loved throwback songs. There weren't a huge amount of recognizable samples in the mix, especially for ISOxo, but the ones I heard mostly came from the Party Rock Era realm: "Everytime We Touch" by Cascada (2006), "Fire Burning" by Sean Kingston (2009), "Beauty and A Beat" by Justin Bieber feat. Nicki Minaj (2012), and "Summertime Sadness" by Lana Del Rey (2012). Snippets of melody, drowned in distorted low end...
...ah...trap music! I forgot about trap! My entrance into electronic dance music was through the artist Alison Wonderland, whose primary genre was trap (now she has a techno alter ego, Whyte Fang), and I enjoyed that music without too much corresponding analysis. Then I got interested in house, techno, hyperpop. Then I started to dabble in drum and bass, garage, hardstyle, the dubstep of my youth. But returning to trap...man, it is fun as hell to experience live. Something about the syncopated patterns of the bass encourages a very particular kind of dancing. Like a one-person slam dance: a cousin, perhaps, to the illegal pogo of the Safety Dance.
I was having fun. I was getting loose. People had captured some epic content and were now just vibing. It wasn't quite a "not a cell phone in sight" scenario, but it was certainly nothing like those static, million-screen situations that keep popping up on the feed these days. Knock2 played his smash hit "dashstar*" and everyone freaked out. I chatted with the aforementioned earplug-advocate couple for a bit, and they told me they were going to go upstairs and check out the view from there, and would I like to come? Wow: now I was part of a "group."
Upstairs, a balcony wrapped around the large open auditorium space, and the crowd there was thinner but even more engaged. These were people who wanted room to dance. And I am one of these people. I don't need to do the full hardcore dancing thing, flapping my elbows and knees about, but I appreciate a perimeter where I can jump around a little bit without worrying that I will upset someone's vodka soda or stomp on an errant toe.
There was a group of friends at one corner, and gradually we got absorbed into their group. Sometimes you happen upon a group at one of these events that is simply feeling themselves, and this was such a group. No one was trying to look cool. There was zero self-consciousness. Everyone was just doing whatever they wanted to do. The closest analogue I can think of is the "Linus and Lucy" scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas, with everyone shimmying, making up their signature moves.
One of the dudes in the group bopped up to me at one point. "You love this shit?" he asked, in the feedback-loopy, foregone-conclusion way of the true viber. "I do...I love this shit," I said. I do. I love this shit.
ISOxo played a song from his new album that had a chirpy, pitched-up voice singing "I just wanna feel aliiiiiiiiive" over and over. I was finally able to 'let the music take over' and completely empty out my brain, filling it with bass in place of thoughts. A concert will have its visual components, its LCD screens, its flashing lights, but I recommend closing your eyes at the show every now and then to let everything really sink in.
The main show ended, and Knock2 and ISOxo were preparing for a special b2b "ISOKNOCK" set to close things out, but I decided to leave on a high note (ALOHN: Always Leave On a High Note.). I thanked my new dance buddies for welcoming me into their dance zone, and received a nice hug from one raver, and a mutual Instagram follow from another. I left the Shrine floating, with a persistent idea running horizontally through my brain like a stock ticker: ENERGY IN / ENERGY OUT. Let me explain.
I've always had a little trouble with the concept of "manifesting." Manifestation was, and I think still is, a big part of the spiritual side of mainstream wellness culture. The idea is to believe something so hard, to picture its existence so thoroughly, that it ends up happening for real. And that concept has been picked apart pretty thoroughly—is it manifestation or is it privilege? being one salient critique—but I still see manifestation pop up here and there on social media. I don't know why, but my imagination has never swung that way. Something short-circuits when I try to do the whole The Secret thing. Everything feels too abstract. I can't sketch out the boundaries of what I want.
And when I read about something like the comedian who says she manifested a profile in Nylon, I scrunch my internal eyebrows and feel a touch of envy. Should I be doing the emoji prayer candle circle for 2024 NYTimes trend piece on music blogging, with a cool photo shoot where I'm, like, sitting at a computer? Is this what I should be asking of the universe?
What I can do, instead of 'manifest', is put ENERGY IN and then get ENERGY right back OUT. I went to that Shrine show feeling a little forlorn about my lack of local rave buds, but open to—and in fact hoping that—I'd make some friends for the night. I didn't manifest it, but I conjured the energy. It would be easy to stand at the back of the auditorium, observing rather than dancing. It would take some effort to go into the crowd, shoo away self-consciousness, and comport myself in a way that would naturally bring me into the path of other like-minded people. I did it, and I had a great experience. I got out what I put in, and then some.
A few weeks later, I got a press invite to see Revival Season, a rapper/producer duo out of Atlanta, play a show at Zebulon. (Having previewed their upcoming album The Golden Age of Self-Snitching [out Feb 23] I can tell you it is flaming hot...positively molten.) Again I found myself with the choice between hanging back journalistically, or getting up close and personal. Which do you think I picked?? Why yes, I was up front, bouncing + lightly shaking my ass. It was an excellent show. Brandon ‘Bez’ Evans's flow was relentless. Jonah Swilley cued up some crazy beats. If there's any benefit to my not belonging to the imagined elite of the musical journalism world, it is that I have no allegiance to whatever standard modes of behavior might exist for them. I need to participate in stuff, otherwise I won't understand it.
A while ago, I saw a TikTok where a woman, whose account was dedicated to sharing NYC nightlife recommendations, was lambasting a particular bar for having "no vibes." And wow, I hate that attitude. It's consumer-brained ridiculousness. It puts the onus on someone else to do your entertaining. You are the vibe. The dream of a wonderful night is within reach, if your participation and energy allow it. It's up to you, dude.
"The world is a vampire, sent to drain." Billy Corgan wrote that about 30 years ago. Every generation gets their own customized battle of consumption: take, or get taken. It was magazine pages, then television spots, and now mysterious trails of data that allow brands to stalk you and bug you to buy stuff. You can go your whole life believing that exchanging money for goods or services is the most meaningful transaction there is. Everything points toward this as fact: every scam text message, every Instagram reel shilling ADHD meds and 'slug cream.' BZZZT. WRONGO. Your energy is your most valuable currency. Not to get all etymological but before "currency" referred specifically to money, it meant "condition of flowing."
Make sure yr flow is heading in the right direction. Be the first person on the dance floor, move up to the front of the room at the rock show, tell the person you saw perform that they had a great set. You will be rewarded in ways you might not even be able to predict!
Thanks for reading. If you enjoy I Enjoy Music, tell a friend about it.