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Turn that Smiley Face Upside-Down

By David Abravanel | 3 July 2008

Five songs about the darker side of raving/clubbing

The association between raves and blissed-out youthful abandon is well-established. For many teenagers, including myself, raves/clubs provided utopian environments of all-night sensory overload. It’s the perfect teenage hangout—one part hubris, one part short attention span, everyone trying to shed their adolescent awkwardness for one night.

Unfortunately, growing up means wising up, as well as looking back at some less-than-stellar times (and decisions). Here are five songs which, in their own ways, expose some of these dark sides.

5. Pulp: “Sorted For E’s & Whizz”

Jarvis Cocker has made a career out of being so square he’s hip—an astute observer of what’s hot, and why it really shouldn’t be. On “Sorted For E’s & Whizz,” Cocker raises his eyebrows at England’s massive scene of outdoor orbital raves. Countering the utopian anarchy associated with such parties, Cocker instead tells a tale of wild goose chases for hidden locations (“nobody seems to know exactly where it is”), and questions whether such a beautiful gathering isn’t just a bunch of people standing around awkwardly in a field. It’s okay while the ecstasy works and everyone is there to support you, but, as Cocker cautions, “In the middle of the night / it feels alright / but then / tomorrow morning / oooooh / then you come down.”

4. The Streets: “Blinded By The Lights”

Part of Mike Skinner’s “week in the life of a geezer” album A Grand Don’t Come For Free, “Blinded By The Lights” details an unfortunately common experience for more veteran (and jaded) ravers—taking too much in search of a first-time rush. More than that, however, “Blinded” exposes the faults of the “working for the weekend” culture from which many ravers emerge. A Grand’s average Aleister just wants some fun to forget about his difficulties with money and girls, but instead he faces an isolated, amphetamine-like paranoia.

3. Green Velvet: “La La Land”

Here’s a classic tale of getting older and growing tired of the same all-night, drug-fueled explosion supported by every rave. “I’ve been the one to party / ‘til the end / waiting for the afterparty / to begin,” intones Velvet, over a beat that suggests the edge of frustration and numbness from living party-to-party. Then comes that classic hook—shout it out! “Something ‘bout those little pills / unreal / the thrills / they yield / until / they kill / a million brain cells.” As Richie Hawtin once cautiously suggested to pill-poppers, “just because you love chocolate cake doesn’t mean you eat it every day.” Same sentiment, but here it’s put to so a slamming beat that Velvet manages to make burn-out and withdrawal sound damn sexy.

2. My Favorite: “Homeless Club Kids”

My Favorite existed relatively under-the-radar, but I have yet to meet someone who hears this song and doesn’t appreciate its gravitas, particularly former raver kids. Over a melancholy, grey-soaked New Order-esque beat, Andrea Vaughn coos devastatingly detached observations of the club kids she is surrounded by, looking desperately to escape their harsh daytime realities with a night of partying. For the kids, it seems to be working as they look “indivisible” on the dance floor. Vaughn, in the older-and-wiser role, however, knows that these kids are all doomed, like previous generations of adolescent dreamers. As the reverb-drowned music fades out, Vaughn is left to confront these sad cases: “they’ll be sad and young / forever / and I cry / until I throw up.”

1. Scott Brown: “Takin Drugs”

Okay, truth time: I’ve never rolled. I’m scared of pretty much all drugs, and despite having attended several raves as a teen (it kind of stopped dead in college), I’ve never been chemically love’d up. But, as Simon Reynolds so astutely pointed out in Generation Ecstasy, the concept of ecstasy need not be in pill form—often enough, the music itself is enough to transport the participant.

More to the point, “Takin Drugs” is not intended to be sad. On the contrary, it’s a canonical song from the Happy Hardcore genre (of which Brown is perhaps the most well known producer and DJ), with its epic electric piano chords, speeding acid squelches, and that tongue-in-cheek sample of some narc questioning “you kids takin’ drugs?!” So, why put it here? Because there’s an incredible sadness about “Takin Drugs,” one that serves as a reminder to anyone caught up in the revelry when it comes on: this feeling, this gathering, this notion that you can change the world, is temporary. Whether the drug is literal or musical or both, it represents a mindset specifically for kids who don’t know any better. Maybe there’ll be other rushes to equal this one, but eventually, you’ll grow up and out of the hubris and naivete that is responsible for moments like these.

Then again, take heart—you can always become a music critic.