The Rise of the Experience Generation
Going out is the new staying in
Over the past years, going out has become a way of life as Millennials and Generation Z have merged into what I like to call the Experience Generation. To the outsider, this phenomenon is all the more surprising as it follows the path of the mysterious and fascinating rave culture.
If you’re part of it, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re over 30, you know who I’m talking about; you know, the people who make you feel old and jet-lagged when you make it to a yearly adventure to Burning Man. If you’re over 40, ask or even just observe your kids: how often do they go out? What do they do at weekends? There you go!
Going out to underground live events is part of the Experience Generation’s DNA. It’s a physical need, a ritual. The new thing is the Experience Generation doesn’t want to go to places by default, they choose their destinations based on their own desires, their own values, their own identities. They’d rather stay home than go to a place that doesn’t fit their values, their expectations. They go to events that have been designed for them, not despite them, or even against them.
In a previous article, I tried to explain the structural reasons that explained the paradigm shift. In this article, I will first explore the deep psychological and cultural causes; then, I will analyze how the modern rave movement rose from it.
You may have heard simplistic — sometimes reactionary — theories trying to explain this phenomenon: narcissism, neo-nihilism, drugs… Most “experts” indeed despise this new generation. Simply because they don’t understand it. They’re hard to get, I’ll give you that.
Part I - What happens when paradigms die
When you look up “Millennials” or “Generation Z” on Google, you mostly find articles either explaining what’s wrong with them or giving you tips on how to address them from a marketing or management point of view. I find it mesmerizing that no one actually takes the time to try and explain who they are, where they come from, why they’re so different from other previous generations. It’s only about dates: 1980, 1994, 2000… internet and smartphones. They’re unfocused? That’s because they were born with an iPhone. They take to many selfies? That’s because they’re narcissists! They’re hard to manage at work? That’s because they’re unfocused. Here’s my attempt to add a new perspective.
Back in the 50’s, the psychologist Abraham Maslow revealed his theory of hierarchy of needs to the world: the famous pyramid of Maslow.
The main idea to get out of this framework is that humans have different levels of needs, and that each level of needs must be met in order to start desiring the higher level. And it does make a lot of sense: how can you start thinking of making friends if you can’t feed yourself? How can you be willing to feel esteem from peers if you don’t have a place to sleep at night?
If there is one thing to remember of this article, this is it:
The Generation Y witnessed the implosion of this framework while Generation Z emerged out of its ashes.
👋 So long Maslow!
Take the physiological needs to start with. New generations know that water could become an expensive and rare commodity in the coming decades. They also know about the disastrous impact of meat, palm oil or plastic consumption on climate change. They were raised knowing that the temperature of the globe would dramatically increase during their lifetime. Consequently they know they will be exposed to unprecedented natural catastrophes.
And that’s not it. They know that getting a diploma won’t get them a job. Most of them actually know that those “jobs” might not even exist anymore when they graduate. They know they’re in a global competition. In other words, they’re aware the social safety net is pierced. And finally, they now also know they can lose their life at a concert or having a pint at a terrasse.
Bottom line: they have integrated the fact that the future is not just uncertain, it is clearly unsafe. They’ve been forced to move up past the first levels of Maslow’s pyramid, past basic physiological and safety needs.
Where is my mind? For real though
Let’s take it to the next level: belongingness, esteem and love needs. Let’s begin with love. How do you initiate any move in the post-STDs #MeToo era? What’s left of love when dating has been industrialized? And how do you even understand the classic concept of “love” when genders have exploded and “traditional” lines have been blurred?
Concerning belongingness, in societies where traditional structures such as nation, religion or nuclear family have vanished and social concepts like citizenship, salaried worker — and soon college student — are collapsing, it becomes extremely hard to feel like you sustainably belong to any kind of social group. And how can you build self-esteem when you can’t find a group to belong to? A group that values your behaviors? Indeed, acknowledgement implies a preliminary known set of values and also peers to appreciate your behavior based on a shared foundation. In a book called The Homeless Mind, the author Peter L. Berger explains that when you “remove the feeling of belonging from the individual, it increases the feelings of isolation, therefore bringing a feeling of psychological homelessness”.
Part II - Identity is a process of self-definition
Moving past basic needs, the new generation is on its own to define their identity. No more legitimate structures to define their values. No more unanimous views to share with large groups. In an amazing podcast, Esther Perel describes it that way: “Before, we used to have very little freedom, but a lot of certainty, a strong sense of identity and belonging. We recently shifted from rules to options and choices.”
Defining who you are, what you believe in, who you want to be, becomes an individual and permanent quest. As the britannic cultural theorist Stuart Hall explains it: “Identity becomes a moveable feast: formed and transformed continuously in relation to the ways we are represented or addressed in the cultural systems which surround us.” So before you call a Millennial selfish, just know that their own self is the only thing they have left, the only thing they have leverage on. And that leads us to Maslow’s ultimate level of needs: self-actualization.
What used to be the top of the pyramid is now the basic layer that new generation addresses every second of their lives.
Being exposed to a larger amount of viewpoints throughout their quest, the new generation tries to “lower cognitive dissonance by adopting separate thought processes for public and private life, trying to escape feelings of anxiety and confusion”. P. Berger states that “it should not be a surprise that modern man is afflicted with a permanent identity crisis”.
Contrary to what Berger says, I strongly believe that the new generation is not doomed. I don’t believe that crisis is the only road ahead. I believe that if you embrace this permanent evolution and find the right mediations enabling your constant evolution, you can enhance this phenomenon and build something truly amazing. But more on that later.
Part III - The shapes and sounds of a new paradigm
The experience generation evolves in a paradigm where authority has lost its meaning. Authority is not a defined entity against which they fight, it has become an absurd concept. Just another one.
Contrary to most old-school nightclubs where authority can be seen and felt from the door to the bar through the dancefloor, raves are post-transgressive kinds of places where organizers and party lovers share the same values, evolve in the same moral order. Artists collectives who organize those events have horizontalized the relationship with their audience.
Beyond people and places, what defines those live events the most is the sound. The music. That rhythmic and electronic music that doesn’t make a lot of sense for most older generations.
That comes as no surprise but studies showed that above a certain volume, music was “absorbed not only through our ears but through our entire musculoskeletal system” — meaning our muscles and bones. And that’s probably because certain frequencies simply can’t be processed by the acoustic system in the ears. Besides, other studies have proved that the combination of repeated loop patterns and strong bass and kick lines had a strong physical impact on human bodies, enabling individuals to reach a state of “trance“.
Bottom line: during raves, our bodies respond to sound at a very deep physical level. The first reason is the release of the hormone oxytocin — the same hormone that plunges our bodies in an ecstatic state after orgasm (!) The second scientific explanation is the impact of high volume electronic music on brain monoamines function and peptides. According to a study exploring the biological responses to techno music, “pleasurable music has been found to increase blood flow in brain regions thought to be involved in reward motivation emotion and arousal, the same brain regions active in response to other euphoria inducing stimuli”.
Raves are those post-authoritarian horizontalized spaces where people gather and listen to music; a music that eventually leads them to physical and emotional ecstatic states.
Part IV - From physical pleasure to mental cure
The concept of time is based on the idea of continuum, but on a daily basis, we perceive through determined sets of units. What makes music so powerful is that, by always creating its own units, it creates a new and unique space between the classic conception of time as a continuum and the traditional units-based perception. Music redefines time. That’s why each single piece has its own tempo and its own nuances. Music is the only thing we know that actually masters time and gives it the speed it wants. That is the unique and immense power of music. On the other side, contrary to visual arts — which are eternal in their own way — music both enhances time and is enslaved by it, as each piece has a determined start and end.
In a 2006 study, neuroscientist Ilan Goldberg describes how music creates “an alternate temporal universe”. Indeed, according to him, “during periods of intense perceptual engagement, such as being enraptured by music, activity in the prefrontal cortex, which generally focuses on introspection, shuts down”; therefore giving an actual scientific meaning to the term “losing yourself”.
Through this phenomenon, long period of intense music listening can eventually lead to mental selfless states.
Selfless state and individuation process
This is why during raves, you see young people spending 6, 8, sometimes more than 10 hours dancing to impassioned DJ sets. You know, those same young people who don’t have attention span anymore according to experts.
As Mary-Ann Ionascu explains it in this article about the rise of techno in Sillicon Valley, if you don’t pay close attention, “a techno track will be a completely different one by the end of the 10 minute mark”. Indeed, techno offers a unique opportunity to be alone with one self, offering the “greatest reward in the form of pure introspection”. M. Ionascu concludes saying “techno is a real-time transposition of [oneself] onto the music itself”, as opposed to pop songs, that — for most of them — are an attempt to extract and retrieve the emotional images from the song towards the individual’s mind.
In the 5th volume of his Alchemical Studies, Carl Jung gives a perfect metaphor to explain the process of individuation:
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”
During a few hour set, one can travel through the different layers of their own self, through the conscious and the unconscious, communicating by successive steps. A new sound texture or layer suddenly becomes an expression of the deeper self, progressively climbing back up to the awaken mind, right before going back to the depths of the unconscious. It works like if inhibition and dark secrets were lining up to gradually surface, to confront the self, and finally vanish like an old dream. The potential of self-escape, self-realization and self-actualization a few hour DJ set can offer is immeasurable. As M. Ionascu states it: “Techno carves out the mental space I need to define myself”.
Part V - Live rave music as a collective cure
Techno music and most electronic music sub-genders like Acid, Indus, Microhouse or Minimal share a similar rhythmic structure that makes every next loop of a set predictable, “allowing multiple individuals to synchronize their movements”. Furthermore, Jessica Grahn, a neuroscientist at the Brain and Mind Institute, conducted a study that eventually showed that when individuals attend a live concert and listen to music as a group, their brain waves synchronize “around the rate at which people tend to feel the beat”, indicating greater enjoyment of music in the presence of a group at a live performance. In the end, the study proved that the “people who had more synchronized connections to other audience members enjoyed the performance more and they also felt more connected to the performers than the people who showed fewer audience connections”.
Once again, science is here to prove that not only music has hormonal, neuronal and mental impacts on individuals, it also has an impact on groups and communities. Live music gathers people together, synchronizing both their movements and brain waves.
Bringing Maslow back to life: creating new community feeling through raving
During raves, people dance together, brush past each other, touch each other. No matter religions, skin colors, genders. In a dialectical understanding of genders relations’ history, rave events enabled this “alone-together” lifestyle Mary-Ann Ionascu talks about in her article: “It’s no surprise that in this #metoo era, people are slowly finding the “alone, together” lifestyle far more appealing than the druggy hedonism of traditional rave culture” she says. This “alone, together” paradigm that so many older guys don’t understand when they tell me: “I don’t get young people! Back in the days, the only reason why I’d go out would be to meet girls”. O tempora o mores.
As collective moments when trance and ecstatic states are reached by a whole group, raves are the ultimate modern experiment of freedom. Purely isolated freedom can lead to madness. But the collective expression of individual selves during a rave suddenly breaks traditional and external rules and obstacles to create an ephemeral paradigm of shared and esteemed behaviors, moves and values, therefore bringing a new sense of community. Oh hello again Maslow!
“[Rave] regenerates parts of the real world that have been dismantled.”
[half quoting Roger Caillois: he says “parties”, not “raves”. But the guy was born in 1913, that’s why]
Raves and fragmented identities
Every rave is a unique moment when each individual transposes their own self on the music creating a temporary social entity that reflects back to each individual self over time. This phenomenon participates to the self-actualization process Maslow describes in the ultimate level of needs of his pyramid. Each rave is a special and unique moment in the constantly becoming state the experience generation lives in. Rave is the ritual through which they evaluate and redefine their identities.
In her article Working weeks, Rave weekends, Christina Goulding states that “raving is an experience that helps individuals create meaning out of confusion by offering an alternative way of being which allows for the construction and the management of the self”. Raves are collective experiences, temporary communities that last the time of the rave and “disperse after the experience is over”.
By choosing where to go, an individual addresses a fragment of their identity. By participating to the rave experience, they become a member of an ephemeral exclusive community, bringing self-esteem and a sudden sense of belonging. Amongst the experience generation, people are almost addicted to underground live events as they are the main fuel to the constant construction of their identities. Going out is a necessary way of life as raves are amongst the only places where they find comfort and answers in this modern quest.
The explosion of live events availability, this creative momentum and the huge diversity of events styles is the answer to this new way of life.
Like the world around them, experience generation is in a state of constantly becoming. Finding new events, new artists, new experiences to self-actualize.
Those new kinds of events offer visions, philosophies, values sets. They are weekly rituals, they are almost religions. They are places where people meet, to form temporary groups that shapes longer-term identities. And as this phenomenon is scaling up, the number of communities is exploding.
Because raves and techno music are both (a) fundamentally inclusive and (b) the peaking time of individuals’ self-actualization process, they will shape the future of generations to come and help them become who they are.
On a personal note, the reason I’m building Shotgun is because this is the only structure that enables me to evolve and build up my own identity while addressing this new amazing world and this fascinating generation. And I can’t begin to tell you how much I have changed over the past 4 years.
I would like to thank my friends Ian Kierans and Niels Mayrargue. Without our amazingly long conversations, this article would have never seen the light 💡
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