Toward the Collective Soul

Introduction: Connections to the Past 

For those that pay attention to this humble little outpost, it may be obvious that I am much more interested in hearing and sharing other peoples ideas than in invoking my own voice.  I rarely ever post my thoughts on our community and my relation to it. I am much more comfortable being the learner and the sharer than being the “voice” of our community. I have too much respect for the music, the listeners, and the community to pretend I speak for all of us. However, every six months or so, I come to a point where my conversations with people from our community prompt me to want to discuss a topic that lies right beneath the surface of all our actions. You all have indulged me in the past as I have explored how I re-found my romanticism for the music in a disenchanted age of fabricated authenticity (Read That Essay Here) and how I believe our scene will live on long beyond the boom and bust cycles of dance music popularity due to the traditions, sounds, and norms that create our common cultural infrastructure (Read That Essay Here). Well, It seems my experiences have come to a head once again, and I am ready to share some more of the ideas floating around our community.

Over the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to speak to some very special people with beautiful, powerful ideas about the SOUL of music and community. These conversations have had a profound influence on me not only as a listener, but also a human being. These ideas of the soul of the music have re-calibrated and fine tuned how I approach this local autonomy project. They have prompted me to move away from discussions of our community infrastructure and our fights with media hype. I am not moving toward a new direction; our collective soul.

When I say I am seeking out our collective soul, I am talking about trying to pinpoint some of the common ideas and values that we all believe in, use to guide our action, and make our attempts to build and protect a community meaningful. A simpler way to think about the collective soul is to consider it as a sort of guiding philosophy that is filled with all the values and attitudes we use to relate to each other, the music, and the rituals in our community. I believe that it is only though the collective soul that we are ever able to get in touch with the the very heart-strings of our community to see the deep meaning in all our actions together. I believe it is only through the collective soul that we are ever able to truly understand the importance of building a thriving, creative community full of sound producers, synthesizers, and listeners. I believe that it is only through the collective soul that we are ever able to understand our community as a sacred privilege to never be taken for granted.   This essay attempts to point out three of the broad values that I believe make up our collective soul in Columbus. It is my hope that by putting these values into works we can get more in touch with the deep beauty and significance of our common action in our city.

One: Mutual Obligation

One key value that unites many people within our community is a sort of mutual obligation and trust between people. There is an unspoken rule in our community that one needs to help and support the other people working within our community if they want to expect that help in turn.  Its not just our common love of a set of frequencies and vibrations that fosters this sort of outward-focused love and loyalty to the person next to us. This does establish a shared vocabulary we all speak, but it goes deeper than this. This mutual obligation and trust is hardwired into us through the fact that in our small community we know we need that person next to us if we are to share the messages and emotions that the music has to offer. As a result, most everything we do to build our community is not for us. It is all centered around a focus on helping others and spreading the message of the music.

Now some of you may scoff at this characterization, but you need to hold up a second. Its too easy to explain this away by saying that people are only rationally motivated and only do things that will help themselves in the long run. This is, in effect, making the argument that all our entire community is held together by a ceaseless stream of ego plays for status, prestige, and money. I am not prepared to make such a statement, because there is not much ego, prestige, and money to be made in what we are doing. Rather, I think we have quite different motivations for doing what we do in Columbus. The value we place on mutual obligation creates a community that transcends these rational concerns alone and instills in all of us an altruistic, love-based motivation to act. It is this altruism that has us asking: “What can we do for our community?” and not “what can I do to help myself?”

When I first entered the community, I was quite taken by the level of trust that develops among people in our community. Building and maintaining a community results in the establishment of deep friendship and camaraderie on an artistic and spiritual level that few common activities can match. You can see the results of this trust and loyalty in the massive events thrown by multiple dance music organizations or the events that bring together multiple “electronic” music communities. You can see it in the generous act of all the people that donated performances and sound to the BLUR event I helped throw for the Fuse Factory. You can see it in the time people take to answer questions and make mixes for this humble project. You can see it in the humble act of someone helping move equipment at the end of the night. You can see it in the willingness to pay 5-10 dollars to go to an event to support the artists that performed. In all these acts, we come to know who we are and who others are by giving of ourselves and experiencing the generosity of others. It is through this core value of mutual obligation that we begin to love one another and protect the community that helps us understand more deeply what it means to be human.

Two: Music As A Teacher & The Fellowship of Learners

The second core value that unites us is our orientation toward the music. We all value the messages and teachings that music has to offer us. We are the sort of self-selecting, deep-sea divers that are not content to just passively listen to music. We have a burning desire to tunnel deeply into the machinations and history of the sound to understand how and why it was created. Through this orientation, music becomes more than just a good beat and collection of synth pops. It takes on a quasi-magical quality that propels our bodies and minds out of  the mundane into the interconnection of history, place, and vibrating sound waves. It becomes a teacher about the human experience and our place in the universe. It becomes a spiritual repository where we look to learn lessons about how to love, rise above, and celebrate being alive. Viewed through this orientation, music is no longer just a hobby for us. It becomes a blueprint for engaged living.

Above our common approach to music as a teacher, we are all united in a fellowship of learning on the path to musical discovery. When we open ourselves to understanding what music can teach us, we are embracing a common path of learning and curiosity. This is a vital commonality, because it shows that we are not just united by what we listen to and are interested in. No, it is much deeper than that. We are unified by our common love of learning and being willing to continually change how we think the world in line with our interactions with others. This is something I have witnessed directly in myself and others. My love of learning overlaps fundamentally with all the other people in this community. How else would I be able to talk to complete strangers about the fundamental importance of music for 2-3 hours if we did not share some fundamental curiosity and membership in the fellowship of learning? How else would a project like mine even be able to get one reader if people were not curious and wanted to learn how other artists in their community approached learning and working with sound? How else would countless others in our community with seemingly different tastes and interests be willing to collaborate and appreciate each others work? Yes, we do share a fundamental belief in music as a teacher, but above all, we also share the fact that we are all but humble learners on this common path of life trying to live an engaged and worthwhile existence.

Three: The Sacred Rituals of our Community

The final core value that I feel unites us is our orientation toward all the practices associated with being a part of our community. Whether we consciously know it or not, we all approach listening, spinning, creating, dancing, and curating events as sacred acts of self expression. We all exude a humble reverence while doing them that shows our deep appreciation for being able to express our singularity and experience others expressions. This appreciation has profoundly altered how many of us approach the world around us. We have let our respect and reverence flow freely into our actions and it has transformed mundane acts in nightclubs into spiritual technologies that help us transcend this world of flesh and bone and burn wildly on fire in the Churches of Soul around our city. Through this perspective, our practices of creating and listening become our common instruments to sing the triumphs and sorrows of living in this imperfect world that is so immensely gorgeous in its flawed condition. What else is there to being human than humbling yourself before a practice that lets you express deeply these fundamental truths of our world.

Beyond the power of self expression, we are all united by approaching these sacred practices as parts of rituals of renewal, healing, and rites of passage. We do not hold these spiritual technologies in such a high regard just because they allow us to express ourselves. This is obviously an important part of it, but they also satisfy a much more fundamental need. We all continually re-use the solemn rites of the dancefloor every weekend with its practices of dancing, mixing, creating, and listening because it nourishes our soul with reminders of the love and beauty that surrounds us and heals our wounds inflicted in the dramas of life.  Even further, these rituals in the Church of Soul help us get over and symbolize us making our transition toward love, generosity, and humble learning. Viewed through this perspectives, each of these practices is nothing more than one star in the constellation of the services of the Church of Soul that we all continually draw on in order to re-fill our hearts for dealing with the troubles of our times. I have felt the power of these rituals in every room and show that I have gone to in our city. I know you have felt it to. Why else would we smile at complete strangers and be willing to trust them to share a very intimate experience of expressing the core of oneself? Why else does time seem to slow and space seem to fall away as we get in touch with that rhythm? Why else would all colors, smells, and sound seem to be more vivid in these moments of ceremonial connection? Why else would getting little sleep and dancing till the middle of the night leave you feeling fully charged and ready to love again? No matter if you are religious or not, we are all united in seeking out the sacred and beauty of life through the rituals of the dancefloor. We are all united in continually seeking out healing and nourishment in these solemn rites.

Conclusion: Breaking Down Division In These Rationalized, Categorical Times

I feel that pointing to and celebrating our unity through the collective soul is an incredibly important act in these rational, categorical times. “Dance music” in our city and all over the world has to some degree fragmented into infinitesimally small groups of people all exploring their own highly specialized category (genre) of music. When we break off into these small nodes and define ourself through sounds we are really closing ourselves off to all that the music and the community can teach us. We are allowing powerful organizations, whose goal is profit, to dictate to us how we will run and act in our community. It was these large-scale promotional groups, blogs, and recording companies that have always saw a potential pay day in twisting very loose, local definitions for genres [which were nothing more than ambiguous labels for people to use to understand the music anyways] into a rigid moral universe of Right|Wrong, Good|Bad, Cool|Uncool to sell us music, experiences, and identities.  When we continue to divide ourselves off by genre, we are allowing these organizations to trap our communities and ourselves in iron cages of genrification and monetization that suck the soul out of the music and community.  Luckily, these iron cages are never welded shut and can be sold for scrap metal if we have the desire.

Our collective soul lies right beneath the surface of most of what we do. Some individuals may be more intentional about how it guides their action, but we are all guided by forces outside the world constructed by blogs, promotional grops, and record companies. We all crave to learn about and get in touch with the ancient traditions that naturally emerged from the foundational moments of our community. We all crave to unify our community and be more in touch with the sacredness of our common practices and rituals. I think the road we can use to get there is a more intentional inclusion of the very values highlighted in our collective soul. Let’s stop falling into the trap of talking about how we are going to push the scene to get bigger and continue to think and talk about how we can all come together better and help each other (Mutual Obligation).   Let’s continue to talk about what we can learn from the music, events, and each other and not just how we can throw a well attended party (Music as a teacher; Fellowship of learners). Let’s continue to use a different metric of success for our community. One that keeps in mind that success can be measured in the degree to which we humbled ourselves before the practices and rituals of our community. One that takes seriously self-expression and finding healing in ritual as key indicators of a good event, production, or set.  It is only then that we can step out of the iron cage and allow ourselves to full express our collective soul. It is only then that we truly embrace the humanity behind all that we do in this city and take back our community for ourselves and no one else.

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