Theatre in Search of a Storyline: The Role of the” technoshaman” in Rave Culture

Since its emergence in the late 1980s, the subculture referred to as “rave” has become a significant global youth phenomenon. At the heart of every event one encounters the DJ, the individual accountable for the success or failure of the rave. The DJ is responsible for taking the dancers on a “journey” so that they may experience the feelings of connectedness, spirituality, and a state of what participants refer to as “ecstasy.” Given this role, some have labelled the DJ a “technoshaman.” Using the survey and interview method, participant observation and the existing literature on raves, this dissertation investigates the precise functions of the DJ as a “technoshaman.” Gilbert Rouget’s conceptualization of trance and how it is managed in the ritual context, and his framework for the study of possession trance ritual provides the theoretical foundations for this research. The DJ is found to be an expert in knowing how music works and through an analysis of the techniques employed to initiate altered mind states, and his relationship with rave participants, it is suggested that the role of the DJ can be more appropriately compared to the role of instrumentalists in possession trance ritual. The quasi-scripted nature of the rave experience and its parallel to ceremonial possession is also evinced through an exploration of raver psychoactive substance use, driving mechanisms into altered states of consciousness, and the role of participant learning and adeptness. In applying Laughlin’s hermeneutic model of the “cycle of meaning” to rave events, it is found that the role of the “shaman” is performed by the participants themselves rather than the DJ. Despite processes that are focussed on the tasks of minimizing physiological harms and bodily discomfort, and maximizing well being, pleasurable memories and a sense of community, it is suggested that the “storyline” underpinning rave culture, lacking any formal or stable content, remains to be told. In contrast to possession ritual where the storyline binds the dancer to the god or goddess, and what is gained by the dancer is a complex identity, power, moral rules, responsibilities and expectations, participation in a rave stops at the personal and interpersonal level of experiences. It is suggested that it is ultimately up to each individual raver to direct the course of his own path and experience.