In Electronic Awakening, director Andrew Johner lifts the veil on an underground spiritual movement that has developed within electronic music cultures worldwide. Read my interview with him below.
I’LL ADMIT: I never really “got” EDM (electronic dance music) until my first visit to Burning Man in 2009.
I had, of course, known about rave culture for many years, though somehow managed to navigate my youth without ever attending one. Meanwhile, I’d been pursuing my own spiritual path through Eastern traditions such as Buddhism and Yoga.
It took the dusty playa of Black Rock City to invoke the felt experience of dance floor transcendence, a deep inner-knowing that I’ve been able to cultivate in the years since, and has informed my own pursuit of art, activism, spirituality, and community. This fusion has been given the label “neo-tribal” to signify a return to ways of being rooted in the past, but at a higher complexity.
And so it was with great interest that I came across AC Johner’s ethnographic documentary Electronic Awakening, which aims to chronicle and illuminate this emergent phenomenon. The trailer below offers a teaser, and is followed by a provocative interview with the director.
MN: How do you define the term “neo-tribalism”? What does it mean to be a neo-tribalist?
ACJ: Neo-tribalism is a term I was originally using to define much of the subculture arising out of festival and psychedelic culture. If one would look at the fashion alone, much of it incorporates garments made from leather, feathers, and fur — it’s an archaic look with a modern spin to it.
While much of the ethos coming out of the festival culture seems to resurrect the magical consciousness of ancient tribal cultures — a return to a form of nature worship, group cohesion through collective ecstatic dance practices — beyond the ideas these contemporary groups seem to be promoting, it does not seem to have moved too far beyond fashion.
For many of these people it’s about identification with a group. And mimicking archaic cultures and traditions is a form of identification, not only with each other but with traditions that they would otherwise have zero connection with. Neo-Tribalism is a about weaving together, and creatively reformulating, identity and a worldview out of the remnants of the past.
In your opinion, what is the relationship between neo-tribalism and electronic dance culture?
From my research, part of the evolution of the electronic music community was when they began taking the parties outdoors. Out on the West Coast of the United States this happened around the time that police terrorization was making it difficult to host underground parties in urban locations.
Another reason was the commercialization of the rave scene that was expanding the audience of the party to uncontrollable numbers, and also attracting many who did not have the same intentions towards community and group transcendence. Many felt it necessary to protect what it was they had discovered at the events by removing the party from the cities, and taking it outdoors, to remote locations.
When these smaller, more communal events began happening outdoors, the attendees began to make a connection between their dance experience and the natural environment around them. While psychedelic culture is already about the modernization of ancient shamanic and nature worship practices, with the emergence of outdoor electronic parties it’s obvious that the culture began evolving in this direction towards neo-tribalism.