Back in the day the great thing about underground parties was the opportunity to step into a bubble for several hours, one in which you knew you could hang out with your friends, get high, dance, and act like a silly fool while still being basically safe. Though clubs offer many of the same activity options, the essential underpinning of the night is different - rather than a gathering of like-minded folks who know how to deal with trips different from their own, club crowds are made up of whoever can pay the fee at the door, and often these folks have very different ideas about the kind of experience they want, or are willing to tolerate, for the evening. In these situations, where bumping into some guy's girlfriend might bring a knife out on the dancefloor, or where the 'phobes might not look too kindly, especially after four or five drinks, on the boys making out next to them in the chill room, you can find yourself torn between the desire to let go and enjoy yourself, and the need to keep your guard up and negotiate the social complexities of the night.
What makes the Rhythym Society's quarterly parties special, then, is their harkening back to those old school events. Because everyone there has to have an invitation from a member (their sponsor), they already have some connection to what's going on, and the safety and security everyone feels can be seen in the willingness of families to bring their littlest ravers to the party, at least for the early hours. For me, this past Friday's event, "Sparkle," was just the thing I needed to let me re-discover parts of myself, and my relationship with my boyfriend, outside of the typical club environments, where we spend more time trying to deal with the crowd than we do enjoying the music, one another's company, or even being with our friends.
In terms of atmosphere, the best way I can describe these parties is "Burning Man without the dust." You get the same crowd, the same costumes, and the same hedonistic vibe, but when you're ready to leave there's your apartment at the end of a taxi ride, rather than a trek through the cold night to a dust-filled tent. The doors close at 11.30, and at midnight there's a ceremony to kick off the night. The music is close to what you'd hear at Burning Man as well - this time Sentient, who spins psytrance and promotes the weekly Synchonrize parties on Wednesdays at Il Pirata, opened with a set of what he called "user-friendly psytrance," followed on by breaks for the rest of the night. Aside from the main dance room there are two chill spaces, an outdoor courtyard smoking area, and open access to the main church Sanctuary, which can be a lovely place to sit and mediatate.
The boyfriend and I had several friends, and two kids who live in the same converted Edwardian as myself, to hang out with, but we spent more time on the dancefloor than anywhere else. At first the sound system came across as pretty weak, so that we had to stand in front of the speakers to actually feel the bass, a result, I think, of the dancefloor being completely packed. However, the whole event began to thin out noticibly after 1.30, and the sound improved as well - I think there are many folks who come early in the evening to socialize, then take off after the ceremony. It was the first time I've danced to psytrance in a long time, and I forgot how it breaks down so often, sometimes a bit too often. Sentient's mixing was a bit on the aggressive side, mostly mashing the bass of the incoming track up into the mix of the exiting one, but the measures were matched and the timing spot-on, even if I did find the flow from track to track to be somewhat occasionally perplexing, in terms of mood. When we needed a break there was the outdoor smoking area, with many folks eager to join in converstation. Around 2.00 we came back in for the end of Sentient's set and the beginning of some breaks, but the DJ was going for a style that was a bit faster and tweakier than we really were into at the moment. We found our friend Juan in the chill room and chatted with him until the DJ in there started spinning hip-hop, so we took our leave and went home to spend the rest of the evening in that lovely state of post-party exhaustion where you can just lay on the couch, listen to music, and shoot the shit until you begin seeing the first gray light of morning coming through the window.
As the boyfriend and I reclined in the living room I said "well, I think the re-start button got pushed this evening." To answer my own question, I think that's the value of parties like this; they give you the chance to step outside of the world for a few hours and then start up again the next day. They allow you to synch up with people in your life under a different set of parameters, and even if it is all ephemeral and subject to second-guessing the next day, we can at least have these moments when we feel safe, secure, and thus capable of giving expression to thoughts and feelings that have a hard time finding their outlet otherwise. There was a reason why the kids you raved with always felt like a special group; at "Sparkle" I remembered what that reason was.