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Book review: Raving by McKenzie Wark

Image by Z Walsh

McKenzie Wark’s beautiful, mind-expanding book takes us deep into the femmunist revolution in the underground queer and trans rave scene, writes Stuart Ridley.

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Pleasingly, McKenzie Wark isn’t here to start a(nother) generational debate about what raves used to be and what they’ve become. Like her, some of us are old enough to have experienced rave’s back-to-back (supposedly) ‘golden’ eras of the late 1980s/early ‘90s. And even then, we heard tired party heads mumbling about how ‘things were better back in the day’ (what day did they mean exactly?).

At least some of the point of making raves happen was/is about creating spaces for people to share collective joy in the now. Dancing like there’s no tomorrow—while also dreaming of brighter days ahead.

McKenzie says she “came back to raving as a practice after a twenty-year chillout”. But she’s not simply jacking back into the in-the-now-ness she experienced back in Sydney’s and Melbourne’s early ‘90s raves: since coming out as trans a few years ago—mid-life—she’s relishing a new way of being, deep in New York’s queer, trans, alternative techno community.

“A good rave, on a good night – that is where I can feel like my body is not an anomaly, or rather: not the only anomaly,” she writes. “It’s a distribution of anomalies without a norm, anomalous only to each other. That’s what a good rave makes possible. Although let’s never forget that we took this configuration of fugitive possibilities—from Black people […] on a good night, there’s the possibility that some few people for some few moments—might get free.”

McKenzie writes intimately and strikingly about how trans ravers are finding freedom, hope, strength and connection in a ‘ketamine femmunism’ revolution staged in underground rave ‘junkspaces’ (crumbling remains of industrial-capitalist ambitions).

Yes, K-time (‘imminent time’) is a confronting thing. Though as McKenzie explains, some trans people are comfortable with it: their lived experiences of dysphoria and disassociation prepare them for being in—and without—a body while being pounded (multi-sensually) by hard techno. 

She’s living and loving it.

Don’t let anyone tell you there’s an age limit to raving: if you used to enjoy it though drifted away for whatever reason, McKenzie Wark’s deeply researched book could bring you back again. So here’s the eternal question: are you up for it?


Read more of McKenzie Wark’s books: Love and Money, Sex and Death: A Memoir (out now from Verso) and Leaving The 20th Century (out August 2024 from Penguin Random House).