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A figurative mapping: archiving dancefloors as sites of change

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This action project looks at electronic (dance) music as a too-often overlooked driver of both small-scale personal and larger-scale societal change. More specifically, the project looks at the dancefloor as a site of ‘potential being,’ where bodies can be/exist/move/breathe/transform/relate otherwise; outside of norms which build and shape daily lived realities. From where did this site emerge? How is it that here, the body is able to unravel/un-write/unlearn through creativity and movement? What is the context of the music? And what does this mean in today’s intricate socioeconomic and political landscapes? Exploring these questions is the culmination of the project into a zine, a small-scale self-produced publication archiving thoughts and reflections on contemporary dancefloor experientials. Working with a methodology of curation, the zine merges visual, written, and audio material to present another story; one which takes the transformative nature of dancefloors as a starting point and uses this to explore broader concepts of ‘freedom’, ‘(un)becoming’, and ‘autonomy’. The physical zine itself is explored as an alternative medium through which to communicate such a story. Circulated amongst friends, social circles, and local music shops, copies of the zine’s first issue have travelled from Amsterdam to Munich to Milan to Brooklyn. Representing a small piece of ‘slow activism’, the zine’s first issue focuses on the intimacies of sharing personal expressions and the potential of such a radical vulnerability in bringing background or sidelined conversations to the forefront.

Initial inspirations for this project root back to very personal experiences; those of feeling the transformative potential of a safe, welcoming dancefloor and the emotive force of collectively experienced music. Depending on the body in question, such spaces are not always a given or guaranteed. Depending on the space in question, such a force is not always allowed to emerge. The politics to this are inherent. Looking at dancefloors not only as physical sites, then, but as complex social spaces reflecting a myriad of intersecting personal and political values was a step to bringing these experiences into active conversation. As the project was borne in the context of the covid-19 pandemic, it follows similar initiatives which over the last year have brought forth much needed critical reflection on the changing processes of rapidly growing club/dance music industries across the globe.

Working by the principle of organic self-production, the physical creation of the zine was primarily made using the resources available at-hand. That includes simple pen, paint, glue, and paper. Any additional material was either rescued, donated, gifted, recycled, or otherwise gathered with minimum monetary funds. The main and ultimate resource, time, was gathered and given by multiple people–friends, music lovers, bookshop owners, and open squat libraries.

In certain contexts, it can be difficult to maintain an intrinsic motivation and belief that what you’re doing is making a difference; that what you believe is important is also shared and vouched for by others. In the case of this project, where the emphasis was made on ‘slow activism,’ on archiving personal expressions rather than spelling out explicit solutions, this proved at several points especially true. To this, the role of collective support proved invaluable. Through conversations, meetings, brainstorming sessions, with friends, strangers, colleagues; everything that contributed to keeping the ideas alive and meaningful helped to push it forward. It is especially heartening, almost 9 months after the first publication, to receive a message that these small words are still being read, felt, and shared. I would encourage then anyone in a similar situation to – above all – not drop the conversation!

Having released only one issue to date, the zine remains a platform with the possibility of connecting various perspectives on a myriad of contemporary issues. As an initial mapping, the first issue’s central placing and questioning of creative bodily autonomy is keen to be expanded upon, especially from contemporary, young voices often not making it to the forefront.

I personally come from a geography/cartography background, and think of other ways it may be possible to present such stories; on how to center aspects of place and space, the ‘backgrounds’ of our narratives. Ideas or thoughts on this are not only welcome, but needed!

The project’s Instagram page is rather quiet, but don’t let this fool you – they are very much there. A few prints of the first issue are also still available on a free/donation basis; they would surely be happy to find a new home! See the Bandcamp page for this.