The Politics of Ravers: Cesar

Most dancers / ravers go unnoticed, like ghosts. We want to get to understand who they are, their takes and points of view about rave culture, music and the politics around it. They are such an important pillar at every party / rave and, in this series, The Politics of Ravers, we dig more about them.

Photo of Cesar standing at a park for The Politics of Ravers feature on Mixed Signals

I remember meeting Cesar at the Expose Noir 24 hour rave in Ottawa some years back and I noticed the joy he expressed while moving and dancing. Then I saw him at multiple other parties and raves in Ottawa and Montreal. Eventually we became friends and his passion for rave culture and deep music knowledge made me realize how interesting his experiences and thoughts are.

We spent a Sunday morning drinking coffee at a park in Ottawa, chatting about his vision about contemporary rave culture, music, the role of the dancer at the dance-floor and the politics around electronic music.

Tell me how did you come across with Electronic music and dancing in general?

I started listening to electronic music through my cousin in Toronto, who was into all that Miami scene and invited me to some clubs and fell in love with it but I’ve always loved music, especially Latin and tribal music. My first club experience was in 2011 at a club in Toronto called The Guvernment and then got into stuff like Chus & Ceballos. Then, I basically went down and got really deep into Techno. 

The Dance-Floor is a Political Space.

Shortly after I moved to Ottawa and I heard about Stereo Club in Montreal for the first time and went to see Paco Osuna which was a crazy experience. After several visits to Stereo, I met my former partner – an ardent Stereo-Head. He was from Montreal and introduced me to some people who were regulars at the club.

Being able to meet locals and going with them to these events made me realize that there was a community around it so I started going more and more often.  We literally would sleep until 2am, wake up, take a shower and head to the club, just specifically for the music and have fun. 

I’ve been there myself many times and it is one of those special places that make you feel very comfortable, maybe because they don’t sell alcohol and people that go are there specifically for the music. Was there any breaking point during those times when you realized “fuck this is amazing, I want to be back here all the time for dancing”?

Each visit to me was so different, special and reinforced me that feeling of being part of something. Lots of those times, I was under the influence but mainly of the music because the venue is made to provide such an experience as a safe space where anyone can be whoever they want to be and express themselves through their movements.

I’ve always felt that at raves, everybody watches one another but nobody is watching you. When I’m on the dance-floor, I like to observe people, to see how happy they are and that makes me very happy.

I really see dancing as a form of meditation, exercise, wellness and not specifically as a “party” thing. To me, going dancing and listening to music is a way to forget my worries, a time for myself and to have a good time. 

Totally, and there are many other types of venues, parties, scenes or communities, where other forms of interaction or inclusiveness regarding safe spaces are in place. Do you feel the difference in between them and how your experience get challenged? 

This is something that I read and totally agree on: “The Dance-Floor is a Political Space”. There are a lot of contentions especially at regular clubs, where the majority of people are heterosexual and they behaviours are very different. The thing is, you can really feel the difference between both worlds, especially regarding LGBT spaces or even at hetero safe spaces.

For example when I was in Berlin for summer 2018, I really wanted to experience the techno scene from there. I spent a month travelling, first in Berlin and then Italy. In Berlin we went to a couple of parties but our whole thing was to discover places to go, based on what the locals were suggesting. 

There were a couple of clubs we wanted to go visit such as Tresor Club because of its history and Berghain, because I knew that was one of the main ones but when we got there, we sensed that the locals now see Berghain as a tourist attraction. 

We went to Tresor Club on a Sunday morning and it completely changed my perception on what a scene should look like and the politics around it. I came to realize that there was more a music scene than just the music they were playing.  

Who was playing at Tresor that morning?

It was Hector Oaks playing as Cadency and the party was called Herrensauna which I have never heard before. At the door they tried to filter us, asking us who was playing and the only name I knew was Hector Oaks. They let us in and that’s when we saw what Tresor and Herrensauna was all about. 

So how do you feel about that whole selection process and filtering at parties?

I see it as a positive thing and is the only way to protect the space from people who are not conscious or do not understand what those spaces mean to the people that are inside. 

It is very common, especially in places like Berlin, where people go to parties not really understanding the full meaning or context of the scenes behind those doors. What I really liked about Herrensauna was that the community was so tight, everybody knew one another which made everything more intimate and appreciative. Even if there were people from all over the world, each one of them was so conscious of why they were there. 

In these spaces, everyone is there for the music but also to respect each other and to have a crazy time.   

Absolutely, and from the harm reduction perspective, how do you see that safe spaces like those versus typical dance clubs have approached drug consumption and harm reduction in general?

I think that drugs are always gonna be around and the only way to create safe spaces is education and harm reduction. While I was at Tresor for example, I saw people that would stand outside of the club and get your drugs tested which I found very progressive. I also understand that there are people that go dancing to do drugs and others that go and do drugs to dance. 

What I found very disturbing in Europe, and because of the refugee crisis, so many people are forced to sell drugs to make a living and they go to these underground spaces and fuel them with drugs. If the club was 50 meters away from the subway station, you’ll have at least 20 people offering drugs before you get there. It was crazy to see but obviously there is a demand. 

Photo of Cesar standing at night for The Politics of Ravers feature on Mixed Signals

You did some academic studies about club culture right? Tell me more about what that was about.

Yes, As part of my Minor in German Studies and to explore a more personal aspect about contemporary German culture, I wrote a dissertation on Berlin’s underground club scene. What I saw and experienced there felt so unique and different from other places that felt like it was a great opportunity to go deeper about it. 

Through my studies, I came across a very interesting quote by the founder of Tresor Club. He said “German reunification happened in the turned dance-floors of abandoned vaults and basements of the inner city of Berlin” and that really stayed with me.  In 1989, the wall collapsed and two distinct people came together, not knowing anything about one another. The only thing they had in common was that sense of freedom. 

After the collapse of the wall, there were so many empty spaces, especially in downtown East Berlin and tons of those spaces were occupied by people from all over the world, especially by Idealists, Anarchists and Artists trying to create communes with a strong emphasis on music and arts. 

I think that there is nothing better than coming out of a loud dark box into the light and feel that I experienced something unique. 

Those principles are still reflected in today’s underground scene where no cameras and no phones are allowed inside of the club. What is interesting, is that the left, specifically in West Berlin, really saw cameras as a part of the security apparatus of the state so keeping those away from underground spaces was a way to protect them and the people inside. 

Actually, if you go inside of these clubs, you’ll see graffiti all over the walls and that really reflects on the spirit of the people from East Berlin, where they were not allowed to paint graffiti on the Berlin wall, or else you would go to jail. At these spaces, people are actually encouraged to do that and you can actually bring your own spray can and paint inside of the club. 

Really? That’s interesting and I had no idea…

… Oh yeah, and all this goes back to this political past. So in my studies, I went deep on how the political development of the city and history after WW2 really shaped the values that govern these spaces and their dance-floors. 

So I’ve been curious about this for a while, and I ask this question to a lot of friends or at interviews. Why do you think that techno focuses the events on the all night to morning formula and not all morning to the end of the day type of events? Why what cycle?

Mmm that’s a good question. Honestly I think that Raves should not start at 10pm (collective laughs).

I really think that is a form to filter up people and if you are into this type of music, and you want to experience and feel this collective energy of the underground you should be willing to go at times where nobody is willing to really go. You have to seek these spaces and sacrifice some sleep I guess. 

So do you have a specific party or rave in Canada that really made you feel the same way you felt in Berlin for example?

So until 2017 I really felt that there was nothing in Ottawa for me and always seeked that outside of the city, like Montreal for example. Then at Stereo, I met some of the guys from this crew called Audiobucket and they started booking pretty good DJs in Ottawa. 

I realized that there was an underground scene here..

.. There is always an underground scene everywhere man…

.. Yeah, and I was surprised that there was a community. 

So I met you for the first time at this 24 hour Expose Noir rave that happened in Ottawa some years ago which was like the weirdest parallel universe to what you probably experienced in Berlin. Tell me about that weird vortex that happened in the city and your experience around it.

First of all, an event like that never happened in the city  and when my friend Marcos from Montreal who curates Expose Noir asked me how did I feel about an event like that happening in Ottawa with the caliber of the DJs that played, I told him that it would be risky but also really nice (collective laughs)

The fact that they were going to be the first ones to try to do something of that magnitude would absolutely set a standard for anything that will happen after that. Like an insane venture. Later on he told me about the lineup and blew my mind. Having DJs such as Slam, Anetha, Henning Baer, Amotik, Juana, Mary Yuzovskaya, Amanda Mussi and Softcoresoft playing at a warehouse in Ottawa was literally mind blowing.

Then I basically started telling some international friends from Korea, Austria, Berlin, etc and other people that have never even been to a club before and they invited more people and so on. 

To me, the difference between a rave from a typical Friday night party at any night club is that people go to Raves for the music, to feel the music, to dance and not just to get drunk and pick up a girl.

It as fucking crazy (collective laughs). The event started on Saturday at 2am, I got there at 4am, then I had to attend a workshop that Saturday morning at 9am, so went there for an hour, then I had to go to work and came back to the party at 5pm until close at 2am on Sunday. 

The fact that they pulled off something of that magnitude in a city like Ottawa it was mind blowing. From my perspective it was the craziest party experiment and a big success..

.. yeah I remember that I was outside hanging out with Softcoresoft before her set, probably at 6am and a couple of minivans arrived with friends from Montreal ready to dance. It felt quite refreshing to see that kind of support from other cities..

Yeah totally, tons of people from Toronto and other nearby cities came. The thing is, I am not sure if even Montreal or Toronto ever had a real techno event like this at that kind of warehouse space and with the caliber of DJs that played. It was just weird for Ottawa but it worked and now is like a legendary story. 

The thing is, in Ottawa, people are not used to this kind of event, like not at all and that was probably a completely new experience to so many people. The most interesting thing was there were people asking me why this setting, why the hours, why the warehouse and why that music but after the event they totally understood all of those whys.  It was complex for the city for sure. 

.. and what similar raves or safe spaces like that have you encountered in Montreal for example?

I think that for me, Expose Noir really started something different. I think that the fact that they booked DJs like Ellen Alien or DJ Nobu at warehouse spaces was great and that also brought a quite diverse group of people which was very positive. 

I find initiatives like that are very unique and try to recreate that kind of vibe of the scenes that we see in Berlin which are musically mature and musically educated audiences. 

Let’s talk about music, what have you been listening to lately? 

I actually listen to everything. I’m a very musical person and in one day, in terms of spectrum, I would listen from classical, opera, disco to 70s music. When it comes specifically to contemporary electronic music I listen to a lot of industrial, deep techno, ambient but it really depends on my mood. 

I love sets that really try to tell a story or convey different moods and that will take me wherever the DJ wants to take me. To me, good DJs are the ones that can communicate in that sense and tell stories of different energies. Like you, as Ruth Grader for example (collective laughs). That last set you produced, oh man, that was a crazy journey and I really liked it. 

Thanks, so I want to dig more about the specific role that I find the dancers have within the structure of the scene. I feel that is an underrated and undermined role in the industry. Can you share your thoughts about this?

I agree and I feel that the dancers are the heart of the party and each one of them has the responsibility and the duty to other dancers to respect and understand what kind of parties we want to create. Is decentralized and nobody dictates anything but we all have that responsibility to that. 

To me, the difference between a rave from a typical Friday night party at any night club is that people go to Raves for the music, to feel the music, to dance and not just to get drunk and pick up a girl. Is not about that and people that go to raves are very conscious about that.

My role is to remind people to dance because dancing is infectious and when you see somebody dancing, being happy in their own world, then others will come out of their shells. I want to remind others that we are all there together, to dance and irradiate positive energy…

.. and so then the DJ, who has traditionally been perceived as the centre of the universe in a weird some sort of hierarchy system in the industry, always gets the full attention and glorification. How do you feel about that?

I really see DJs as equals and one does not exist without the other. Most DJs were once dancers so they understand what the dancers want. I’ve met super humble DJs such as DJ Nobu who I’ve spent some time with and he told me that he rather play spaces where he feels connected to the people and where there is no hierarchy. So the smaller the parties, the happiest he is playing. 

After the boom of EDM, commercial techno or even tech house…

.. hands up and just look at the pretty DJ..

(laughs) Yeah and this all depends on how the DJ wants to be perceived and how promoters create the stage or even marketing around a party. A big example is having the DJ booth very high up, where the DJ is at the top and everyone is forced to look at them. 

Even if you are not trying to create a hierarchy by setting the booth like that, you are doing it anyway. That’s why so many raves or clubs have the DJ booth on the floor so people can concentrate on the music and become more intimate.  

Ok so we have been here at the park for a while, recommend me some tracks or mixes so we can finish. Wait, let me see your Soundcloud feed…

Omg I have so many (collective laughs) (He keeps scrolling and scrolling down his phone).

The thing is, I’m a huge music consumer and I’m always looking for new stuff. I’m always saving music and that’s kind of bad, because I can never remember what I saved. Is terrible…

.. same here, I feel disgusted at myself sometimes, fucking 2020 Soundcloud pandemic…

(more laughs) Shame on us but here are some favourite tracks.

Some favourite tracks by Cesar:

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