Soulless jams

By Rachael Roth

I’m in a basement in London at six, then eight, in the morning. An ex-rocker couple is attached at the leash to a Great Dane with a spiked collar. They’re not happy to see so many kids in their house; kids with a firm grip on a 12-ounce beer lying vertically along a basement wall; kids doing lines or tweaking out from having done lines; kids zoning out and absorbing the bass. I don’t know what crack smells like, but I’m pretty sure that was the smell hanging in the air that night like a dirty blanket.

I nearly felt like I’d stumbled back in time through a portal and I was about to turn a corner and see Sid Vicious doing heroin while Johnny Rotten played guitar. But there is no moshing to indicate rock and roll.  Kids imitate Sid in their attire and drug usage, but rather than move and get rowdy and wax poetic on “the man,” or “the system,” people are still. A girl comes up to me and a friend of mine. I only remember what she said so clearly because we mocked her for two years afterward:

“ I’m 15-years-old and I took two pills, two days ago and I’m still tripping.”

No one here was listening to rock and roll. The music that served as a backdrop for the night into the early morning was dubstep.

We left the basement and crawled into the direction of sunlight, which in London is more gray than yellow. In the upstairs room there was a shelf of free things, and women and men dressed like 90s ravers slept on teal chez-lounges. When the air turned from stuffy to pure, I felt like I was peeling off the hot skin of a bad nightmare.

My friend expressed something that doesn’t set in for a long time, maybe because I’m sleep deprived, or I’ve had too much watered-down apple beer.

She’s disappointed. Not because she expected to have a good night and it boiled down to nothing, but because a seedy underground party in London had the same soundtrack as a party in Amherst, of the same caliber. Finally, we were in the ever-elusive ‘someplace else,’ and we were being subjected to musical elements shamelessly used in songs by Rihanna and Britney Spears. So much for a cultural experience.

Dubstep is intended to be played for a lot of people at a party. The music rises and falls so deeply into a moment of silence before a huge build-up, then explodes, telling you, “This is exciting! It’s time to dance a lot now!” Dubstep originated in South London, so for the kids at the basement parties, I’m sure it’s comforting. People tend to like the familiar. Now Dubstep is woven so deeply into party culture outside of London that it’s becoming familiar to us, too.

I’m the kind of person that doesn’t know the difference between “house” and dubstep. I appreciate glow-sticks just as much as the next person, but I can’t dance with a very convincing imaginary energy ball. I can’t get behind this music, maybe because there are no lyrics, or maybe because I can’t tell two dubstep tracks apart. Dubstep asks people to come together, but not for a revolution. It seemed to me that message is to get wasted out of your mind.

My night in London that ended in broad daylight started with rice and beans. My friend and I had decided to couch surf, which is where you stay on peoples couches for free; in this case, people I had met on that were willing to host international travelers for a night.  I found a girl named Sheila who liked improv and lived in London. The reviews on her from former couchsurfers were very positive; told me she was fun and that I wouldn’t regret my stay.

Sheila made dinner for my friend and I and handed each of us a small juice glass and filled it with white wine. We ate a big meal of rice, beans and vegetables which Sheila recommended for a night of drinking. Eventually it became apparent that they didn’t live here but were squatting.

Our night consisted of walking through town and talking, of Sheila mooning a table inside a restaurant, of she and her friend urinating on the street while one of them covered the other, ( I later learned that this was common in London and thought differently about the streams that flowed down the alleys into the gutter). We went to a few apartments of Sheila’s friends before we walked to what felt like the edge of the Earth, looking in on abandoned factory buildings for the underground dubstep party.

I’m not saying that wasn’t fun. I mean, it wasn’t a whole lot of fun, but I was highly entertained by Sheila’s antics.

But the point of the night was lost on me. The atmosphere of the party that night was one of detachment, not engagement. All I could think was, ‘we jumped through hoops to get to this? ‘

There was no convening with like-minded individuals or any congregating around a live local band. The music was only there to enhance the party atmosphere, because that night, minus dubstep, would have been worlds more depressing. We were finally at the mecca of counterculture, and we were surrounded by the norm.

Rachael Roth is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]