On June 21st 1966, iconic artist Andy Warhol introduced the world to a new series of multimedia events and dubbed it the name Exploding Plastic Inevitable Now. The event featured musical performances from The Velvet Underground and Nico, screenings of Warhol’s films, slide shows, various light shows by Danny Williams and various dancing performances by Gerard Malanga and Mary Wornov. They played shows for several months in New York City, other parts of the US and Canada until its last instalment in May 1967. The impact of Explosive Plastic Inevitable Now – also known as EPI and Explosive Plastic – can still be felt today. It has 'inspired' and anticipated multiple counterculture movements, including the Second Summer Of Love in the United Kingdom. In this paper, I am going to argue how Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable anticipated and influenced the Acid House Rave Culture at the nightclub Shoom that emerged during the Second Summer Of Love.
“Come blow your mind, the silver dream factory presents the first erupting plastic inevitable"
First presented on June 21st 1966, at Warhol’s discotheque The Dom in New York City, Exploding Plastic quickly became a sensation among various countercultures of the time. Throughout the tour, the event often took place in unconventional venues - such as a discotheque - which allowed Warhol to break away from the established norms of art presentation. At every location, the multimedia instalment featured and blended various forms of media. It included “three to five film projectors, often showing different reels of the same Warhol film simultaneously; a similar number of slide projectors, movable by hand so that their images swept the auditorium; four variable-speed strobe lights; three moving spots with an assortment of colored gels; several pistol lights; a mirror ball hung from the ceiling and another on the floor; as many as three loudspeakers blaring different pop records at once; one to two sets by the Velvet Underground and Nico; and the dancing of Gerard Malanga and Mary Woronov, complete with props and lights that projected their shadows high onto the wall" (Joseph, 2002).
At EPI, sensory experiences and artistic expressions were central to the event’s popularity. It appears to me as if Warhol wanted to create a multi-sensory experience with an immersive environment that challenged traditional notions of art and expanded artistic expression. The visual experience – as described above – was achieved by utilizing various mediums at once and resulted in an ever-changing, mesmerizing visual landscape for the audience to get lost and dance in. The auditory side of the event was achieved through the live music by the Velvet Underground & Nico (VU). “Warhol included the band with his show in an effort to use rock as a part of a larger, interdisciplinary-art work" (It Happened in 1966: Andy Warhol’s Plastic Exploding Inevitable, n.d.). The band’s raw sound and utilization of repetitive rhythms and hypnotic melodies were combined with Warhol’s invocative and psychedelic visuals to great effect. It allowed for further artistic expression and added to the sensory experience. As with most psychedelic events during the ’60s, EPI has been associated with LSD. Billy Name, one of Warhol’s superstars, elaborated on LSD extension on EPI saying: “The performances controlled you. (…) It was magical” (Wainright, N.D).
The event was extremely influential. The combination of various mediums at once created a visual and sensory overload and allowed new opportunities for artistic expression in a unique way. It appears to me as if Warhol tried to make the audience forget about the limitations of one medium and completely lose themselves in the unique mix of multiple mediums at once, a transparent immediacy. “EPI would be felt for decades, influencing everything from post-hippie expressionism to punk rebellion, (…) to now EDM and techno raves" (The Music Settlement, 2019).
One field that Exploding Plastic appears to have influenced is Acid House Raves during the Second Summer Of Love. Although it is significantly less known than its predecessor, The Second Summer Of Love, it refers to the summer of 1989 in the United Kingdom. It saw the rise of Acid House Music and unlicensed rave parties. At these parties, there was a clear presence of MDMA which fueled an uproar in youth cultures. “The soundtrack to the second Summer of Love was acid house, electronic dance music typified by a deep, squelchy bass" (Nickson, 2010). The music had “dance beats with a psychedelic 1960s flavour" (Killick, 2021). Originally originating from Chicago, Acid House music can be characterized by its fast, repetitive beats and psychedelic synthesized melodies which can create a trance-like mood for listeners. The dance culture surrounding the Second Summer Of Love drew parallels with “the hedonism and freedom of the 1967 Summer Of Love” (Clerkins, n.d). Songs that are often linked to the phenomena are Sleezy D’s I’ve Lost Control and Phurture’s Acid Tracks. To enhance the psychedelic melodies, drugs like MDMA and Ecstasy became popular as “people wanted to use the drug to increase the experience and lose oneself in the music and the dancing" (Nickson, 2010). According to Brainbridge (2008), the two formative clubs for Acid House Raves were Shoom and Future.
Founded by DJ Danny Rampling, Shoom was a weekly all-nighter dance event in London. The club began at a 300 people-capacity basement gym in South London and throughout this paper, I will utilize the gym establishment of Shoom to formulate my argument. Because it was a gym, there were walls full of mirrors” (Richards, 2018) and Rampling utilized this fully. Across the gym, various strobe lights were located and these would constantly get reflected through the mirrors which heightened the trippy sensory experience. This experience was further strengthened by Ecstasy or MDMA and the trance-inducing Acid House music. However, the architecture of the club can be considered minimalistic. Besides the mirrors, the club was filled with cherry-flavoured smoke and era-defining decorations, such as the famous smiley face logos with “Shoom being one of the first to adopt the symbol for promotional material” (Edington, 2021). The minimalistic design of the gym interior emphasizes the sense of open space and freedom the club tried to create. A regular D.J. at the event, Paul Oakenfold, described it as “suddenly you could go to a place and express yourself through music. You felt like you were part of something really special" (Marshall, 2018). At Shoom, it is also possible to establish a transparent immediacy with the audience forgetting about the limitations of a medium and losing themselves in a combination of various mediums.
Shoom & Exploding Plastic: Blending Music, Art and Social Ideals
Andy Warhol’s groundbreaking art installation Exploding Plastic holds significant influence beyond just the realms of traditional art. During this part of the paper, I am going to argue that Andy Warhol anticipated/influenced Acid Rave Culture by examining the definition of “rave culture” and defining the similarities between the two events. Throughout the remainder of this paper, I will frequently utilize the term "both events". When I utilize this, the first event I refer to is the June 21st 1966 performance of Exploding Plastic Inevitable Now and the second one I refer to is the previously mentioned first gym rave of Shoom.
Before we can establish Warhol’s anticipation of 'rave culture', it is important to define the concept of 'rave culture'. According to the study by the U.S. Department of Justice, rave culture can be defined as “a youth-oriented subculture that blends music, art and social ideals” (Scott, 2002) with another study stating that it is “an alternative lifestyle that resisted mainstream conventions" (Anderson & Kavanaugh, 2007). In order to establish my argument, I will analyze each part of what exactly defines rave culture. How do Shoom and Exploding Plastic utilize and blend music (M), art (A) and social ideals (SI)?
Visual Experience: Art
First, it is necessary to narrow down the scope to the visual art environments of Exploding Plastic and Shoom. A similarity that I can instantly identify is the creation of immersive environments to engage participants. EPI achieved this through a combination of live music, film projects, slide shows, light shows and dance performances by Woronov and Malange, but also the audience itself. Similarly, Shoom featured extensive light shows with lasers that would reflect from the mirrors placed around the minimalistic architecture room that were synchronized to the music. The audience themselves would then dance in front of the mirrors and lights. The visual and lighting landscape - that both Exploding Plastic and Shoom strived to optimize - created an immersive, but dissonating experience for the audience that would allow participants to be transported into a mesmerizing constantly evolving world. Additionally, both Exploding Plastic and the gym rave at Shoom, were marked by the use of mind-altering drug substances – LSD, Ecstasy and MDMA - that would allow for a more extensive multi-sensory, transformative experience.
Audible Experience: Music
Regarding the audible side of things, psychedelic-flavoured music is a prominent feature that embraces the visual sensory experiences at both events. Acid House songs and The Velvet Underground & Nico induce a trance-like state in the listeners combined with the visual landscape. The repetitive rhythms, hypnotic grooves and extended instrumental sections that can be found in tracks like Venus In Furs by the Velvet Underground & Nico and Acid Tracks by Phuture expand on the immersive, visual landscape at both events. This expansion by the psychedelic, trance-inducing music allows the artists and audience to further express themselves.
Breaking Traditional Boundaries: Social Ideals
Taking a look at the artistic expressions that both EPI and Acid House Rave Culture tried to achieve, another similarity stemms from the fact that both events had a focus on breaking traditional boundaries and creating new ways of artistic expression. Exploding Plastic explored a form of art that prioritized utilizing and blending multiple mediums at once and letting them respond and intertwine with each other – instead of solely utilizing one medium at a time. Similarly at Shoom, the music, the visual landscape, lightning, dance and mind-altering substances were utilized at once and intertwined with one another. In both cases, it appears that the artists tried to make the audience forget about the limitations of one medium and lose themselves in the unique mix of multiple, a transparent immediacy as stated by Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin. Being referred to as “the biggest youth revolution since the 1960s” (Walker, 2018), the counterculture that emerged during the Second Summer Of Love took Warhol’s idea of prioritizing the experience through various mediums at once and developed it further into a form of artistic and cultural expression. They tried to break traditional social/art expectations, such as venues for art presentations or clubbing locations.
Shoom founder Danny Rampling stated that Shoom “deconstructed class divides, social and sexual taboos” (Corrigan, 2017). He also stated that “this whole wave of optimism and positivity brought a lot of people together. Let’s not forget, the economics of Britain in the ‘80s were very much like now, with a dominant fighting and drinking culture. We got a lot of those people to ‘lay down their weapons’ at our club and meet in an atmosphere of positivity" (Corrigan, 2017). Here, we can establish Shoom’s implementation of social idealism. It attempted to break down class and social barriers, challenging sexual taboos and encouraging a positive atmosphere. It aimed to create an inclusive clubbing experience for everyone that would bring people together regardless of their differences. Photographer George Georgiou formulated it as: “It completely changed how people acted. You suddenly had football hooligans filling up clubs all loved up, hugging each other. You also saw celebrities dancing alongside teenagers from working-class neighbourhoods, no one cared" (Marshall, 2018).
Writer Brendon Joseph states that “Warhol’s multimedia presentation linked contemporary, capital-driven, technological dislocations with more volatile forms of social and libidinal transformations, signaled in the part by the “decadent” content of both his films and the lyrics of the Velvet Underground” and “rather, it formed a multiplicitous situation or "image" in which the possibilities of subjective transformation were opened to forms of political appropriation" (Joseph, 2002:97). These quotes highlight the social idealism of Exploding Plastic. It indicates that the experience of the multimedia presentation, such as the 'decadent' content of Warhol’s films and VU’s lyrics, had the potential to transform an individual on a personal level. Joseph suggests that these subjective transformations could expand to political appropriation meaning that Exploding Plastic had the potential to inspire individuals to engage with political issues. These issues could revolve around the 'decadent' content found in Warhol’s films and VU’s lyrics and by utilizing these Warhol aimed to challenge traditional norms and boundaries.
“The idea is not to live forever; it is to create something that will.” – A. Warhol
While Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable cannot be directly connected to Acid House Raves and Shoom, both events can be considered rave culture through their blending of music, art and social ideals. Exploding Plastic blended Velvet Underground’s psychedelic music (M) with film projects, slide shows, light shows and dance performances (A) with social ideals through challenging traditional norms and providing new opportunities for artistic expression through an inter-disciplinary approach (SI). Shoom’s Acid House Raves blended new repetitive trance-inducing music (M) with artistic visual light shows and synchronized lasers (A) with social ideals through its aim to deconstruct class, social barriers and sexual taboos by promoting immersive and inclusive artistic experiences (SI). Both events aimed to create immersive environments that encouraged participants to express themselves in new ways. By blending various mediums at once and questioning traditional boundaries during the events, they broke mainstream conventions, which Anderson & Kavanaugh (2007) deemed a key element to be considered a rave. Due to its blending of music, art and social ideals – Exploding Plastic Inevitable Now can be considered 'rave culture' as defined by Michael Scott (2002). Warhol once stated, “The idea is not to live forever; it is to create something that will”. Even though the late Andy Warhol was not there to witness it anymore, his explosive artistic thinking - seen at Exploding Plastic through the utilization of various mediums at once - was anticipating the Acid House Rave Culture at Shoom during The Second Summer Of Love. His idea was fulfilled.
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