Following excerpt from: Reynolds, S. (1999) Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture. Psychology Press.
SIMON REYNOLDS:“In the late 1990s, the German-speaking world has emerged as a bastion of post-everything experimentalism. In Austria, thereís the abstract hip-hop of Patrick Pulsinger and Erdum Tunakanís Cheap label, the Dada-techno of Mause, and the twisted neo-electro of Sabotage (both a label and a sort of art-terrorist collective). In Germany, Cologne and its neighbor Dusseldorf form a close-knit art-techno/post-rock milieu that encompasses Mike Ink, Dr. Walker, Pluramon, To Rococo Rot, Mouse on Mars, and Jan St.Wernerís side project Microstoria. On a less avant-garde and more cyberpunk level, Berlin has spawned the anti-rave scene called Digital Hardcore. Finally thereís Frankfurt, home to Mille Plateaux and its sister labels, Force Inc, Riot Beats, and Chrome.
Frankfurt is simultaneously Germanyís financial capital and a long-standing center of anticapitalist theory, thanks to the famous ‘Frankfurt School’ of Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, et al. Today, the Frankfurt School is mostly remembered for its neo-Marxist/high-Modernist disdain for popular culture as the twentieth centuryís opiate of the masses. Mille Plateaux share something of this oppositional attitude to pop culture. For label boss Achim Szepanski, Germanyís rave industry - which dominates the pop mainstream - is so institutionalized and regulated it verges on totalitarian.
Named after Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattariís A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism & Schizophrenia (a colossal tome that Foucault hailed as ‘an introduction to the non-fascist life’), Mille Plateaux situate their activity both within and against the genre conventions of post-rave styles like electronica, house, jungle, and trip-hop. Just as deconstructionists unravel texts from within, Mille Plateaux point out these musicsí premature closures and seize their missed opportunities.
Szepanski got involved in student politics in the radical climate of the mid- seventies. He read Marx, flirted with Maoism, and protested conditions in the German prison system. Later in the decade, he immersed himself in the post-punk experimentalist scene alongside the likes of D.A.F., playing in the industrial band P16D4. In the eighties he went back to college, watched the left die, and consoled himself with alcohol and the misanthropic philosophy of E. M. Cioran. Two late-eighties breakthroughs pulled him out of the mire: his encounter with the post-structuralist thought of Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, et al, and his excitement about hip-hop and house. While still working on a doctoral thesis about Foucault, he started the first DJ-oriented record store in Frankfurt, Boy, and founded the Blackout label.
Influenced by A Thousand Plateaux, Szepanski conceived the strategy of context-based subversion that informs his labels: hard-techno and house with Force Inc, electronica with Mille Plateaux, jungle with Riot Beats, trip-hop with the Electric Ladyland compilations. These interventions are situated somewhere between parody and riposte, demonstrating what these genres could really be like if they lived up to or exceeded their accompanying ‘progressive’ rhetoric.
Founded in 1991, Force Inc was initially influenced by Detroit renegades Underground Resistance - not just sonically, but by their whole anticorporate, anti-commodification of dance stance. In its first year, Force Incs neo- Detroit/Chicago acid sound and “guerrilla parties had a big impact in Germany. But as trance tedium took over in 1992, Force Inc made a radical break toward an abstract industrial version of the breakbeat hardcore then huge in Britain. Maybe it was just our peculiar warped interpretation. but hardcore’s sped-up vocals sounded like a serious attempt to deconstruct pop music, says Szepanski. Treating sampled voices as instruments or sources of noise destroyed the idea of the voice as an expression of human subjectivity.
In 1993-94, Szepanski watched aghast as rave went overground in Germany, with the return of melody, New Age elements, insistently kitsch harmonies and timbres.' With this degeneration of the underground sound came the consolidation of a German rave establishment, centered around the party organization Mayday and its record label Low Spirit, music channel Viva TV, and Berlinís annual and massive street-rave Love Parade.
For Szepanski, what happened to rave illustrated Deleuze and Guattariís concepts of ‘deterritorialization’ and ‘reterritorialization.’ Deterritorialization is when a culture gets all fluxed up - as with punk, early rave, jungle - resulting in a breakthrough into new aesthetic, social, and cognitive spaces.
Reterritorialization is the inevitable stabilization of chaos into a new order: the internal emergence of style codes and orthodoxies, the external cooptation of subcultural energy by the leisure industry. Szepanski has a handy German word for what rave, once so liberating, turned into: freizeitknast, a pleasure-prison. Regulated experiences, punctual rapture, predictable music. Rave started as anarchy (illegal parties, pirate radio, social/racial/sexual mixing) but, argues Szepanski, it quickly became a form of cultural fascism. ‘Fascism was mobilizing people for the war-machines, rave is mobilizing people for pleasure-machines.’
Mille Plateaux began in 1994 as sort of an answer to ‘electronic listening music.’ The labelís roster of Steel, Gas, Cristian Vogel, Alec Empire, Christophe Charles, et al, make music that sonically fleshes out Szepanskiís dream of a ‘music without center, radically fractured and conflicting,’ of ‘sound-streams’ that simulate the cosmic rauschen (a German word whose meanings include ‘rustle,’ ‘roar,’ and ‘rush’). The labelís greatest achievement to date is In Memoriam Gilles Deleuze, a double CD compiled in tribute to Gilles Deleuze, following his suicide. The best tracks extend the tradition of electro-acoustic and musique concrete, albeit using sampling and other forms of digital technology rather than the more antiquated and tricky methods of manual tape splicing used by avant-classical composers like Pierre Henry. Mille Plateauxís star act, the Berlin duo Oval, recall Karlheinz Stockhausen - not just with the densely textured disorientation of their music, but with their rarefied discourse and further-out-than-thou hauteur vis-a-vis their contemporaries. “
1—Mille Plateaux investigates why Popular Music becomes an opiate for the masses. What precisely needs changing in order to bring Popular Music out of the control of Capital? How do we deterritorialise Popular Music without making it “unpopular?”
2—The practices of Mille Plateaux here recognise how Artworks, especially in the age of internet distribution, create Virtual spaces around them which can be territorialised. It is not just track names and album covers anymore, but through hyperlinks, QR codes, Virtual communities and e-commerce/distribution platforms, forums, comments sections. Today the Virtual space around music grows ever larger, and these spaces become part of the framing and context of the work. Given the use of context-based subversion, Szepanski had to take into account all the aspects of the context and frame of his releases and ask how each of them can become part of a greater rhetorical position being enacted.
3—The death of rave is often discussed, as the culture appeared to lose its “edge” around the millenium. Szepanski offered an additional clause to explain the descent. The most radical raving was outright banned, shut down by heavily defended molar and molecular lines. That which remains is that which doesn’t threaten capitalist hegemony and the constant territorialisation process natural to capitalism.
4—This phenomenon helps to explain the perceived disconnection between the idea of 90s rave, and what is experienced today in many electronic music situations. Szepanski declares the emergent, deradicalised rave culture to be nothing but a reiteration of totalitarianism, as whatever radical or collective ideas or ethics were found in rave, were washed out during this reterritorialization process. It, therefore, is not so much the death of rave, but the absorption of it into capitalist hegemony
5—In 2020, Rami Abadir responded to a more recent article from Simon Reynolds entitled “the rise of conceptronica” on Pitchfork. He lists a number of Mille Plateaux’s achievements, such as their larger contribution to glitch and minimal aesthetics in Underground electronic music, and uses these to reject Reynolds’ claim that conceptual electronic music was on the rise. Yet, given Reynolds’ attention to Mille Plateaux going back as far as 1999, it is not fair to say that Reynolds does not recognise Mille Plateaux’s conceptual electronic dance music.
6—Rather, it seems as though Reynolds considers what Mille Plateaux do as different from what he is called “conceptronica”. Mille Plateaux are not trying to make mythologised bourgeois gallery art that intends to transcend criticism; they make music that is conceptual, not just in an aesthetic sense, but in how it attempts to disrupt the emergent crypto-fascist norms within a culture around him.
7—Mille Plateaux are critical theorists, publishing texts alongside music, inviting as much criticism and transparency as possible, and seeking to exist within a real sociocultural reality in place of posturing vague forms under the guise of silent, uncriticisable wisdom.