The following interview with Providence's Emergency Broadcast Network was conducted last year for the documentary "Through The Looking Glass: An Outsider's Observation's of Northeast Rave Culture." The 45 minute-long video was produced and directed by Chaos Control contributing editor Lila Lieberman with assistance from Chaos Control editor/publisher Bob Gourley. Using interviews with people involved as well as footage from area events, "Through The Looking Glass" examines such topics as the involvement of mass media and drugs in rave culture, its evolution, and the creation of the music.
EBN's multimedia performances lend themselves well to the rave experience, so it comes as no surprise that they were part of many early Providence events. The band creates audio/visual compositions by editing together material from their vast library of footage taped from the TV. Through highly creative manipulation, EBN create songs that allow them to interact with the celebrities, politicians newscasters,and others who have been snatched from the airwaves. EBN's fascination with twisting mass media against itself, as well as their first-hand experience with rave culture made them ideal subjects for the documentary.
The group is comprised of Josh Pearson and Gardner Post, who met at RISD but contrary to previous reports, never actually graduated from the school. In addition to their own work, EBN are also well known for creating videos for U2. Now signed to TVT Records, EBN have their first full length album coming out early next year. The band is now using "video samplers" for concerts, which allow for on the fly manipation of their visuals.
"Through The Looking Glass: An Outsider's Observation's of Northeast Rave Culture" was Lieberman's masters project at Emerson College and is not commercially available. For more information on the project, click here to email her.
How did you get involved in rave culture?
JOSH: When the rave wave hit this area last year it seemed like a good opportunity to use our whole performance technique in an environment like that because they were based on multimedia environments, and we kind of specialize in multimedia.
Is this something you started in school?
GARDNER: We did like multimedia stuff all along. It just seemed we had video projectors, lasers, and smoke machines and stuff like that, so it was perfect for the raves.
Was it a timely thing?
JOSH: It was definitely a coincidence because we had been doing multimedia stuff for years and years. We originally got together and started working full-time as Emergency Broadcast Network in around 1987-88 doing multimedia exhibitions in art galleries, some theaters, and gradually moved more into the live performance area, and got into using video projection and loud audio and kinetic sculptural props. So we were ready to perform in the environment.
Did you do music all along?
JOSH:That evolved after we began working with video, but it had nothing to do with the rave scene. We started working with music as I said around 1988 or '89. A friend of ours turned us on to the wonderful world of digital sampling and sequencing, and we basically bought up a bunch of gear and plunged right in ourselves.
So did your sound change at all?
JOSH:Yeah, we increased our beats per minute in order to segue our show more smoothly into the night of rave - music. Of course, there was that. There is a constant battle between the rave purists and the rest who don't think that there should be any live acts, and then those who think anything goes. We kind of wanted somewhere in the middle. We didn't want to disrupt the smooth flow, non-stop flow of music, so we would try to incorporate our show into the evening as smoothly as possible.
How then do you think that you are perceived by the whole rave culture?
JOSH:Well, it's hard to say. We haven't really done one in awhile. To us really it's just another venue to per orm in, and I don't know. The rave scene is very quiet around here right now so...
Do you do things nationally or just on the East coast?
GARDNER: Just on the East Coast. I don't really know what they thought of us. I don't know. I think they, I think they liked us because it was so bizarre and different than probably whatever they may have expected.
JOSH: Of course when a trend like that begins to get so popular, everyone begins accusing everyone else of just -jumping on the bandwagon, and you know, we certainly jumped on our part of the wagon, and it was good.
So visually, that's when you started sampling?
JOSH: No, we had been doing audio/visual sampling way before, back before the rave scene started, and doing music of all types, slow, fast, whatever. And when the rave scene came around, we did start to listen to more techno music, and we started to incorporate the techno style and now we are moving away from that, and so it' s
just another style to us.
It's definitely performance oriented then?
JOSH: Our show is.
GARDNER: Yeah, definitely.
I'm wondering why you are influenced by the media, or why you chose to concentrate on...
JOSH: Absolutely, I mean the fact that we concentrate on television 60 heavily is the result of television concentrating on us. In other words, we realized several years ago what a powerful source television is for controlling mass populations. This realization was really sort of hammered home during the Gulf War. That was kind of a real moment of realization for us where we really saw the ultimate fusion of politics and population control with entertainment and so we were very inspired to continue focusing on television and the electronic media as a source for our work.
So in other words, you try to manipulate the media?
There is this conspiracy theory floating around that the government is responsible for raves, and that it is just another form of controlling the masses and sedating the youth of America.
JOSH: Well there is something to be said, there is always a fine line in the entertainment world as to whether you are just contributing to population control, whether supposed so-called counter-cultural events like rock concerts or raves which are really the same thing, are actually in effect just ways for youth to vent its anger and frustration. I don't think the government is responsible for them though. The marketplace is responsible.
GARDNER: We also deny any allegations that we were at all connected with the government in our parts that we played at these raves. There is no connection there.
JOSH: However, the government is responsible for LSD being widely spread throughout society so...through the CIA.
Since you brought that up, I'm wondering what part you think drugs play in the whole rave experience. What is your opinion concerning the use of drugs at raves?
JOSH: I think it's just fine that people use whatever drugs they want to use.
Do you think it's an integral part of the whole experience? Is it really important now, and did it start out that way?
JOSH: I don't know. I think drugs have always been a part of any kind of youth gathering in a concert-type format. I mean, raves are really no different from rock concerts in the 1960's, and I think that drug use is the same.
JOSH: People take drugs cause they're fun, most of the time.
GARDNER: I don't think that they're necessary either though. People have watched our tapes and felt as though they were tripping or something. So I believe that you could recreate that effect using just using different creative techniques.
Do you think that there is a reason for the resurgence of 60's/hallucinogenic drugs?
JOSH: Do I think there's a reason for that?
Yes, as opposed to ten years ago.
JOSH Well ten years ago I think there was probably a lot of hallucinogenic drug use as well as the whole cocaine thing and the disco thing, but I don't know.
GARNDER: Plus the fact that the 90's are the 60's upside-down had something to do with it.
JOSH: Yeah, that could be a factor.
GARDNER: There is some truth to that.
JOSH: I think it's getting more media hype, that's all. I don't think drug use really fluctuated as much as people made it out to have had.
Do you think that there is any connection between the visuals you are doing and hallucinogens?
JOSH. Well, hallucinogenic drugs are taken to provide the user with a multisensory experience involving their sight and sound and touch, and for us to perform our material, we want to try to provide the audience with that similar kind of experience whether they are using drugs or not, by using sight and sound and trying to saturate more than one sense at a time. We're still working on touch and feel in our show. We haven't quite gotten there yet.
So you think that the drugs only enhance the experience?
GARDNER: Whatever you're into. Whatever floats your boat. You
know what I'm saying?
The reason I ask is, there's another theory that...
JOSH: Don't tell me, someone watched our tape and they had a bad trip.
GARDNER: Because we're not responsible if that happens.
JOSH: There are disclaimers.
It's more about shamanism and about how rave culture has become more of a religion, and the DJ as shaman, and hallucinogens enabling people to see visions and to have religious experiences, just like a throwback to archaic ritual/religion and stuff like that.
JOSH: I think that it's possible to draw those kinds of analogies, but I have my doubts that the individual would have a true so-called religious experience. I don't know, it's hard to say. I mean society now is extremely different than it was 10 or 15 thousand years ago. I suppose if someone thinks that they had a religious experience then they did, but I don't think it's...I don't think it's specific to raves though. I think it's the whole youth movement culture slash rock concert slash rave scene. I think any concert from a punk/hardcore show where you know people thrash around and slam their bodies together to a rave to going to see a jazz show, you know I think each person can have their own particular religious experience in any of those settings.
But you guys wouldn't consider yourselves to be in a shamanistic position?
JOSH: Well, part of what we do is...we don't provide just...well, let me think about that...we, if people want to form a religious cult around our group, we are not going to discourage them. But we cannot claim to be shamen. We simply are doing our job as we see it, and...
GARDNER: Right but we probably think of it in terms of providing an unusual experience that maybe would inspire someone in some way.
JOSH: I mean, these questions do bring up an interesting point though, which is the role that entertainment has developed in our culture as far as providing people with a pseudo-religious experience...There is an interesting question as to what role does entertainment play in our culture and society today, and how it provides some would say more than a release or an escape. It could be a troubling fact that entertainment is beginning to, in a way, replace religion for many people where people really don't have these kinds of religious experiences unless they engage in some kind of entertainment- based activity. I read an interesting quote from Warner Communications Quarterly Report, which they know something about the entertainment industry, and they are very aware of the role entertainment plays. Their quarterly report says entertainment has become a necessity. The multiple media of entertainment have been developed to provide the individual with models of experience, opportunities for self-recognition, and the ingredients of identity and, this is Time/Warner talking, and they obviously realize that you know, a vast majority of Americans lead relatively empty lives and seek spiritual upliftment through entertainment.
Do you think it's a void which needs to be filled, or that it is a void which was created by the media?
JOSH: I don't know. I mean that's a good...it could have been created by the media.
GARDNER: I mean people have always needed a release from the drudgery of work and their lives and you know but music has served as that at different times and now we have television and movies and things that serve the same purpose. But it's just sort of at a different level now.
JOSH: And not to say that religion is, obviously, religion isn't dying out because you've got such strong fundamentalist aspects, there are so many...Religion is obviously not going away, because you've got a strong Fundamentalist Christian movement in this country and other European countries, and obviously very strong Fundamentalist Islamic movements in Arab countries, and that's not to also say that religion, institutionalized religion is any way to gain true religious experiences either. I mean, institutionalized religion often in many cases can be as empty and meaningless as entertainment, if you just follow all the rules and repeat all the right words. Where does that get you?
What is your opinion on mass media in America?
JOSH: I think it does serve to numb the greater population to keep people bombarded with so much information all of the time that we simply can't process it, and that you tend to withdraw into your own world and your own life and end up being only out for number one. Really, you know you could argue that having news bulletins about foreign wars coming at you every ten minutes is a good thing, because it keeps you aware of what's happening in the 'real world". But in a way it can also just serve to fill your mind with useless clutter, to the point where you don't know what to do or you can't act. You feel sorry for the poor people in Bosnia, but that doesn't really change how you lead your life or how you can really help.
How is the rave scene able to survive outside of mass culture, and do you think the fact that it does contributes to its popularity amongst the counterculture?
JOSH. What are you saying?
The fact that there aren't ads for raves on t.v...-
JOSH: Right, well you're asking about the eternal struggle between you know, the so-called underground cultures and the so-called mainstream, and what happens when the underground begins to get co-opted by the mainstream which is obviously happening with raves, and you know you read about them in Time magazine, Newsweek, and "Entertainment Tonight" covers them, and yeah, I think that kind of coopting sort of often snuffs out these genuine movements. Although, I guess basically a rave is just another word for a party, and people are always going to have illegal underground parties in large warehouses no matter what kind of music you play. You know, I think a lot of people begin to see it as a way to make money. So then it becomes more commercial, and now you've got whole clothing lines directed toward the rave scene and...
What then do you think the future of rave is?
JOSH. As I said, I think that people will continue having huge parties in warehouse spaces.
GARDNER The music will keep changing as well. I mean, techno grew out of disco really, and it's gonna change into something else, sooner or later, or keep splitting off. I mean, now people prefer trance and other people prefer hardcore techno. Acid Jazz appears to be the new thing now. I mean they're all interesting in different ways.
GARDNER. But it' s just a party, in the end.
Copyright 1993 Lila Lieberman