A Chorus of Laughing People

Differentiating the Spectacle and the Carnivalesque in Contemporary Electronic Music Festivals



What distinguishes subversive folk culture from corporate pop culture? Do contemporary electronic music festivals have disruptive potential or are they a form of social placation that simply maintains the status quo? In order to analyze the subversive power of music festivals, a framework for assessment is laid out. Electronic music festivals are located historically as a successor of the 90’s rave culture, and its eventual dilution into corporate club culture. The North American interpretation of rave and club culture tends to lack distinction between that which is carnivalesque and that which is spectacular. As such, an investigation of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Mikhail Bakhtin's Rabelais and His World clarifies the significant differences between these two modes of creation. Through analyzing the aesthetics and production of the body during music festivals, it can be determined whether an event aligns with the disruptiveness of carnivalesque or the complacency of spectacle.
To illustrate how one might use the framework of “spectacle versus carnivalesque” in determining the subversive potential of an event, Future Forest 2017 is investigated as a case study. The aesthetics of the bodily grotesque and the presence of the social mode of the carnivalesque are inspected. Future Forest maintains itself as a participatory, communal performance where attendees and performers are unalienated from the production of art and culture. However, like the rave culture of the 90’s, Future Forest is vulnerable to the forces of the spectacle. In this paper’s conclusion, certain aspects of the event are demonstrated to be significant in maintaining the carnivalistic intent.