As part of the Death of Rave series, co-curator Annie Goh has translated an exceprt from a work by QRT aka Markus Konradin, a nihilistic intellectual, whose texts have been said to range from “musicological-medicinal, pharmaceutical-pornographic, technologic-theoretical or criminologic-cinematographic”.
QRT aka Markus Konradin Leiner (1965-1996) lived two-thirds of his life in Konstanz in South-West Germany and spent the last third in Berlin. A nihilistic intellectual, his texts have been said to range from “musicological-medicinal, pharmaceutical-pornographic, technologic-theoretical or criminologic-cinematographic”. Aside from writing he undertook diverse roles such as a comic illustrator, drug-dealer, musician and actor. He co-founded and was editor of the Berlin magazine  from 1995 and died of a heroin overdosis in 1996.
Some of his numerous texts, many of which remain unpublished, were gathered and edited by his friends Tom Lamberty and Frank Wulf and published posthumously on Merve. This translation of the beginning section of “Tekknologic, Tekknowledge, Tekgnosis – Ein Theoriemix” is the first translation from German into English. It makes up just a small part of his broader media/techno-theoretical writings. The original texts are believed to have been written between 1990 and 1993 and show how his experiences of Berlin's techno scene influenced his thought and writing.
Tekknologic as Tekknowledge
One of the most significant conceptions of temporality in “savage thought” is the difference between the profane everyday-time and the holy-time of festivity. The time of festivity is fixed according to the calender and is executed according to a very precise plan, within which the ritual takes place. Through an enormous transformation from Christianisation to bourgeoisification, the differentiation in the form of work-time and leisure-time has remained preserved.
The time of the festivity is scheduled according to the same coordinates in all savage cultures. The collective assembles in a specially designated place and under the guidance of the initiated - the priest-king or shaman - the collective is put into a trance, to evoke the presence of the holy. The techniques implemented at the initiation consist of a recurring combination; the ritualistic intake of drugs, rhythmically accented music, which in part is played uninterrupted over several days, and dances which last until exhaustion. The initiates play a special role in this ritual, in that they are circumcised or baptised, usually followed by a courtship, in which a whole generation is married off. In the holy time of initiation, which signifies a renewal of its symbolic life for the whole collective, an absolute prohibition on the use of violence prevails; this means that feuds and legal disputes are suspended for this period.
One sees that this act of initiation which is carried out in “savage-thought” has many similarities to that which happens in today's nightclubs. The first thesis would be that the techno-movement is a crystallization of an initiation ritual, which repeats itself in a weekend-cycle. The DJ undertakes the the function of the priest whilst the collective devotes itself to the techniques of ecstasy taking place over two evenings.
The development which began with the Beat-clubs of the sixties and extended through to Saturday Night Fever at the end of the seventies, culminates in techno, purified disco-culture as an archaic form of festivity. In American English, the DJ is called the „MC“, the „Master of Ceremony“; the turntable operates as an altar upon which this cult-action is performed. Playing and mixing the records produces a symbolic order of music, at the same time a magical gesture of incantation for the evocation of the demon.
Techno culture affirms a general development of post-industrial societies in which savage-thought reappears on the level of machinal structures: techno is the electrification of the initiation-complex.
Initiation signifies the transformation of flesh within the symbolic. Through circumcision the savage child suffers a symbolic death, which is accompanied by a gesture of mourning. At the same time, the dead subject is reborn as a man and is welcomed as a newly born member of the tribe. One must not forget, that this man is foremostly a warrior.
Techno is part of a comprehensive strategy of militarisation of civil life, a key characteristic of media society; a form of total mobilisation, the transposition of all civil energies into potential armoury. In this way, techno dancing develops into an ongoing war-dance, itself a ritual of battle, which simultaneously imitates the media-war which dominates outside, intensifies it and establishes it as a counter strategy. Electronic media have become the directive firearms, out of which they originally developed. Western industrial nations have found themselves ever since in a “white” civil war, in which information is fought with information. In order to assert themselves in this atmosphere, the youth simulate an extreme case of media-encumbrance. The consistent overstimulation of all sensory organs and the trance technique of dance forge metallic-lucid bodies, which can assert themselves in an electronic world. It is precisely here that the initiation takes place, the symbolic birth of the media warrior. The media warrior moves through his everyday life as if it were military terrain; he is characterised by optimal self-control in the form of control of his medial presence, this means he has near-instinctive control mechanisms in relationship to the cybernetic processes which form his everyday. In this sense, mind-machine, brain-food, designer drugs and fitness-training are close-combat training; self-techniques to prepare the body for the media war. Through uninhibited affirmation of information technologies, techno turns the weapons deployed there into its own.
The techno-movement has a clear impetus: it is a military organisation, which battles out the media war in the space of the discotheque. The intended sensory deprivation, the “too bright” or “too loud”, excess of drugs and the full bodily expenditure as dance, are strategies of paramilitary training. They are to be understood as training with which to combat the permanent overstimulation of media society. The techno-movement only knows healthy bodies: there are no old, ill, fat or crippled bodies in this niche. It is these classic soldier bodies which make up the techno scene.
One must not forget, that the initiation is a holy time, a time of non-violence. Militant bodies are not necessarily aggressive or brutal; they have merely passed through the pain in order to bask in the joy of emanation. Through contact with the holy ones, the warrior receives a special protection; it is more so his invulnerability than his killing-efficiency which is imparted by the holy spirit.
The place of the holy-one in post-industrial society is a place of disappearance of the organic body into speed, and also a point of transformation of the organic into the medial body. In this sense, techno is a dromomania without communication; isolated individual bodies, accelerated to a maximum, in order to compete with the electronic speed of machines. In the place of communication there is communion; the collective unconscious, which once characterised the psychic-depth of man, becomes transparent. It is forced with sweat into the light of consciousness and simultaneously submerged in the darkness of the dancefloor. The communion purifies the soldier body and gives it a symbolic balance, which has suffered large set-backs in industrial societies at least since the First World War. Within media-society, social spaces have become fragile; constantly threatened by a symbolic collapse, which evokes a terrible, irreversible death: therein lies the universal aspect of war of the post-industrial order.
The ambience of techno is also directly enforced through militaria. This applies firstly to the general organisational structure of peer groups. The social space of techno is characterised by an anonymity which is inherent in military groups. The formation of camaraderies is limited to the weekend, the battle-zone so-to-speak, whilst the everyday job reconstructs anonymity. The strong presence of the inverted strengthens this structure: techno possesses the characteristics of a homosexual warrior-caste, the primordial cell of the military disciplinary machine. In Berlin for example, the iron-cross for special services in techno-culture will be awarded.
Most prominently, the clothing trends point to the military background: it increasingly tends towards a uniform, even to a mercenary look: the shortcut, sun-glasses and above all camouflage.
Camou-clothes serve as a mimicry, i.e. conforming to a milieu, in order to successfully win the fight for survival from within this disguise. In this way, the techno-look adapts metaphorically to the media-society, in order to subversively infiltrate it. Combat articulates the superficiality of this conformity, as a component of military ergonomy.
We can thus summarize; in techno, the archaic body is resurrected, as an exponent of the holy order, i.e. a violent non-violence. From these very archaic structures the outcome must be, that techno culture breaks with the value system of civilised society, which replaces mythos with ideology. This is to a certain extent the case so far.
Initially, the techno-movement, which takes place within a general strategy of virtualisation and electrification of social space, did not possess an ideology. One could rather speak of a teleology; comparative with the momentum of media to reduplicate itself. Accordingly, the techno-movement has a genetic code at its disposal which is no longer organically structured, but electronically: the birth of medial existence from the spirit of music.
In this way, the reception of techno-music does not occur via an identification pattern, and instead via electronic affect on the body. Techno does not possess any sort of historic or psychic depth, just the repository of the remix and the electro-organic copula. In this way, an ideology of techno can never unfold, such as how country connotes the redneck or punk caricatures an ideological type. Techno produces the empty fullness of white noise, which we will discuss in more depth later. It is absolutely adverse to ideology, as it extinguishes historic and psychic identification upon which ideology is based.
In this sense, it can be assumed that within techno, the final disappearance of man, which was first announced at the First World War, is accomplished. It is not a coincidence that the nightclub simulates the battlefield; it is the traumative echo of the effects which humans first became acquainted with in industrial war. Techno intensifies these effects of disorientation and deprivation through the enhanced implementation of loudness, stroboscopes and liquid oxygen [sic]. The disappearance-of-oneself is staged as a battle, ultimately as a hero's death. The death of man substitutes the necessity of “real death” as a collective experience, which is paid for in the death toll of war.
Techno's adversity towards ideology is displayed, in that no, or only very rudimentary texts are used; it attempts to assert itself therefore as a l'art pour l'art of sounds, colours and structures against programmatic pop music, which sings for peace, for or against drugs or the teenage revolution. From the viewpoint of ideology, techno contrarily appears as an informer of conservatism, and precisely in this conformist attitude, in the techno-lifestyle, lies the devastating decay of anti-ideology: assimilated youths as weekend anarchists who dance away their small-town neuroses.
The removal and disposal of any ideological ballast, and the devotion to the pure, self-reproductive medium, the mutual stimulation of organic and machinic bodies, all this has not prevented techno becoming a cryptoideological lifestyle form. Before we push forward to the actual core of the techno-movement, we must elaborate on the formation of its social niche.
Post-industrial societies are shaped by increasing processes of dissolution within their cultural paradigms. For example: in the face of nearly a thousand years of Catholic dominance in the occident, the religious paradigms of our time are proving to be very light-footed. Sects are sprouting out of the ground like mushrooms, Eastern esotericism, gnostic physicists, satanists; these are signs of a liquefaction of this dispositive.
Fashions have moved even more light-footedly, i.e. the aesthetics of the everyday. Even in this sense, a lateral division of micro-cultures have emerged in the meantime, within which castes, classes and layers entwine and demarcate from one another.
A fashion involves the blossoming of a microculture from the breeding ground of the aesthetic experience of the collective, and the fertiliser of a fashion is always the media. In the meantime, the media have also taken on techno and thereby this microculture, which has groomed its insider-image over years, has been injected into the channels of fashion trends. Contemporary fashion always collects a complete palette to offer consumers, for reasons of marketing effectivity: on the basis of a psycho-economic fetish such as music, a general goods-aesthetic unfolds which includes clothes, car and cigarette brands, drinks, video games, TV-series and children's toys just as a particular ensemble of symbols, neologisms and hype; this means a loop of signification, which gives fashion its spontaneous identity.
Techno carries all the hallmarks of a fashion but it actually used to be something completely different. Techno codifies both through the aforementioned clothing-standards as well as via paraphernalia; generally speaking, “dance-utensils” such as glow-sticks, fans, whistles, laser guns etc. This originally ideologically neutral aesthetic of dance, to which the classic combination of UV-light, smoke and stroboscopic light belong, is increasingly being watered down as fashion: 'lifestyle', the organised form of a consumer-relationship, is the actual invasion into this microculture, which will ultimately destroy it.
What can techno then be, if it should not be a 'lifestyle'? The answer lies in the concept itself: a self-subsistent technical configuration; an automatic control system, whose function is the autonomy of the machine. Techno means that humans are brought via sound onto a frequency, on which electronic sound operators mutually induce. Techno is a spaceship, of which no one knows, where it is flying to; one sits inside it, exactly in order to escape 'lifestyle'.
The techno movement trains pilots, astronauts and radio experts so that they can control this spaceship, without steering it. The machines are not there to enhance a quality of humane lifestyle, humans are on the contrary there, in order to improve the communication between the machines, and to accelerate the momentum of networking. Every techno-kid is a constituent element within this structure, in every moment interchangeable, and only of significance in his machinist function. He is just as important or unimportant as a particular spotlight, a particular sequencer, a particular doorman: everything is equally important, because the “techno” system is yielded via this arrangement of constituent elements.
This sort of web of machinised people and interactive machines is highly complex and as with all systems susceptible to an increasing degree of complexity. Whilst the structure grows and becomes more complex, the number of sources of error and failures increases exponentially with it. The system “techno” shields itself from this danger in that it purposefully incorporates a certain error rate: the trashing of sounds via interference frequencies is a calculated, integral part of the aesthetics. Techno is not only auto-cybernetic but also auto-regulative.
A further characteristic of self-controlling systems is their insularity. Complex man-machine interferences are highly sensitive to outside influences. If the techno-wave now begins to slop over into the commercial sector, it puts the whole existence of its system in jeopardy: techno as a fashion means that the sensitive internal codes, which keep the self-induced circulation of information alive become compatible with the general norms of leisure-provision, thereby embodying its federalist partner. The techno-sound will then no longer be the song of the machine world, rather more quite ordinary “humanistic” music; trademark for a lifestyle “for anyone who likes it”. In the same moment, it falls victim to the marketing of its own paranoid dispositive.
To claim itself as an auto-cybernetic system, techno has to protect itself from the grip of the outside world and its isolation and strategies of non-disclosure are correspondingly very pronounced.
More so than in other contemporary forms of music, techno has maintained similarities to the activities of a news-agency, which has survived eternally in a cult-context. Techno competes with the heritage of archaic-sacral music, which is fundamentally treated as a secret matter.
“Undergrounding” has always been a capitalist strategy to market pop music, but techno is no longer music, but a task of decodification. Every sound can be techno, but only within the system of “techno”, can a particular sound be decoded.
Also in relationship to this type of economy, this scene has managed to largely escape this circulation of capital and preserve itself as an untouched, musical biotope. The endeavour towards autarchy, a traditional ductus of Nazi politics, was forced via purposeful partitioning-measures against capitalistic media-environments (monetary flow = direct current).
Until today the major labels have been unsuccessful, despite intensive attempts, in breaking into this musical field. The milieu preserves the autonomy via the flood of smaller labels, which can successfully produce themselves because producer, manager, mixer and musician become one. Despite these comparatively small pressings, a kind of profitability is assured in that the laborious administrative apparatus of the larger record labels cannot be aimed for. Additionally, the medial infrastructure enables a permanent mutual control of labels amongst one another, the ones which break out of this hermeticism, are immediately shut out of the scene.
Simultaneously, new paths of distribution are constituted through this improved infrastructure within the music market. The DJs have become a fixed consumer contingent of records, which are not announced through public advertising but internally; through the mouth-to-mouth propaganda of the fax-machine, so-to-speak. The telephone becomes the carrier medium of the party line, which communicates the specific appearances of certain DJs to a closed consumer-group. The DJ, who makes records himself or runs a label, can accordingly make the product deductible through a performance; it behaves similarly in the masses of “personal charts” which course ever-changingly through the scene.
Every techno-kid is clear about this, that he is only one constituent element, but precisely in this knowledge the autonomy is secured and guarantees him immunity against other social systems.
Within an ideal symbolic order, every process is reversible, i.e. it can be swapped in an exchange. Vice versa, the same inexorability of the law is valid, according to which every element of the symbolic order must be exchanged – exactly in order to be able to sustain reversibility.
Therefore, there can be no rigid element, which keeps its identity upright, without having to submit itself to the circulation within the system. In the place of a simple identity via repetition, the metamorphosis appears; the permanent redistribution of signs and goods, which change according to their accumulation. The most simple example of this sort of metamorphosis is the change of meanings of words, according to their syntactic context. Of course, there must be something like a relative identity of a word, so that communication arises, but the meaning of the sentence lies directly in the mutation of meaning, in relationship to one of the largest possible exhaustions of its reversibility.
Musical production has refused this exchange to a large extent. Indeed, a classic sonata is always subjected to the interpretation of the pianist who is playing it; but the score is fixed, an unchangeable instruction for a tonal process.
Techno made music reversible, it is expanded into a complete language, in which meanings in the form of melodic sequences are subjected to a constant metamorphosis: the remix subjects it to the rule of exchange. A phenomenon of DJ-competitions even brings music into dialogue form. Even here a relative identity arises, because the listeners “recognize” a certain sequence (da-da-die-da-de-da); therein lies his or her competency. Yet it is exactly this new context, in which the tonal fragment is placed, which constitutes the essence of techno; as a more complex syntax of music.
Pop music has generally been left behind in the order of simple reproduction; precisely because of the technical repeatability afforded by the production of records.
The vinyl record belongs to written media; the techno movement, on the contrary, tends towards an electronically induced oral culture. The popstar, who gives a concert, for example Neil Young, corresponds to the writer, who reads out of his book. One can go to a concert or put on “Rust never sleeps”, but essentially both are an effect of alphabetisation, both are a score. A house-night on the contrary produces a complexity, which is only communicated by this spoken language.
The identity of a piece of music is questioned through its permanent remixing, thereby also the identity of the author. The DJ, who takes the place of the rock'n'roll star, is lifted out of the masses of dancers; he is so-to-speak the administrative officer of the music, he speaks but does not dictate, he is an integral element of the party-procedure. Precisely this cooperation between DJ and dancer forms the character of this event.
This text and the writings of QRT will make up part of the discussion at CTM.13 - The Death of Rave pt.II panel at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien on Friday 1st Feb 2013.
Many thanks to Tom Lamberty at Merve.