September 1, 2022

Incidental Party Music: Pure Rave Brings Experimental Turntablism to the Dancefloor

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Pure Rave 📷 by Andy Kocher

A variety of objects—a lighter, a USB stick, a few coins—are placed on a turntable. A record wobbles over top, stuck in a precarious locked groove under the weight of a can of Diet Coke. The sound that comes out of the speakers is surprisingly funky, and recalls everything from glitchy techno to Pierre Schaeffer’s early experiments in musique concrète.

This is the work of Pure Rave, a Detroit collective who use modified DJ equipment as a vehicle for process-based performance pieces that entwine the histories of both dance music and the avant-garde. "It's essentially a system of rules that you could follow, or techniques that you could use, to make music in this style," Pure Rave's Nick George, who comprises the core of the group alongside Bryan Dulaney, Cy Tulip and Will Lawson. He was talking about the collective's signature Chance Dance technique, which deploys everything from prepared turntables to CDJs to broken records to make loops that often run at 133.3 beats-per-minute—the tempo of skipping records when a turntable is playing at 33 1/3 speed.

"We've always encouraged anyone to do it," George continues. "We release albums as Pure Rave where it's just one of us or just two of us, or someone else, or there's collaborators here and there, but it's all just Pure Rave."

For Refraction's Minted Chaos season, Pure Rave will be working together with Nina Protocol and Refraction to create open submission hubs where users are invited to produce their own Chance Dance works according to parameters laid out by the group. Refraction will mint the results on both the DAO's hub and Pure Rave's Nina hub, with royalties split between creators, Refraction and Pure Rave. An additional portion will go towards a charity or cause of Pure Rave's choosing.
More details on the project here.

Pure Rave's Refraction collaboration marks the first time the collective will apply their techniques to portable, everyday devices like computers and phones. "Not everyone has this type of setup at home," Refraction's Pauline Le Mell notes about more traditional DJ rigs. "So in initial conversations that I had with Nick we wanted to make sure that this particular project was as accessible as possible to every type of DJ and producer—we talked about looking into how you can create a piece of Pure Rave with Ableton or on your phone," she adds. 

To that end, the group has created new guidelines for tools that include the browser-based program, which is primarily used for dictation and language education. The group's updated manifesto also includes techniques for Instagram stories and TikTok loops. 

No matter the medium, Pure Rave's approach lends itself to unpredictability and improvisation, which nicely slots in with Refraction’s idea of Minted Chaos. "They prepare all their records and clean them and break them and use a variety of different objects to intervene—that visual aspect of it is really interesting to me," Le Mell says. "It's an art performance in itself."

Pure Rave's Nick George and Bryan Dulaney prepping donated records for their experiments

Despite the unconventional approach, the collective's output has a techno-informed functionality. While Pure Rave cites experimental turntablists like Christan Marclay and Maria Chavez as influences, they also are working within the rich history of Detroit electronic music, with an origin story linked to the Motor City's robust and historic dance music scene. 

"If the party was going to go to 5 or 6 AM, I would ask to come early and play around 8 PM, when nobody was there, because I wanted to see what it was like to make experimental music with a sophisticated DJ rig," George says of the collective's early days. "It was a way to use the dance music infrastructure in terms of a sophisticated setup with a system in this huge, cool building that sounded amazing," he continues. "But then also doing it in a way where we wouldn't alienate people or ruin the party."

As for the group's name, it comes from two of George's friends, Ben Filler and Brian Burke, who witnessed an embryonic practice session. George started experimenting with the form by putting a 10 inch record on top of a 12 inch record. "They came over one night, saw me looping three records and playing a drum machine with it, and they couldn't stop saying, ‘This is Pure Rave, man! Pure Rave!’ So I just stole the name," George jokes. "Maybe I can put them on chain and they can get a little bit of royalties if we ever make any money from this."

Click here For more info on Refraction's project with Pure Rave or to learn how to submit your own Chance Dance experiment.

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