In the latter half of the twentieth century, there were a lot of extremely interesting and good experimental artists and musicians in the US who were having more or less sustainable careers, although they were always much more popular abroad than at home.

It's come out in recent years that they were being covertly funded by the CIA. The US, an enormously conservative country, generally has no interest in anything aesthetically challenging, especially outside the large urban centres. While some arts scenes probably were actually self sustaining (like possibly the SF Bay Area scene which has much less access to the international stage), the New York school and related groups did unknowingly get CIA money.
Because the CIA wanted to create the impression that the US was interesting, forward thinking and supported the arts - all of which is mostly false.

Eventually the CIA decided to stop doing this. Many of these artists were gay and when the US government decided to ignore AIDS the impact on the arts is hard to overstate. In the decades that followed, many experimental, interesting challenging artists in New York city have died of chronic malnutrition.

State funding for art in Europe was also part of an imperial project, so the US isn't unique in the motivations for funding.

The reason I say the Bay Area may have received less CIA funding is because of the role of KPFA, a far-left radio station that championed experimental music from it's founding until the 80s. However, the San Francisco Tape Music Centre got major funding from the Ford Foundation and their programme was covered in Life magazine, so I think I'm probably wrong and am projecting backwards from the area's declined and provincial reputation in the 90s.

By that time, KPFA decided that experimentalism wasn't compatible with leftism after all. All the record companies moved to Los Angeles.

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@celesteh sounds super interesting. do you have a quotable source about this?

@celesteh wow, I did not know about this at all.

The idea of funding experimental art as a psy-op is quite a thing to get my head around .


Does this qualify as a PsyOp? All the art they wanted to showcase actually was legit. Some of the artists took State Department money knowingly, including John Cage. They thought one of his pieces sort of sounded like the music of east asia, so it went on tour there. I can't recall any details.

@celesteh oh maybe that was a poor word choice from me. I didn't mean it in the sense that the art wasn't legit.

The notion of the CIA funding artists not because it cared about art but just so it would make the USA look more impressive tickles me, because the net result was that those arts got funded and it may have triggered tit-for-tat behaviour in other countries.

It's just upsetting that so many scenes, and artists themselves, suffered when the CIA stopped funding them.

@gid @celesteh

whilst we didn't get direct govt funding in UK I do see similarities between how the early Blair govt embraced "Cool Britannia" and they turned a blind eye to rampant drugs use and partying amongst well educated middle class young people; which was ofc fun but served as a distraction technique against getting more deeply involved in left political activism (which required a bit more effort than just setting up a rave)

@vfrmedia @gid

The UK's imperial project was somewhat earlier, so you had characters like Churchill writing scholarly articles about paintings.

But it's my understanding that the state did move to try to crush the rave movement or at least bring it back indoors. Mass gatherings of young people, mixing across classes and doing events put on my travellers and anarchists was a bit too much, so they banned outdoors music if the beats were too repetitive. In retrospect, the raves were harmless hedonism, but the people in power only saw that it was an out-of--control movement.

Rave culture /seemed/ lefty at the time. But it was extremely syncretic, which is also a major feature of fascism, so it really was unreadable and unpredictable to those in power, and seemingly out of reach of the mechanisms of state control. There were no permits to grant or deny, no licences.

As someone who is middle aged now, I have no idea what to make of ticktock, but that's got the structures of capitalism around it, so it doesn't seem like a dangerous threat to social order.


I was heavily involved in the rave scene (both licensed and unlicensed events) from 1990 until about 2009, and I think
@gid might even have turned up at a few parties me and my friends put on when they lived in UK; the govt did try to stop /some/ aspects of the outdoor rave scene but wasn't that successful at doing this until 2000s when digital surveillance became easier, but they did also tolerate more club events at least until drug use started impacting the NHS >>

@celesteh @gid

also anarchists and travellers basically tolerated urban middle class youths using the rural areas as a playground to fund a parallel economy of drugs dealing, which was initially relatively unproblematic until folk started getting greedy and also the scene became very car-dependent; DUI (and driving sleep deprived) is genuinely dangerous and led to a fair few nasty crashes on top of people getting addicted...

@celesteh @gid

perhaps a difference between USA and Europe is over here healthcare is nationalised, we also have fairly well resourced public sector services so any attempt to promote an edgy subculture that (inadvertantly) puts an extra burden onto these services is soon noticed and there is a backlash from the local politicians where this happens (hence why todays tolerated music events are "balkanised" into city areas with greater social deprivation)

@vfrmedia @gid

Thanks for your perspective on this. I teach music in the UK, but I didn't move here until well after the rave scene, so all my knowledge on it is from reading what other people have said.

@celesteh @gid

whilst I don't look at the scene with rose-tinted specs; I feel it is being erased from local history of many areas where it happened due to a backlash against "noise and drugs" (and I'm really not surprised young people listen to/make aggressive rap music when all the fun/happy music got clamped down on from the first waves of moral panics..)

@vfrmedia @gid

In the states, at least, gangsta rap was also a massive moral panic. It's primary audience was always suburban 14 year old white boys who wanted to be edgy. Marketing to the white gaze made it visible to those children's parents who made it symbolic of racialised criminality. The uproar around this lead to the "explicit lyrics" warnings championed by Tipper Gore (Former VP Al Gore's wife) and was also part of the background to the 1994 crime bill. Bill Clinton criticised particular rappers. A racialised fear out of of control gen X super predator criminals lead to a massive increase in US prison populations.

Meanwhile, according to the book "How Music Got Free", the record labels' resistance to a film-type ratings system (which would have left gangsta rap inaccessible to the market for it), meant that congress got revenge by refusing to intervene in copyright disputes. Rated films have FBI warnings on their distribution medium, promising that unregulated copying will be a criminal matter. No such protections were extended to music, so records company rights organisations ended up using the civil courts to sue directly.

Gangsta rap didn't tend to have physical place (outside of surly, unpleasant youth at the mall food court). It was part of capitalist product & there was nothing organic to disrupt

Drugs, sex 

@celesteh I only came into contact with the rave scene in the early 2000s, and only then tangentially (I was more into the goth scene but there was a small crossover between the various alternative groups). I went to a few parties that may or may not have been organised by @vfrmedia 😛 my memory of that time was very much that the establishment was set against those scenes: they were considered to promote drug use, casual sex and anarchy.

Drugs, sex 

@celesteh as @vfrmedia mentioned, a lot of the history from that era feels like it's being rewritten. Like every other movement before it, when viewed retrospectively it's difficult to disassociate it from the FUD created around it at the time. Sure there was criminality in the scene, but at least some of that (unlicensed raves, squat parties) were the direct result of an establishment clamping down on something it didn't understand.

Drugs, sex 

@gid @celesteh

ironically there was very little major criminality in an unlicensed rave; it was "big money/bling" promoters from the UK Garage/commercial rave events and other "superclubs" funding big events through laundered coke money and the big paradox was the Blair govt turned a blind eye to all that (at least until violence started erupting because of the coke/steroids/hypermasculinity culture associated with these club events..)

Drugs, sex 

@vfrmedia @celesteh well the fact they were "unlicensed" was enough evidence of criminality for the people who didn't want the raves in the first place.

Drugs, sex 

@gid @celesteh

indeed, it seemed that provided folk respected private property rights and went through the "proper channels" to hold events even the money laundering was to some extent tolerated..

Yeah any (cultural) funding has some (hegemonic) agenda with varying degrees of explicitness/obviousness. I remember for our first make art fest in France we were receiving lots of money from Arts Council England, with the only condition being that obviously part of it was in English, which was quite easy to arrange for an international event. At the opposite scale, one of the edition of the fest received a very tiny bit of money from a local bank, but in exchange they wanted us to have huge banners in the exhibtion space. We managed to compromise in the form of having branded plastic pens at the venue instead :)

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