Enrico Petrilli


The dancefloor has always been a political space, even before electronic dance music began to take possession of our bodies. In the Latin Quarter of Paris, in what Primo Moroni baptised 'existentialist quarries', the seed of rebellion that would blossom in May '68 began to germinate. At the same time, David Mancuso's parties in New York – other than becoming the prototype of contemporary clubbing – are one of the few safe havens for LGBT people, at a time when partnered male dancing is still forbidden.

The subversive art of dissidænce – the dissidence of the body dancing in ecstasy – accelerated dramatically by the sonic-technological experiments of Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles. In a society – now just as before – defined by institutionalised racism, the proliferation of electronic parties and sounds means that African and Latin American people have autonomously constructed a new arena in which to express their demands and, at the same time, a new way of giving life to them.

With the move to the UK and the Second summer of love, the dancefloor is able to bring together hooligans, radical chic youth, sons and daughters of immigrants and various alternatives. Such a diverse front has never been seen in the history of youth culture; in other words: it's a giant fuck you to Thatcherite individualism. And when Europe is infected by free parties, the space for conflict is widened, making the political scope of these parties more and more explicit and radical. We know this story well in Italy because, despite it having been systematically delegitimised, we have helped to foment it with our own free parties.

Free parties were probably the apex, but not the end of dissidence. Since then, dancefloors have learnt the practical knowledge of queer and transfeminist collectives, and today they are disrupted by the sonic revolution of diaspora subjectivities and sounds. A politics that does not only remain locked in the clubs but also explodes in the streets, as in Tbilisi where clubbers responded to police abuse, united in the slogan we dance together - we fight together. Equally in Chile and subsequently in the rest of the world, when groups of festively dressed women sang and danced Un violador en tu camino to denounce the violence they suffer daily.

However, the ever-increasing attacks on spaces where the undisciplined art of social dancing takes place cannot be ignored. Free parties are systematically banned and criminalised because, fiercely obstinate in their principles, they do not bow to the new reason of the neo-liberal world. Similarly and paradoxically, electronic music clubs are less and less welcome in contemporary cities, victims of the sanitising forces of gentrification. A source of noise, degradation and dangerous collective effervescence, they undergo processes of securitisation and commercialisation that favour socially accepted recreational spaces such as gyms and restaurants.

Even music no longer sounds the same to the unobservant ear. Pseudo-genres such as business techno tell us something we have known for a long time: the market is eating up even the alien sound par excellence, while real genres such as conceptronica tell us of music that is increasingly bent on academic abstraction and far removed from the political insurgence of dancing bodies. And yet, electronic music still acts as a technology for the sonic subversion of the body, of fostering those processes of metamorphosis which Kodwo Eshun synthesised with the expression 'ears [that] begin to feel'. This will be demonstrated at the ROBOT Festival by the b2b between the shameless and schizophrenic selections of Crystalmess and the archaeology among the detritus of Lee Gamble's urban sounds; the cerebral transcendence of Jeff Mills; the multimedia anti-show of Amnesia Scanner; the bad trip with no way out by Scotch Rolex and Shackleton, etc. etc. etc.

The manifesto for the 2023 edition of the ROBOT Festival simultaneously addresses the past, present and future. Recalling the history of dissidence is not intended to nurture the nostalgic aftertaste of a glorious past but rather to materialise the crisis scenario of the present so as to project us towards future alliances on the dancefloor. Universal Tongue is paradigmatic of this generative possibility of forming kinetic bonds, an act presented with an audiovisual installation projected onto the historical walls of Palazzo Re Enzo. A dancecyclopedia collecting multiform dance styles and, simultaneously, the demonstration of a possible planetary conjunction of bodies in ecstasy. Just as Dale Pendell taught us in PharmakoDynamis: the cheerful devotion of dance is a form of communication that predates speech.

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