What's the Difference Between a Rave and an Electronic Music Festival?

Article by: Jenna Sessions|@JtheSesh

Tue March 01, 2016 | 00:00 AM

When friends of mine who are not in the festival scene hear about how I spend my summer weekends, a question I often get is, “Well, what’s the difference between an electronic music festival and a rave?” While raves can be stimulating and exciting, after a few solid years of dancing your toes off until daylight, believe me, you'll want more. When it comes to electronic music festivals, which are increasingly maturing into multi-faceted, immersive environments, there are many factors that set them apart from raves. It comes down to two things: intention and “white space.”

I know that "intention" is one of the many buzzwords that gets tossed around in festie circles these days; hang out with any given group of festie kids and you’ll hear words like “mindfulness," "manifestation," "permaculture," "consciousness," and "journey” in everyday conversation. However, each individual breathes his or her own life into the concept of intention, because each person on this earth has a different purpose. 

Electric  Daisy  Carnival Uk 2015 Bennett Sell Kline   4

Intention is defined as: an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result, or the end or object intended; purpose. It can be as simple as thinking about what you are doing. It’s paying attention to how you are interacting with your environment and those around you. But learning can also play a big role, and festivals do a fantastic job offering us chances to learn. You can see TED talks, participate in workshops, lend a hand building the festival infrastructure itself, and learn to cook. While we can be given all the learning opportunities in the world, we have to be willing to absorb them. And while learning may not be the sort of mindless fun many look for in a music festival experience, festivals offer a kind of learning that is invaluable. There is a focus on the planet, and our impact on it, that will literally define the success of humanity as a species. There is learning about how we are elevating our consciousness as a community. The list goes on and on, and while raves are great for blowing off steam, I’ve never been to one where I've seen such precious presentations of knowledge that can have a global effect. Intention means putting some effort into taking advantage of that gift, and at festivals, we do it in the midst of an incredible party – what’s better than that?

Bass Coast 2015 Prettylips Danceyhips Photography   41

Another definition of intention really hit home for me: “a process or manner of healing of incised wounds.” Life touches us all in different ways, but I rarely meet someone who isn’t working through something emotional. It’s part of being human. Whether we're talking family issues, break-ups, trying to find our purpose, finding our creativity, or learning self-love. we have all been through hard times. More often than not, those struggles take a long time to work through, which is where intention plays a role. Intention can be an effort to heal ourselves. We can take some time at a festival to slow down and focus inward – and it doesn’t have to be only during the quiet moments. We can find boundless joy to help us heal. We can put on our glittering costumes, give and get all the hugs we could ask for, and let the beautiful music sweep us away into the sunshine. We can use festivals to let go of pain, find forgiveness for others or ourselves, and seek peace through laughter and light. But whether it’s calmly or enthusiastically done, the consequences of healing reaches farther than we can imagine. As Lao Tzu says, “If you want to awaken all of yourself, if you want to eliminate suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative about yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”

Arise Festival 2015 Juliana Bernstein   34

I believe we do this kind of personal work in the “white space" of our lives. This is a term used in the design industry referencing the space between objects or graphics, and it’s just as important as the objects and graphics themselves. The white spaces offer balance and need to be considered every bit as carefully as the objects or environments you're creating or experiencing. Festivals offer us the psychological “white space” we need to breathe, process, learn and progress, apart from our routines and our daily lives. 

Tomorrow World 2015 Courtesy Of  D Js Performing 2

Photo by: TomorrowWorld

At a rave, it’s nonstop stimulus. The music, the lights, the energy, the timeline. It just keeps going. And sometimes, this is just what you need: a place to rev your internal engines and let go. But sometimes, it’s a bit much with no white space for our minds and bodies unfurl. I have a dear friend who said that he only smokes cigarettes at raves because he really “needs a minute” away from the output. I’ve been there too, having felt so desperate for a moment to (as my mother would put it) hear myself think, that I would do anything to just find a quiet spot for a few minutes. At a festival we have many opportunities to, despite multitudes of stimulus everywhere, step aside, find some quiet moments by a fire with some friends, or visit an altar to contemplate. Don't get me wrong – I have seen sound stages that took my breath away and speaker systems as tall as three-story buildings, but I always organize a festival's layout in my mind so I can step back and engage at varying levels. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, and I’m always grateful for the chance to curate my experience in this way. Some of my favorite memories are stomping in the desert dust until my legs are sore, but I can also choose to take in the moonlight, or watch an artist paint live.

Raves are great escapes, but festivals offer the chance to better ourselves. And from that place of self-awareness, we can truly be inspired to change ourselves for the better, and maybe eventually change the world.