Some of us are old enough to remember, albeit vaguely, the club scene as it was before clubbing broke into mainstream consciousness and became a mainstay of global pop culture. With a few groundbreaking exceptions in a handful of metropolitan back-alley spots (The Loft in New York, with its ‘Love Saves the Day’ theme, comes immediately to mind), nightclubs were not much of an open, participatory scene in the 1970s. They were even less so in the preceding decades. Of course, there were ballrooms, dancehalls, juke joints, sock hops, and discothèques all over the place. But they were of no psycho-socio-cultural significance whatsoever. No awesome seismic shocks happened in that bygone universe of clubbing-as-usual. The spirit that would later shape club culture and give it such explosive energy dwelled elsewhere.
Similar in some basic features and functions to contemporary clubs, we nevertheless bracket out these precursors as largely irrelevant anachronisms to concentrate instead on something new in the field. In this essay, we will focus on the processes which have made all the positive difference on the club circuit as we know it today; and on those aspects which define Scorpios as a harbinger of the shift toward an utterly novel notion of clubbing. It is the kind of concept that is adjustable to the circumstances of the New Wonderful (a more playful euphemism for the New Normal).
The contemporary club scene is a product of the 1980s and ‘90s. For a tantalizing and terrifying glimpse of how things were before then, consider Nik Cohn’s snappy essay dashed off in the mid-Seventies. Originally published in New York magazine, the piece formed the basis of John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever, a 1977 blockbuster starring John Travolta as Tony Manero, a young Italian-American from Brooklyn, who copes with the mundane trials of working-class life with weekend binges of heavy drinking and hardcore dancing at a local discothèque, 2001 Odyssey.
Cohn’s description of the disco scene in New York’s suburbs – "the monstrous urban limbo filled with everyone who is no one"– sums up what the club scene was like prior to its detonation in the raving ‘80s. By today’s standards, the scene was not especially inviting, to put it mildly. Given its shallow narcissism, exclusionary ethnic particularism, macho chauvinism, intolerant heteronormativity, pointless rivalry on the dancefloor, and drunken brawls outside, it was the antithesis of the vision we aspire to.
“The basic commandments were simple,” Cohn writes. To qualify as a “Face” (one of the in crowd, always and exclusively male), “he must know how to dance ... how to handle himself in a fight. He must have respect, even reverence, for Facehood, and contempt for everything else. He must also be fluent in obscenity, offhand in sex. Most important of all, he must play tough.” Different races did not mix. Girls were decorative and dispensable. Being cool was all about conforming to rigid codes of behaviour, on and off the dancefloor: “Just so long as your feet made the right moves, kept hitting the right angles, you were foolproof. There were certain rules, watertight. Only obey them, and nothing could go wrong ... One, and Two, and One, and Tap. And Turn, and One, and Tap. And Turn. And Tap. And One.”
It is against this murky background that the new notion of clubbing shines the brightest and rings most true. It is only through the prism of historical context that we can truly understand the psycho-socio-cultural significance of club culture, which nowadays has a genuine and near universal appreciation. Some argue that club culture as we now know it shines so bright on account of a certain psychoactive mood-modification substance, which was originally intended, among other things, as an instant therapy for couples in marital discord. It was meant to enhance the partners’ inner and outer communication and to help individuals overcome personal issues – if only for a few hours of high.
This scenario is not so far-fetched. A statistical drop in violence coincided with the introduction of this “erotically profitable” medicine to the battlefields of ballgame hooliganism in the ‘80s. Why would its effects have been different on the dancefloors of urban subterranean hedonism? If only in the magnitude of synthetic love which the drug kindled. Ever since, the hedonistic sphere – now energized with music “characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”, as some bland British bureaucrat dubbed rave culture – has been all about radical inclusion, ecstatic release, diffusion of self and encounter with otherness. There is definitely a lot more to the development of club culture. It is not limited to biochemical processes. What follows is all conceptual.
Theorizing nightlife, it is almost routine to split the phenomenon of clubbing into binary opposites: either as a form of entertainment or a form of idealistic engagement. This dichotomy is essentially a division between mainstream versus underground clubs, between the dance of leisure and the dance of urgency.
The dance of leisure is self-explanatory. A fun activity devoid of concerns and responsibilities. A way to entertain ourselves in the most direct way – entertainment as a shortcut to enjoyment. It is a shortcut as it requires no imagination, education or any other mental and physical effort, exploiting our weaknesses instead of appealing to the best in us. It can be healthy – and fun for that matter – only to an extent. Over-indulgence in this form of entertainment is ultimately nothing more than “mindless pap”– if you consult Epictetus, a slave whose philosophical ideas on the art of living immensely influenced Marcus Aurelius, the greatest of Roman emperors, whose stoic style of governance excluded the superficial appeasement of the masses with panem et circenses, cheap food and circuses.
Distinct from the entertainment offered in most clubs – especially in superclubs, high capacity venues processing the crowds in an assembly-line manner, as opposed to smaller and more intimate clubs catering to aesthetic affinity groups, or neo-tribes — is what the Serbian curator Bogomir Doringer calls "the dance of urgency". Such a dance implies an engagement with club culture for purposes which on the surface may seem to be external to it. They appear so only when club culture is understood in a narrow sense.
What motivates people coming together for a dance of urgency is not so much the prospect of having a good time and letting themselves go. They come to dance with the aim of self-organizing and mobilizing for action around pressing social or political issues. Through dance, and the solidarity that ensues, they hope to solve these problems together, all their individual energies combined. Dances of urgency are rituals of consolidation, weaving diverse cultural strands together and welding separate segments of the population. “We Dance Together, We Fight Together” was the slogan for The Raveolution in front of the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi in 2018. It instantly drew thousands upon thousands, people from all walks of life; they occupied the square and raved to the beats for days on end in objection to an armed police raid on one of the city’s underground clubs, as well as to protest a wide range of conservative policies constricting freedom as a whole.
This way of theorizing club culture – mainstream vs. underground, entertainment vs. engagement – prompts the question as to where Scorpios fits in the grid. Neither a mainstream superclub, nor an underground enclave, the dance of Scorpios is neither of express socio-political urgency, nor mindless pap, calibrated for the lowest-common-denominator. Scorpios is off this grid altogether. With a view to infinity from the windy heights of our sun-drenched peninsula, bathed by the gentle waters of the Aegean, at Scorpios we are doing what tribes have been doing since the beginning of time: the dance of transcendence.
Closely observed from the island of Delos by Apollo, the god of light, truth and music, we are not just moving to the beat or swaying to the rhythm. Our dance registers on a different plane, more primordial and universal. It expresses the longing for higher truths with respect to the most profound questions of human existence: who we are individually and collectively, why we are here, what we can do to make our lives worth living.
Whereas the dance of leisure feeds on herd mentality and is an expression of basic human urges, mostly unfulfilled sexual desires and fear of missing out, and the dance of urgency is a more cognitive and rational format, an expression of counter-culture and self-assertion, the dance of transcendence is rooted in mysticism – it is a way of finding one's spiritual path.
In this sense, Scorpios is a template for the future of clubbing, which is healthy, harmonious, sustainable, and spiritually vibrant. We imagine the club as a new and legitimate source of spirituality, in our mundane world swamped with rubbish, deafened by noise, blinded by darkness, lost in lies and breaking apart. It is a place that provides the means to participate in a culture of authenticity, exploration, expressivity, vitality and growth. The kind of place where, in a state of mystical absorption, we can revel in the ecstatic moments of encounter with the numinous – the flow of intense emotions at the heart of all religions, the tremendum irreducible to rational explanations but fully accessible to feelings. We imagine the kind of club where the gods themselves, invisible, inaudible and imperceptible, emerge from hiding, showing up, in flesh and sweat, for a good dance.
Of course, Scorpios is not a religious institution. Nevertheless, it furnishes experiences of the collective unconscious that are in some ways similar to those rendered by traditional places of worship. It is this particular range of experiences that sets Scorpios apart from both the mainstream and underground clubs of leisure and urgency. One may take it for a religious entity only in some postmodern sense, first articulated by Nietzsche when he polemicized the triumph of practical rationality over sacred revelation, heralding a new stage in human existence, where people would have to learn to create their world without turning their eyes toward a supernatural realm: “Dead are all the Gods... What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent?... Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy [of them]?”
Despite the gradual decline of organized religions, which started around the 17th century with the rise of natural science, then intensified with the relentless encroachment of industrialization, modernization and materialism, the religious impulse has not really died within us. It is the kind of impulse that William James described at length in his magnum opus The Varieties of Religious Experience. James explained this impulse as "the love of life ... more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life"; in terms of our "trust in our own dreams of ambition", our prioritization of "the possible over the real", our longing and "readiness for great things."
Vague yet powerful, this metaphysical longing has been drifting from one sector of culture to another. This explains why articulations of intense aesthetic experiences contain so many references to the sacred, divine, spiritual... One may even hear a professed agnostic exclaiming: "Oh my god, this music is absolutely sublime! I feel totally resurrected." If a piece is any good at all, it must be far-out, heavenly, otherworldly ...
While dancing around the ritual fire at Scorpios, it should not strike you as strange if you suddenly find yourself in the presence of gods, if only metaphorically speaking. It should not strike you as strange that everyone feels more present, more real than in the corporeal sense.
The spaces where dances of transcendence unfold have elaborate structures that are crucial to every ritual. Everything outside the structure – which is sacred – is profane and unreal. The sacred space of a ritual is organized around a spot considered the axis mundi, a fixed point in a world of flux and uncertainty. At Scorpios, it may just look like a campfire to a non-initiate. It is not. It is the cosmic center that radiates all value; the world gains purpose and meaning only through proximity to its heat. Just like any temple, this figurative pillar of fire and smoke joins the heavenly sphere, the earth, and the underworld, around which we all orient ourselves. This cosmic pillar is the point of communion with the sacred. The closer you get to it for a dance of transcendence, the deeper is your anchoring in the mystic wisdom of Scorpios.
This wisdom is simple: The universe is not composed of dead matter. It is a living organism down to a pebble. Love is the foundation of the world – the most perfect bond of unity in all the worlds out there. It is the spirit of Scorpios – this blessed microcosm built for personal and communal transformation through ceremony, music, dance, food, and human interaction.