When I had been in London a month, someone invited me to a dance party. He was my housemate 's friend, and we met only the week before, when passing by to visit D. People were always passing by our grimy house, on their way to or back or around from some mysterious event. I was beginning to understand the way relationships were made here. It puzzled me, and I mulled it over in the moments when I was waiting for buses. I would go to a party in Greenwich, where I would meet a man who would recommend a cafe on Whitechapel Road, where I'd strike up a conversation with the barista and be invited to a get-together in Hackney where, in between two girls in tight printed pants, I would suddenly bump into the very first man from Greenwich. People would appear imy life in great spurts of hospitality and excitement, and then vanish into the cityscape, never to be seen again. It was all very overwhelming and confusing. I finally settled on the words; open transience. I would murmur it sometimes under my breath, if I ever got too overwhelmed. There was a tangible flow of personalities and events that seemed to be carrying me to somewhere - but where?
On the day I met F, he was an hour away from his 22nd birthday. At first, I was impressed by his hair, shaved short on the sides and pulled into a knot on top. It was the kind of fuck-you statement that was so abhorred by the older generation, so trendy in the young. Yet he moved and spoke with an unaffected animation, waving his arms to emphasize a point. He was delighted that I had been listening Jamie xx's new album. It turned out he was a constant frequenter of the kind of dingy clubs where DJ's squinted over tables, and the music pulsed until the sun rose. It would a sin, as he put in a text, to not experience "London's brilliant underground scene!!!!"
Because I had strangely trusted F almost immediately, I found myself sprinting for the last tube to Elephant and Castle one Saturday night. It was the hair, and the overuse of exclamations. What a clash. Someonewho used exclamations with such abandon had to be a good person. And I was afraid of being laughed at too. I, with my blandly tortured upbringing, the house with the garden of weeds and the dishes neatly piled on the side... I, who had watched teenagers at bus stops as if they were something so far away. I was fascinated by the entire concept of alternative. House, techno, UK garage... I spent time perusing soundcloud, creating playlists, going to concerts, all in an attempt to understand. I loved how it was a messy amalgram of fashion, music, art and emotion... all doused with a serving of nostalgia. It appealed to a part of me that was searching, the same part that had shivered in excitement when I arrived in the city, the same part that was so unhappy when I was at school.
South of London is not a comforting place past midnight, and Corsica Studios is located in perhaps the least comforting lane for a young woman. I picked my way across old posters for concerts were taped on corrugated sheet iron doors, in front of dumpsters brimming with rotting vegetables. But then I saw F, who beckoned me over, to the line that was forming already in front of a discreet door. We were granted entry into a hallway with dirty white walls that could have been my own home, and then to a small room with red lights.
Here, it was here, yes, finally. The darkness, the music, the air so thick with heat. People danced with their eyes closed, even in the dark, abandoned to the ceaseless push of bass. Watching them was like peering in the windows of someone else's living room. Here, in the cocooned darkness, it was so simple. Oh, the relief! The relief to stop thinking, just for a while. To shut out the clamour of this confusing world with more clamour, to throw off the ceaseless need to define oneself as a person of character and originality - here, I was not watched. There were no expectations. I could be left alone to just be. One of dancers must have felt my gaze, opened his eyes. He smiled lazily, nodded, and then slipped easily back into the rhythm.
F and I found a spot, right next to an elevated wooden stage where some others were dancing. It was nice to look up at them, to sense them moving somewhere above me, even if I couldn't see them. The music sounded so crisp, so clear. I began listening properly. The best thing about techno is that, in the repetitive 4/4 format, you begin to attune yourself to the delicate hooks and drops, the light cymbal or odd beat that deviates, and suddenly a single moment is lovely. In the dark, it's positively sensual.
And so it went on for a few hours. Sometimes, when we got sweaty and tired, we'd weave through the hallways to a door with grids across the windows, much like the door of a prison. Beyond, it was fresh air, and the smell of cigarettes, and hoards of people sitting on little wooden benches. Corsica shared their outside terrace with the a boisterous Latino club. It was entertaining watching the two types of music-lovers collide, one so grunge, one so fiery. Next to me, an older man with brown, stringy hair was speaking urgently to a younger man, who was nodding slowly. There was another group, conversing in sharp French across from us. I marvelled at my sheer inability to understand - not a single word. It delighted me, to simply sit in this international stew. The cold air was soothing.
"I was always the weird one in school, " F said. "Weird music taste, weird personality."
"Do you ever get afraid," I asked, "of everything going wrong?"
F looked down at his palms. "I'm always afraid. That's the problem."
The sky was lightening now. I didn't like that. We went back inside.
On the way home, I listened to another song off In Colour. It wasn't techno, but something softer, gentler, an anthem for late night rendezvous in the bedroom. "I go to loud places/to find someone to be quiet with..." Romy Madley Croft had never sounded sweeter. I thought about how dark places with loud music had been seductive for years. It must not have begun with the 80's, though it was during then this brand of culture exploded. It must have begun earlier, decades of people gathering in dark, underground places, rebelling against the suffocation of their lives, seeking some kind of release to sooth their souls. The thought made me a little sad. Didn't I already know why I couldn't let this go?
It was 7am, when I finally unlocked my front door, where I promptly fell into an almost dreamless sleep - almost, except for the faint sense that someone very dear to me was weeping over me. They never become corporeal. Only ever a sense.