Review: 'OUTRAVE' Traces EDM's Queer Roots

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday February 6, 2023

DJ Denise Benson spins in "Outrave"
DJ Denise Benson spins in "Outrave"  (Source:Revry)

DJ and music historian Denise Benson hosts the documentary series "OUTRAVE," chronicling how the queer community created and elevated electronic dance music, or EDM, as a place to "survive and thrive." Filmmaker Chris Remerowski aims to provide new ravers with the genre's history and evolution, and focuses Episode 1 on the Toronto scene.

Benson and Remerowski are Toronto natives, and they characterize the Canadian city as a crucial incubator for rave culture, while giving credit to Detroit as an early techno promoter, and to Chicago for the rise of acid house music under luminaries like Frankie Knuckles, the "godfather of house music." The electronic music scene was an antidote to hetero male-dominated, hyper-masculine '70s rock, what with the bulges and array of phallic instruments. Women are often the unsung heroes of this genre, as outlined in the "Sister with Transistors" documentary.

It was easier for women, as well as queer people, to see themselves in techno, where anybody could learn to program computers or play simple keyboards themselves. EDM was created by LGBTQ BIPOC, around the time when same-sex people were finally legally allowed to dance together in public, soon after the Stonewall Riots. Lesbian, gay, and transgender folks might have been rejected by their families, or by society in general, but the warehouses, clubs, circuit parties, and raves provided safe spaces for everyone to dress and express themselves in community, to simply enjoy themselves as humans in their own bodies.

"Dance music is my kind of church," one of the interviewees says, representing the variety of voices in the documentary from OGs to up-and-comers. EDM experiences allow attendees to put their identities front and center, unlike the mainly straight spaces in the rest of the world, somewhere to go to find like-minded people with similar values and worldviews, where "you're not an anomaly; you're 'normal.'"

Nowadays, the most famous DJs are straight white men, standing in front of big lights and sound (paid for by big money), but the scene was originally started by and for queer people of color. Some of the scene has backslid with inclusion progress, reflecting overall cultural and societal setbacks. Those interviewed are pushing for more lesbian, gay, and transgender folks to work the music decks, as well as create the merch and promote the shows. Queer inclusion in EDM event planning can also ensure gender-neutral bathrooms and mediate interactions with security people, and to directly address tokenism and misogynoir. After all, queer people have always brought design to the scene, from clothes and candy to glow sticks and whistles.

Pandemic quarantines obviously stopped the EDM scene for a few years, but now raves are ramping back up, especially since "people realized what they lost," one notes. "EDM is therapy." The film mentions the dance club as a safe space over and over, while acknowledging that this is likely why American terrorists are targeting these places and massacring queer dancers, most recently in Colorado Springs, and at Orlando's Pulse club in 2016 (see how a lesbian bodybuilder who was there deals with the aftermath in the documentary "Jeanette").

The LGBTQ+ community continues to overcome, however, because EDM is an escape, a community, and "a connection to something bigger than myself," one says. It's the soundtrack for queer activism and lives. One DJ says that being behind the decks is like being in a power station. "I channel the power and spread it out. That music fills me with power and electrifies me." DJ Chiclet feels "peace, love, unity, and respect." This doc — this important historical artifact — reminds queer club kids that "the party is in us, it's a part of us, and it's much bigger than just the music."

"OUTRAVE" will be streaming and available on-demand for free on Revry across all devices and platforms worldwide, including Revry's live TV channel on Samsung TV Plus, Roku, Vizio WatchFree+, Xumo, Philo, and more, starting February 5.

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at