An overview of the output and activities of OUTLINE as a collective, as well as invited contributions.


Nightscenes, part I

Marta Ceccarelli

A few months ago, in my Amsterdam Culture Report I had told you I was leaving for a few months. I left the city with a one-way ticket to Rome, a three month internship, a sublet in a single mom’s mezzanine. Given the precariousness of clubs and spaces of (sub)cultural productions of the city, in my blog I wondered what I'd find when I'd come back. But I have decided, for now, not to come back at all. I decided to escape the ever-tightening grip of North European City Life. 

I can't lie or pretend not to miss many aspects of the city, so ordered and predictable and reliable. It's cultural and music event scene – what I am gonna call nightscene- is exactly that: ordered, predictable, reliable. No illegal raves, few occupied spaces, security at the door enforced through protective policies which create comfortable environments for letting loose with little worry. Most clubs publish their program monthly so you can arrange them neatly in your schedule planning ahead, only a few accounts to check on IG to decide where to go, Subbacultcha membership at hand. The order of things makes it so that almost every weekend there is something to do, whether it is partying at a Club, going to an event in a listening bar or venue, a drink a regular bar with a bedroom dj, or a friend’s living room to recover from excessive visits to the previous three. 

This text is an exploration of what grievances I found myself having in retrospect towards Amsterdam, feelings I could not even fully articulate back when I lived there, thoughts that could arise only from confrontation with a city so different from what I had gotten used to.

I want to make a small disclaimer about my positioning to the subjects of music, scenes, cities. This piece functions as a sort of “auto-theory”. I made the choice of putting myself in the middle of observations and conclusions rather than attempting to remove or hide myself, choosing my point of view as central rather than making the attempt to be objective. So, I’d like to acknowledge two things in relation specifically to the Cities I talk about, Amsterdam, where I lived for 5 years, and Rome, where I lived for 5 months. In both cases, through different trajectories, I am an outsider. Outsider as an Italian living in The Netherlands, Outsider as a Rome newbie who hadn’t lived in Italy since 2014. This gives me the vantage Point of the Outsider, a perspective that entails naivety and the ability to see things with eyes that are not context encrusted. Outsider also as I am not an artist, I am no DJ (yet), I make no music: I am a mop sucking in the culture with limited knowledge. But the Vantage Point is that I am the audience, the average club goer, the average music enthusiast, the average scene enjoyer. I can take a step back; I am not stuck in the booth.

Either way, besides professional and personal reasons for the escape, let me begin with the Monetary, Spiritual, Cultural, and Political factors playing into my decision to: 


In Amsterdam: rent is high, events are barely free, cocktails are bourgeois dreams, drugs are cheap when costs are split over investors interested in maximizing shareholder value. Beyond the individual level at which money plays a role in the participation in nightscene, I have begun to pay closer attention to the wider economic not so invisible hands controlling the city. I think that one of the reasons for the orderliness, besides the cultural cliches of the organized NorthEurope, is that Amsterdam is a well-functioning neoliberal city in which limited space is optimized for commercial outcomes through cultural means. I touched upon this in my Amsterdam Culture Report, noting how the types of leases with which music venues and restaurants [in Amsterdam two very closely linked worlds that almost always blend together i.e. Klaproos + Schietclub, Kanaal40 + Restaurant40, list could go on and on] operate, keep these spots on a tight leash. Since I had written that blog post, De School has closed, ending its cycle of cultural enrichment for purpose of investment growth, and Schietclub seems to be reopening, now coupled with sister venue Nachbar, an offspring [like Kanaal40/Cafe40- which will be soon closing in the summer for two years!] of policies of rehabilitation of the center for the locals. Basically: the cultural dimension of urban planning in Amsterdam is never ignored. There is much money to be made from all the cultural breeding grounds that the municipality facilitates. 

This is not obvious! This, while it produces a great deal of quite great programming, is a rare occurrence that should not be taken for granted. It is a product of the well-oiled neo-liberal machine that is the city of Amsterdam. If in the 90s squats like OT301 were “forced” to buy their occupied spaces in order to survive [a not so small price to pay to remain active], now the new technique is the prevention of the possibility of squatting – selling plots of land to the highest bidders and keeping them full of partying 20-something year olds until margins are maximized. If municipalities keep giving enough space for these purposes – which I think they will – people will keep moving with the mechanisms prescribed by those rules. The logic breaks and chaos and DIY projects and opposition ensues when, like in Rome, there are little to no incentives from institutions, governments, or municipalities for production of cultural spaces, for music especially. 

This might be a very personal experience, but I did not realize the spiritual toll that the cool city could take on me. The constant self-doubt and self-reflection that a place concerned with style asks for is tiring and invisible. At least for me, in Amsterdam I felt confronted by my own taste, how it fit and did not fit into the ones of others, its packaging, the shoes to wear, the events to go to, the wine to drink, the pastry to buy. It is a place in which space is limited and expensive, so the way you fit in it, how you occupy it, seems to matter much more. 

McKenzie Wark talks about this in her auto-theory book, Raving. She explains how nightlife is a prime victim of style extraction, aka the commodification of gestures generated in situations such as the rave. She says, “We play, make moves, gestures repeating, becoming styles—that are extractable as forms of intellectual property, harvested for the benefit of a ruling class that owns and controls the vectors of information. Within our little shifting diagrams, we do our best to evade capture, and if captured—get paid.” (55) Interesting to note is that style extraction doesn’t necessarily only suck in general aesthetic forms of expression aka fashion or beauty trends, but also does it to (psycho)geographic zones [which are also built through alignment with fashion, etc]. McKenzie mentions Bushwick becoming a subcategory of Brooklyn able to stand on its own as a particle descriptor of specific “vibes”. I’d say the most vivid contemporary example of this is Dimes Square, the latest psychogeographic zone that nyc was successfully able to package and sell [It is a joke that one is unable to escape talking about style and spaces without having to mention it, but it represents so well the type of contemporary process of meaning-making and style extraction which takes “nothing” instead of “something” as a starting point. If symbols are empty and ready to be refilled by signifiers anyways, then one can simply create them out of thin air – no need for wasting time actually producing art! or culture! (arguably tho the artistic and cultural contribution of Dimes Square was itself this self-mythization process)(Okay now I’m getting lost in the Dimes Square universe, time to crawl back to surface)]. Importantly – real estate is the one that benefits the most from this (psycho)geographic extraction. “The real estate here has value because of the improvisation in new flavors of information and connection that percolate through it, of which the rave scene is just one instance.” (57) [A note on Raving: this text does somewhat engage in auto-theory, and there are def some parallels between my approach and hers. I had seen McKenzie in Venice for her Italian book launch right before being asked to write about this, topically it has a lot to do with my writing, she is also? obsessed with creating new concepts. But it is not a book I necessarily want to take inspiration from. Her writing, similarly to Rave by Rainald Goetz, engages too much in what I am afraid of doing myself: speaking from a distance about a scene while attempting to sketch its whole shape, reducing it to her view, maybe. I hope you can take my explorations of nightscenes as personal journeys that only paint a blurry picture, without taking away the rightful mist that surrounds them, inviting closer attention but never dissection to the point of death].

Amsterdam’s style extraction might be less intense than NYCs, a contributing factor being that this city does not talk about itself nearly as much as the big apple does, so the products of extraction are much more vague. But there are so many clear as day examples of this – the whole of Amsterdam Noord’s “rebranding” being maybe its more striking case.  Personally, I did feel a degree of pressure when it came to style extraction, the city always felt like a place in which distinctions of taste mattered. 

Amsterdam is full of what me and my friends call “secretly rich people” – the classic stereotype of the art school type that dresses with only 3rd hand clothing, the environmental activist with parents in big oil, the wannabe punk that lives at mommy’s and daddy’s house in the Jordaan neighborhood. I am to an extent part of this category too, in quite a few ways I come from a privileged background (internationally educated white woman from a family of mainly intellectuals), but my style does not show my privileged position in any direct way. It does so through partially hidden symbols, virtue signals to be decoded for the audience I choose to communicate with. And it does so in a very lowkey way, following in some regards the attitude of inconspicuous consumption - a product of the protestant work ethic. On a most superficial level, you are not supposed to show off. But while not acting too crazy, you are supposed to demonstrate through stylistic choices that you are tapped into the culture. Sometimes this even means getting the badge in, all in a very calculated dance between swag and tact. 

The protestant work ethic is one of those things you read in your first year of uni and don’t think about it much until you do, and then you start to see it everywhere. I especially have started to see it in relation to my own “identity” as an Italian who lived most of her adult life in The Netherlands. In some ways, I had forgotten about the possibility of different ways of being besides the Dutch one, whose Calvinist origins cast a shadow over other ones, infantilizing them and making them seem inferior to their own. The humble brag product of the doe normaal/”act normal” attitude (which I’m going to talk about a bit more later and which is rejected in much of the underground but can't help but reproduces itself in habitus, ideology, it's a structuring structure), renders cultural objects unable to talk about themselves. The discussion of the water one is swimming in, at least to me, seems critically underdeveloped. What is the Magazine or the Blog of the City? Is there one or are there multiple voices that are distinguishable from the others in the creation of Discourse about what is happening on the ground? In music, fashion, food? Is there anyone from “our” generation writing about their city in a critical way? There are a few spaces that are interested in such discourses, but maybe there is no well-developed, active audience of producers/consumers of localized cultural critique. There are a few meme pages, arguably the contemporary version of such critical discourses I am looking for. But most of them are scratching the surface of the possibility of localized analysis, if they are even engaging with it at all… Maybe I have not found these voices, likely there is a language barrier element (maar ik verstand meest nederlands!), but also they have not presented themselves to me - a failure on their part, not on mine, I would say. Please feel free to disagree with me: I would love to be proven wrong, to be shown the producers of cultural critique operating within the Scene. 

In thinking through the reason why a place like Amsterdam so famously promoted as a vibrant European cultural capital would be lacking immediate narrative discourse about itself, I could not help but to see it linked to such doe normal attitude. The platitude of “Doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg" [act normal, then you are acting already crazy enough] is one that runs deep in the underlying social contract of the Netherlands. If I were better at sociology, I could tell you more about the Calvinist origins of this, about how the protestant work ethic made it so that keeping your head low and having a quiet hustle grindset became imbued in social life of the Dutch. I could tell you about the theory of conspicuous consumption, the practice of buying goods of a higher quality, price, or in greater quantity than what is needed. I could tell you about the classic example of the silver spoon, which does the same job as one of stainless steel. The silver one gets the fancy name of a Veblen good because choosing to buy it comes also from its exclusive nature, so it operates as a status symbol. I could explain the idea of inconspicuous consumption, which flips the idea around, highlighting a move of the upper classes from consumption of luxury goods such as shiny cars, Rolexes, and private jets towards much more low-key status symbols such as yoga retreats, organic groceries, sustainably sourced hyperconscious cruelty free cashmere sweaters. Unfortunately, I forgot most of the contents of those bachelor sociology classes, so you’re just gonna have to trust me with these vague claims unsupported by haphazardly researched quotes from Weber’s Spirit of Capitalism. 

The Dutch have always been inconspicuous consumption kings. The VanMoof electric bicycle and the bakfiets are two prime examples of expensive ass bikes that indicate a type of very conscious and down to earth wealth. Not that the Dutch don’t ever show off – I’ve been around the Gooi block, I’ve seen the Aerdenhout sights, I am familiar with the swag displayed by rich Dutchies abroad. However, the white (sub)urban Dutch showing off is often different from the one displayed by let's say my compaesani. Italians are notoriously loud in the way they show status – talk about quiet wealth. The Dutch brag is much more of the superficially humble type. What I associate with (often white) Dutch wealth is a high investment in the education and worldliness of their kids in the form of numerous gap years, internships abroad, seasonal family vacation to a number of exotic places. Environmentalism or a generalized care for the commons often is explained as reason for choices of electric cars and electric bikes. Waste is seen as a waste of time. Dutch wealth is a no-nonsense kind of wealth. 

I feel that the habitus these histories produce might be what were causing my grievances about Amsterdam. In many ways, it felt like excess active sociality and excess active cultural participation were a little too nonsense for my environments, despite a feeling that everyone actually would have loved to indulge in both. 

Perhaps out of intellectual laziness, in the last years I distanced myself from having a well-developed political life and thought. Regrettably so. I became quite cynical. I thought "we live in a bad world, but it feels like any effort to make it any better fails and I am just a weak individual in front of the enormous goop of neoliberalism that has engulfed everything including my consciousness and my political brain and I am privileged enough that I live good enough not to feel the need to do something about it". I do not want to blame this entirely on the environment I was in or which Amsterdam creates, but the city's cozy neoliberal bubble makes it easy to ease into that exact place [this bubble seems to be bursting post-Wilders election and post-escalation of the genocide in Palestine]. The violence of the state and of capital is more well hidden in the Dutch city. It is quietly swept under an invisible rug. It is less confrontational. It asks you to trust you through well-orchestrated visibility. The curtains of the beautiful houses on canals are open. That’s another trope of Dutch Calvinist heritage. No honest citizen would need to hide behind a veil. There is nothing to see here. When the curtain is closed then that's when things seem suspicious. In a place like Rome you cannot afford the luxury of being apolitical. The violent mechanisms of modern neoliberal democracy are almost vaunted as necessary steps for achievement of modernity. As I edit this text, riot police is breaking the heads of students at pro-Palestinian protests: violence of the state at full display hidden behind the excuse of maintaining order.

After a few weeks of living in Rome, I joked with a friend about how I wasn't really listening to anything new. "I'm post-music," I said. This is partially true. The shiny exciting chaotic environment of being in a new place made me feel reluctant to place myself in a sonic bubble when out in public. For practical reasons also, as the badly paved streets of Rome are notoriously terrorized by cars and scooters and buses which are always driving fast yet always late. Eyes and ears on the road. But then, more generally, I started to perceive a light sense of uselessness in my previously more curated and dedicated approach to listening. It felt like there was no time for it. And maybe that is why there is a (perceptible?) lack of DJs around Rome. It feels like people have more important things to do than to become a selector. Music is somehow a much more immediately urgent – and so also political - instinct, a hasty meeting in the street, broken speakers at the occupied space. 

Maybe in some ways it is exactly this: dedication to the music and nightscene is a luxury I did not know I had. Or I had an inkling that part of the reason why the Italian music scene is so lacking compared to other (even southern) European ones was the economic and social dis-incentivization that affects young people and hence youth (sub)cultures [This fails to explain why other southern European places e.g. Spain occupies important position in music globally -perhaps language plays a role – and it fails to explain why places like Naples do have a vibrant musical underground]. Like many other fellow youths, my student years were financed by (what once looked like) a pretty sweet loan. I could live independently from my parents straight after high school, only needing a job for a few hours a week for extra cash. And finding a job afterwards to maintain a similar lifestyle was not so tough. The level of independence and control over your life this gives you is something I had taken for granted. But it also makes you soft? 

hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times. 


De School closed and Garage Noord used their graphic design in a purposefully ambiguous way. Were they laughing at them or with them? Maybe it is true that in Amsterdam people treat the clubs like a church. But in Rome, a city full of churches, nobody seems to worship music. There is no club culture. Or there isn't in the same sense that it exists in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, London. It sucks, in many ways [I like good music, clubs can have good music]. But it offers the possibility to escape what now feels like a partially dead medium and to look at it from a different perspective. 

When I was trying to understand what I was writing here, who I was writing it for, what was my purpose, my instinct had been to classify it to ask the banal and perhaps useless question of "What can Amsterdam (and its nightscene) learn from Rome?". This question arises only insofar as I have lived in one city, and I am now living in the other. I doubt anyone has ever had this question. And why would Amsterdam even need to learn from another city so different? I don’t have the answer to that. But if you are curious, here is a slice of life elsewhere.

"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus – and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it – that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all!!"
[Mario Savio; Sit-in Address on the Steps of Sproul Hall, 1964, The University of California, Berkeley]

I wrote the following text throughout the months of genocidal escalation of violence of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I’m wholly aware of the silliness and lightness of it all when compared to the existential gravity of the situation in Gaza.

I want to address the efforts of the student movements currently enacting immensely important acts of resistance and defiance. As a former UvA student I feel pride in my peers as much as I feel disgust in the behaviour of its administration, as well as the the 'driehoek' (police, public prosecutor, mayor).

My feelings of veiled apathy towards the neoliberal machine that I address here in this article has vanished in front of the dedication demonstrated by the youth movement and encampments, unfortunately also due to the now undeniable force of the state at display in the repression of peaceful protests. What the past weeks have showed us is:

1. The evidence of the genocidal intent of the colonial project of Israel has become too undeniable to be ignored;
2. The global intifada poses a real threat to the systemic support of Israel by institutions, which continue to take its side passively through false neutrality and actively through their reluctance to disclose and cut ties with the structuring structures of Zionism;
3. The only defence mechanism available to the institutions that maintain their Zionist stance is violent repression. In the absence of rationality, batons are the answer of a fascist state concerned with the maintenance of the neoliberal neocolonial status quo;
4. We have nothing to lose. Despite, or maybe exactly because of, the feeling of impotence in front of the war, we can choose to let all the -isms (capitalism, colonialism, Zionism, etc.) take away our agency, or we can decide to put our bodies and our voices on the streets, in the campuses, in our feeds, in solidarity, protest, defiance, resistance.

In solidarity with the global intifada, today, tomorrow, until Palestinian liberation.”

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