Our Campus: Aydin Quach is at the intersection of raves, research and identity

As the Ladner Clock Tower struck two o’clock, the autumn leaves danced through the air in time with its toll. The fall weather was perfect, with a clear sky and a crisp breeze. The perfect temperature to bring out my flannel. On the stone benches nestled in the grassy hills just outside of IKB, I met Aydin Quach, who was rocking a black puffer vest.

Quach is a master’s student in history at UBC whose research focuses on the role of masculinity and sex work in Southeast Asia. The cultural significance of manhood and masculinity is something that Quach has always been interested in.

“I got into research because I am a Queer Asian man,” he said. “And I am interested in where these notions of masculinity, where notions of identity come from, [which] is tied often to history.”

Recently, Quach has been conducting additional research in the School of Journalism on how raves intersect with identity — a type of research is referred to as autoethnography. Autoethnography is when research is conducted by observation of one’s surroundings as well as their own experiences.

Before this year, he’d never been to one. As an introvert, he rarely went out and would rather sit at home with a good book.

In February, his friends within the Vancouver gay Asian community started raving about raves, the freedom of expression and the confidence that these raves would give them.

“As a nerd,” Quach said, laughing, “I want to give [my friends] an academic answer in regards to why [they] like [raves] and how it helps with [their] identity.” his led Quach to propose this as a research topic [and his journey] down the rabbit hole of rave culture.

As bees and dragonflies flew around us, Quach recalled his first rave experience. On a trip to San Francisco this past June, he took to Tinder and Facebook to reach out to the local Queer community. A friend informed him of a rave that week, and he spontaneously agreed to go. The stars had seemingly aligned: he was in a foreign city, and the opportunity presented itself, so why not try it out?

He recalled shopping for an outfit by visiting costume and thrift stores, researching the health and safety procedures and packing some gum, headphones and water. Going into the rave, his nerves were high.

“I have sensory issues, so loud spaces tend to make me stressed out, I get panic attacks and stuff like that.” But Quach was surrounded by great friends who held his hand through the whole experience, they taught him grounding techniques and coping mechanisms, and he said that earplugs are “absolutely a godsend.”

As soon as the music started, though, Quach began to understand what the hype was about.

“When the music starts blasting and you feel the beat, like vibrating through your bones,” he said. “You’re like, ‘No, this is something very different than you’d first thought.’ It’s very unique.”

One of the largest draws of these raves seems to be how they affirm people’s identities. But why and how do they do this?

For some of the older members of the Queer community, raves act as a way for them to live the youth that was robbed from them, Quach explained. “[They] didn’t get to experience youth in the same way that straight people do. They’re forced to grow up faster and they’re forced to move out of the house faster in order to have that freedom.”

Raves build an escape for people where they can express themselves in a safe environment, judgement-free. The attendees of these events range from students to accountants to surgeons, all looking for a weekend escape from the monotony of adult life. Especially coming out of a pandemic, people are looking for a place to express themselves after being cooped up at home, Quach explained.

EDC, North America’s largest rave located in Las Vegas, completely sold out within a minute of its tickets going on sale. Quach theorized that “in response to world crises, ‘Everyone’s like I need a break … I’m going to get out of here.’”

Quach explained that going to a rave requires spending money on your ticket and your costume. If it’s not local, you need transportation and a place to stay. On top of all this, there’s also the cost of drugs for those that choose to use them. Quach said that because of these costs, raves end up being accessible to only those who can afford them, which usually end up being rich white people. But there are certainly others who go into debt for the opportunity to experience the freedom of identity that these events offer.

Growing up in Vancouver with accepting parents and a strong community of Queer Asian people around him, Quach opened up about what this research really meant to him.

“I recognize that my position is [one of] privilege because I am able to come out, my parents are accepting of me, [and] I am allowed to be really open about my sexuality and my work in my academic practice as well as my research. Plenty of people aren’t,” said Quach.

“I’ve lost friends to suicide as a result of … not being able to reconcile all the stressors in life with their own Queer identity. So … part of my research is activism, it’s visibility. The more we see people like me doing research, writing about our own experiences, the more I feel I can empower people.”

Quach said he is putting himself out there and using his platform to “push the agenda a little bit [and] go into a little bit more [of a] dangerous territory.”