View of “Henning Fehr and Philipp Rühr,” 2016. Photo: Simon Vogel.

View of “Henning Fehr and Philipp Rühr,” 2016. Photo: Simon Vogel.

Henning Fehr and Philipp Rühr

View of “Henning Fehr and Philipp Rühr,” 2016. Photo: Simon Vogel.

Psychedelia is back, or so Benedikt Sarreiter and Paul-Philipp Hanske insist in their 2015 book Neues von der anderen Seite: Die Wiederentdeckung des Psychedelischen (News from the Other Side: The Rediscovery of the Psychedelic). The two journalists champion a reassessment of psychotropics, whose sophisticated use, they argue, can help us navigate the vicissitudes of life. They note the current renaissance of these drugs—which had fallen out of favor after their heyday as the favorite hallucinogens of the counterculture—at the Burning Man festival, for example, which draws thousands to the Nevada desert every summer. Both psychedelics and Burning Man feature in Henning Fehr and Philipp Rühr’s video Leisure Time Future: The Rattlesnake, 2015, produced in collaboration with Danji Buck-Moore. It is the third part of Polyrhythm Technoir, 2014–15, a trilogy on the techno scene. The first part looked back to the scene’s early years in Cologne, while the second sampled techno clubs in today’s Berlin. This installment examines the genre’s future. Fehr and Rühr conceived their presentation as a piece of installation art, setting up crates of Club-Mate—a drink made from yerba maté, a plant native to South America—for visitors to sit on as they watch the 129-minute digital video. A mannequin sat on a monitor on the floor showing the trilogy’s second part. More oddly, the artists painted snow guns on the acoustic panels with which the walls were clad, an allusion to the sound-muffling effect of snow.

The new piece surveys the Mexican techno scene, which seems to have retained some of the original rawness smoothed out elsewhere as the music has been commercialized. By contrast, the legal and illegal techno festivals in America and Canada—held, like Burning Man, in the desert, on remote industrial sites, or deep in the woods—feel motivated primarily by a postcapitalist and post-utopian yearning for harmony, for union with nature and one’s own body, for oblivious immersion in the sound and the collective. That, at least, is the impression one gets from the artists’ interviews with participants. Amid the thudding noise of electronic music and long shots of people hanging around, the video presents impressions of what Sarreiter and Hanske describe as the revival of counterculture psychedelia.

Between storytelling sequences, footage of festival visitors arriving, and dance scenes, the video repeatedly cuts to long takes of natural motifs—a desert landscape, a colorful bird perched on a branch. Here, the world of techno music enters into a peculiar synthesis with nature; the psychedelic register blends into the whooshing of the generators needed to make noise in the desert. If you want, you can read such blurring of the boundaries between nature, technology, and culture as confirmation of Bruno Latour’s vision of an inexorable hybridization of the world that generates ever-new quasi-objects and quasi-subjects.

The film seems to go on forever, and still, not unlike techno’s unvarying rhythms, it is intoxicating. Everything happens calmly, at a slow and even pace, and that is not a coincidence: Fehr and Rühr are proponents of “slow cinema,” and they are not alone. Kindred spirits they mention in the film include the Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr and the Filipino director Lav Diaz. Curiously, Leisure Time Future dwells on preparations for the festivals, on participants arriving or idling expectantly, on interviewees talking about the rapturous collective experience of dancing, yet that experience itself is rarely shown. Fehr and Rühr, it seems, distrust such pictures and prefer to leave the scenes at the heart of their film to the viewer’s imagination. In the age of Facebook and Instagram, the artists’ representational reticence, like the slowness of their film, takes on a subversive quality that gives the piece its contemporary edge.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.