When ravers encounter Bradley Gunn on a dance floor in Bristol, England, they often ask him what he’s “on” ― and if they can have some.
“We’ve just been drinking water all night,” he tells them.
Then they ask him how that’s possible, since he’s been dancing for six hours.
“Well, yeah, because the music is good,” he says.
Gunn, 23, doesn’t need any mood-altering substances to enjoy a rave. In fact, an all-night dance party is one of the few places where he doesn’t need to adjust his behavior ― something that often feels like a necessary burden for Gunn, who has Asperger’s syndrome. But when he began raving, “there was no mention of Asperger’s at all,” he recently told HuffPost.
“I knew because of the sort of music, and the dancing side of it, there was this acceptance to be who you want to be,” he said. “I knew that I could be crazy and express myself without people making assumptions, [or thinking] ‘Oh, you must be autistic’ or anything.”
When Gunn first heard dance music in high school, he was struck by its repetitive nature. A friend had shared a house track with him, and Gunn listened to it over and over.
“I didn’t know what genre it was,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about it. I just wanted to go find the rest of this music.”
Gunn encountered his first all-night rave in Bristol very early one morning. Walking around, trying to kill time before an 8 a.m. train, he came upon a door manned by a security guard. Behind it, he could hear and feel the thump of those same repetitive beats he’d heard years before in school.
“I was like, this is the place! I have to go in there! This is the place I have been looking for all these years,” he said. “It was like walking in a wonderland. All I could think was: I want to go back.”
Gunn started going to raves once a month. Then twice a month. Soon, he was going every weekend. He became more and more comfortable at the dance parties, which encouraged a kind of mental and psychological abandon that he rarely found in other places and situations in his life.
“I don’t need to really pretend to be anyone else and be cool. I can just do what I want,” he said. “I just went in and sort of was like, ‘Right, well, I don’t need to tell anyone about my Asperger’s right now ― that’s totally irrelevant.’”
Bullies targeted Gunn in school because of his condition. People with Asperger’s can have difficulty socializing in certain environments, but “just because you find socializing difficult doesn’t mean you don’t want to socialize,” he said.
“A lot of the time it’s that you do want to socialize with people, but you often find that you can’t,” he said. “And I’ve found that raving actually allowed me to develop that sort of socializing skill a bit more.”
Raving has allowed Gunn to “actually express myself and who I want to be,” he said. He credits his rave weekends with helping him have more fulfilling social interactions, particularly in professional environments.
“I find that raving has helped my confidence in all aspects of life,” he said. “I’ve had job interviews that have generally performed better. And I know they’ve performed better based on the fact that the rave side has helped me.”
Gunn says dancing has profoundly influenced how he moves through the world as a person with Asperger’s. But he believes anyone can benefit from the meditative, open-minded environment of a good dance party.
“I think a lot of people who have judgmental views could really benefit from going to these events,” he said. People tend to dismiss one another for “reasons that are quite silly,” he added, “and if they went to a rave, they would start to understand that actually, pretty much we’re all humans.”
Ultimately, for Gunn, raves are all about the radical potential for unity they offer.
“When you go to the same event together, you all enjoy it the same way. It’s not about borders or countries or regions or whatever,” he said. “Then you really do start to appreciate the fact that everyone can have a good time together and you don’t need to put walls up.”