I'm a Finnish-Dutch artist, educator and organiser living in Amsterdam-Noord. In my work I explore the revolutionary potential of collective creativity. As an autodidact DJ, filmmaker and anarchist, clubs are my art school and protests my phd.


Museion, Bolzano
Tags: art, club culture, education, international, research
In the Summer of 2022, I was invited by museum Museion in Bolzano as artist in residence as part of their club culture programme Art Club. In return, I wrote a text and an instruction for a communal workshop, called Communist Parties.

“The idea that communism, as a certain way of coordinating labour or human activity, might exist in any human society is not entirely new. Peter Kropotkin, who is often referred to as the founder of ‘anarchist communism,’ in Mutual Aid (1902) implies that communism could best be seen simply as human cooperation, and cooperation was the ultimate basis of all human achievement and indeed of human life." David Graeber

In my 25 years of experience as an artist and organiser working in club culture, there have been three things that have become vital to me: ecstasy, solidarity and mutual aid. What follows is a first attempt to articulate what I mean by this. Then, a series of exercises I regularly do with students and community organisers, to hopefully help you get a better understanding of your own wants, haves and needs. 

Here goes.

“The highest ecstasy is the attention at its fullest.” Simone Weil

The dictionary definition of ecstasy is “a state of overwhelming emotion”, and in the club that emotion is overwhelming joy. When we create an environment—a safe space—in which mutual trust, respect and freedom can thrive, we might be able to experience a state of collective joy. A joint visceral experience of overwhelming happiness as a result of trance-inducing long-duration electronic dance music in a dark room with bright lights, lasers and LEDs. Becoming present together. Attention at its fullest.

I believe this experience of collective joy is especially powerful and necessary under neoliberal capitalism. Capitalism alienates us, club culture unites us. Through extraction, capitalism generates individualism, competition and profit. Through ecstasy, club culture creates community, love, and freedom. The overriding emotion of ecstatic joy moves us, softens us and connects us. And this creates the perfect opportunity for solidarity.

“Solidarity is not the same as support. To experience solidarity, we must have a community of interests, shared beliefs and goals around which to unite. Support can be occasional. It can be given and just as easily withdrawn. Solidarity requires sustained, ongoing commitment.” bell hooks

I don’t really remember the exact moment in which I went from organising club nights out of love for music, to organising club nights out of love for community, but it happened around the year 2000. It was a combination of becoming deeply aware of the creative, social and political conditions under which this artistic expression comes about, with the responsibility of being able to access spaces and resources, through a mix of purpose, privilege and perseverance. Whenever it happened, it gave me vision, direction and drive.

After several experiments with collaborative club nights between 2000 and 2005, my first sustainable experiences with cooperation was with our club night Viral Radio, between 2006 and 2013. Here I worked with lots of different artists and organisations in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Europe, such as Trouw, Bimhuis and Exit Festival, with the aim to build a networked platform for new electronic dance music.

We invited artists such as Rhythm & Sound, Hudson Mohawke and Flying Lotus, and organised several club nights with their creative communities. We asked them to bring their friends along from Berlin, LA or Glasgow, and share them with our club community by doing interviews and workshops in the run up to the club nights. This way we shared experiences and knowledges between our scenes, and also helped young artists establish themselves and perform during our nights.

We also worked with graphic designers and light artists to develop an identity and presence that expressed our feelings and values. Some of the cities we travelled to with Viral Radio were Novi Sad, Madrid and Wuppertal, bringing a combination of Dutch and international artists along with us, connecting them to a local scene abroad.

"Progress Bar is a monthly club night dedicated to communal desire and collective joy. Every episode starts with a 90-minute talkshow with guests talking about their work in art, music and social action, and the material conditions that shape it. After the talks we move into the club, and, having spent time listening to the artists talk, dancing to their music will be even more magical." Juha van 't Zelfde

With the years, this model of strategic interdisciplinary collaboration matured into a model of solidarity, whereby institutional power was leveraged to address systemic inequalities in society at large, and in club culture in particular. Such as institutional racism, heteronormativity, class war and gentrification. This is how Progress Bar was founded. As a political party dedicated to communal desire and collective joy. Where we addressed the issues we encountered around us.

I started with Progress Bar in 2015 when I was artistic director of Lighthouse in Brighton, and in 2016 expanded the project in collaboration with Sonic Acts in Amsterdam. Since then, we have organised close to 50 events in Brighton, Amsterdam, Vilnius, Pristina and Kharkiv. As with Viral Radio, these events always consisted of artists from our community, artists from the community we collaborated with, and international artists that would otherwise not have played there. 

The nights always consisted of the pedagogical element of talks, interviews, screenings and/or workshops, followed by live performances, dj sets and elaborate light scenographies. Graphic design, language and the location of the events have always played central role too, as we have tried to express our values through visual communication and the choice of venue.

Hundreds of artists, academics and activists from all over the world have been part of Progress Bar. Artists such as Le1f, Moor Mother and Nkisi, and Linn da Quebrada, Rosa Pistola and Slikback. Academics such as Ash Sarkar, Akwugo Emejulu and Flavia Dzodan. And activists from Fossil Free Culture NL, Unsettling Rietveld Academy, and Stem op een Vrouw (Vote for a woman).

With every Progress Bar event, visitors could enter for free for the talks at 9pm, and stay for the club night. As a result, on each night we would have a full room of approximately 100 people, highly interested and engaged as a result of seeing some of their inspirations, or coming along with friends who were hyped to listen to their favourite artists speak.

After the talks and screenings, the first artist to perform would not meet an empty dance floor, as often is the case in a club. A large group of excited and stimulated visitors would already be present, and having learned more about the context and realities of the practice of some of the artists performing that night, they would have a heightened attention for their art. A win-win for everyone.

It is exactly this dynamic that helps create a community around interests, shared beliefs and goals around which to unite. This is where solidarity germinates.

“Mutual aid is collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, from an awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them. We see examples of mutual aid in every single social movement, whether it’s people raising money for workers on strike, drinking water in the desert for migrants crossing the border, training each other in emergency medicine because ambulance response time in poor neighborhoods is too slow, or raising money to pay for abortions for those who can’t afford them. These are mutual aid projects. They directly meet people’s survival needs, and are based on a shared understanding that the conditions in which we are made to live are unjust.” Dean Spade

Mutual aid is a term popularised by Russian anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin in his 1902 book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Kropotkin argues that cooperation drives evolution, not competition. In the course of the 20th century, mutual aid has been adopted as a tactic in revolutionary social movements, helping out people who have been marginalised, criminalised and excluded from society by the State. In order to right this wrong, communities step in themselves to provide care for each other.

In the 2020 book Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (And The Next), legal scholar and social organiser Dean Spade distinguishes three key elements of mutual aid:

  1. Mutual aid projects work to meet people’s needs and build shared understanding about why they do not have what they need;

  2. Mutual aid projects mobilise people, expand solidarity, and build movements;

  3. Mutual aid projects are participatory, solving problems through collective action rather than waiting for saviours.

Creating a platform for dj workshops, hosting interviews and commissioning experimental performances that otherwise would not take place in Amsterdam, and paying artists well has been our adoption of mutual aid in the club community we are part of.

A bigger audience at the nights has also meant more following online, and more sharing of our content. It has led to more artists approaching us asking to perform at our events, and other cities reaching out for a collaboration. This has created new creative collaborations with us and with members of our audience, and our team, programme and audience has become more diverse in gender, race, sexuality, class, ability and age.

Financially we have contributed to the precarious path of early-career artists, pedagogically we have shared (tacit) knowledges from numerous lived experiences of artists, academics and activists engaged with collective creative expression relevant to club culture. And socially we have built a community of comrades who live for these new electronic music experiences we present.

What could this mean for the Museion Art Club and the Museion Art Club Forum? For your programme, I would suggest the following exercise. A cooperative workshop focussing on your community’s wants, haves and needs. With the aim to create clarity of vision, structure and responsibility.

As not everyone can participate in blockades, strikes or blowing up pipelines, mutual aid gives people agency to organise themselves to meet the needs that are not being met by people in power. When governments fail to support the people with food, shelter and care, people often develop their own ways to support each other. Based on solidarity, not charity. This support is called mutual aid.

In this workshop artist Juha van 't Zelfde will give an introduction to the concept of mutual aid. With examples from around the world to Bolzano. Following the introduction, we will do a mutual aid workshop, in which we will outline the wants, haves and needs in the group, and draw up possible new mutual aid projects. 

Organising a mutual aid workshop with a focus on wants, haves, and needs can empower participants, strengthen community bonds, and lead to more effective resource allocation and problem-solving, ultimately contributing to the well-being and resilience of our communities. Eventually, it can transform individual desires into collective action. 

This document is meant to provoke thoughts, feelings and actions on why club culture is meaningful to society at large, and Bolzano in particular. It is meant to stimulate awareness of the material conditions that shape the direction of the art and culture of the club, and the collective needs they stem from.

By calling them communist parties, I am not merely trying to make a clever pun or being unserious, I am actively trying to build an argument for the political potential of communal desire and collective joy of a club culture that is without hierarchy, based on self-determination and community ownership. This everyday communism full of love, solidarity and joy has been recognised by Peter Kropotkin and David Graeber and so many other philosophers as features of human evolution, and is rarely felt more viscerally in any space for art than in the club. At the same time, clubs might be even more under threat by the forces of capitalism and fascism than most of the other houses of culture, for we lack the (little) public recognition and support cinemas, theatres and museums still have.

By occupying the museum with the club community, your programme and forum are onto something vital. The events you have organised so far are noticed abroad. The challenge will always be to keep doing the hard work, grow and generate a sustainable environment where everyone feels welcome to participate. This requires trust, comradery and joy. All which come with time and experience.

I hope my examples and exercises help you in reaching your goals. They are as admirable as they are necessary. For the future of our public institutions—and of society at large—depends on generosity, mutuality and cooperation.

With solidarity,

Juha van ‘t Zelfde 
Amsterdam, 10 October 2022