Meditations on Capturing "Authenticity" and Emotion through Cameras
In April 2023, I had the opportunity to dance, play, and move at Dabin Lee's concert in Los Angeles. Dabin's concert was particularly special and important to me since his music and album, Alive helped me through the COVID lockdown. As an artist, he is also one of the rare artists in the Electronic Dance Music scene that is Asian-Canadian. I went to his concert alone but met up with my friend and got acquainted with his friends from LA.
Dabin's music is not precisely made for shuffling or a particular type of dancing (which I have written about before). Melodic Dubstep, the music he is best known for making, emphasizes lyrical content and melodic drops that are emotional (usually more sentimental or sad). Usually, people sway side to side, jump up and down, or sing their hearts out while hugging their loved ones. For a mix of reasons, Dabin's concerts draw a huge Asian-American crowd (the subject of why this is part of my plans for future research). Below are the lyrics from my favourite song of his, called "Alive."
I don't wanna waste any more heartbeats I wanna see what I haven't yet, oh The whole damn world is waiting there for me And nothing can hold me back And maybe I'm fine with that
I wanna live, I wanna be right now I wanna scream 'til my lungs give out Oh, this is what it means to be alive And I wish that time would just slow down I can't get enough of life right now Oh, this is what it means to be alive, oh
I knew that Dabin would play "Alive" during his concert, and I was very excited to be in that space with folks and share in the energy. Earlier in the concert, I started recording footage of the event as part of field research. His concert was the very first time I was in a crowd of almost all Asian-Ameircan folks. I wanted to capture the moment for research but also as a consumer, I wanted to capture my favourite songs that were being played. I would dance to the music being played and then get very still in order to record footage. I didn't want people to bump into me and I didn't want anyone to touch me while I was doing this recording process. I wanted to capture the moment without being in the moment. Below is an example from earlier in the evening when Dabin played "First Time" and invited to the stage vocalist Dylan Matthews:
Just before "Alive" was going to play, my friend came up to me and said, "Aydin, you have been so disconnected from the music since you focus so much of recording and getting the "perfect shot." Instead of keeping your eyes on the camera, why don't you just set up your camera, raise it above your head, and then keep your eyes on the stage and in the moment?" To be perfectly honest, I had not given it much thought. Have I been trying to remove myself from the dancefloor in order to capture "objectivity?" Perhaps I was. I was far too worried about not being able to have something to document the experience for later than focusing on the people and present that was before me. It also dawned on me that the "mess" and the "messy" videography that might come out of recording while dancing, while moving, and while playing might actually be more valuable than a "straight" video. Each shake of the camera denotes something happening right here, right now. Following my friend's advice, when Alive started to play, I took out my camera, raised it far above my head, and started to dance to the music and sing my heart out. I managed to hold the phone above my head for 4 mins, which, to be honest, was some miracle and a crazy shoulder workout.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, was singing their hearts out to the song. After the footage above for some reason, I started to get very emotional and cried (something I am trying to tune into now -- thinking about how research is emotional, political, and embodied). Something about the lyrics, being in a space with friends, and being in attunement with the energy of the room as a result of worrying less about the quality of the footage and keeping my eyes on the stage and body in movement with the folks around me was emotionally overwhelming (coupled with my association of "Alive" with my own experiences during the COVID pandemic). My friends noticed this and hugged me and asked if I was ok. We then took a break and just absorbed the whole moment with them. Swaying slowly to the music and the pulsing of the bass. It was so comforting and powerful to move and dance for once in this new way. In this experience, I think I learned a lot more about my role as an ethnographer, an autoethnography, as well as a human being that needs to dance, needs human touch to "vibe," as well as how academia's traditional stance of "objectivity" leaves much more to be desired.