Tues, 26th Nov 2019

Szentek: the Cool Aesthetic

Text by: 

John Parks

Photo by: 
Anna Kerr

There are no cool people in St Andrews, and all of them go to Szentek. That there are no cool people here is a complicated issue (I think it might have something to do with Combini). That all of them go to Szentek however is a little more obvious. In St Andrews, we can always hope that tonight will be the night we finally meet them, our cool people—but of course they don’t exist, and if they did exist, you’d never meet them anyway. They’ve already left for Szentek.

And you never really arrive at Szentek. Instead, you only end up in the space where Szentek is being held, and then spend the remaining hours hoping to arrive with everyone else. You’ll have a better chance at things if you’re stoned, but after the initial peak the rest of the evening will be spent dogging after your own best self, who nobody properly witnessed in the first place. They were also too high, and when their own come down starts they’ll look to you for evidence that it hasn’t. You grab your best friend by the wrist. How are you. The best how are you. Oh my god I’m still so good. It’s so good. I’m still coming up. (It’s 1:30.) . These vibes are so good. I can’t wait for Empire. Cheesy fries. Where are the pills. Jill. . You go outside to find Jill Stein, who is partying with you tonight, but you hear she was kicked out.

And maybe in the course of things you’ll be left something of a gentle stranger to yourself, wondering what you’re doing here in the first place, wondering who these people are and how many cigarettes they can smoke—how many you can steal off them in the rain—and whether you’ll ever enjoy the bitter wind so much ever again. Sigh. I’ve read that some people consider unhappiness to be a spiritual deficiency, even a symptom of inferior intellect. At Szentek then, we are all geniuses—party savants—or trying to be.

The cardinal rule of cool people is that as long as cool people exist, you are not one of them. This is the selling point of Szentek. It tickles our dream of being clocked in the high-key low-key party-boy scene. Everyone who goes is dope, even though anyone can go. Its pretensions are of an electric chill, masterminded by an esoteric space cadet, and any douchebag from your history tutorial might suddenly consider themselves to be a high priest of the dark web. The chances of you overhearing someone explaining the neurochemical mechanisms of MDMA here are likely. That same boy will experience his first come down that night, and none of us will cry for him. He will be by himself. In a few decades, he might even feel justified when he warns his third-born son away from drugs. . Trust me, he’ll say with the superior twinkle of experience, . there’s nothing there for you.

Every year I’ve gone, Szentek has maintained a consistent visual aesthetic. If the parties have attempted to distinguish themselves, they’ve mostly failed there—which isn’t much of a problem because they’ve perfected what they have [only] as much as they can. Szentek’s look is the Disney club-house of some generalized outsider culture, its political alignment is anarcho-art collective, its visual palette is conflicting, kaleidoscopic glitch-patterns, fringe-culture as high-culture, the virtual graffiti of an open-source intelligentsia that doesn’t exist —all of which ironically diminishes the standard of cool by letting you purchase your own ticket to it. Szentek is just almost like a joke, and it’s embarrassing for all of us that we have so much fun there—which we do. We have a lot of fun. This is my favorite event of the semester.

To be perfectly clear, I started my night at some pres for cool people only. We even had a sign on the door, a £90 entry fee, and tote bags (Wait—or am I describing Don’t Walk?). There was Green-Party icon Jill Stein. An Italian princess who snaps her fingers at bartenders. A German DJ who proudly watches Germany’s Next Topmodel and jockeys from an iPhone app. A Polish photographer with a secret smile who rolled her first cigarette. A model who looks like Timothee Chalamet who went to Berlin and became a Euro-chic “performance artist.” My imaginary friends, Pikachu and Moana. A girl who didn’t go to Szentek—and I think she stayed in her room to call her Mom while the rest of us danced in the living room, and soon we were huffing sharpie markers, and we called Billy Eichnor on FaceTime, and before we left each of us translated a chapter of . Paradise Lost into ancient-Sumerian cuneiform.

I say this to remind you that there are rooms you will never be invited to—which of course is another formal quality of Szentek’s aesthetic. It luxuriates in the illusion of endlessness, as though the secret place where the cool people have gathered is just around the corner. There is always another hangout spot to discover, and a new bouncer to make love eyes with. Of course though, you didn’t make it to that room. Because I was there, and I didn’t see you.

The most fun I had that night was outside. I love dancing in the rain, and someone made the pitch perfect choice of camping a DJ next to the food truck. My shoes were getting filthy—a few days later and they still are—and the rain seemed to evaporate off the back of my neck the moment it touched me. The weather’s ribbon fell through us, and ended too soon. The DJ outside, too. Why’d they end that so early? Inside, it was crowded and dank (in both senses of the word), and the crowd shoveled through itself with the entitlement of the very stoned. Every so often, a phantom scent of my dog would pass me by, but it was just some big, pink-faced sweaty guy in a Keith Herring shirt. And it was that time of night too, when I start missing my dog.

It’s too bad that events like this—which are genuine passion projects organized by talented, smart, devoted, sexy people—depend so much on who shows up, which in St Andrews is a crapshoot. The worst part about St Andrews is that it’s small enough that everything you do becomes a minor form of theatre. One must therefore keep one’s performance in check. And at Szentek, such performances are easily challenged. Just two days ago, none of you guys were dope party boys, and yet here you are. And the Euphoria look—glitter-shadow, iridescent baby-lingerie, a shirt unbuttoned all the way for your Fenty body-gloss—just doesn’t work on you (side note: you people—unless you’re financed by HBO and you are also Hunter Schafer, the Euphoria thing looks really shabby. Stop doing it).

This is where aesthetic becomes so important, a way of uniting a pool of relative strangers under a common visual theme. The result of this is that everyone essentially shows up in costume. Therefore, there’s a somewhat fatal sense of contrivance to these events, but the same goes for most cultural-capital today (which, despite its highfalutin sustainability credit, Szentek most certainly is). If it looks improvised, or part of some creative-revolutionary splinter cell, that’s only because it’s been meticulously plotted. It’s aesthetic of radical virtuality is incomplete however—there are too many bouncers frowning at you, ready to drag you out for sniffing poppers (me last year), they serve you water in a can, they watch you when you pee, and you are therefore constantly reminded of Szentek’s institutional rigor.

This is the most conspicuous irony of Szentek, that so long as it’s organized through the nervous system of the university, there is nothing it can do to complete itself. There is no way to make it sincere. At the end of the night, it will always just be one of St. Andrews’s exhausting spectacles, and absolutely my favorite one, the one I’ll miss the most when, in a few decades perhaps, I tell my favorite son not to do drugs.