The beat explores the muscles, feeling low - the feet, the calves - a tingling touch of bliss. -- My diary, June 19, 1995
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
Those are the first sounds that come to mind when I think back to my raver days. The music’s bass reverberating off warehouse walls or echoing in rural fields was the heartbeat of every good party. I would dance for hours on end to techno, house, or jungle music. DJs and musicians like Dubtribe, Richie Hawton, Deee-Lite, Dieselboy, Rabbit in the Moon and others would keep the sweaty crowd on its feet from dusk until sunrise.
To this day, hearing just about any beat - whether it’s at a club or background music in a TV ad -- makes my head involuntarily bob.
In the beginning
How I got into the rave scene is a little foggy for me. I didn’t set out to “join” the community. There were no hazing or pledge activities. I don’t think I even fully understood what it was when I went to my first rave in college. The only dancing I had done up till that point was to songs like AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” in the high school gymnasium or at the cheesy clubs on campus that freshmen could get into.
Raves’ best promoters were their devotees. Virtually everyone I knew went to their first party because of a friend. I was no different. Friends of friends were going to raves. Then my friends were going. And then I went along to check it out. And the cycle continued.
To be honest, I wasn’t hooked after my first party. I didn’t really know how to dance to the music. And I had trouble keeping my eyes open after about 3 a.m. I actually remember thinking that I just didn’t quite get it as I sat on the grungy floor of some warehouse in some city hours away from home. Why I bothered going to a second rave is still a mystery to me, but I’m glad I did. It was at my second party that I danced my heart out and never looked back.
Raves are, in the simplest terms, all-night dance parties. But for those of us who drove hundreds of miles on the weekends to go to the next big event, it felt like so much more. It was a community of smiling faces, hugs and dancing. Ravers were to me the 1990’s equivalent of hippies - only on ecstasy. The kids, the music and the venues were a little more urban and gritty than those of a Grateful Dead show, but at the heart of it was the same sense of “family” love, sharing, and music. Everyone was your friend at a good party, even if you just met them for the first time. Perhaps I was a bit naïve, but I believed in that friendly community - and with enough believers it felt real.
Though raves were about the community for me, it would be lie to talk about the subculture without mentioning the drugs. The music made the vibe; for many the drugs enhanced it. Ecstasy, and to a lesser extent acid, psychedelic mushrooms and others, were easy to find at any given party if you wanted them. It’s no wonder that ecstasy, named for the happy feeling it gave you, found its match in the rave community with its child-like, friendly vibe. And once you knew it was there, you could see its influence everywhere in the scene. Pacifiers were more than a fashion statement - they came in handy when the jaw-clenching side effect of ecstasy kicked in. And the toys in everyone’s backpacks could entertain someone rolling on E for hours. Don’t get me wrong, not all ravers took drugs, but drugs were certainly at every rave.
I know now that I was a weekend warrior in the rave community. I went for the music and friends. But my life was at a university hours away. And I always came back to that life; my whole group, for the most part, did. My friends and I graduated. Some went on to grad school. We all have respectable jobs. Some are even parents now. We believed in the community, but didn’t get lost in the scene. The weekdays were about school; the weekends were about parties. I was oblivious - at least at first - to the rave scene’s underbelly where the drug culture took its toll. There were those who lived for the parties and the drugs. And there were those who died because of it and made the evening news. There were the shady event promoters out to make a buck and the shady drug users who stole for their habits.
But that was only a part of the scene. I was involved because I loved to dance, I loved the music, and I loved the rave kids. I had found a place where I felt I belonged.
Memory is a funny thing. Over time the details fade and all that's left are brief snapshots - moments that you can't forget, even though the context of them is missing. My rave memories are much the same. The parties tend to all blur into one. I remember sleeping on gritty warehouse floors and dancing amid crowds of sweaty kids with the strobe lights flashing and the beats thumping. I remember getting close to the stage when my DJ friends were spinning. There were more than a few disgusting bathrooms and porta-pots. And I can't forget the early morning drives home with the sunshine and open windows helping to keep me awake until I could finally crawl into my own bed and sleep the day away.
But a few more specific rave moments remain in my mind, like the three-hour early morning performance of San Francisco's Dubtribe at the original "420" rave. Exhausted from a night of dancing in a warehouse filled with industrial barrels of who-knows-what, Dubtribe took the stage for an amazing set where the music, vibe and company all seemed to just click. It was a magical moment where I truly felt I had found my place. It makes me smile now just thinking about it.
And I can't forget "Coup D'Etat," a rave at Cleveland's Agora Theatre. It was the day after my 22nd birthday and I planned to celebrate. But the night started off all wrong when the club confiscated my favorite water bottle at the door (more money for the club if you have to buy your water). The well re-used Gatorade bottle covered with Sesame Street stickers was a one-of-a-kind piece of rave memorabilia that had traveled with me from party to party and seemed, at the time, a necessary part of my rave experience. It's funny to think on it now, but I can't forget how sad I was to see my bottle in the trash can-graveyard of beverage containers. Later in the night when Rabbit in the Moon took the stage, the bottle seemed a small price to pay to be where I was, with my friends, for my birthday.
Other memories are just brief fragments from the scene, like the random raver who gave me an Ohio University baseball cap when he found out that’s where I went to school (I still have that hat). The sea of tents in an open field for the weekend-long “Family Affair.” Sleeping on the ground at a park after another party waiting for a locksmith because someone locked my keys in the car. Sitting in a line on a warehouse floor, everyone giving and receiving massages. Or stashing fliers for upcoming raves picked up off the floor in my backpack. They are all brief, but vivid, memories.
The backpack: An urban survival kit
Toilet paper: check
Paper and pen: check
Glowsticks (optional): check
It reads like a child’s summer camp checklist, but these were my backpack essentials before heading to a rave. The “kid” moniker we ravers gave ourselves certainly fit.
Water was the ultimate necessity. I learned very quickly that you couldn’t count on rave promoters to provide potable water. The more underground venues, like abandoned warehouses, often didn’t have running water at all - you were lucky to get porta-pots. The more “upscale” club-style venues would charge for it. And the fear of dehydration was very real. After one night of dancing without a water bottle, I felt like a marathon runner crossing the finish line without a drop of liquid along the race route - parched, hot and dizzy. I honestly thought I might be the one raver to make the news for something other than drugs, “Girl hospitalized for dehydration after night of dancing at rave.” Luckily it didn’t come to that, but it’s safe to say I never forgot that water bottle again.
Toilet paper was a close second to water. I would often stash an entire roll in my backpack before heading out the door for the night. There’s nothing worse than a porta-pot without paper. If I forgot it, the first stop of the night would be to the bathroom to nab some before it ran out. Friends in need would get carefully torn off and rationed squares; we had to have enough to last till morning.
The rest of my backpack stash was more for fun than survival.
Paper and pen came in handy to jot down the names of people I met along the way.
When tired feet and shins begged for some downtime off the dance floor, a few well-chosen toys could pass the time. They also made great gifts when you crossed paths with someone on ecstasy. You wouldn’t believe how much joy a cheap McDonald’s Happy Meal toy could provide someone rolling on E. The smiles were infectious.
And glowsticks came out on the dance floor, where one person could create a personal light show with the sticks in hand. A good dancer with glowsticks was living art, melding the body’s movements to the music with the neon green lights to create a blur of intricate and beautiful patterns.
Beyond the backpack, the rave fashions could best be described as urban: low-rise baggy Jnco jeans with cuffs so huge your skate shoes would barely peek from beneath, extra-large T-shirts or baby tees for the gals, childish pigtails or sharply angled short haircuts, glittery makeup, body piercings.and tattoos.
All kids must grow up
Though I still fight my “grown-up” status to this day, the fact is I did grow up -- and out --- of the rave scene.
I hadn’t consciously joined the rave scene and I didn’t purposely lose touch with it either. I didn’t wake up one day and just decide I’d had enough of the subculture. But as I got older and the scene evolved, the innocence of it seemed to disappear and with it my sense of belonging.
My friends and I graduated from college and went our separate ways. I continued to go to the occasional rave but it just never felt the same. The crowd was younger than ever making me feel conspicuously an elder and an outsider. And the vibe seemed to have lost its hippie leanings, in favor of a more hardcore edge. At the same time the venues were becoming less underground and the prices were rising to match.
There were a few pivotal moments toward the end of my rave days that made me rethink going to parties. I was coming to the sad realization that what I used to believe in was either gone or perhaps had only existed when an innocent mind ignored the negative side of the subculture. I remember, for example, seeing someone passed out on the floor of a party after taking the drug “Special K” (ketamine) and thinking to myself that he missed the point entirely. How could he enjoy the music if he was so high on a horse tranquilizer he couldn’t even move?
The dancing had changed, too. I felt like an audience was scoping out the dance floor, interpreting the dancing as an invitation. I missed real, almost tribal, dancing, where I could get so wrapped up in the moment that everything melted away except for the thump, thump, thump. I longed for uninterrupted dancing where time stands still leaving just me and the music. I still miss that.
Mostly, I no longer felt a part of the community - and though I would go back in hopes of finding it again, it seemed to have moved on without me.
Then again, maybe I had moved on without it. Despite my best efforts to prevent it, I was growing up. Staying up all night on the weekends, when I had a full-time job during the week, was getting more and more difficult. And I was less willing to put up with a dingy bathroom without toilet paper. I was becoming jaded and no matter how much I wanted it to feel like it did in the beginning, I had lost my place in the community.
The rave subculture is a part of me, even if I’m no longer a part of it. It’s also a part of the mainstream world around us. Television ads use the “rave” music and scenes of young people dancing to sell their products. Old-school toy icons, like Hello Kitty and Care Bears, have taken over store shelves. The design-style of flyer art has influenced everything from magazine ads to product packaging. Some of the top rave DJs now spin in mainstream clubs. Teens everywhere are wearing those baby tees with low-slung (though arguably tighter) jeans. Even video arcades have welcomed the rave culture with the popular dance-to-win game “Dance Dance Revolution.”
And all those raver buddies from college? They are all leading very different lives as university professors, journalists, club DJs, graphic designers and parents. We are definitely all a little older and more responsible these days. Yet, for the most part, we are as close as ever, some even closer. I guess you could say we all grew up and out of the rave culture together.
As for me, I still carry my urban survival skills with me to this day. If toilet paper is running low when I’m out at a club or restaurant, I put some in my pocket for later. I can sleep just about anywhere no matter how loud it is. And I still get a little panicked if it’s hot and I don’t have a water bottle.
More importantly, I strive to keep the community’s ideals of sharing, giving and caring alive in my life. I learned the power of a smile and a hug, and hope I’ll always be able to give them freely.
But the rave’s biggest influence on my life, without a doubt, was an appreciation of the power of music. The right music at the right time can move me. It leaves an emotional imprint that transcends time with the push of the play button. It can carry away all my troubles, or help me deal with them. And in the end, it somehow makes my world feel just a little bit more complete.
I know the music of my life will change, but as long as I keep listening, I’ll always be where I belong.
© 2005 Johanna Hoadley. All rights reserved.
The 411: knowing where to go in the underground
You might be wondering how, if the rave subculture was so underground, someone in one city would know about parties hundreds of miles away.
The answer: Guerilla marketing.
Rave flyers were an inexpensive and effective way to reach the intended audience. At any given rave, promoters from the entire region would be passing out flyers promoting their event. The best flyers were colorful eye candy, and hard to miss even if they were dropped on the floor of a dark warehouse. And ravers would seek out the flyers, not wanting to miss the next big event.
Each flyer would have minimal information, usually just the names of the performers, the city it was planned in and a phone number for the infoline. On the day of the rave or shortly before, the infoline would be updated with more detailed directions to the party. Sometimes the directions led to a map point, where you would buy your tickets and get further directions to the actual venue.
© 2005 Johanna Hoadley. All rights reserved.
The beats: A glimpse of the music
Here’s a brief, and far from all-inclusive, list of recordings from my CD collection that carry me back to my rave days.
I Care Because You Do
(Sire Records, 1995)
Banco de Gaia
Live at Glastonbury
(Planet Dog Records, 1996)
The Crystal Method
(Outpost Recordings, 1997)
Dewdrops in the Garden
The Future Sound of London
(Virgin Records, 1994)
(Transmat/Fragile Records, 1997)
The orb’s adventures beyond the ultraworld (double album)
(Island Records, 1991)
(Internal Records, 1996)
The Rabbit in the Moon
Remixes, volume one
(Featuring remixes of music by Goldie, Orbital, Velocity and others)
(Hallucination Recordings, 1998)
Winx (Josh Wink)
Left above the clouds
(Nervous Records, 1996)
© 2005 Johanna Hoadley. All rights reserved.
The lowdown on lingo
411 - n. - another word for information. Its roots are from dialing 411 on the telephone to get directory assistance or “information”
ecstasy - n. - the drug MDMA (Methylenedioxy-n-methylamphetamine), which is purported to create a feeling of euphoria or happiness for users. Also known as simply “E”
kids - n.. - ravers’ name for themselves and others in the subculture
party - n. - another word for a rave.
rolling - v. - to be under the influence of the drug ecstasy (MDMA). Rolling is to ecstasy as tripping is to acid (LSD).
© 2005 Johanna Hoadley. All rights reserved