Rave The To Grave
It was 2013, I was 40 years old, and I was at Tomorrowworld, the American version of Belgium’s 3-day electronic music festival called Tomorrowland. They used to call these events raves, but there’s this negative stigma attached to the word “rave”, so now they’re called “electronic music festivals”.
So, I’m walking around, and it’s definitely visually impressive. The stage designs and all the special effects look like something you’d see at Disney or some other expensive theme park. Most of the attendees are much younger than I am, and everyone is either half naked or dressed in preppie attire. Lots of tutu’s, furry boots, nipple pasties, stripper styled bikini’s, booty shorts and furry animal hoods. Also, there were A Lot of guys wearing native American feather headdresses. Whatever that’s about.
Anyway, I wanted to go because I was hoping it would be like the Tomorrowland that I heard about in Belgium. I wanted to see what the new generation was doing with the torch that was passed to them by the first generation ravers. The genesis ravers. My generation. Logically, one would assume this culture or movement would evolve and become more, even better. It hasn’t, and it’s heartbreaking. I strolled to each stage and everyone was just facing the stages watching a single person turn some knobs, while fist pumping the air or headbanging. No one was dancing. There were thousands of people there and you were lucky to find a handful of people dancing. It was so incredibly odd to me. Why were they all there? Did they even know why they were there?
“I just think it’s pop culture vs. people who actually love the music. Some of these people have no clue why there are standing in front of these DJs in the first place.” – DJ Carl Cox
The music was the same at every stage. The same monotonous hard beats played along with buildups that went nowhere. The music felt so generic and emotionally void. It was over $100 a day to hear this crap? This music doesn’t make my eyes tear up or give me goosebumps. It doesn’t inspire me or make me want to fly. It doesn’t speak to my soul or allow me to feel connected to the universe like it should……like it did.
I feel like these electronic music festivals are a lot like the movies today. Movies will blast you with heavy CGI or special effects to draw your attention away from the weak story. That’s what “raves” are today. They’re heavy visual effects with just basic or mediocre music.
Anyway, I didn’t stay long. I was so disappointed. I don’t know what I was expecting. I guess, like the other ravers from my generation, I’m just still stuck in an era that can’t be replicated. We all miss it terribly, and nothing will probably ever compare to that time. We were there in the beginning. We were all blessed to be a part of this powerful shift. It was magical. It was global. We took it for granted because we thought it would never end, but it did. Now that I got my “when I was your age” rave rant out of the way, let me tell you what it was like………In the beginning………
The year is 1991, I was 17 years old, and had been going to clubs since I was 15. I was a weekend regular at this club in NY, and the music that was mostly being spun there was house music mixed with some club remixes of Latin freestyle. One night, the DJ spun this new song out of Belgium called “O’Fortuna” to do their midnight laser light show to (laser lights in clubs were just coming out then). It was not like any other music I had ever heard, and the energy of it made me want to dance harder and faster. I knew that night that I was gonna love this kind of music the rest of my life.
In ’92 I moved down to South Beach Florida, and techno was thankfully getting popular there too. I began going to what was considered the “techno” clubs. I loved it. They were playing songs like Rozalla’s “Everybody’s Free”, Praga Khan’s “Injected with a Poison”, KLF’s “What Time is Love”, LA Style’s “James Brown is Dead”, T99’s “Anasthasia”, DJ PC’s “Inssomniak” and of course the very popular “Dominator” by Human Resource. One night, I went to a huge warehouse and got to see the group Apotheosis from Belgium perform that song “O’Fortuna” I mentioned earlier. It was so incredible. In ’93 I went to the first big rave they had on the beach. The air was filled with incense and there were laser animal designs in the air. Most of the people there were from overseas. Yep, I loved raves.
Then, for about two to three years, the techno got really fast, too fast, and it didn’t appeal to me quite as much, so I took a break from it. Instead, I began frequenting the gay clubs and fell in love with their tribal and progressive house. On a typical night, I would go from club to club, and then go to an afterhours that opened at 6am. During those three years, I finally gave in and tried ecstasy for the first time. Up until that time, I was always very anti-drugs and alcohol. All I cared about was music and dancing, but I tried it, and I wished I could say that it was awful, but it completely changed my perspective about Everything. The best part of it, was it allowed me to dance for six to eight hours without getting tired.
It was now 1995 and “techno” began organizing into different genre names like trance, breakbeat, electro house, trip hop, ambient, and happy hardcore. The trip hop and trance stuff started to make its way into the gay scene, and there I was again, madly in love with it and now combined with the ecstasy, it was beyond words or anything you could compare it to. Even fashion at that time went hand and hand with this music. It seemed like every store was selling funky club kid wear. Even if you went to the regular malls, the department stores were selling raver pants and super funky 70s disco type clothing.
I then started going to rave night club events again. Parties normally started late and went until the next morning. The music was mind blowing and everyone danced most of the night. A circle would usually form for people break dancing or liquid dancing. You would also see several massage circles, aka cuddle puddles, and it wasn’t uncommon to become friends with people you met just standing in line for the bathroom or standing in line to get into the club. In between the dancing, you would see many people walking from room to room holding hands like you would when you were kids. Every Saturday though, I went to my favorite club. It opened at 3am and went until 11am the next day. That was mine and everyone’s day to purge all the emotional and mental crap we endured all week. You got dressed up, put on your back pack filled with suckers, toys and glowsticks, took your acid or ecstasy, danced furiously for six to seven hours and then went back to a controlled “reality” for another week.
This was also the year that I went to the very first Zen Festival, a huge rave on the Orlando fairgrounds. It went from 10pm ‘til 10am the next day. The cost was only $25 I believe, and the music was Incredible. We rode up in 4 cars, and once we were there, we never wanted it to end. I remember people had taken those overhead projectors you use to see in high school, and they were using them to project images, made from bowls of colorful oil and water, on to screens and white sheets for cool visuals. This was all before laptops and cell phones. DJ’s spun only vinyl records or would be playing their music live from keyboards or synthesizers. The most iconic song from this time, that will still to this day make an old school raver’s eyes tear up, is “Rabbit In the Moon’s Out of Body Experience”. It’s so hard to believe that was 24 years ago!
From 1995 to 1999 I had gone to every yearly Zen Festival and Hyperspace, and then attended the very first Ultra Fest that was right on the sand at the beach. *Sigh* The first Ultra Fest. Now THAT lineup was the best I had ever seen. I remember them handing out cassette tapes at the entrance that had clips of new trance songs that were coming out. That was a festival I will never, ever forget. I watch the Ultra Festival now and feel awful that the kids today subject their ears to that horrible nonsense, not to mention, the insulting price they have to pay to go. If you are having to use a payment plan in order to go, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
In 2002 I moved back up to NY for a couple years. I went to raves in Canada and local rave club nights. Trance was still incredibly good, but things were beginning to change. Sadly, they cracked down hard on raves. No more overnighters, no more clubs staying open past 2am. I’m guessing a few bad apples that took their drug use too far and ruined it for everyone else, or maybe the cities weren’t getting a big enough cut to allow it to continue. Most of the raves I went to, the cops would be there walking around, just to make sure people were being safe, but they weren’t bothering anyone. There were never any fights at raves, and rarely would you ever see any alcohol served at them. The music and clothing were changing, and the drugs were too. Most ravers were having children and settling down. I guess even I was getting my shit together. I moved to Tennessee to open my practice as a holistic bodyworker and therapist. On the weekends though, I would still crank up my music at home and dance a few hours.
In 2012, I went to the first old school 90s raver reunion back down in Florida. It was held at my old fave Saturday night rave club. It was so surreal, all of us back together again. The club was filled to capacity, and every single person in there was dancing. The only sitting was to rest before getting back up to dance again. My eyes watered as they played Rozalla’s “Everybody’s Free” and Way Out West’s “The Gift”. We tried to have a reunion once a year and then around 2016 we took a break for a few years, but still blew up the Facebook old school raver groups with old song videos.
In February of this year, we recently had a raver reunion at a different club that was also a frequent iconic rave spot. Approximately 1500 old school ravers in their 40’s and 50’s, now with mom-n-dad bods and sore everything, gathered together to dance, reminisce and roll our faces off. Quite a few broke out their old raver pants, pocket chains and Adidas gear. For 6 hours it was 1995 again. For one night, we weren’t parents, we weren’t exploited employees, we weren’t our aches and pains, we weren’t our money problems, we weren’t business professionals and we weren’t middle aged. We were just those 90s ravers again, and music was the most important thing in our lives.
A cool memory that I still have is about this one rave I was at. I remember there was a younger kid there sitting on the ground watching me, and he said, “How did you learn how to dance like that?” My response without thinking was, “The music taught me.” Maybe that’s why no one really dances now. Maybe the music no longer moves them in that way. Maybe technology is to blame. Maybe they’d rather experience everything through their phone. Maybe being able to see the DJ is to blame (we rarely could see the DJ when we went to events). I dunno.
It was such a collective experience back in our day. The drug was the key to unlock our mind, the DJ was the shaman, the music was our guide, and all the people there were our tribe. For many, that was the very best time of their life, so everything after that time seems so bland or mediocre now. No matter what direction this electronic movement continues to go, we should try not to be disappointed or sad because we were there in the beginning before DJ Jesus poses and knob twisting, before cell phones, before awful dubstep, before outrageous prices, before douchey hipster outfits, before Aeoki cake throwing, before shitty knockoff drugs, before shuffle dancing and fist pumping. We must remain grateful that we got to be there before all the price gouging commercialization and pray to the rave Gods that it someday will regain some of its original raw authenticity.
I personally believe that I, and others like me, chose to incarnate in this very era, just so we would be able to experience the genesis of the electronic movement. My suggestion to those of you reading this from the younger EDM generation is to please put your phone away, stop staring all night at the DJ’s (trust me, they’re not really doing much up there), close your eyes, feel the music, DANCE, stop paying hundreds of dollars for these commercialized festivals where the focus is not so much about the music and instead, support the smaller local events that some of the better DJ’s from overseas spin at.
If any of what I have described in this article resonated with you, remember to be more present when you are at any music festival or event, and do your best to not take it for granted. We all did, and now we miss it terribly. That time back then really changed all of us. It woke us up. We see the world differently, even now, years later, because of it. It made us feel a connection with ourselves and others that words can’t even begin to describe. We will forever be grateful for that time and will never give up hope that it will come back around once again. P.L.U.R.
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