Sunday, April 17, 2005

Tales of An Unrepentant Raver

I guess my electronic fever really got started with the now faded decade of the nineties. I mean, as a child I loved disco (“How do ya like it, how do ya like it?”) and then moved on to the dancey new wave stuff of the eighties (“I could be happy, I could be happy”), but nothing has tapped into my inborn dance fever like the stuff that started popping up in the rave scene and has mutated into... well, all the stuff that’s floating around now.

In 1990, my best friend came out to me and my status as a fag hag was cemented. I was ecstatic, because I loved dancing and all the best dance places were gay clubs. Suddenly I had tons of guys to go with. The down part was that it was happening in L.A. and I was living in Berkeley. Damn.

Then a couple months later, my good friend and party buddy in the Bay Area came out as well. Wahoo! Another dance buddy! We hit up the dance clubs and grooved to the house music, but it wasn’t until we went to check out 808 State (with surprise special guest Bjork) in late 1990 that we heard what we had been missing. Not that 808 State was so amazing (although their track “Cubic” remains of staple of the movement), but the music that was played before and after the band had us moving in such a frenzy that we had never moved before. And we wanted more.

Our first “rave” was at a club on 6th and Mission. There were about 40 people there and one guy kept running around, saying, “Hi! I’m Robbie the Gnome! Thanks for coming!” He shook everybody’s hand. He was Rob Hardkiss, and with his brother Scott, was going to DJ the evening. (These two have gone on to become world renowned DJs.) Anyway, the music was kicking ass (and for many, the drugs kicking in) when one of the amps caught on fire. Wow! Pyrotechnics too? No, no... but I did end up becoming a member of a permanent guest list to make up for the experience at future “parties.”

Some of those songs are classics in the dance scene now... Eon’s “Spice” - which sampled the Who and the movie Dune... T99’s “Anasthasia” or the battle hymn from L.A. Style, “James Brown is Dead.” But these harsh electronic workouts began to give way to more grooving cuts like MI7’s “Rockin’ Down the House” which featured a drum’n’bass remix (in 1991!) and had a dub flavor, or the organ laden “Bombscare” from Two Bad Mice with the bassline that was so low, you felt it in the floor, which was exactly what I was doing by 1992 when it was all the rage.

At this point, the raves were starting to get huge, and my friends and I were out every weekend waving our arms in the air, rubbing each others hands because the drugs were “so great” and getting home at 10am. And I was a mellow one. (And I never wore flowers or floppy hats. Ick.) Lots of people kept it going for days at a time, never sleeping, just moving from party to party... I went to one rave where we all met in a parking lot on Berry Street in SF, were loaded up into Ryder moving vans and then taken to some empty warehouse and left there to dance till 6am. A friend once asked me, “Couldn’t they have taken you to a mass grave or something?” I was stunned. I’d never even considered it. So friendly and tight was the scene for so long that I couldn’t see anything bad coming out of it.

Of course, all good things come to an end. The place where you could dance in your own little world and just get into the music was replaced by parking lots filled with carnival rides and tents filled with DJs and guys trying to score on all the girls on ecstasy. 2 Unlimited was being played as the background music for sportscasters or the NBC sweeps period. The saddest thing for me was that there was no longer a place to go dance without getting hit on. Besides, at this point I had a boyfriend and I was starting to stay home a lot.

The upside was that the music continued to change and grow. More organic stuff got tossed in like bongos and saxophones. Early jungle was this frenetic mix of ragamuffin dancehall and speedy techno, which evolved into some of the drum and bass stuff out now. Slower, loopy beats were woven into ambient stuff or soul. The Bay Area actually has produced some of the more interesting sounds of the decade: Freaky Chakra and Single Cell Orchestra concentrate on the electric rhythms and the jammin’ Mephisto Odyssey serves up funky techno. Matmos delivers experimental squelchy groove. And today it's all over... The Chemical Brothers (formerly Dust Brothers) and Moby have pretty much been there since the start, now Death In Vegas, Crystal Method, Basement Jaxx and the like carry it on. I've always gotten a kick out the fact that if you travel the world, the unifying party music seems to be either Bob Marley or electronica.

There’s some fabulous stuff out there, and even though I can’t relive my glorious days of drugs and dancing, I can always take these things home with me, close the blinds, and turn up the music real loud...