ALICE IN TECHNOLAND

ALICE IN TECHNOLAND

THIS PAST SATURDAY, while Edgefest was presenting perhaps the greatest assortment of mediocre alternative rock bands (demigod Iggy Pop aside) that the Midwest had ever seen, a different scene entirely was taking place on the other side of Wisconsin. Were you to travel about 180 miles east on I-94 from St. Paul, then another 60 miles south down smaller roads into the heart of Wisconsin farm country, you would have ended up at the Eagle Caves and Mountain Campgound, site of the unofficial, third annual Even Furthur [sic]--a three-day "Techno Electric Campout Festival" featuring DJs and future music bands from both coasts, the Midwest, and Europe.

Why unofficial? Well, that's Furthur's way. No advertising, no advance press, just the word-of-mouth of an underground network of ravers, DJs, and assorted dance music freaks dedicated enough to turn out (by most estimates) some 4,000 people despite chilly temperatures and regular downpours. The event's nebulous "organizers" included Milwaukee's Drop Bass Network, a techno record label, DJ collective, and event promotion crew; Minneapolis's Communique, a Drop Bass offshoot overseen by DJ Woody McBride; and Chicago journalist/promoter David Prince.

But what's most remarkable is how the event seemed to organize itself. Without any formal security, the overflow crowd (organizers only expected between 2,000 and 3,000) of mostly teens and 20-somethings tended to its own needs and took care of its own problems. With a DIY spirit that's mostly disappeared from the corporate-sponsored world of punk rock, campers set up oversized tents, trampolines, BBQ pits, impromptu concession stands, and full-on DJ sound systems. In true Midwestern tradition, a number of crews were rolling in a RV stylee (like the Michigan posse traveling with Detroit's DJ Kikoman in what must've been a $100K+ rig), as well as in multi-axle Ryder trucks outfitted with strobes, high-powered lasers, and generators.

The music, therefore, was endless and everywhere. Bass-heavy ambient techno wafted over from one campsite, old-school breakbeats from another, hi-tech dub from yet another. As different beats blurred together with the sounds of the woods (including the noisy fowl in the campground's small petting zoo who was dubbed "MC Peacock"), the effect was that of a perpetual sonic Disneyland. And for the bulk of the campers, most of whom travelled hundreds of miles to be there, and whose music of choice is almost wholly ignored by mainstream media, it was--albeit cold, wet, and ankle-deep in mud--something close to heaven.

Though some of the best mixes came from the large and small sidestages, the heart of Even Further was the mainstage, which hosted progressive live bands throughout the afternoon and early evening on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday's set was capped first by Chicago's heady Rehab, a feedback-heavy guitar-bass-drum trio whose rough ambient style recalls Main or Spacemen Three, except that it's harnessed to shifting techno grooves layered in by a live DJ. They were followed by Minnesota's own Low, who seemed a bit baffled by the scene, but delivered a beautiful and unusual set of their glacially slow pop bracketed by two long, spellbinding free jams.

Of course, the bands were tangential to the DJs, who took the mainstage in force at 10 each night and dropped beats until 8 each morning. Things started peaking early Sunday (or, should I say, this writer started peaking; rave mixing can be subjective that way) with Chicago jungle DJ Phantom 45. Surrounded by wide-eyed supporters--heads bobbing, hands waving, heads following the kinetic ebb and flow as closely as the man behind the turntable, whose every subtle move prompted lunatic cheers--the line between performer and fan was effectively erased. And listening to the mad roars each time Phantom stopped the record to allow a few beats worth of sonic freefall, it was impossible not to see that the music being made was easily as exciting, and vastly more revolutionary, than anything commonly called "rock."

But that's old news. Meanwhile, Sunday morning wound down (or up) with various breeds of acid grooves and hardcore techno. This writer would have preferred to greet daylight with something more gentle and cerebral than 200+ bpm gabber--but the jittery cliques of dancers still working it at 6 a.m. didn't seem to mind. Monday morning's lineup featured some chiller grooves, with U.K. ambient hero Mixmaster Morris headlining at dawn--but some of us had to get back in time for deadline.

Like rock & roll in the late 1960s, it's become impossible to talk about the techno scene without focusing on some people's use of controlled substances. At Even Furthur, along with iced tea and "smart drinks," there was a moderate amount of beer, tobacco, and marijuana in evidence, and other things seemed available to those so inclined, despite guidelines accompanying every ticket that stressed a no-drug policy. But while a few overdid it (including one poor guy who freaked out, busted a car windsheild, and got taken to a local hospital after some friends and two very nice, elderly sheriffs helped talk him down), the bulk of the 4,000 people seemed to know their limits and watch out for one another.

Indeed, Even Further descends directly from Woodstock-era visions of musically and chemically created utopias, although with a healthy dose of '90s pragmatism. At some point during Sunday morning, David Prince told us about his upcoming book, a collaboration with onetime LSD guru and current cancer patient Timothy Leary called Design For Dying, slated for release next year by Harper Collins. "Most of the the money from the advance," he confided, "went into throwing this party." After which he smiled, and dashed off to help the next DJ set up. (Will Hermes)

 
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