"E" is for Econ

From illegal parties to sanctioned blowouts, rave culture has been heading overground for years. But will it find ecstasy in the mainstream?

Finding a rave is more like a search-and-destroy mission than a party hop. Your first stop is the local dance-record store, where you might spy a Xeroxed "pre-flyer" for a party three months hence. A month later, you'll pick up a glossier flyer covered in graphics, with a list of DJs and a hotline number. The day of the rave, you call the number, and a recorded voice tells you where to go for directions and tickets. When you get them, you're inevitably directed toward some remote chunk of suburbia or farmland. One gets the feeling that rave organizers would prefer the instructions be rigged to self-destruct five seconds after being read.

Such secretive rites are holdovers from rave culture's illicit origins. In Europe during the late '80s, all-night shindigs were widely held in unlicensed warehouses, and elaborate precautions were taken just to keep them from getting busted. But cops caught on, and as the trend worked its way into the mainstream, rave culture became Europe's club culture.

In 1998, most raves held in Minnesota are perfectly legal, and the tradition of flyering and phone calls is preserved mostly for fun. "It's commercial enough now that you might as well advertise it on the radio," says Matt Krawczyk, a 20-year-old DJ who is co-organizing this weekend's three-day outdoor rave, Origin. Krawczyk had his share of hassles with rural officialdom--Origin's been moved once from its initial location--but in the end, he says the biggest local rave of the year will also be both insured for liability and cleared by property owners.

"Music sounds better with you": The sonic boom and communal secrecy of heartland rave culture attracts a new generation of "'ardkore" beatniks
Mark Wojahn
"Music sounds better with you": The sonic boom and communal secrecy of heartland rave culture attracts a new generation of "'ardkore" beatniks

It's a far cry from the mid-'90s, when illegal "storm raves" dominated the local party scene. "Discovering this scene was like finding a conspiracy," says Jerusha Rone, Krawczyk's 19-year-old Origin partner, who was 14 when she attended her first rave. "In a way, it was simpler then because you didn't have to worry about buying insurance or providing security." But clued-in cops and wised-up warehouse owners have since chased local raves into rented gymnasiums, ice rinks, and (more than ever) clubs. That doesn't mean the Cities are going the way of Europe any time soon--the bulk of the audience is still under 21. But as audience turnover slows, that too could change.

DJ-entrepreneur Woody McBride--godfather of the local rave scene--says clubland is the culture's next frontier. It's an ironic twist. Techno was initially an import from European to American clubs, and McBride was instrumental in taking techno out of the disco and into the warehouse, where it found a larger, younger audience.

McBride got his start at First Avenue under the tutelage of dance-party pioneer and eventual REV 105 music director Kevin Cole. But in the early '90s, McBride (a.k.a. DJ ESP) began to throw raves and, to this day, ravers cite his Minneapolis Organization of Raving Enthusiasts (MORE) as the standard-bearer for the parties of today.

"I was such a bass maniac," he says now. "I was getting in trouble every time we threw a party, because you could hear the system 10 miles away." But since MORE came unraveled three years ago, McBride has left the business of rave-throwing to a younger generation of promoters. He now DJs around the world, runs his various labels (including the well-known Communique imprint), and still throws a party once or twice a year. As a result of his relative absence, though, the rave underground has become something of a free-for-all, with young comers like Krawczyk and Rone vying with established cliques like Encore, Perpetual Groove, and the recently inactive Jungle Vibe Collective. The audience is obviously still there, and many promoters, it seems, are hoping to turn a profit.

In a way, McBride's June 20 Outta Space party, which welcomed Philadelphia DJ sensation Josh Wink, dramatized the nostalgia many ravers feel for the old-school outlaw days. The club-bound concert (promoted by local bookers Compass Entertainment) started during daylight hours at Ground Zero and was completely legitimate. But the "after-party" that followed was in fact a full-blown rave, held in a sweaty second-floor warehouse on East Lake Street with only a turtle-slow freight elevator to transport partygoers. Every one of the ravers I spoke to felt this "unofficial" party was much more fun. Naturally, the police broke it up at 3 a.m.

For the following weekend's June 27 Solstice party, I decide to try my own hand at rave-hunting, starting with a trip to South Minneapolis techno boutique Cynesthesia (2901 Lyndale Ave. S.). Sitting behind the counter is Origin organizer Rone, a tongue-pierced brunette with just the slightest lisp (currently, if you stop by, you can grab flyers not only for her rave but a spate of other happenings). Outside and down the street is DJ Drone's vinylcentric Bassment Records and the clothes pony Lava Lounge. This triad of dance-culture stores makes the Lyn-Lake intersection the raver's Uptown.

On the night of Solstice, though, I need more than flyers and fashion tips. Carless, woefully underpaid rock writer that I am, I call my friend Lewie for a ride. At 11 p.m. I pile into his jam-packed "ravemobile"--a blue '88 Chevy Celebrity with a bumper sticker on the rear saying, "Will be president for food"--and we head south on Hwy. 61.

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