It was the first time I'd ever heard a DJ say "Amen." Half a dozen of us were gathered at a cluttered, fairly rundown two-story house in the Philips neighborhood that serves as a focal point for F.U.S.E. (Focused Underground Spirituality Environment). The walls were lined with fliers, the floor was stocked with stereo equipment, and one house resident, a bearded 24-year-old named Dave Olson, was leading a prayer. The assembled prayed for a shared friend who was trying to get out of an abusive relationship. They prayed for another resident, Matt Shively, who was trying to deal with job stress brought on by the holiday season. Then they prayed for the house itself--that the next owner might extend their lease, prolonging the existence of the only Christian raver house in town.
The idea for F.U.S.E. came to Olson and Shively two years ago, as the pair were beginning a friendship based on a common love of electronic music and a strong Christian faith. The two friends, in therapeutic terms, had just hit bottom: Olson had recently finished an unhealthy relationship; Shively had seen a handful of friendships dissolve. And they were both troubled by a deeper, more universal concern: Why was the rave scene--supposedly so liberating--doing damage to so many?
"Most of the people that we invited into the scene and the music would go through this decline from the moment they started going into it," says Shively, a lanky 22-year-old with a distracted smile. One night they prayed together, and the next day a minister that Olson had met at a Duluth DJing gig called them out of the blue.
They took the call as a sign, and eventually signed a lease along with Kevin Weeden and Nate Olson, two friends who shared their interests in Christianity and the dance scene. A year later, the group holds Bible study sessions on Sunday nights, and its weekly discussion session draws up to 20 people every Thursday night. The house zine, Breaker, is in its fifth issue, and Shively and Olson are still in the scene and making music. As DJ Avian, Shively spins a mix of ambient, trance, and experimental techno, while Olson composes and performs his own trippy techno as DJ Maud.
In a sense, the group's presence on the scene couldn't come at a better time. In the last year or so, local dance culture has been losing its sense of intimacy and community for a number of reasons: arrogant DJs, greedy promoters, Adidas-clad fashion fascists, and drug-scarred newcomers who seem to get younger every year. This past summer, a few friends of mine came back from a weekend camp-out rave with stories of tweaked-out high-school kids whose faces were pocked with open sores from having been picked at obsessively.
F.U.S.E. was also there that weekend. "We found people kind of drifting up towards our hill," Olson says. "We didn't have that great of a system, but it seemed to be a lot more calm up where we were." The group wasn't there to proselytize for ecstatic ravers, but to add another dimension to what they consider an already spiritual function. "In a way, it's church to a lot of people," says Shively of raving. "They look forward to it to give them peace, and to give them release."
Hoping to nurture that spirituality in a quieter context, F.U.S.E. has been effective in moving the conversation into the living room. Each Thursday night F.U.S.E. and friends meet for open-ended ethical discussions based on questions that are drawn from a box, such as: "How can I stop judging people superficially?" or "How do you define poverty? Is there anything good about it?" To peripheral participants, this is as far as interest in F.U.S.E.'s activities goes, but to others it's a prelude to asking for support, often through prayer.
"We get answering machine messages like 'Hey, can you pray for this?'" Olson says of the various afflictions his friends describe. Yet evangelism isn't necessarily F.U.S.E.'s main objective, and there's nothing pushy about their message. (They've worked to steer away dogmatic Christians who've shown up at their parties and cornered attendees with testimonials.)
"We'd all like to see people come and really see God work," Olson says, "but we also don't want that to be forced upon them." Instead, he insists that the house members stay together because they care for their friends in a way that echoes the waning values of the early techno slogan PLUR ("Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect"). "God really wants us to love people, and that's what we see as our number one goal," Olson explains.
Which can be manifest in both solemn group prayers and electric parties. The F.U.S.E. house has hosted parties 200 strong that have never been busted. Emily Posselt, who works closely with the house, remembers one night when neighbors had come over to complain. "I went upstairs, and I was like, 'OK, God, insulate the house. Just distract the police, just whatever. Put walls around the house.' And you could say it was coincidence, but everything was fine. Everybody had a really good time."
F.U.S.E. meets Thursday and Sunday nights; call 722-1696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.