The Life of the Party

Start with $12,000, 20 teenage entrepreneurs, and a crowd of anywhere from 200 to 2,000. Let's see you throw a better party.

But there are still other costs to be covered: hotel rooms for out-of-town DJs, a generator to power the massive sound system, food, drinks, and various incidentals. For now, J.R. says, they should defer these costs "till the day of the show, just like we always do." Decisions finalized, the meeting comes to an end with the group drawing up posters to hang at rave-oriented retailers like Let It Be and Cynesthesia that will explain the Roy Davis Jr. disaster.

The meeting is adjourned, and one of the most productive, efficient groups of young businesspeople you'll ever meet wanders toward Thai's bedroom down the hall and soon launches into what becomes an hourlong wrestling match. The battle royal begins with the breaking of Thai's bed frame and continues into the living room. J.R. tackles Skye, gleefully yelling "the Afro versus the Italian 'fro!" in reference to Skye's puffed-out 'do. J.R. sends him into the wall, smashing a framed picture, and for a moment it seems like common sense and rug-burn have worn the combatants down. But after a short series of tests, Skye's shoulder seems in good enough shape to begin the match anew, and he lunges into action.

Finally, the fight comes to an end with Long Nguyen giving J.R. a three-minute sleeper hold. But the unwieldy celebration continues the next night. J.R., Ed, Long, and Thai have just finished DJing at the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, and the gang, about 14 strong, winds up at the Riverside Avenue Perkins. They ask their waiter to indulge them with a mountain of straws, which he provides, and J.R. and Jeff set about fashioning a five-foot-long überstraw. J.R. attempts--and fails--to drink water out of a glass placed two tables away, and when that grows tiresome, his wandering eye falls on the glass of a Werker who has made the mistake of leaving his drink unattended. Grinning, he pours an array of condiments into his friend's beverage, and, with reserved glee, remarks, as much to himself as any possible spectator: "Think about it. We throw $20,000 parties."

Lords of the dance? The Family Werks crew: Jeff, Mercia, Pepe, J.R., Matt, and Thai
Lords of the dance? The Family Werks crew: Jeff, Mercia, Pepe, J.R., Matt, and Thai

 

Edward and J.R. Springer grew up near St. Paul's Grotto, an area between Thomas and University Avenues. "We used to hang out on my mom's retaining wall and watch the drug dealers," J.R. reminisces one Friday night during one of his DJ sets at the Foxfire. "No summer camp for us!" Their mother Janet raised the pair on a nurse's salary after their father died in 1988 (J.R. was nine, Ed five). Shortly thereafter, J.R. entered junior high and began what he calls his "problem-child phase"--breaking into cars, stealing, getting high. After a couple of years, Janet put her foot down and J.R. curtailed his behavior. But he didn't start to find any real "direction," until 1995, when he attended one of First Avenue's weekly dance parties.

"I went to First Avenue on Sunday night for the first time when I was 16," he recalls. "When we got there, there was a line around the block. I just fell in love with the way ravers looked--it reminded me of disco. I started going every week, and it made me realize there was more to life than sitting around and smoking weed. I felt like I'd found myself."

Soon the Springers and the future members of Family Werks--all students of St. Paul's Central High--started going to every party they could find out about. A multiracial bunch--the Nguyens are Vietnamese, the Springers have a black father and a white mother, Skye is second-generation Italian American, Jeff's mother is Peruvian--they stuck out in a Twin Cities rave scene that remains, for the most part, white. J.R. and Ed were the first kids in the group to start buying (and later spinning) house records, and eventually J.R. decided to throw parties of his own.

At first these were held at his mom's house. J.R. threw five parties between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day 1997. ("We'd been evicted from the house we were living in by the end of February anyway," he says, "so we didn't give a fuck.") Soon they moved their events into lofts and warehouses, alternating between hip hop at one gathering and house music at the next. After noticing that they were losing money on hip-hop shows and making it back on their house-based followups, the group decided to stick to house music, and their events soon became proto-raves.

Their fifth major event proved they'd made the right choice. Although J.R. had doubts about whether it would work--"most people want dinner and a movie for Valentine's Day," he laughs--the first Love party, thrown on Valentine's Day 1998, drew close to 1,000 people. Lathrop, who was behind the scenes counting the money for most of the night, recalls his amazement when he finally went out at about 3 a.m. to check the event for himself.

"Paul Johnson was spinning this track and had taken all the bass out," he says, "and he was lit from behind by a green light. All of a sudden he dropped the bass back in, and everybody on the floor went nuts. I turned to J.R. and we just hugged each other, saying, 'We did it, man!'"

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