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.

Cost aside, finding a space may be the single most nerve-racking aspect of any promoter's job. In theory, it's easy: Drive around a lot and look for rental signs on the side of some anonymous-looking behemoth of a building--usually in the far suburbs or, this being the Midwest, in rural areas. (Every seasoned raver in the five-state region has partied in a barn at least once.) In practice, however, it's much more difficult, since most warehouses are reluctant to rent their spaces out to parties primarily attended by teenagers, particularly if those teenagers are reputed to be sloppy, graffiti-scrawling, lysergically fueled hippies.

The Family's unsuccessful Wishbone party of 1998, for instance, didn't find its space--the Augsburg College basketball arena--until a week before the party. And, as Sarah Nichols, Thai's girlfriend, put it: "We only had an hour and a half to set up. And we were supposed to only have 20 minutes. There was a basketball game going on [before the party] and we had to sweep the floor and put away the bleachers and everything." One of the reasons the crew is reusing the Armory for Love is that the facility has an in-house staff who takes care of the cleaning.

The third major expense--about $2,000 to $3,000--is lighting and sound equipment, which is rented for the evening and operated by the owners. And the final major expense is security. Among those who think keeping it real means keeping it illegal, Family Werks parties are often dismissed simply because of the fact that their preferred security force is uniformed, off-duty St. Paul police officers. (Five will be used for Love. "And they get paid a lot," stresses Olson.) Of course, what dissenting ravers love to overlook is that if the cops aren't involved, the party is officially illegal and can be shut down. "We've never had a party shut down, and the cops' involvement is why," says Rossi.

The cops aren't just a way to safeguard the event against legal hassles. They're also there to deal with drugs: kids out of their heads on drugs, kids smuggling drugs into the event, and kids selling drugs inside. "What people don't realize," says one Werker, "is that the people who throw raves are completely different from the people who go to them." Several members of the crew have gone through the seemingly prerequisite heavy pothead phase and they look down on "tweakers" who insist on partying high. They're twice as disdainful of DJs who indulge on the job.

"Stupid kids are always like, 'Here you go, Mr. DJ,' giving them shit," says J.R. "It's pathetic, man--they take that shit and then they blow sets and play out records for too long."

Nevertheless, nobody--from the crew to the officers they use to secure their parties--is kidding themselves about the presence of drugs in the rave scene. "If some kid takes acid on their way to the party and comes in on it," says J.R., "there's not much you can do."

 

By Saturday, February 13 at 4:45 p.m., when Matt Noble-Olson and Jeff Lathrop pull up to the St. Paul Armory, the members of Family Werks have considered every possible scenario--from blowout to burnout--in their collective consciousness, and they're ready for anything. The first thing Matt and Jeff see as they reach the building is the 50,000-watt generator parked outside, which the Pie Shop's delivery driver, Mickey, picked up last night with the company truck. As they enter the building--basically a high school basketball court with a delivery truck parked in the middle of the floor--they're greeted by J.R., Ed, Skye, Long, Jeff, and several peripheral friends and Family Werkers. They're assisting the crew of Dynamic Smart Light in turning a half-dozen seven-foot metal poles into a pair of long arms from which DSL will hang their lasers, spotlights, emulators, and disco balls.

After a number of long sleds holding dozens of folding metal chairs are spread around the room, a 20-foot Ryder pulls in, packed to the top with speakers from Slamhammer Sound. After everything is unloaded from the truck, Jeff, J.R., and Skye (the acting stage manager for the evening) help the Slamhammer folks place three of the roughly four-by-six-foot subwoofers (known as "bass bins") in front of the stage. A couple of high-powered speakers are also wheeled into the kitchen-lunchroom area, which will function as a second DJ room where the drum 'n' bass crew Jungle Vibe Collective will spin records. Once this is finished--almost three hours later--Olson heads out to pick up DJs Boogie and Miss Miss, the main stage's first acts. Other folks grab a basketball from the maintenance office and unwind with a few games of 21.

At 8 p.m., Sonik Boom of Love, a local dance act who will perform third, shows up to assemble their equipment just as Skye and his friend Edgar Sanchez leave to bring Thai and a friend to the Central High Valentine's Day dance, where they'll do some last-minute promoting.

"I'm gonna probably get 100 messages today," Skye says over supper at the Malt Shop after the mission has been completed. 'Hey, Skye! Hey, I haven't seen you in a long time, man! Say, you doin' that Love thing? [whispers conspiratorially] Why don't you let me in there, man?'"

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