Ed Rice's long brown ponytail swings against his lanky frame as he circles the deserted studio space he rents in a squat, unremarkable warehouse in north Minneapolis between Interstate 94 and the Mississippi River. His steely blue eyes appear mildly surprised by the state of the 4,000-square-foot room on this recent afternoon. Under the bright fluorescent lights the space is sallow and drab. Trash bags are piled high in the center of the room. Decorative murals on the periwinkle and seafoam walls are unfinished. With a smirk Rice admits that it doesn't look like much by day.
But at night the place is transformed, he insists. At least it was on three Friday nights --"Liquid Fridays"--in January when Rice held raves here. As he describes the scene, his words are quick and exuberant. He explains where the lighting equipment would hang. He stands in the entryway, roughly blocking out where the ticket booth would be and explaining the security measures his staff would use to make sure the kids coming in weren't carrying drugs. He points to the stage and the front of the room, where the featured DJs spin their pulsating electronic music. His speech is intermittently interrupted by a quiet yawn that seems to indicate he'd be far more comfortable during the nocturnal hours than now, at midday.
When Rice looks around this silent warehouse, he sees an outlet for fringe performers and DJs who are otherwise overlooked in the Twin Cities arts scene. "DJs and other people who create music in Minneapolis don't get much recognition," he says. "It's a cultural thing here. There's not a lot of fringe stuff in Minneapolis that's low-cost."
But city officials look at the same space and see an unlicensed dance club. Media reports have labeled raves a drug-riddled scene, sparking concern among parents and authorities about what these kids might be doing at these all-night parties. What the Liquid Friday fans saw as a place to dance and have fun, Minneapolis police saw as a hotbed of illegal drugs and underage drinking.
After 8:00 p.m. on Friday, January 26, the third "Liquid Friday" was in full swing. Some 500 people paid $10 each to enter the warehouse and dance to the pounding music performed by DJs sponsored by Let It Be Records, a downtown Minneapolis store. But shortly before midnight, long before the party was supposed to break up, the music suddenly stopped and the lights came on. Minneapolis police officers stormed the hall. By night's end, the police had made a master list of names and addresses of all those present, warning them that if they were found at another illegal party, they could face charges. Police had arrested five people, confiscated $5,000 in ticket receipts, and found several fire-code violations. According to Lt. Marie Przynski, a Minneapolis police officer who works in the Fourth Precinct, where Liquid is located, police had found minors drinking alcohol. And they had discovered "$10,000" worth of the drug Ecstasy in plastic baggies, many of which had been discarded on the dance floor.
"A significant amount of marijuana and Ecstasy were recovered from the floor," says Lieutenant Przynski, though she would not be specific about quantities. "A significant number of people had it in their possession, and when the police came they dropped it on the floor."
The outrage was immediate. By the next day, the message boards at MNVibe --a popular Internet discussion spot for ravers--were teeming with notes about the mistreatment of kids by police, under a discussion thread titled "What the fuck!!!! Liquid got fucking busted!!!!"
"Wow, that was unexpected," one note begins. "What I don't get is why the cops were such pricks! I saw a kid just stand up and a cop threw him to the ground, shook him, and then threw his visor." Another message reads, "Parties get busted all the time, and it sucks. 'We' kinda created that, though. The parties seem to be only about drugs for some kids, and it's screwing us over." Another writer posited an explanation for the raid: "If the space is not zoned for commercial entertainment, then you could get a fine and other stuff. I don't see where the police can get off harassing the people at the party though...the promoters, yes...but not the party kids..."
Many of the messages were concerned about the popular perceptions--or misperceptions--of the rave scene. "Because of society's view, and the corruption that has come from how the media has portrayed raves, it will have everybody in Minnesota looking bad upon the situation," wrote one poster. "If the press talks about police brutality, society will be like, 'good for them. They should beat the fuck out of those goddamn drug addicts.'"
The evident frustration among these partygoers stems from their belief that there's a crackdown on raves under way, fueled in part by increased media attention to the parties. By way of example, many point to a November two-part investigation aired on WCCO-TV (Channel 4)--"Raves Undercover"--that announced that the underground dance parties are synonymous with drugs.
Rice believes that police are indeed focusing more energy on raves or any electronic-music venue. "They absolutely are. There's a crackdown on anything they think is rave-related," he says. "I don't know what makes a rave a rave. If we filled up this warehouse and had hundreds of people dancing to country music, would police come and raid that? They make it sound like a crackhouse with music."