Generation Ecstasy Comes Down

Congress thinks the RAVE Act is a natural high for the War on Drugs. But ravers aren't smiling.

A rave just isn't a rave anymore. During a recent "Underground Culture 2" party held above the Babylon International Café and Gallery, a petite brunette waits with a friend in the bathroom line, which is quite long because only one stall has a door on it. "God, I haven't been to a rave in forever!" she yelps to the other girl. Something about the combination of the venue's tacky, salmon-colored walls and the fact that the girl uses the word rave to describe the party she's at makes you want to smirk: She sounds like a parent using the word shindig to describe a kegger.

Still, the brunette has a point. This party is one of the only DJ-oriented events that have taken place in Minneapolis outside the well-trafficked clubs in many months. A few years ago, this party would have been deemed mediocre in comparison to some of the massive underground events being held in ice arenas and warehouses across the metro area. Tonight, though, "Underground Culture 2" is a rarity that's causing young adults to bound from room to room with a skip in their step. What these kids might not know is that if the U.S. Congress has its way, this type of event may soon be resurgent, as a new piece of far-ranging drug-war legislation threatens to chase electronic music out of clubs and other legal venues.

Over the past few years, the mainstream media has capitalized on parents' worst nail-biting uncertainties by divulging the dirtiest secrets of the rave--including some people's use of "club drugs" like MDMA (commonly known as Ecstasy). Films like 1999's Go and 2000's Groove have depicted the scene with some element of accuracy; "undercover" segments on local newscasts nationwide have found in raves yet another thing to fear (along with vicious house pets, unpredictable weather, and poorly made children's toys). In part as a response to this attention--and the added scrutiny of the police and city inspectors--DJs and promoters of rave-type events moved their events into clubs and other legal venues in order to survive. The end result of the migration can be seen every Saturday at the Quest, where local DJ/promoter Jack Trash and his cohort Rich Best keep a stream of headlining DJs circulating through Minneapolis for the benefit of electronic-music lovers.

Trash's former partner, local rave godfather ESP Woody McBride, suggests that the scene isn't as "punk rock" as it used to be. Still, parties are surely safer than they were before--clubs have seasoned security staff and procedures for medical crises--and for the time being, they're legal. Now, the U.S. Senate might change all that. That great debating club is responding to the global dance-music community's widely used (and admittedly cutesy) acronym P.L.U.R. (Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect) with a more frightening one of its own: R.A.V.E. In June of this year, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) proposed the "Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act of 2002," referred to as "the RAVE Act" (s.2633). Citing the National Drug Intelligence Center, the bill claims that "raves have become little more than a way to exploit American youth." And it asserts that coded flyers, glowsticks, pacifiers, and even bottled water are blatant indicators of drug use by patrons.

Sponsored by senators Durbin (D-Illinois), Hatch (R-Utah), Grassley (R-Iowa), and Leahy (D-Vermont), the bill amends the federal "crack house law," which makes it a felony to furnish a space for illegal drug use. The original statute applies to the owner of a fixed indoor location--like a crack house. The RAVE Act extends culpability for drug use to those who "open, lease, rent, use, or maintain any place, whether permanently or temporarily...either as an owner, lessee, agent, employee, occupant, or mortgagee." In this manner, party throwers, promoters, club managers, landlords, or even owners of a farm or campground could be prosecuted for the Ecstasy use of patrons. Violators could face both felony charges that could bring 20 years of prison time and a stiff civil penalty of up to $250,000.

This isn't the first crackdown on raves of its kind. In June of 2001, Patrick and Thorston Pfeffer, owners of Florida's largest nightclub, Club La Vela, were indicted under that state's "crack house" statute. Five months later three New Orleans concert promoters, including DJ Disco Donnie, were indicted under the same law for throwing parties in the State Palace Theater. Both the Florida and New Orleans cases were successfully challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and thrown out--though several federal prosecutions have already been successful. Senator Biden's more widely targeted RAVE Act has tiptoed through the Senate Judiciary Committee relatively unnoticed until recently, and it is considered uncontroversial by Senate leadership, who could pass the bill by unanimous consent in its next session.

"Unfortunately, most raves are havens for illicit drug use," says Senator Biden in a press release issued by his Delaware office (Biden did not return City Pages' calls requesting comment). "Enacting the RAVE Act will help prosecute the promoters who seek to profit from exploiting and endangering young lives. The RAVE Act will help spread the message so that today's kids and their parents will know the risks of taking Ecstasy, and what it can do to their bodies, their brains, their futures."

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