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."
Minneapolis police, however, stress that it's not the music that breaks the law--it's the lack of a license, the underage drinking, and the illicit drugs. "We're not against the rave. If people want to go out and dance and have fun, more power to them," says Lt. Przynski. "It's the sale of alcohol to underage minors and illegal drugs sold on the premises. That's why we investigated." (Przynski declined to specify when the investigation began, but said it was within 60 days prior to the bust.)
As with most controversies, a chasm separates the outraged ravers and horrified media and city officials. But at the bottom of the Liquid quagmire is something that is at best a misunderstanding, at worst a failed attempt to skirt Minneapolis laws.
Rice used to operate Liquid Café, a teen hangout on First Avenue in Minneapolis's Warehouse District. Last fall, after only a year in business, he ran out of money and closed the coffeehouse. And then, he recounts, he had seized upon the idea of opening a new performing-arts space that would showcase electronic musicians, DJs, and other "fringe" artists. To that end, on December 28, Rice incorporated a new nonprofit organization, the Minnesota Council for the Performing Arts. He rented space in the warehouse at 2921 Second St. N., tucked among printers, steel companies, and plumbing showrooms.
His plan was to use the space as a performing-arts venue for all sorts of concerts and plays, using the money he collected from entrance fees to pay for future events. He contends that he followed all the rules to make sure the building was properly zoned for his new business, and that he called in fire inspectors who green-lighted his plan. He pored over Minneapolis ordinances to see what business licenses he might need. He didn't need a liquor license, as he planned to sell only water and soda at Liquid Fridays. And he thought he didn't need a general entertainment license--it's called a "place of entertainment license" and covers concerts, plays, and dance performances--because nonprofits are exempt from needing one.
But here the saga hits a snag: Even though he believed he didn't need the general entertainment license, Rice went ahead and applied for it in mid-January, because, he says, "it's not that expensive and it's nice to have something to hang on the wall." Rice went ahead and starting holding Liquid Fridays, because he believed he didn't actually need the permit. He held a preview show on January 12, followed by the grand opening on January 19 and the January 26 event that was subsequently busted by the police as an unlicensed dance.
The problem, according to Julie Casey, a license inspector with Minneapolis's Licenses and Consumer Services division, is that even though nonprofits do not need general entertainment permits, because Rice applied for it he needed to wait until he received it to begin his events. And all that doesn't matter anyway, she explains, because Rice's Liquid Fridays are not concerts--they're dances. And if you hold a dance, you don't need a place of entertainment license, you need a dance-hall license. Rice has not applied for that, and if he had he may not have gotten one: Both Casey and the City Attorney's Office contend that the north Minneapolis warehouse is not properly zoned to have a dance hall.
Casey's voice grates in obvious irritation as she discusses Rice's error. "What he described is not what he's doing," she says. "He said he was going to do a musical concert. That's not what was there. He's operating as a dance hall." Casey says she's skeptical that the location even meets the requirements for a dance hall, which include registering the change of use of the space (it was formerly a sound studio), making sure it's up to fire code (Casey estimates that only 200 people would be allowed in the space at one time, versus the 500 who were present on the night of the raid), and maintaining adequate parking.
Rice contends that he thought he had jumped through all the appropriate hoops to have his arts venue. When he first began discussions with zoning officials, they thought he was proposing a nightclub and denied him permission to open (police found the letter of denial when they raided the warehouse on January 26). Rice, however, says he explained that his business is not a nightclub because it doesn't allow drinking or smoking.
"In this case somebody made a big mistake," Rice declares. "I don't know if it's us, in thinking we were properly licensed, or the police."
The city is expected to act on Rice's January application for a general entertainment license this week. The licensing department plans to recommend denial of the permit, but the city council makes the final call.
Regardless of whether he secures a permit, Rice has a long road ahead of him before Liquid Fridays start up again. Police say they will bring charges against people at the party, and Rice may face a number of citations for business violations. In addition, the city plans to deny his application for an entertainment license, which could count against him if he eventually applies for a dance-hall permit. And as for his nonprofit, of the four board members Rice had tapped, two dropped out after the police raid, and Rice says the other two don't want their identities known.
After all this, Rice maintains what could be a naively optimistic view that he can get Liquid up and running again. To that end he says he's trying to cooperate with city authorities and would be pleased to do whatever Minneapolis regulations require. "I'll apply for the extra permit, even though the people I've consulted with assure us we don't need it," he says. "I want to get back to doing events here as soon as we can be assured that we're not going to have another raid."
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