Midnight, Saturday, and we're prising our way through a jungle
of hyperactive limbs, exploring the maze of murky catacombs and
fluorescent grottos that is The Labrynth, a hardcore techno club in
North East London. The ultra-violet radiation makes teeth glow with
an eerie, extra-terrestrial hue. It also highlights the dancers'
Ecstasy-ravaged complexions unflatteringly.
First thing you notice is that every other boy is wearing a
woolly bobble hat, despite the fact that it's like a sauna in here
and that 80 per cent of body heat exits via the your head. The
next thing you notice is that an awful lot of kids here seem to
have flu. Why else would they be rubbing Vicks VapoRub on their
necks, or surreptitiously passing around tubes of nasal decongestant
spray? In fact, it's another drug enhancement technique; the
menthol fumes increase the Ecstasy buzz, and the tingly feeling of
the ointment on the skin helps to bring on a "rush".
The Labrynth's denizens are young, proletarian, mostly white
kids from the East End and from Essex, a county on the periphery of
London. Along with the North of England, Essex is one of the UK's
techno strongholds. Although both are very much part of rave
culture, techno is quite different from house music: it's almost
entirely non-vocal, and has little relation to disco or black pop
tradition. There are many kinds of techno, but right now the style
that's all the rage is "hardcore", which is fast-paced (130-140
beats per minute compared with house's 120 b.p.m.), bass-heavy, and
Next on the itinerary is The Breakfast Club in Central London,
which starts at 5AM and goes on until midday on Sunday, drawing a
hardcore of the most maniacally committed dancers. The clientele
are mostly male, gaunt and rough-looking. Despite a intensive
bodysearch on entrance, inside there's no shortage of disreputable
types who whisper offers of drugs: "whizz" (speed), "charly"
(cocaine) and various brands of Ecstasy. On the floor, the
atmosphere's somewhere between a Nuremberg rally and a soccer
match. Apocalyptic and bombastic, the music's an ambush of sound
and fury, cyber-Wagner fanfares, bass-quake uproar and blaring
samples. Juddering, staccato rhythms enforce a new kind of
dancing, all twitches and jerks, like disciplined epilepsy. Close-
cropped boys dance like they' re engaged in kung fu with an
invisible adversary. Others mold their hands into the shape of
cocked pistols and shake them in cryptic, combative patterns.
"The rush is ON", proclaims the MC in a hoarse Cockney holler.
Drugs have a lot to do with the hardcore vibe. Most tablets sold as
Ecstasy are concoctions of amphetamine cut with valium or LSD. Some
kids "neck" (swallow) as many as five in a night, at $25 a shot.
The hardcore fashion for face-pulling or "gurning", probably began
with someone afflicted by temporary ampetamine psychosis. When
you're buzzing on speed, you want to dance frenetically, to tracks
that are "nutty", "turbo-mental", "kickin'", "bangin'", "bone"
(boneheaded), tracks that come in "Nosebleed" mixes and are
broadcast over "plate-shaking" sound-systems.
But amphetamine hasn't just whipped up the tempo, it's changed
the whole vibe of rave culture. Speed promotes megalomania and
aggression, rather than E's effusive, tactile intimacy. You can see
the difference on the dancefloor. The kids seem self-absorbed, lost
in autistic bliss. In the words of Human Resource's hardcore anthem
"Dominator": "I'm bigger and bolder and rougher and tougher/In
other words, sucker, there is no other/I wanna kiss myself".
Pleasure is expressed in a masochist slang of concussion and
cretinised catatonia: on a good night, you're "faced" (off your
face), "sledgied" (into oblivion), "cabbagded" (braindead).
Complaining that it's so fast all you can do is headbang to it,
the older rave crowd dismiss hardcore as "the new heavy metal".
Alienated by the barbarian influx of techno's young, male fans,
they're trying to institute "the garage revival", a retreat to
smooth, soulful, song-oriented house. For their part, the techno
youth detest "that garage shit" as bland, pseudo-sophisticated,
mediocre jazz-funk. Battle lines have been drawn.
* * * * * * * *
Brash, brutal, rowdy and rampant, European techno is produced
and consumed by an almost entirely white subculture. LA Style's
sacrilegious stomping anthem "James Brown Is Dead" proudly
proclaims techno's lack of soul, its severance from black music
history. But the irony is that when it first emerged, techno was
the elegantly minimalist brainchild of black Americans obsessed
with an idealised image of Europe. The story of techno begins in
late Seventies Detroit where three teenage friends - Derrick May,
Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins - were literally electrified by
the sound of Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express". Kraftwerk turned
May, Saunderson and Atkins into Europhiles and Futurists,
infatuated with Visage, Ultravox, Depeche Mode, New Order - groups
whose cold, clinical precision was the opposite of black music's
fiery passion and healing warmth.
Juan Atkins was the first to make music, as early as 1981 with
the electro era outfit Cybotron, and then in 1985, as Model 500.
Soon afterwards, Kevin Saunderson (Reese) and May (Mayday, Rhythim
Is Rhythim) recorded tracks too. May's "Nude Photo" and "Strings
Of Life" stripped disco of its flash and dazzle, turned it into a
theorem. Superficially icy and austere, the music manifested a ne w
kind of "soul", in the sheer power of the rhythms and the
crystalline poignancy of the arrangements.
But techno was always a small, neglected subculture in Detroit,
whose membership has never been more than a few hundred. Even now,
with new artists and labels springing up constantly, there are
still only two techno clubs in the area (Industry in Detroit itself and Vertigo in nearby Windsor, Canada). "There's a sceptical attitude to new things here," says Derrick May. "There's no young beautiful community bubbling. Detroit is like a ghost town".
"British techno is made for raves, so it's in-yer-face, but Detroit
techno is mind-music, it's a more isolated sound," says Richie Hawtin, co-founder of the hip, Windsor-based label +8. Nonetheless, May, Saunderson and Atkins' ghostly, ghost-town tracks, made in a void, went on to spawn a huge British subculture.
Neil Rushton, a British pop entrepreneur who'd licensed the early
tracks, sold the idea of a "Detroit Techno" compilation to Ten Records. Kevin Saunderson's pop-techno outfit Inner City had two huge world-wide hits with "Big Fun" and "Good Life". But then, abruptly, it all started to go wrong. Disillusioned, Atkins and May dropped
out of music; Saunderson took Inner City in a disastrous "soul "
direction. But the seed had been sown. "Our absence opened the door for a lot of novices in England," says May, who's only just returning to music. "And the door was called 'bleep'."
The Nineties began with a new breed of UK whizzkids making records in their bedrooms, using cheap samplers and outmoded Analog synths (because they sound more artificial, more futuristic, than the latest digital computers), fired up by a do-it-yourself fervour
redolent of punk. Warp Records in Sheffield was a hotbed of talent, with groups like Forgemasters, Sweet Exorcist and the brilliant LFO; Manchester had A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State. But early UK techno's finest moment came with Orbital's "Chime", a shimmering mantra of hymnal minimalism. Recorded in a couple of hours for a
few dollars, "Chime" went on to become a Top Twenty hit.
Orbital are two brothers, Phil and Paul Hartnoll, from the London commuter belt town of Sevenoaks. They represent the progressive wing of the techno underground; they record poignant techno-symphonies like "Belfast" as well as rampant floor-fillers,
and are one of the few groups who improvise when they play live. Sadly, their exploratory approach became marginalised as the hardcore mentality solidified in 1991. These days virtually any musical illiterate can cobble together a white label 12 inch by
tossing a few samples from current tracks over a looped, sped-up breakbeat. The market has been flooded with limited edition white labels, whose obscurity makes them highly-sought after by DJ's competing to to play the latest, most underground tracks,
regardless of long-term worth. Such consumer fetishism fits only
too well, say the Hartnolls, with the hardcore scene's "work hard,
play harder" ethos, where you slave all week to pay for the
weekend's excesses, such is the inflated cost of clubbing and
"Everbody goes out on Friday night and again on Saturday," says Paul Hartnoll. "They take their so-called Ecstasy, have a totally mad time, release all their frustrations. By Monday, they're deadbeat zombies, saying 'yes sir, no sir'. All week they're just waiting for Friday. The drugs and the lifestyle subdues them into accepting the drudgery of working life".
While the likes of Orbital chafe against the dominance of manic b.p.m., others have embraced hardcore. Altern-8's Mark Archer and Chris Peat began as Nexus 21, making Detroit-influenced 'armchair techno' that, unlike hardcore, didn't depend on a huge club system to sound good. When they started to make hardcore tracks based
around seismic bass, gimmicky samples and frenetic break-beats,
they invented Altern-8 as a frivolous alter-ego, in order to keep
Nexus 21's reputation clean. But Altern-8 took off so hugely that
Nexus has been put on hold. With their scams and their wacky
outfits (chemical warfare protection suits and gas-masks, which
simultane ously mock the idea that techno is "faceless" and turn
anonymity into a marketable image) Altern-8 are KLF-style
pranksters. Their Top Three hit "Activ-8" featured a sample of
their label boss' five year old daughter saying "nice one, top one,
get sorted" - a slang phrase for getting high on E that completely
bypassed the BBC censors. Appearing on Top Of The Pops, Altern-8
got the cameraman to zoom in on the jar of Vicks they'd put on top
of their sampler - the equivalent of flaunting a bong or coke spoon
on prime time TV. Their latest single "E-Vapor-8" cheekily
manages to compact two drug references into a single word.
* * * * * *
A pop historical analogy: in the Sixties, British groups like
The Stones, Yardbirds, Cream, listened to Robert Johnson, Muddy
Waters, etc, then created their own stylized version of the blues.
Then a new generation of bands, raised on white blues and ignorant
of the original Black American music, arose with their own
coarsened, monstrously exaggerated version of its lust and
aggression. They called it "heavy metal". In the mid-Eighties,
urban blacks in Chicago and Detroit, inspired by Kraftwerk and DAF,
created their own version of Teutonic electronic dance music. By
the early Nineties, a new generation of white European kids,
ignorant both of Kraftwerk and the disco tradition, emerged with
their own brutal, simplistic version of electronic dance. And they
called it "hardcore".
Talk to rave culture afficianados and you start to hear the
same language that appalled counter culture veterans used to
dismiss heavy metal: techno's been "bastardised", "corrupted",
"degraded", it's macho, bombastic, a soul-less travesty, fascistic.
"I don't even like to use the word 'techno' because it's been
prostituted in every form you can possibly imagine," says Derrick
"It's almost as though the Detroit pioneers have spawned a
Frankenstein monster", says rave culture commentator Louise Gray.
"Back in 1988, there was a vague manifesto behind acid house clubs
like Trip and Hedonism, to do with creating some kind of community.
But the next generation of ravers only picked up on the speed of
the music. On the hardcore scene, people are shoving five tablets
of E down their throat a night, in the same way they used to pour
ten pints of beer down their throats."
For people like Derrick May and Louise Gray, hardcore techno
offers the paradox of a degraded avant-gardism, a futuristic music
that's mired in conservatism. In their view, techno can't really
progress, because it lacks any sense of its own history. Certainly,
it's true that techno is in deadlock at the moment, that there's an
intense turnover of tracks but little real advance. But for me,
what's exciting about hardcore is precisely its closeness to rock's
aggression, noise and visceral impact. There's a different vibe to
rave culture today than the heady euphoria of 1988/89. Just as
psychedelia turned heavy in 1969/70, so rave music's energy has
turned sinister. It's no coincidence that one of the top hardcore
clubs in London goes by the name of Rage. Hardcore is a mad jumble
of emotions, a mix of the celebration of rave and the fury of punk.
All it needs is a group to take that abstract anger and make it
explicit, and you could have the birth of a new insurrectionary
Warriors in the "fight for the right to party", Spiral Tribe
believe techno is an inherently revolutionary music. A shadowy,
nebulous collective, Spiral Tribe organise illegal parties and out-
door raves, and record and distribute their own white label tracks.
They're part of the crossover between the rave scene and the
"crusty" subculture (squat-dwelling anarcho-punks, nouveau hippies,
and downwardly mobile slackers, who got the name 'crusty' from
their matted dreadlocks and apocalyptic garb).
Hoping to interview the Tribe, I find myself in a dilapidated
squatters' house in North East London, the site of one of the
Spirals' weekly illicit parties. Ten years ago, an equivalent squat
party's soundtrack would have been dub reggae or hippy rock. But
tonight, a thick, tactile web of techno-voodoo rhythms pulsates
through the murk. Gyrating light-beams glance off walls mottled
with dry rot and mildew, illuminating the Spirals' cryptic
insignia, or refract through the curlicues of marijuana smoke.
Downstairs in the chill-out room, assorted figures huddle by a gas
fire, rolling joints. Some snort ketamine, a drug that's suddenly
returned to favour with the seriously psychedelic wing of rave
culture. Originally a veterinary anesthesic, at low doses ketamine
induces a sensation of disassociation and floating. Current slang
terms for the drug are 'baby food' (users sink into a blissful,
infantile inertia) and " God' (some users are engulfed in a
heavenly radiance, and, if they're at all religious, become
convinved they've met the Almighty).
A week later I finally get to interview the core members of
Spiral Tribe in the aftermath of another party, this time at a
derelict pub. Upstairs, survivors lie slumped and glazed on soiled
mattresses. On the wall, someone has aerosol-sprayed a pentagram
with the number 23 in one corner. The uncanny power and
omnipresence of the number 23 is one of a motley array of
supernatural beliefs to which the Spirals subscribe. Expounding
the Tribe's anarcho-mystical rave creed, bobble-hatted spokesperson
Mark has the visionary gleam of a prophet in his eyes.
"We keep everything illegal because it's only outside the law
that there's any real life to be had. The real energy in rave
culture comes from illegal dance parties, pirate radio stations,
and white label 12 inches that bypass the record industry
altogether. Rave is about people creating their own reality. Last
summer, we did a party that went on for fourteen days non-stop.
It's a myth that you need to sleep. Stay awake and you discover the
real edges of reality. You stop believing in all the false reality
that was hammered into you from birth."
"In the old days, rock bands had to go to record companies and
sign their souls away just to be able to put out a record." says
Seb, a dishevelled, saucer-eyed music student who's largely
responsible for Spiral Tribe's mutant techno, although he refuses
to be credited on the EP because the Tribe's credo is "no money, no
ego". "But now cheap technology means anyone can do," he continues.
"Just compare the music released on white labels with the stuff
released by major companies - you can taste the freedom.
Rock'n'roll had that freedom once, but very briefly, before it was
turned into a commodity. The industry turns energy into money. We
want to release the trapped energy."
In the week I've been chasing them for an interview, Spiral
Tribe have been lying low after being the brunt of police
persecution. Following a rave in rural Wiltshire, 34 of them were
arrested, their vehicles were trashed, and the phone line they use
to publicise the location of Spiral events was cut-off. Undaunted,
Spiral Tribe are gearing up for what they anticipate will be "the
maddest summer since 1989", a non-stop conflagration of illegal
raves and altercations with the cops. Kicking it off will be "Sound
System City" on June 21 (Summer Solstice). The aim is to hold a
massive rave as near as possible to Stonehenge, the mystic stone
circle in Wiltshire. Stonehenge was a traditional Solstice
celebration site for hippies and pagan worshippers, until the
police instituted a four-mile exclusion zone around it a few years
ago. This followed a bloody battle with "the travellers", hippy
nomads who wander up and down the British Isles attending "free
In the old days, the staple fare of the free festivals was hippy
trance-rock like Hawkwind and Here And Now. But now the travellers
have turned onto rave music. "They recognise that it's free music,"
says Seb. "Last years festivals were the best attended in years,
with the widest range of people ever." The Spirals intend Sound
System City to be the culmination of this process, and the dawn of
a New Age. While they recognise that the club-based hardcore scene
is just the latest version of the working class 'living for the
weekend' ethos, they like to imagine people coming to their parties
and seeing the light. "Sometimes, people come to our parties and
say 'fuck it, I'm not going to work tomorrow'," says Mark. "Next
thing, they've sold the house, bought a vehicle, and they're
sorted." 'Sorted', in Spiral Tribe parlance, means more than just
fixed up with E, it means attuned to a new reality, 'spiral
reality'. Like a lot of apocalyptic sects, Spiral Tribe combine
paranoid conspiracy theories with fantasies about returning to a
lost golden age. They call their philosophy 'terra-technic', which
is all about using technology to unleash the primordial, female
power of the Earth. "Like music from primitive or non-Western
cultures, techno's based on harmony and rhythm, not melody," says
Seb. "With our music and our parties, we're not trying to get into
the future, we're trying to get back to where we were before
Western Civilisation fucked it all up."
* * * * * *
Famous for its chocolate, lace, and political neutrality,
placid Belgium has been a major player in the techno revolution.
Since the Nineties began, Belgium has unleashed a steady stream of
hardcore tunes that have incited pandemonium on the dancefloors of
Britain, Europe, and, most recently, America. The office of
Belgium's leading techno label, R&S Records, is overshadowed by the
Gothic glory of St Baaf's Cathedral in Ghent; turquoise-and-yellow
trolleybuses cruise past the window, relics of a quainter era. In
the Middle Ages, Ghent was the centre of the European wool trade;
today it's at the crossroads of the global traffic in techno. R&S
are Renaat and Sabine Van De Papeliere, a husband and wife team
who look like any thirtysomething professional couple. But last
year, the pair sold more 12 inch singles in Belgium than all the
major labels combined. In the summer, when the Belgian Top Ten was
swamped by rave music, the disgruntled majors decided to stop
funding the chart. The result: there is no pop chart in Belgium.
The Belgian story began with a late Eighties dance craze
called New Beat. DJs started to spin house records at 33 rpm rather
than the correct 45 rpm records, creating an eerie, viscous,
trance-dance groove. At the height of New Beat, remembers Renaat,
the Ghent club Boccaccio "was like a temple. Everyone was dressed
in black and white, dancing this weird, robotic dance." When
groups like Lords Of Acid and A Split Second started to make
records with that uncanny, slow-motion beat, they were hugely
successful in Belgium and a fad-of-the-month everywhere else. The
bubble soon burst, but not before New Beat had ended Belgian pop's
inferiority complex . As the Nineties progressed, the b.p.m.
accelerated, as DJ's started playing techno with their turntables
set to + 8. And like with New Beat, groups started making records
at that speed: "Acid Rock" by Rhythm Device, Second Phase's
"Mentasm", T99's "Anasthesia". Belgian hardcore was born,
characterised by what's been dubbed "the Belgian hoover" effect, an
ominous drone that sounds like a diabolic choir or a swarm of
For Renaat, the appeal of techno is that it's resurrected the
generation gap - it's the new noise that parents and older brothers
just can't accept as music. Even those who should know better, the
punk veterans, can't deal with it, although their complaint is
that's techno's not subversive, just mindless noise that reduces
listeners to braindead zombies. But although techno has no explicit
politics, Renaat thinks it's implictly utopian, allowing people to
create their perfect world on the dancefloor. "Because there are
no words, it leaves your imagination totally free. The way parties
are developing now, it's exciting to enter that total fantasy
wold. You can escape from everything."
Although Belgium still leads the way with the music, Renaat says the frontiers of clublife are being pushed back in Rotterdam, Frankfurt, Berlin. He raves about a
club in Cologne where temperatures reach tropical levels and DJ 's
wear oxygen masks, about Berlin's Tresor, a disused bank vault
that's been turned into a strobe-blitzed body-bath of naked, sweat-soaked flesh. And he dreams of holding a Techno Woodstock, on the same site in the US as the original festival, but modelled on Berlin's annual rave carnival 'The Love Parade'.
The techno starting to come out of Berlin and Frankfurt is insanely frenetic and mercilessly dissonant; DJ's are talking about 180 b.p.m. as a plausible goal. Others are saying the pace has got to come down or people will be dropping dead on the dancefloor. Renaat is starting up an R&S subsidiary called Apollo that will specialise in more ambient and meditational techno, like Jam and Spoon's serene "Tales From a Danceographic Ocean" EP. But Renaat
still loves hardcore's Dionysian frenzy. His latest signings are The Aphex Twin (a London-based prodigy who makes his own instruments) and Mescalinum United (apocalyptic, industrial noise from Frankfurt). And R&S' star producers are a pair of hardcore
boffins only just out of their teens, Joey Beltram and CJ Bolland.
Brooklyn-based Beltram revolutionised techno twice before his twentieth birthday, with "Energy Flash" and Second Phase's "Mentasm". A DJ since the age of 12, Beltram is unusual in that he's a huge rock fan - he worships Metallica and Queensryche, and sampled
a Robert Plant orgasm on a track called "The Omen". The vibe of Beltram's tracks is as baleful as Black Sabbath and as frenzied as thrash-metal.
By contrast, CJ Bolland typifies a new generation who never listened to rock'n'roll. Born in Newcastle, England, but raised in Belgium, the teenage Bolland loathed the sound of guitars
but loved Electronic Body Music (Severed Heads, Skinny Puppy, Front
242). Bolland's music takes Body Music's sinister, industrial
textures and replaces its stiff beats with rave music's stomping
sync opation. His masterpiece is Ravesignal III's "Horsepower":
imagine "I Feel Love" if Giorgio Moroder has made it with
Schwarzenegger in mind, not Donna Summer. But Bolland recognises
that hardcore's reached a creative dead end. "Most new tunes aren't
tunes anymore , just a very hard kick and a very mad sound. In
Belgium, people have gotten so into the drugs that the music is
made to cause a reaction on that drug. If you hear it when you're
straight, it won't do anything for you."
* * * * * *
Belgian and British hardcore has spawned a thriving underground
of techno-freaks in New York, who congregate at "Future Shock" (
Limelight on Fridays) and "Adrenalin" (Palladium on Thursdays).
Initially, techno was the preserve of Italian youth from Brooklyn,
Bensonhurst and Staten Island. In the first years of this century,
the Italian Futurists worshipped technology and speed, and
prophesised a new music based around 'the art of noises'. In the
last decade before the millenium, young Italian Americans worship
the high velocity, futurist noise that is techno.
"Fifty per cent of the kids are just into the music," says
Lord Michael, the DJ/producer who introduced techno to the Staten
Is land/Bensonhurst crowd, and then lured them into the Manhattan
clubs. "They get off on the aggression, 'cos New York's a very
aggres sive city. The other fifty percent are taking Ecstasy or
acid. Some of them smoke PCP. It's wild."
Wild is the word. At the Palladium on Saturday (a transitional night, alternating between
'happy house' euphoria and techno mayhem), a huge hole opens up in
the dancing throng. Brawny Italian American boys jostle and
ricochet off each other. These kids are slamdancing. In a disco.
"If you weren't into the music, you'd think these were violent,
angry people", says Romeo Romeo, who MC's at Adrenalin and other
techno nights. "But really it's just a way for kids to release
themselves. With techno you don't have to dance well, you just let
yourself go." Recording as The Revolution, Romeo is developing a
style of hard'n'fast rap-style vocals, that he calls "rage". Maybe
' rage' will evolve into the insurrectionary techno-punk I
fantasised about earlier.
These days, the New York techno scene has opened out somewhat,
while remaining almost entirely white (although techno seems to have a mysterious allure for Asian kids) and suburban. "Most of the kids come from outside Manhattan, from Long Island, New Jersey, New York State, Conneticut," says Moby, a Future Shock DJ and techno
artist. Moby's "Go", a moody, atmospheric track that sampled the
'Twin Peaks' theme, was a big hit in the UK. "I'm glad it's opened
out more, because the Italian contingent were too into macho
posturing. I supported The Shamen when they played the Limelight
earlier this year, and I was looking forward to playing to a
homecrowd , but it was depressing, like performing in a
At 26, Moby is relatively old for a techno whizzkid. As a teenager, he was a hardcore punk fan and briefly played in the seminal drone rock band Flipper. The weird thing about his
conversion to rave culture is that Moby is a Christian, straight-
edge vegan who abstains from alcohol and drugs. "I'm ascetic, but
at the same time, I love drug culture. If you look at the Sixties,
the music and the art that came out of drugs was so interesting.
Personally, I prefer adrenalin highs, and I would never encourage
anyone to do drugs. But I like being in a nightclub where 5000
people are buzzing on them. As for my religious beliefs... well,
the first rave that I know of was when the Ark of Covenant was
brought into Jerusalem and King David tore off all his clothes and
danced like crazy."
Despite Moby's Biblical precedent for raving, and the Limelight's stained glass windows, the atmosphere at Future Shock is closer to a pagan bacchanal than anything ecclesiastical. The metronomic beat and sequencer-riffs thresh and scythe, and it's
like being fed through a pop abbatoir. Young bucks with slicked-
back hair and sideburns barge into the fray, stripped to the waist
with T-shirts hanging out of the back jean pocket like Springsteen.
The pace escalates, from the stealthy voodoo throb of D.H.S. "House
Of God", through the out-of-control carousel that is The Prodigy's
"Everybody In The Place", to the epileptic intensity of F.U.S.E's
"F.U.". At this speed, just about all you can do is
oscillate. Or headbang. Or pogo.
While New York has a hyperactive techno scene, for real
rave culture, you have to look to Los Angeles and the West Coast.
The British idea of driving out to secret dance parties in secluded
locations could never be transplanted to New York because so few
people have cars. But LA, with its vast infrastructure of freeways
and population accustomed to driving large distances for entertainment, has proved to be the ideal environment for raving. As with most cities, house and techno began as the preserve of a hip club scene, mostly twentysomethings with a high proportion of black,
Hispanic and gay participants. But in the last 18 months, hordes of
white suburban teenagers have turned onto techno, and parties have
swelled from select gatherings of eight hundred people to huge four
or five thousand raves. And like Britain, the scene has shifted
from illicit warehouse parties to legal, highly organised mega-
events, complete with expensive light/video/lazer shows and massive
In some respects, the LA rave scene has overtaken its UK
prototype: it has its own techno radio station, MARS, and a
magazine, Urb, dedicated to documenting and articulating rave
culture. The LA scene has also developed its own ideas about rave-
enhancing drugs: Ecstasy and LSD are big there as everywhere,
but so are mushrooms, crystal meth and nitrous oxide (laughing
gas). At raves, vendors sell balloons full of laughing gas, and
there was a recent tragedy in which a gang of kids asphyxiated in
a car after leaving a nitrous oxide canister open.
For some drugging and dancing are purely hedonistic, a way of
letting off steam at the weekend. But others on the West Coast
scene see rave culture as a spiritual revolution. Perhaps because
the city was the Mecca of the psychedelic era, the San Francisco
rave scene is developing a Nineties version of Timothy Leary's
"politics of ecstasy". The idea is that hypnotic lights and lasers,
bass-heavy trance-music and the hyperventilation induced by hours
of aerobic dancing, all combine to create a blissed-out state of
"higher understanding". The next step will be "cyberdelia",
combining music with a computer-generated "virtual reality" to
provide the ult imate holiday from everyday life.
"They're starting to call DJ's 'digital shamen' here," says Todd Roberts from Urb
magazine. Like Spiral Tribe's "terra-technic" creed, it's all about
using futuristic technology to go back to the ancient purpose of
music: communal release through ritual, non-stop ecstatic dancing.
At LA's Club Fuck, neo-pagans heavily into bodypiercing and ritual
adornment dervish-dance to the voodoo uproar of hardest-core
techno. It's an End of the Millenium freak-out - apocalypse now.