It happens in every generation.
Parents hear what the kids are listening to and scream to shut that crap off.
It happened with jazz music. Rock and roll. Disco. Rap.
And of course, it happened with techno.
But something else happened, too. Jazz music, as well as rock, was considered “Black music,” and at the time many racist people shunned these aural art forms because of the music’s roots.
Jazz was called the Devil’s music, and Rock music was said to foster a sense of lawlessness and lascivious behavior. Kids shaking their hips and going wild.
Looking back, most of us would find it ludicrous to consider an art form so benign as Rock and Roll as encouraging deviance; undeniably a good part of this bias was about race.
After all Rock had its roots in rhythm and blues, once called “race music,” as well as country music, jazz, blues, gospel, country, and folk.
Even so, these then-controversial forms of musical expression were not snuffed out by censorship; there were never fines for playing jazz or rock.
But then came techno.
The electronic dance music genre that came to be known as techno had its roots in steady 60 BMP disco, but there were also other influences, such as House Music, rap, rock groups with a heavy synth sound like The Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk, as well as the Grateful Dead’s live second set known as “space.” And lots more.
At 120 BPM, and often faster, techno was a grinding groove, a laser-fast funk. Sure; there were sub-genres that were syrupy and slow, but a lot of the “new music” was racing on at breakneck speed.
Like most new genres, its roots are difficult to pinpoint precisely, and it grew out of the varied sounds of the day.
One thing was for sure: By 1993, techno was everywhere. Staten Islanders started hearing cars passing by with booming sound systems blaring out speedy bass droning thump-thump-thump, and many older people scratched their heads in wonder and dismay.
What was this? Were the kids going crazy? To the older people, it sounded like a washing machine or some industrial equipment.
And of course, that’s to be expected. Shaking their heads, many suggested that this was certainly not music.
But then, that tired old line had been heard over and over again, as each new form of sound became popular. They said it about Rock and Roll. They said it about Disco. They said it about House. And now THIS…
Techno music, and raves, grew in popularity. The styles looked different. Kids wore platform shoes, sported colorful hair, and the androgynous, baggy clothes of both guys and girls perplexed club-goers of previous generations. It was a whole new style, an entirely new sound.
From the outset, raves were seen as something kids should be wary of. Many “outlaw parties” were held in illegal spots, like an empty warehouse or even way out in a secluded wooded area.
There were many such parties on Staten Island and the surrounding boroughs and towns, where groups like NASA, FBI, HFS, and BTS, as well as Frankie Bones and his legendary StormRaves, and so many other production groups, kept kids up all night every weekend dancing the night away.
In the dark Staten Island woods. At an abandoned monastery on Grymes Hill. An indoor riding range out on the West Shore. Anywhere that was out of the way, far from prying eyes. And, far from neighbors apt to call the police asking what that strange and eerie low-vibration hum was. Aliens? Nope. Digging machines tunneling underfoot, boring out new fallout shelters? Uh uhh. Just the local bass-heads soaking up the 45 Hz waves.
One thing struck people as strange: These were strictly no alcohol affairs. The drink of choice was water, and the drug of the day was ecstasy.
Ecstasy, better known as E or X, was an amphetamine analog that created a sense of empathy and wakefulness in its users.
There is presently ongoing research into whether ecstasy, or MDMA (3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) as it’s scientifically called, can help with post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD.
So, that’s what it was! The kids were staying up all night on some weird kind of souped-up speed and dancing like crazy to some kind of music that was bass-heavy and relentless.
Older folks just couldn’t relate. They would go out to discos and clubs, wearing their best clothes, hair neatly blow-dried into a perfect Saturday Night Fever pompadour, gold chains dangling. The ladies looked their finest, dressed to kill. But these new kids just wore baggy clothes, colorful plastic jewelry, and often carried glowsticks. What the…??
Clubs would pick and choose who would be admitted. Rave parties? It was come-as-you-are, and everyone was welcome, all races, classes, ages, and styles.
Want to wear jeans and a tee? Go for it! Want to dress up like it’s Saturday night at Palladium? Enjoy. Want to wear a costume and be a super-freak? No one’s stopping you. Is hip-hop more your style? Welcome! Or, are you into the goth style? Greetings, friends. No one was turned away, unless they came with a bad attitude.
PLUR, a term created by DJ Frankie Bones, a legend in the rave scene, stood for Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect. Raves were inscrutable to outsiders. The idea of kindness and non-judgement was just too much to bear. Was this a new religion, or a night out having fun?
Other notable differences were the ways in which the new generation was seeking altered states of consciousness. Alcohol, long associated with nightlife and dancing, was nowhere to be found. It was shunned like Sharia law had taken hold. There were also “smart drinks” in the beginning years; legal potions containing amino acids, herbs, and vitamins to keep energy levels high without the cost of a hangover or comedown.
It’s no secret that clubs, the longstanding spot for dance events prior to the advent of warehouse parties and raves, were a far cry from a Boy Scouts meeting. There were drugs aplenty at the old-school dance nightclubs, from cocaine to speed, barbiturates known as “yellow jackets,” opiates, benzodiazepines, and of course the faithful stand-in, good old alcohol, in its myriad forms. And of course, the newest drug added to the mix of available inebriants was also present: ecstasy.
While it is true that a few deaths occurred from MDMA, largely due to kids dancing too vigorously without breaks and dehydrating themselves and subsequently raising their body temperatures through the roof, as well as from ingesting fake drugs that were not E, but rather poison, for the most part, users lived through the experience, unscathed.
The rave culture encouraged dancers to chill out periodically, and keep well-hydrated. Therefore, bottled water was a staple at these underground parties. Attendees shared water willingly, reminding anyone in the know of the Water Sharing ceremony in Robert Heinlien’s Stranger in a Strange Land.
There were casualties at raves, to be sure, but then alcohol sent dozens of club kids to the emergency room every weekend to have their stomachs pumped, in the decades preceding, in, and even after, the nineties. In actual fact, deaths from MDMA were, indeed, rare.
Anyone in high school in the 1980s can remember the hushed whispering in homeroom concerning the previous weekend’s overindulgers, talk of those kids who ended up getting their stomachs Roto-Rootered to save them from alcohol poisoning and early death.
Electronic dance music, or EDM, and raves, quickly grew in popularity and became mainstream.
Like all forms of new music that had come before, techno, and its many offshoots, was becoming socially accepted. It could be heard in commercials. On the radio. In movies. Everywhere, really.
But then came Joe Biden.
A bill sponsored by then-Senator Joseph Biden, most likely the man who will be running in the 2020 election against President Donald Trump, introduced the RAVE Act.
The act was the death-knell for electronic music and rave parties.
With a stated purpose of being “A bill to prohibit an individual from knowingly opening, maintaining, managing, controlling, renting, leasing, making available for use, or profiting from any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance, and for other purpose,” the new Act made venue operators wary of renting space for rave parties.
Carrying a civil penalty of $250,000, venue operators would be held responsible if anyone on the premises were found to be dealing drugs.
Oddly, the police were able to arrest and charge music event prompters under this new law if glow sticks and bottled water were present.
What about our guaranteed right of Freedom of Assembly? Freedom of Expression? In the Rave Act were shades of what was to come under the pandemic under certain Blue State governors, a total disregard for our Bill of Rights.
In its introductory paragraph of Congressional findings, the initial form of the Act stated:
“(1) Each year tens of thousands of young people are initiated into the drug culture at ‘rave’ parties or events (all-night, alcohol-free dance parties typically featuring loud, pounding dance music).”
Never before had legislation placed an entire genre of music in the cross-hairs of law enforcement. Oddly enough, as ecstasy spread through our culture, the drug could be found at night clubs, rock concerts, and anywhere else people gathered to enjoy music or simply hang out. MDMA was certainly not exclusive to raves.
In fact, there were many “straight edge” ravers, believe it or not, shunning the use of any mind alterants. This sub-group of party-goers were present in far greater numbers than anyone outside the rave scene might have thought. It just wasn’t true that “you have to be on drugs” to like techno.
And so, a musical genre was now clearly the enemy. Is there pounding bass? Bottled water? Sorry; your venue falls under the purview of this act. Is there anyone present using drugs or selling them? Well, partner, you’re now about to receive a whopping $250,000 fine.
Of course, this stopped the rave movement dead in its tracks. Although raves were generally safe, the new RAVE Act painted a far different picture. Were standard clubs still hot spots for drug abuse, places where you might find club-goers snorting lines of coke off a speaker or a scantily clad young woman’s arm? Sure; but as there was no pounding techno or bottled water, no worries!
The Rave Act also stated, “some [rave promoters] even go so far as to hire off-duty, uniformed police officers to patrol outside of the venue to give parents the impression that the event is safe.”
This was contradictory. Were the authors of the bill suggesting that off-duty police officers did not add to the safety of a rave party? Such a notion is ridiculous on its face.
Having cops there made the events safer, and discouraged open drug dealing and all other sorts of crimes. No night clubs had police patrolling the premises! These dark clubs were, in fact, the seedy dens of iniquity, and could have used additional attention from law enforcement, on duty or off.
More more strange claims were found in the original version of the bill like, “many rave promoters facilitate and profit from flagrant drug use at rave parties or events by selling over-priced bottles of water and charging entrance fees to ‘chill-rooms’ where users can cool down.”
I was alive at the time and attended dozens of these raves. And, no, I never took drugs. It’s against my personal ethics. At the same time, I did drink water, as I danced like crazy. Was the water ever overpriced? Not at all! Can I say the same when I go to a rock, or even country music concert, at any of the major local venues? Hardly!
And, paying to enter a chill-out room? I doubt this ever happened in the history of rave culture. At the very least, I’ve never seen it.
“Thousands of teenagers are treated for overdoses and Ecstasy-related health problems in emergency rooms each year. ”
This was also stated in the RAVE Act. While this may be factual, these overdoses were not always associated with raves. Young people were overdosing in their friend’s homes, at concerts, in parks. Of course, some did also overdose at rave parties, but that was not the only place the drug was consumed. And the greatest risk was overheating and dehydration, not overdosing.
How many kids were ODing on alcohol and being brought to ERs across the country every weekend? The number is likely in the thousands.
So of course, in 2003, the year this law was passed, raves became a thing of the past, for the most part.
Promoters and venue owners did not want to receive fines. The RAVE Act was just too broad, and it was far too easy to fall under its rules.
Imagine if jazz clubs had become illegal, based on attendees at jazz clubs frequently wearing zoot suits, or if there were Art Deco paintings hanging in a jazz club? What if there had been a law stating that scat singing was outlawed, all because some jazz clubs were really speakeasies?
Joe Biden is responsible for attacking an art form. A new sub-culture. Electronic dance music, and raves, were not the enemy. Drugs were. But the law, as it was framed, targeted everyone involved: the musicians making the tracks, the DJs spinning the records, the promoters of the parties, the venue owners hosting the events, and even the patrons.
This was a ludicrous overstep of governmental power, an attempt to “keep kids safe” at the expense of our freedom of expression and assembly.
There’s now an effort to undo this senseless lunacy penned by Joe Biden and his compatriots. Some claim the Act is sheer raving madness.
A petition is circulating to amend the RAVE Act, started by Dede Goldsmith, who lost her daughter Shelley to heat stroke. Shelley had been at an electronic dance music (EDM) concert in Washington, D.C., after consuming MDMA.
Mrs. Goldsmith claims that the 2003 RAVE Act is actually killing kids, rather than saving lives. How can this be so? According to the web site, AmendTheRaveAct.Org, Shelley’s death was not an overdose, but rather the result of, “…a combination of MDMA and dehydration after dancing for hours in a hot, overcrowded environment, which ultimately led to hyperthermia or heat stroke.”
So how is the RAVE Act to blame? Well, Joe Biden and his political allies did not realize that as the act is written, it encourages an unsafe environment for people dancing all night, with or without ecstasy. According to the aforementioned website, “…it is preventing the implementation of common sense safety measures at these events.”
Why? Bottled water makes a venue subject to the RAVE Act. So does a chill-out room. And so, these essential components of an EDM venue have, largely, been eliminated. I’ve been to dance parties in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in recent years. I didn’t take any drugs. Not even Tylenol. And, I almost passed out.
I was drenched with sweat, my heart was pounding. There were people wall-to-wall, we were all dancing like crazy, and there was no place to go to cool off. No bottled water. Only alcohol. As a straight-edger, I don’t drink and so my option was to go to the bathroom and chill out in a stall, taking in the putrid fumes of a public toilet.
MDMA is illegal and I would never condone kids, or anyone, to break the law. But when breaking the law means violating style guidelines and dancing with glowsticks, or by listening to music with a pounding bass line, something is wrong.
Perhaps this has more to do with the fact that techno has its roots in the Black culture of Detroit? Or because its predecessor, Chicago House, was originated by Black artists? We can only wonder. Detroit Techno was one of the earliest forms of this genre. Imagine outlawing Black jazz? Neither can I!
Was this just a war on the “race music” of the nineties? Considering this week’s comment by Biden that “you aint’ Black” unless you vote for him, I just don’t know anymore.
As I mentioned above, there were definitely elements of the RAVE Act that foretold how the Democrats would handle a crisis like the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Overreach of power, much? It’s all par for the course with these guys.
I am a Green Party member, but in the United Sates, the Greens are really nonexistent. I’m definitely not a Republican, but would I rather have Trump in office than Biden?