Friday, June 30, 1995
Section: FRIDAY MAG
By Jim Sheeler Camera Staff Writer
It's a place where humans and machines move as one. State-of-the-art lights sweep the floor and fire bursts into the crowd. Lasers pierce the people with tiny red dots. Slimy residue from synthetic fog coats the dance floor.
Nearby, incense fills a tiny room where heavy-lidded heads bob and sway with the music coming through the walls. To the side of the dance floor, a bare-chested man drinks from a bottle of clear liquid, holds a torch near his mouth, and spits a stream of flame four feet into the air.
It's 3 o'clock in the morning on May 14 at what used to be the Olympic Bowling Alley in Boulder, and the party called Babylon is living up to its name.
"Chaos," says Rob Bullock, his eyes darting around the party. "Babylon is the city of chaos."
As the promoter of Boulder's biggest rave party and head of Odyssey Productions, 24-year-old Bullock is counting on chaos - organized chaos - to pay off. For 12 hours, he'll walk the line between order and mayhem, the magnification of excess, that makes a good rave party. As more than 2,400 people pour through the door, this one is just getting started.
Rave parties on the scale of Babylon are rare in Boulder, but rarely a weekend goes by - especially during the summer - when there's not one nearby, either at a warehouse in Denver or at an outdoor site in the mountains. As the parties get more popular and more elaborate, they're also becoming more mainstream. After several up-and-down years, rave has turned pro.
Rave began in the late 1980s in England as all-night freeform dance fests centered around the stuttering computerized drumbeats of techno music, and quickly spread to the United States. Since then the rave scene in Colorado has had its peaks and valleys. Depending on whom you talk to, the scene died down a couple years ago as a result of police crackdowns, poorly promoted events and/or bad drugs.
Recently, well-organized production groups - often led by young rave veterans such as Bullock - have resurged in ultra high-tech, well-organized events. With names such as Skylab and Labyrinth and tickets costing up to $20, the parties are pushed via fancy, high-quality flyers by promoters trying to lure ravers - mostly age 16-25 - to the parties.
Another party called Babylon held at the Boulder Theater last year set the stage for this year's fete. As with most of the new parties, tickets are sold in advance at record stores and skate shops. Partygoers willingly pay $13 to $15 in advance or $17 at the door to enter Babylon.
Putting on a rave is a far cry from trying to organize a house party or a school dance. Bullock spent four months organizing the event, and spent nearly a year landing his headliner, Super DJ Dimitri from the New York band Deee-Lite. Before the party even started, Bullock had paid out $18,000 in deposits for equipment and to guarantee that the out-of-town DJs would show up. The entire party cost about $24,000 - money he garnered through his own finances and that of investors. After the party was over, it took Bullock four days to get the venue clean.
During the party, Bullock is frazzled. He never has a chance to relax and have fun with his guests - he's too busy maintaining the chaos. Still, he says he plans to do Babylon again next year, and is planning another party for the fall.
"It's all worth it when you go to another party and you hear something about Babylon - I guess it's an ego thing," he says. "You can hear people saying "That was the best party of the year.' That makes it all worth it."
The location of the parties still is kept secret until the last minute - ravers must call a number to find out where the party is, and sometimes meet in a specified area to pick up a map and buy tickets. But they're no longer kept secret to throw off authorities. To the contrary, the police were invited to the party (though they chose not to come inside) and were informed about what was going on, and Bullock applied for a stack of necessary permits and hired a private security staff.
"It's a necessity," Bullock says. "You don't want to pay $20 and have the party shut down (by police) an hour after you arrive. It also keeps things safer."
Kids under 21 complained when the old bowling alley was shut down - it was one of the few places left in Boulder for young people to hang out. With parties like Babylon, Bullock and his crew gave the alley back - if only for a night.
Despite the increased production costs, the party still is about the music, and the lineup of DJs make or break the rave. For the 12 hours of Babylon, Bullock lined up 17 DJs from around the country. Utilizing both vinyl records and digital samplers, low-tech interacts with high-tech, giving the DJs their signature sound. At 120 beats per minute, it's a signature that's scrawled into your brain with a hot, wood-burning pen.
"I've never sweat so much in my life," says one girl spilling off the dance floor.
"Even in aerobics?" her friend asks.
"Yeah, even in aerobics."
Everywhere on the dance floor is the blur of "glow sticks" - the fluorescent green tubes traditionally given to kids by safety-minded parents on Halloween. In a way, the rave is kind of like a safe Halloween. There are plenty of costumes, some scary, most fun. And, according to Bullock, it keeps the kids off the streets.
"Kids are getting older as they're getting younger," Bullock says. "There's not much for a 16-year-old to do."
That sentiment is echoed by patrons of the Wednesday night Sunshine party at the Marquee Club, 1109 Walnut, which spins house music all night in the closest attempt at a centralized, regular rave.
While the promoters won't always admit it, drugs are prevalent. Ecstasy (methyldioxyl methamphetamine) remains the most popular drug, but marijuana and LSD also are easily found.
Less than an hour after arriving at the party, it wasn't difficult to spot one of the main drug dealers. He was a very popular guy.
"Hey, man. I got your beeper message today, but I couldn't get back to you. I've been so (expletive) busy today. Everybody wants something."
"So what do you have?"
"I've had to go back and get more already. What do you want?"
The drugs are largely used to intensify the effects of the droning dance beat, as well as pump up the raver's energy levels to keep up with the party. A free flyer detailing "street facts" about Ecstasy describes the feeling as "sensual yet not necessarily sexual, beautiful and sometimes dangerous, Ecstasy covers a wide range of human emotions, experiences and passions." The flyer warns about side effects, and tells ravers how to help identify homemade drugs or those that have been laced with heroin. It is signed, "The Family."
"I don't come for the drugs," says a 15-year-old who gave her name only as Shellee. She says that while some people make a big deal out of the drug scene, it's nothing special. If people are going to do drugs, she says, it's not just because there's a rave that night.
"You can get it anywhere," she says. "There's nothing here that you can't get at school."
On the surface, the scene isn't that much different from the one Shellee's parents might remember. But there's no folk-rock and free love here. Instead the ravers interact with the machines and interact with themselves as much as they do with each other.
"There are a lot of people who say the drugs have nothing to do with it. That it's in the feeling, the vibe, the warmth, which I actually believe. Rave is about feeling good, and people get there in a lot of different ways," says Vincent Cawley, who traveled to Babylon from Fort Collins.
While the drugs are covertly available, alcohol is not. Instead of carrying around plastic 12-ounce-beer cups like at a keg party, ravers carry around plastic liter bottles filled with water.
They also carry plastic glasses filled with "smart drinks," much to the enjoyment of Michael Moss, owner of Boulder's Nootrophia. During Babylon, the company sold nearly 1,000 smart drinks - herbal concoctions that boast increased energy and mental stimulation without the "crashing" side effects of too much caffeine.
Moss says that substituting the smart drinks and water for alcohol is a sure way to prevent the fights that are a staple at keggers.
"A lot of people are doing drugs, but it's a very nonviolent crowd," Moss says. "I've worked a lot of raves, but only a handful of times have I seen any problems. We're trying to show the police that so they don't see it as a problem waiting to happen."
Some ravers worry that the big productions such as Babylon are attracting the wrong crowd - one that doesn't come for the music. At the Boulder show, gang colors were prohibited - even people wearing college football team sweatshirts were forced to turn them around.
As the sun begins to rise over the old bowling alley, the machines are still beating. The party will last until 10 a.m. Outside, joggers run past on the sidewalk, looking at the building that actually seems to be thumping.
Inside the floor is still pitch black except for the shafts of light shooting across the room. A girl with braces and glasses sucks what she says is laughing gas from a balloon. Another girl sits in a room filled with Christmas lights, staring at the ceiling. The dedicated ravers keep dancing, they keep smiling.
The chaos continues.
For information on upcoming raves: On the World Wide Web:http:// hyperreal.com/raves
On the newsstands, pick up Rise, the local rave scene 'zine.
Call Odyssey Productions at 575-1254
Call A&E Productions at 575-1604
Call Come Together at 575-1149
This page last updated 08 Jun 98
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