When you're raving, the last thing you want to see is the cops.
But there they are, cruising along North Fifth just after midnight, staring up at the shadowy second-floor windows that radiate relentless bass. Down below, one of the party's young hosts greets them: Yes, everything's going fine, officers - it's just a little get-together at my loft.
They drive away into a misty night, indifferent or oblivious to the 350 teenagers and twentysomethings pumping adrenaline in a tribal stomp inside this long-ago factory in a down-at-the-heels neighborhood.
The frenzied revelers, some as young as 14, have come mostly from the suburbs and from local college campuses, drawn by the promise of all-night dancing and sneaky lawlessness. They've paid five bucks to get in. As DJ X-Lax spins hyper techno music and a projector lights up a wall with a Dr. Seuss cartoon, they jump up and down and march in place on the rumbling wood floor.
Raving has arrived: a dance-till-dawn phenomenon that started in London two years ago, quickly migrated to Los Angeles, and this summer hit the East Coast hard, including Philadelphia.
Like dirty dancing in the early '60s, Woodstock in '69 and punk rock in the late '70s, raving in the '90s is rebellion.
"The more underground, the better it is," says a 19-year-old, baggy- jeaned raver who gave his name as just Cricket. "There's nobody on your back, there's no bouncer - it's just free."
"It's a big ball of fun," says raver Euro, 18. "It's like controlled chaos. You can do anything you want."
Almost by definition, a rave is illegal. Every weekend, the parties rove
from space to space - a warehouse, a recreation center, a loft - without city dance-hall and alcohol permits. Often, carpetbaggers sell beer and LSD to minors who are packed in to rooms that defy the fire code.
In Philadelphia and other parts of the East Coast, raving is also a gritty trip for white suburban kids into tough urban neighborhoods. Sometimes, as on this recent night, they get a taste of violence.
North and West Philadelphia, where most of the local raves are held, have an abundance of warehouses and lofts and a scarcity of police, often so burdened with other crimes that they overlook the exploits of ravers.
"The only reason they're put in bad neighborhoods is that warehouses are easy to get, inexpensive and out of the way, so the police aren't coming by every 10 minutes going, 'Turn down your music or we'll kick you out,' " says an expert known only as Under. He's a member of Dead By Dawn, one of two local rave-promotion crews, along with Vagabond, that rent the spaces and provide DJs and projectors.
For ravers, a bust means they're out the price of admission. But for promoters, it means they could be out of business.
"If a rave is busted," says Applejack, another Dead By Dawner, "then there's all kinds of problems with city codes."
Promoters say the risk is worth it, although they often only break even on their investments of up to $2,300 per rave.
"I think money is secondary," says Applejack. "There's kind of a personal satisfaction in seeing people have immense fun because of a vision I had."
The city Department of Licenses and Inspection is investigating the lack of permits at raves, but the police say they're most worried about the potential for racial discord and violence.
However liberal the rave crowd is, "local police have recognized the potential for racial unrest due to the fact that the crowd is predominantly white and the neighborhoods . . . are predominantly black," says Sgt. John Lyle, the head of the local office of the State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement.
"The effects of alcohol tend to loosen your lips and give you Superman syndrome," he says, "so the potential for racial discord is very great."
Says Philadelphia Police Capt. Arthur Durrant of the 26th district, where raves have popped up: "I'm sitting here thinking about if people are going to rob them and hurt them and shoot them."
By then, an outdoor version of the Manchester scene had reached the outskirts of London, where the wee-hour dance-athons have drawn more than 10,000.
In the summer of 1991, Los Angeles dove in big-time, adding psychedelic decor and an appetite for ecstasy, laughing gas and thundering techno music.
Techno is essentially a fusion of electronic sounds from Detroit, London and Belgium that lays computer-produced notes over ultrafast hip-hop beats - a soundtrack for ecstasy and acid trips.
Moby, a techno artist who performs at raves across the nation, estimates that there's a growing group of ravers that tops 100,000 in the United States - from San Diego to Boston and almost every major city in between.
"Raves are primarily about dancing, mind expansion and breaking down of social barriers," says Moby (great-great-grandnephew of Herman Melville). ''It's just sort of people getting together."
Unlike L.A.'s raves - where promoters have been known to spend more than $100,000 to put on psychedelic light shows, hire the best DJs and rent off- the-wall spots such as the airplane Spruce Goose - Philadelphia's parties are bare-bones affairs. Kids find out about them through fliers left at select South Street boutiques. The recipe for a local rave: a few drivers (DJs), a half-dozen loudspeakers, a huge out-of-the-way space, brought-from-home hooch, and maybe even some $3 to $5 stamps and tablets of acid.
Ecstasy hasn't quite hit the Philadelphia scene yet; wide-eyed hallucinogen acid is the drug of choice for those who indulge during Philadelphia raves. But most of the core of roughly 500 ravers here don't use it. Rave DJ and Vagabond promoter Wink says local youths are turned on more by the music than by the drugs: "I think the music can take you there."
Others say that in Philadelphia, the lack of drugs means that the dance- till-dawn parties turn into dance-till-you-yawn parties.
"If you're going to dance from 12 a.m. till dawn, you're not going to do it on your own energy," Under says. "But people around here aren't going for it. The suburban kids have to go home."
"There was pretty big demand to have a rave night," says Revival manager David Cohen. "It's all part of the rave craze."
In fact, rave culture is getting to be big business. Major labels, such as Columbia Records, are signing techno artists, L.A. rave clothier Fresh Jive has grown exponentially over the last two years, and concert promoters from L.A.'s Avalon Attractions to Philadelphia's Electric Factory Concerts are stepping into the pseudo-rave business. Avalon has produced legal raves at a few odd locales, such as the one on the humongous Spruce Goose; Electric Factory is looking to put on similar events in Philadelphia.
Although some big businesses see opportunities in raving, others feel
victimized by the way illicit rave promoters use and abuse trademarks ranging
from Coca-Cola to Mickey Mouse. America's favorite rodent, for example, is a major symbol on the rave scene and sometimes pops up in a dazed state on rave fliers, to denote acid. Mickey "M" caps and Mickey T-shirts also are hot at raves.
This has the Disney folks steamed. Erwin Okun, Disney's vice president for corporate communications, said that the rave promoters using the Mickey Mouse image to advertise their parties "are, in fact, stealing from the Walt Disney Co."
"We would pursue it where we become aware of it," he says.
"I'm sad to hear our merchandise is popular at these things. Mickey certainly has an all-American image, and certainly we wouldn't want to associate that character with such activity."
Pop! Pop! . . . Pop! Pop!
Everyone hits the floor in slow motion. Is he still out there? Is anyone hurt?
A reveler dials 911: The first thing he wants to see is police.
Outside, raver Wendy Henson, 27, is shot, apparently by a mugger who has been feeding off the party. Her friend drives her to Hahnemann University Hospital, where she is treated for a gunshot wound to her back and released a day later.
It was Henson's first rave.
The party melts away: The shooting sort of ends its countercultural dream state with a little taste of urban reality.
Two crop-topped, goatee-sporting young men are outside now and, ironically,
are eager to talk to police. "He had on a white sweat top," one tells an
officer. The two young men jump in to a squad car in a frantic search for the
"Man," says one of them, bowing his head, "James could have got shot."
A month later, and no one has been arrested. But Henson isn't scared. In fact, she feels the beat calling. "Shootings at raves is not something that I hear happens too often," she says.
"I'm probably going to go to the one on Friday."
This page last updated 08 Jun 98
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