Ecstatic Fall

They threw lavish raves, had endless expense accounts and traveled the world. Then the attorney general crashed the party.

Helping import popular artists such as Moby, John Digweed and Nick Warren, Safari put together shows with nationally known talents as headliners, and Safari artists as second billing. The lighting was extraordinary. The sound was deafening yet crisp. There were oversize props, elaborate costumes and Safari's theatrical trademark: girls on stilts.

"I haven't seen somebody put that much effort into a party in a long time, truly the best set-up I've ever seen at the Icehouse," wrote a reviewer on www.azraves.org about "Resonance," a Safari event last October.

Another reviewer concurred, but lamented, "If only there would have been about 500 more people there."

We're not high, we're girls on stilts.
We're not high, we're girls on stilts.
Safari's Caelum show at Club Salvation at the Miami 
Winter Music Conference.
Safari's Caelum show at Club Salvation at the Miami Winter Music Conference.

Attendance was a constant problem for Safari events. Some blamed the lack of turnout on the fliers, which Mare often designed herself. Others complained that the marquees lacked diversity. Instead of a lineup of house, jungle, drum and bass, techno and other styles, Safari events were mostly trance. "Mark only wanted trance because that's what he liked," says Phillips.

And before Safari had produced a single successful show in the Valley, the company went national. Safari sponsored parties in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami, all the while bringing along their employees/friends, corporate Amex cards in hand.

At Zenfest in Los Angeles, the so-called "Lollapalooza of electronic music festivals," Safari's ambition resulted in an embarrassing public goof -- booking too many big names with too little promotion and not enough performance space. Mark says he told performers they did not have to take the stage because, he admits, the venues were not up to their standards. Three scheduled performers were either told they did not have to play, or refused to play, depending on which version of the story you believe.

"But Mare always said, 'If [an event] doesn't go good, we can still have a good party for ourselves,'" says Phillips.

So they did.

At Safari's Miami Winter Music Conference, the Chisholms threw a five-day gala that included a stop at the Shadow Lounge, where Mark paid for bottle after bottle of Christol and Dom Perignon so Safari employees could romp in the VIP area. Safari also paid for Playboy to supply their crew with a few playmates for promotional frolicking.

In return, playboy.com gave the event some press: "The aforementioned party monsters of Safari Media join Club Freedom and Playboy to throw an all-day pool party at the Tides Hotel . . . while playmates Nicole Lenz, Kalin Olson and Vanessa Gleason recline on deck chairs, darkening their honey tans . . ."

During the Miami conference, the company Amex bill was 164 pages long, documenting $656,000 worth of expenses for 38 employees. On Heather Schulz's account alone (of which an indeterminate portion of purchases went to Mare), there were $214,819 worth of charges. Purchases at Neiman Marcus included a $1,335 cocktail dress and a $4,640 order from Chanel.

Employees say that one luxury item, Ecstasy, was also complimentary for employees at Safari events, and that standards for public intoxication were set by the Chisholms.

Neither Mark nor Mare Chisholm denies drug use. But they do deny former employee claims that illegal drugs interfered with businesses decisions and music events.

Mark admits he's a longtime alcoholic, and Mare says she is considering filing a lawsuit against her former $5,000-per-month physician, who she claims overprescribed painkillers and other drugs that impaired her professional judgment. Her pharmaceutical gumbo included Ultram and Vicoprophen (painkillers), Flexeril (muscle relaxant), Adipex-P (appetite suppressant), Xanax and Ativan (anti-anxiety) and Prozac.

"I would have arguments with employees who got out of control, and they would say, 'Who are you to judge?' because they would make assumptions [that she or Mark was on Ecstasy], and those assumptions were often wrong," she says.

In February, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano was arrested on charges of Ecstasy distribution, and the national media exploded with stories about Phoenix raves and this "new drug," as the press frequently put it.

Most stories tried to clarify whether raves were about the music or about taking Ecstasy, not understanding that raves are about both -- but, most important, they're about experiencing a sense of community that music and Ecstasy help facilitate. When a room's energy peaks, the sensation, if not the aesthetic, is similar to the religious ecstasy of tent revival, with dancers yelling out in unison and moving with furious energy. Perhaps that's why the evangelistic techno-hymns of Moby have made him the most popular electronica artist in the country -- great raves are a sort of religious experience.

The Chisholms wanted to bring that sense of community to Phoenix on a more grandiose scale than had ever been attempted, regardless of the sudden increase in police and media scrutiny.

"Sammy the Bull's [arrest] and the mainstream press have belittled something that is beautiful," says Mare. "Before Safari, everybody blew off Phoenix. Moby blew us off, Sasha blew us off -- Phoenix was considered a hot pit where [the artists] wouldn't get the respect they deserved."

Last spring, Jas considered moving back home to Vancouver. To persuade him to stay, the Chisholms made him an irresistible offer: They would purchase Pompeii for a reported $800,000, appoint Jas as creative director and buy him a house in Tempe where he could play host for visiting DJs.

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