Ecstatic Fall

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

The club wasn't a Safari Media purchase, they frequently insisted, but there was little doubt who was behind the sale -- the new owners were all Safari employees. The club was renamed Freedom.

Armed with the best electronica club in the Valley, a handful of talented artists and a growing familiarity with event production, Safari was suddenly an unavoidable force in Arizona's underground music scene. There was even a feeble effort to crack down on workless work weeks -- one e-mail sent to the music division insisted that employees should work at the Tempe office at least three days per week. And Mark Chisholm was planning to take Safari Music global, with a hugely ambitious series of parties in Ibiza, Spain.

Some Safari staffers, though, were uneasy.

Mark and Mare Chisholm at a Safari event.
Mark and Mare Chisholm at a Safari event.
Mark and Mare Chisholm put their heads together and 
started throwing raves.
Paolo Vescia
Mark and Mare Chisholm put their heads together and started throwing raves.

As rumors of a state investigation of Safari intensified, justifying company spending was becoming more difficult.

The usual assumption was that the other department was making money, or that the Chisholms were privately wealthy, or that, well, being 22 years old and driving a free car and receiving lavish perks was what working at a new media company was supposed to be like. After all, it was all over the news: This was the marvelous new model of American business, and they were riding the wave.

But then it finally happened.

The Raid -- The Moon, Tucson -- June 30

It was Friday, and Randy Phillips was at the Safari research office with about eight other employees. Everybody called the office The Moon. It's a cush setup, Phillips says. There are several computer work stations, a huge projection TV and a surround-sound stereo that was playing a house mix that day, Phillips recalls.

"So I get this phone call at one o'clock from somebody saying, 'Randy, if you need any help, we're here,'" he says. "I didn't have a clue what the hell they were talking about."

Still, the call worried him. Phillips often worked at the Chisholms' home office, and he had overheard plenty to make him nervous. For months, he had been telling co-workers, "Something's happening. Something bad is going to happen to Safari." He just didn't know when, or what.

A couple more hours slid by. Just when Phillips began to relax, there was a knock at the door.

"The door opens and there's a police officer, and this big fat guy -- the receiver -- and a super-skinny guy. When they came into the room, the whole air just stopped."

The court-appointed receiver, Lawrence Warfield, asked who was in charge.

"Well, the person in charge was deaf," continues Phillips, "so it was pretty humorous watching them try to talk. Meanwhile, we're all sending ICQs [instant Internet messaging] back and forth to each other, like, 'What are we supposed to be doing?' 'Do we have a job?' 'Are we going to get our paycheck?'

"The receiver sat us down and told us, 'Safari is being put under receivership.' He said: 'I am your boss. The people who you thought were your management are no longer your management. You can come back on the fifth of July to get personal items.'"

When they were allowed to stand up, Phillips shut off the music.

Caelum -- Ibiza, Spain -- July 8

Employees urged the Chisholms to cancel their Ibiza plans. The show would be extraordinarily expensive and, besides, the Chisholms were desperately needed at home. Safari bank accounts were frozen, employees weren't getting their paychecks and the receiver had changed the locks at their Tucson office.

"But Mark and Mare didn't want to hear about it," says Phillips. "You would try to talk to them about the problems, and they would get mad."

So the Chisholms went to Spain, taking their staff along for one final trip to wonderland.

"We had planned the Ibiza events for more than eight months," Mare explains. "And we knew that Ibiza was critical for the future of Safari Music."

Ibiza is sometimes called "Isle of Dance" or "Ecstasy Island." It's the premier resort destination for vacationing European electronica fans. During the summer, the top UK promoters host parties in Ibiza clubs and on the golden-sand beaches, each trying to reach new heights of hedonism and spectacle. Ibiza is, as the island's club-scene magazine Ministry of Sound put it, perhaps the only place on earth where stilt-walking dwarfs and fire-breathing sex performers are considered commonplace.

American promoters have historically tried and failed to compete in Ibiza. And yet Safari was not only attempting a party, but a summerlong series of parties. An Ibiza nightlife gossip columnist wrote that Safari was "the first ever American promoter to attempt a regular event on the island."

The Ibiza plans represented the zenith of Safari hubris, a series of shows in the toughest market by a company that had yet to host a successful event at the Icehouse -- let alone anywhere else.

Safari always called their Schulz and Hughes tours "Caelum." "Caelum" is Latin for "heaven," and the Ibiza shows were dubbed "Caelum USA."

Soon after settling into their villas, Safari employees started hearing distressing news over their cell phones. Apparently, authorities knew Safari's leadership was out of the country. The Chisholms' home was swept for valuables and financial documents. The Safari Web site was taken off-line. A press release about the Safari lawsuit was sent to the media.

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