Valley rave promoters and other denizens of the local dance-culture underground are breathing a tentative sigh of relief after a recent online statement by a Phoenix police officer that denies any organized law enforcement effort to stamp out the Valley rave scene.
"The truth about the anti-rave task force is that there is no anti-rave task force," wrote Phoenix PD Officer Ross Taylor in a September 23 post to the AzRaves bulletin board. "There is no City of Phoenix effort against, nor any squad targeting, raves or ravers."
Rumors of a newly formed "City of Phoenix Anti-Rave Task Force" started circulating after a series of raves were busted earlier this year, starting with Planet of the Drums, a party at the Icehouse on August 30. Icehouse co-owner David Therrien and promoter Russ Ramirez were both arrested and charged with zoning violations after police raided the party shortly after 1 a.m.
According to Taylor, the police department had already warned Therrien about hosting raves at his nonprofit arts collective in downtown Phoenix without a dance-hall permit. Ramirez, a longtime Valley rave promoter, had also previously run afoul of city zoning enforcers.
The issue of contention here is an interesting one--are raves simply mobile nightclubs and, therefore, subject to the same zoning restrictions as Jetz and Stixx? Or, as promoters argue, are raves essentially live performances, where people attend specifically to watch and listen to individual DJs?
I side with the promoters. Rave DJs clearly take the craft of spinning records to a higher level than your average Top 40 club jockey. Popular music is just now entering the era of the DJ--where the ability to manipulate, combine and re-present existing source material in fresh ways can establish someone as a widely recognized music artist in his/her own right (Keoki, Tricky, Chemical Brothers, Spooky, Moby, etc.). At raves there's always a crowd around the DJ, dancing a little but mostly just watching him/her "perform."
In any case, the night after Planet of the Drums got busted, a party at 8th Day, another nonprofit downtown arts collective that also frequently serves as a rave venue, was shut down by the fire department because the building didn't have a posted occupancy limit. Promoters were suspicious because 8th Day had hosted several raves since it opened in February, all without incident. After three small raves were busted in the next four weeks for sundry zoning and fire-code infractions, stories of cops in "Anti-Rave Task Force" Windbreakers descending upon warehouse parties and frisking kids for drugs began to permeate the Valley underground. Promoters canceled the September installment of Unity--a once-a-month megarave where several prominent promotion teams combine forces--for fear of its getting raided.
Somehow (in his post, Taylor hints that he attends raves out of personal interest), Officer Taylor heard about the A-R Task Force rumor, supposedly researched its validity by calling various city agencies, then posted his findings on the AzRaves bulletin board.
"As a member of the Youth Alcohol Squad, I can tell you without a doubt that there is no anti-rave task force," Taylor wrote. "Nor is there any effort (either officially sanctioned or not) to stop raves. In fact . . . the general view of the officers and zoning inspectors I know is that we'd rather have people at a rave than out drinking."
Taylor wrote that he and other officers had gone undercover to four or five raves in recent months, but left ". . . when we found nothing too glaring." He wrote that drug enforcement bureau undercover officers "have observed drug use at raves, but do not specifically target rave events."
"While there may be some misunderstandings of ravers and raves by many in government, I think you would be surprised at how much many of us do understand," wrote Taylor. "I have found ravers to be generally polite, nice people--totally unlike gangs or skinheads. There is no concerted effort against you."
Ramirez and several other Valley promoters tested that claim on October 5 with a reinstalled Unity rave featuring five different theme rooms and a remarkable 18-DJ lineup.
A zoning inspector and two undercover cops showed up for a walk-through around two in the morning, talked with promoters, checked permits and left without incident. Despite anemic sound support--memo to sound guy: It helps the DJs if the monitors are actually turned on--Unity was a fresh party. DJ Emile in the 2 to 4 a.m. slot outside was outstanding, as was Direct Force in the house room. (DJ Pete Salaz's shirt: "No one knows I'm Elvis." Nice.) The Martyrs had it going on with some live hip-hop in the acid jazz room, and R.C. Lair and Joe Bear turned in killer sets in the house and hard-core rooms, respectively (although R.C. seemed to forget where he was late in his set, taking the BPMs a bit high for straight house). The elevated UFO DJ booth in the hard-core room was a stroke of genius--much props to whoever's responsible.
Upcoming Valley raves include Velvet Underground, the kickoff event for the newly relocated 8th Day, scheduled for October 25. Featured DJs: Z-Trip, R.C. Lair and Radar. Call 858-5041 for info.
Also, DJs Emile and Essential just launched Fresh, a trip-hop/dub/jungle club night at Higher Ground Coffee House in Tempe, every Friday from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Black Moon Rising
Although it hasn't been announced yet, as of October 1, Evening Star was this close (a millimeter of air between your thumb and index finger) to sealing a deal with Smashing Pumpkins for a December 7 concert at America West Arena.
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That same day, Evening Star boss Danny Zelisko was visibly grumpy over a morning ticket count that had presales for Who tickets (at $30 to $65 each) looking a little sad. Zelisko wouldn't say how many tickets have been sold. "I don't want to hear it out loud," he said. "It's too painful. I don't understand it. It's the Who."
Local show pick of the week: Polliwog at Electric Ballroom in Tempe, with Soul Cracker, and Black Moon Graffiti on Saturday. Two solid, upbeat Valley ensembles with a scorcher of an opening band. Tucson's Black Moon Graffiti is a sleeper about to awaken--the six-piece funk/hip-hop band is tearing it up in its hometown, but remains a well-kept secret in the Valley. That's not going to last. A&R reps are swarming the band, and with good reason--BMG's sound is so phat you'll need Dexatrim after one of its sets. Show up early--Black Moon goes on at 9:30.