Rave Review

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By 1992, the underground had spread from New York to Miami and Boston; from L.A. to San Diego; and from San Francisco to Portland and Seattle. It had also begun to define itself as a counterculture by developing an ethos to accompany the drugs and the music.

To generalize--and, with a movement this amorphous, you have to--the underground is fueled by an ideology that's half-hippie, half-cyberpunk: peace, love and psychedelics, sure, but don't forget about virtual reality, chaos theory and the Internet.

Like the hippies and punk rockers before them, ravers are members of a counterculture with a well-left-of-Democrat political bent and a specific taste in music--a faster music, it should be pointed out, for a faster era.

However, unlike the Abbie Hoffman/Tom Hayden branch of the '60s movement, ravers don't view The System as something they should work to actively overthrow or, like the punks, sneer and spit at. Instead, they see modern society and its rules as more or less beside the point--a hopelessly flawed paradigm, constructed long before any of them were born, that is doing such a fine job of self-destructing, it doesn't need any help from them.

Ravers agree with the tenets of the environmental and other progressive political movements--they just see those efforts as too little, too late; things can't be put right without a radical shift in the collective conscience. And the only way to bring that about is to spread "the vibe"--the energy of positive thinking and blanket acceptance that crackles in the air of an underground party like ozone after a lightning storm.

If enough citizens of the First World tap into the vibe, the thinking goes, they will instinctively stave off the crash. And if not, then the underground is simply acomfortable, well-lighted place to wait for the modern world to exhaust itself.

Apathetic and kooky? It's easy to dismiss the subculture as such. But judging by the number and geographic variety of log-ons to rave Web sites, the coverage of underground events in national rave-culture magazines and a recent PBS documentary, reports of rave's death have been greatly exaggerated. Recent issues of XLR8R magazine carried articles on large parties in Cleveland; Des Moines; and Lawrence, Kansas.

Yet the so-called major media have virtually ignored the underground since a 1993 article in Details magazine that quoted a few disgruntled promoters in San Francisco and New York who declared rave in America a corpse.

And so, for the past two years, the underground has continued to grow and aesthetically mutate while flying well below the radar of mainstream society.

By the looks of what I've walked into tonight, it has landed in Phoenix.

Outside, in the industrial yard of the Icehouse, 20 transfixed ravers circle a ponytailed juggler who has attached neon orange and green light wands to the ends of his sticks. The tracers, I admit to myself, are a nice effect. I check my watch: 12:20. Candy and Julie were supposed to meet me at midnight, but how will we hook up in this Mardi gras?

I take a minute to look around, then scribble some notes: "Age: 16-28, a handful older. Fashion: Blade Runner/Dr. Seuss/Flannel/Beastie Boys/Whatever ... no one seems to really care about looking sharp." Nearby, a young woman with light-chocolate skin, hername Hip-Hop, is singing "You Are So Beautiful" in an angelic alto. I listen for a while, then silently thank Lady Luck--Julie and Candy are leaning against a nearby wall, dressed in leather and sequins, glitter on their faces and arms, wrapping one another in cocoons of the white Christmas light strands that hang down the walls like ivy.

Candy glances my way, and I wave. Her eyes widen, and she taps on Julie's shoulder, points. Julie sees me, then looks back at Candy and gives an earnest nod of understanding. Slowly, they unravel themselves and come toward me, arm in arm, heads on each other's shoulders. They look overjoyed to see me, but running is obviously quite beyond their present range of motion. They reach me and, wordlessly, draw me into a close group hug. This seems to be a motif for the evening.

Candy's murmur is soft in my ear. "Are you on E?" I shake my head subtly no. "Do you want to be?"

I'd done my research, and it said MDMA is relatively safe--no real danger of overdose or physical addiction. I don't even hesitate. "Where can I get some?"

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse