Rave Review

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It was probably the flier that did it--a logo of the Kool-Aid mascot as a spaceman and the words "Electric Kool-Aid, unsweetened hard acid mix. Super psychedelic acid party! Just add water." On the back is a number that yielded a message directing would-be ravers to Party Gardens--a location hardly worthy of the intrigue.

In the initial stages of the American underground, most parties were held illegally in empty warehouses and promoted primarily with rave cards--minihandbills with intense computer graphics that had a date and a telephone number to a recording where organizers would post the location at the last minute. Now, legal, commercial raves often appropriate that process to imitate the ambiance of the early days.

Ask veterans of the Valley scene when it all began, and most will flip the calendar to early in the spring of 1992 and a club at 24th Street and Van Buren at the Kon Tiki hotel, where a local deejay named Eddie Amador helped organize a weekly Saturday-night rave called "Scream."

"It was hard, hard, fast, sweaty techno," Eddienow says of the parties at KonTiki. "We had cage dancing, film loops, lights ... we had a line outside the door and around the corner, 400 people packed into this tiny bar." Scream only lasted six weeks before it was shut down by the cops for exceeding the fire code.

But in those six weeks, a seed had been sown. And from there on out, the Phoenix underground scene grew in the same pattern as rave culture in the American cities before it.

First came the hijacks--illegal parties held in warehouses.
"They would put out a number before they even had a location, then scout out a warehouse that was empty, cut the lock, put the spot on the recording, bring in the sound system, use the warehouse's juice and throw the party in these huge, corrugated-steel buildings," says Tommy, a local underground promoter who does business as Panic Productions.

Funny thing about rave promoters in the Valley--they all know of other promoters who pulled off hijack parties back in the day, but none of them actually did it themselves. They all agree, however, that the illegals often made for less than fantastic parties. One, held in a vacant church, was a landmark fiasco of antiquated wiring, blown fuses and mass confusion in the dark.

But a pivotal lesson was learned from the hijacks: There is money to be made in the rave business, enough to make dealing with permits, insurance and zoning laws worth the hassle.

So broke the dawn of the first commercial parties and, on their heels, the inevitable oxymoron of a "commercial underground club."

Most members of the underground here seem to think The Works used to be something, and now it's not. "When The Works first opened, it had exactly what you wanted," says Tommy. "Now it's so played out, it's sad." Amador was hired to deejay the opening night at The Works and stayed for about half a year before he quit to open his own after-hours club. The cover charge had climbed too high, he says, and the owners wanted him to play music that was embarrassingly old.

Amador and his partner, Pete, have deejayed together under the name Direct Force since 1989. They started out spinning hiphop at west Phoenix block parties and switched to house music in 1992. "We come from the days of ducking bullets in the backyard," says Pete. "It was like, 'Drive-by, get down.' You don't have that problem at raves."

Eddie and Pete's club is called Chupa, or "suck" in Spanish. Every Saturday night, 200 to 400 core members of the Valley underground gather to dance or just hang out. The club opens at midnight and closes when everyone leaves--usually about 6 or 7 in the morning. The music there is primarily roots house--disco's final revenge--but Eddie and Pete also spin some break beat, a hip-hop-influenced form that, along with trip-hop, is bridging the gap between the world's two largest music-based subcultures.

House music is a sprawling genre, but if you had to pin down a definition, you could do worse than this: "Synthesizer sequences and samples fused with electronic tribal rhythms executed at high speed. No vocals." Also, people who make house recordings intend for them to be sampled in bits and pieces, not played in full.

The true artists of the underground are the deejays--"spinners" whose success in the scene is determined by their talent in three areas: The first and most important is how well they stay on top of the music. Unlike rock songs, house singles are considered stale after a month on the racks, if not less. As a deejay, you're either on the cutting edge or you're lagging--there's no in-between.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse