"You have to know your music," says local deejay Emile, the self-proclaimed "king of break beat, master of all forms." "There are hundreds of new records every week, and you have to pick the ones that will work."
The second indication of talent is how well deejays read a crowd. The third is their ability with cross-fading and beat-matching, the two skills that must be perfected to play music from as many tracks as possible in a perfect house mix--one where each song is an individual movement in a seamless electronic symphony.
The headline deejay at Kool-Aid is Hyperactive, a spinner from Chicago who set promoter Russ Ramirez back $800. (Tickets were $15 at the door, and more than 800 people attended the rave tonight. After the event, other promoters estimated Ramirez cleared at least five grand.) Hyper's beat-matching is butter-smooth--you can't tell where one song ends and the next begins--and the acid attack is relentless through the 30,000-watt sound system.
Riveted into place a few inches from each speaker is a Basshead--the hardest of the hard-core, ravers who put their hands on the speakers and dance at the very source of the fury. I try it, but I only last about ten seconds in the blast storm before I retreat to the ambient area for good.
Along the way, I see several people wearing gas masks in a symbolic nod to impending apocalypse. Next week, the City of Phoenix will issue air-quality warnings on four straight days.
I find Candy and Julie snuggling in a booth and join them. Candy rubs mango oil on my chest, wrists and neck, then on herself. The scent makes me think of tropics and sin. Underground events are inherently erotic--the sweat, the skin, the E--but they're not meat markets by any stretch of the term. No one seems to be cruising for sex, but groups of friends often kiss and caress one another.
For a generation that came of age in the shadow of AIDS, it's about as free as love gets.
Rave III: Full-Moon Party,
The scene is timeless--dancers gathered in front of a flickering fire to celebrate the full moon. The music, however, is pure now: break beat spun hard and fast by Emile. I'm at a party on top of a mesa 45 minutes and one mountain range from the nearest pavement. The "road" here was a Jeep trail that, in some places, was more hazardous than the dry riverbeds it paralleled.
Suffice to say that if you're at this party, you really wanted to be here.
Pez knew the number to call for directions. The secret-agent routine required to get the location isn't just for show in this case--full-moon parties are the antithesis of a commercial rave: No one is there to make any money, and no one is there to watch the ravers like monkeys in a zoo, and no one is there to enforce the rules of the real world.
At 11:30 p.m., there are only about 50 people on the hilltop with the fire, the sound system and the generator. But by midnight, a caravan of headlights is seen descending the mountainside about two miles away, and by 1a.m. the crowd has easily tripled. Roughly 100 people are dancing or standing around the fire, another 15 are cuddling in a nearby mine shaft, and at least 35 are wandering aimlessly in the desert.
There are three kinds of LSD and two varieties of MDMA circulating through the crowd, but only about half of the people here seem to be tripping. Almost all of those in the desert, however, have been hit hard by a particularly wicked variety of acid sold on pastel splotched tabs of paper for $5 a dose.
I thank myself for abstaining as I watch the flashlights of confused psychonauts bobbing in the dark, some of them almost a mile away. I worry for a moment how many are out there without any light. Nothing I can do about it, so I climb a nearby hill to a point where the panorama is so clear and wide that it seems like I can make out the curvature of the Earth.
Nearby, three ravers in cold-weather gear are seated around a hookah. Two others are standing--one of them pincushioned with cactus spines, the other trying to fashion a pair of tweezers out of his key ring.
It's a tough situation under any circumstances, but all the more so because the tweezer-maker is hallucinating and keeps twisting the metal in the wrong direction. Eventually, he gets it right, though, and starts to pluck the spines out of his buddy.