David Browne
April 09, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

No matter where you live — Los Angeles, Miami Beach, or Branson, Mo. — the scene is starting to look familiar. As soon as the sun sets, the peach-faced kids and slinky twentysomethings, sporting backpacks and Dr. Seuss hats, start making their way to a loft or warehouse — or maybe just a large field. Arriving at their destination, they encounter hundreds, maybe thousands, of others, all pulsating dreamily and rapturously to the sound of ultraloud, relentless electronic bleeps, whooshes, and amplified fart noises. The music — all of it whipping along at 130-plus beats per minute — never ends, and the party itself looks as if it could last until sunrise. Often, it does.

The scene is called a rave, and the music is techno. Together they comprise a thriving subculture of computer-drie music, cyberpunk philosophy, and updated psychedelia for the ’90s. Yet it may not be a subculture much longer: A strictly underground phenomenon in the ’80s, the rave world is quickly being adopted by the mainstream. Here are a few basics to help prepare yourself for the rave new world of youth culture; as Pink Floyd once said, welcome to the machine.

The Techno-Rave world began in the mid-’80s in cities like Detroit and Chicago (home of house music, the disco-ish older brother of the more electronic and instrumental techno). Europeans picked up on the trend, and by 1990, raves were taking place in London, Manchester, and Brussels. In those days, die-hard ravers learned the site of the event mainly through word of mouth or fliers. Out of this scene grew an accompanying lifestyle of nonalcoholic (”smart”) drinks, loose-fitting fashion (colorful, cartoonish garb in, grunge out), and good vibrations toward your fellow man, often induced by a euphoric drug called Ecstasy (X for short). ” Raves are like an atom with particles moving in it, making it move faster and hotter,” says L.A.-based rave promoter Gary Richards, 22. ”When a group of people are all moving to that music, you feel that energy, and it’s a blast.”

Much like the early days of punk in the ’70s, the rave world began as an underground guerrilla circuit of after-hours lofts and do-it-yourself records. Rave’s other connection with punk is its tendency to upset authority figures. Police raids of rave shows — on the grounds of illegal permits and the scene’s association with mind-altering substances — have been rampant. This year alone, police shut down a rave in Vancouver, British Columbia, and , in Cambridgeshire, England, arrested 125 ravers for drug offenses. A recent article in London’s Daily Telegraph said it all:”A girls’ boarding school was evacuated yesterday because of the possibility that its landscaped grounds will be taken over tonight by thousands of young people for a ‘rave’ party. ” Duck and cover!

Disc jockeys and techno performers can be found on stage at a rave, but they are not the focus of the show. The point of a rave is the audience’s own communal ecstasy and unbridled release, not idolizing a musician. In that way, raves subvert and challenge the notion of a traditional rock concert. ”People want to be part of the show,” says Richards, ”instead of just being fed information all the time.” Most techno acts are anonymous studio ensembles anyway, with names like Nexus 21, Psychotropic, Digital Bass, and Grateful Techno. Recalling a rave he helped coordinate at — of all places — Knott’s Berry Farm outside L.A., organizer Paul Sansone says, ” We had a major techno act on the bill that couldn’t make it because of visa problems. And no one missed them.”

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