The rave phenomenon should be dead by now. It should have been chewed up and spit out like an old pacifier, into the garbage heap with all the other ephemeral music-dance-fashion trends that kids eventually get tired of and too old for. But tell that to the 3,000-plus peoplemany of whom haven’t taken their SATs yetwho have found their way into a derelict corner of Southeast D.C. last Friday night for the reopening of Buzz, which has been D.C.’s best-known rave party since 1993.
About 2,000 people will be turned back to their cars. Only 1,100 of themofficiallywill get in. Some will wait for three hours in the cold to pay $15 apiece to enter a souped-up, megabucks barn dedicated on Fridays to the mass regression to infancy, the skeletal beats and relentless drones, the sharp, spastic storms of light that define a movement outliving the expectations of even the most optimistic capitalists.
“It’s never been this many people,” says Ben Pomykala, a journalism student from American University, who hasn’t been to Buzz in a year, but who maintains that it “crushes any other rave or techno music on Friday night.”
A devoted regular named Sloane has been waiting since 10 p.m., and it’s now 2 o’clock in the morning. “I paid $10 to park, so don’t tell me they didn’t rape me on that one,” he quips. “And the crazy thing is, if I could get to the front, I would still pay $15. It’s my home away from home.”
His and everybody else’s. Kids come from all overfrom north of Philly and from south of Richmondto Buzz to escape the terminal boredom of adolescence, often with the help of a few chemicals. “There’s also a lot of people from Manassas,” offers 18-year-old Michelle Gormand. “Lots of hicks and jocks.” Despite her tender age, she’s been making her way into Buzz and other rave parties for a couple of years now, and is clearly over tonight’s line.
The sensation that started on the Spanish island of Ibiza in 1988 has gone globalfrom Goa, India, to Milwaukee, Wis., to here. Rave gear has spawned new fashion lines, such as Buzz’s own Buzzware. Raves pop up and raves go away, but unlike ’60s love-ins or today’s remnants of Rainbow Gatherings, to which they are often compared, they are not as remote as they once seemed. In fact, they have turned downright institutional.
The club that houses Buzz, the Capitol Ballroom, has renamed itself Nation and undergone a $1 million renovation: a new hardwood floor, “two brand-new EAW sound systems,” and, still to come, a groovy new lounge for “escaping the penetrating bass,” as well as a new bar wrapping around the upper-level DJ booth. The makeover took more than a month, stranding faithful ravers in Nowheresville. Thus, tonight’s crowd represents less a case of DJ worship than it does a homecomingthough the DJs are impressive: John Digweed and Adam F from Britain. DJ Dan from San Francisco. Dieselboy from Philadelphia.
Andrew Marton, a Buzz fixture, claims that he’s “more famous” than the DJs. “They call me the Glow Stick Dude,” Marton says. As ever, he stands by the main door leading into the club with phosphorescent loops around his neck and a spectrum of neon sticks in his hand: “People come and bow down to me and say I’m the God of Glow.”
Marton takes his work quite seriously. He’s a business-school graduate from Boston University and two decades older than most of his clients. He sells Glow Sticks full time as an independent vendor, here and all around the East Coast. In the three years that he’s been at Buzz, he’s missed only four Fridays.
Between bits of self-promotion, Marton mouths something about the philosophy of PLURpeace, love, unity, and respectthe raver’s sacred mantra. He talks a mile a minute. This would seem to be a sign of ecstasy intake, but Marton is sober. “Oh, no,” he assures, “I’m already crazy. If I did drugs…my god.” Besides, Marton insists, “it is all about music and friendship…and having fun by dancing with Glow Sticks. And not about drugs.”
A cluster of young women navigates the filled-to-capacity club of dissipated kids looking for some Mitsubishithat is, ecstasy. It’s 3 a.m. Most of the ecstasy dealers are sold out, because business has been brisk. It’s Anna’s first time at Buzz, and Kim (not their real names), the head scout on this mission, has promised to take care of her.
After circling the club twice, wading through a morass of moving but barely sentient beings on a 3,000-square-foot dance floor, Kim finally finds a likely dealera young black kid named James (not his real name). He’s an affable, almost pixie-ish fellow with a gentle smile and a couple of piercings. James has a Georgetown retail job by day.
Kim does all the talking. She takes Anna’s $25 and gives it to James, along with her cup of soda. He holds Kim’s soda for a second and laughs. When he hands it back, there’s a small white pill in the palm of her hand. She gives it to Anna and hands her the cup. Just swallow it, Kim urges. Anna obliges. The girls wander away from James. Kim and the rest of her friends are already rollingthey have been for a while.
Back in the jungle, the speakers thump out a frantic current of drum ‘n’ bass. High above the crowd, DJ Dan spins hard, high-speed beats that crescendo like exploding fireworks, sending shudders of sound over the crowd. The turn-tables float on shock-absorbing springs, bouncing and throbbing as if they were alive. Anna waits.
Marton the God of Glow seems to be on familiar terms with everybody who passes through the entrance to the dance floor. But when Giovanni Baez walks up, Marton gives him a royal reception.
Dressed entirely in black, Baez cuts a different profile from today’s rave kids. He’s an elder statesman, a member of the original schoolwhich, in this scene, means anybody who’s been around more than two years. He pretty much brought the rave scene to D.C. back in ’92, throwing parties at warehouses and outdoor spots without licensesstrictly illegal underground.
“It cost me $10,000 once to get out of jail. The news called us the ‘Rave Kingpins of the East Coast,’” Baez says, shaking his head in reflective disgust. “‘Kingpins?!’ I’m not fucking dealing drugs! I’m throwing parties!”
Several paces away at the front door, a few regulars try to catch the attention of one of the security guys, as if to speed their entry. On a normal Friday, this tactic might work, but even Butch, the friendliest of the crew, is giving a strictly-business attitude. Butch has been working at the club for almost three years, and club regulars have fallen in love with him. The feeling is mutual. “Ravers are the kind of people who will give you the shirt off their back. They’re the hippies of the ’90s,” he says. “It’s real hard to be out of luck in the rave scene. Say if someone started getting sick, you’d have three people on each arm holding you up and four people holding your head.” And with hundreds upon hundreds of people, eight hours of music, and unknown quantities of chemicals, someone’s bound to get sick, or worse.
A girl walks in and says casually that a fight’s broken out on the floor. Butch streaks through the door, superhero-style. Seconds later, everything’s under control.
A young guy sits crumpled over on the floor. He shakes and sweats, baring his teeth like a rabid animal. His chest heaves. On either side of him, other dancers try to calm him down, stroking his arms and whispering in his ear. Under the staff’s watchful eye, they walk him away from the dance floor to the exit.
“I love you,” he says to the girl, a stranger, who tries to calm him down. “I want to fuck you,” he says. Then he lunges at her neck, teeth gleaming like a baby shark’s. She falls back, managing to escape his bite. Almost instantaneously he is handcuffed and dragged outside. His blue eyes flash with a pure angry energy. His pupils are not the wide black orbs of the ecstatic masses. Whatever he took, he’s definitely on a bad trip.
“This used to be a real chill vibe, nice, mellow,” Butch says. “But because the scene got so popular, a couple of knuckleheads have started to come in.”
Though her good will was rewarded with rage, the girl, Ashley Florence, is unfazed. “This music is deep shit. It’s a deep sound,” she muses. “To be on acid or whatever and have that bass ripping through your body, it probably scared him.”
Florence goes on to say that she thinks the people who make the music are “crazy intelligent,” but that nobody really knows what the music does to your brain. “Whether you’re sober or not, it’s changing your mood. It fucks with you. It fucks with your head. That’s what the DJs are doing. They’re controlling you.”
Controlling sounds, controlled substances. Way into the night, Anna is high and not a bit nervous anymore. “I’m so happy!” she screams. “Oh my god, this is great!” Her smile is now 1,000 watts of guileless energy. She dances, not caring whether she’s on beat. It all makes sense: Pacifiers. “Hello Kitty” stickers. Glow Sticks. A rave is a rave is a rave, and probably will be for some time to come.CP