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Rave music is like constructivist design: Simple symmetrical shapes (the beats) support an economical, elegant dynamism (the melodies). It’s functional music, dedicated to idealistic futurism and social utility. But most of the people at last Saturday’s Underworld Eclipse party at the D.C. Armory couldn’t care less about some highfalutin theory of their music and culture. They were there to dance, tweak their biochemistry, and get lost in the sweeping synesthesia.
The enormous Armory was organized like a spoked wheel, with DJs maintaining the hub while four stage-and-screen setups for live acts jutted out to the corners of the room. Projected on the screens were swirling, overlaid colors and images; lights shot beams across the room, creating a synthetic aurora borealis. Co-promoter Lonnie Fisher was conducting an experiment: How would clubbers, normally just waking at 2 p.m., respond to the area’s first daylight rave?
Well, groggily at first. The show kicked off with DJ Adam X, followed by the live, progressive trance of Prototype 909. The ravers seemed happy to be there, but dancing was sporadic and contained in small pockets. Even through DJ Hipp E and the jammy funk of All Mighty Senators, the crowd was mainly milling, meeting and greeting. A sweeping flow had yet to envelope the masses. It wasn’t until jungle renegades Kemistry and Storm (from Goldie’s Metalheadz label) spun that the crowd became invigorated; the speedy polyrhythms prodded some people into frenzied dancing, the edgy, extreme sounds of the drums and bass forced others to sit down, but everyone had to take notice. It was the most exhilarating set of the day.
Following the alien energy of Kemistry and Storm, crowd favorite Dubtribe played a set of happy house, and the dancers finally got caught in the giant aural waves that splashed around them. For the people I was with, it was also when their pharmaceuticals kicked in; they left their beach-blanket setup, frequently diving into the sea of dancers. Ultraworld’s own DJ Sun then played a captivating set of speedy breakbeat and trance, carrying the Dubtribe crowd with him, hyping them for Rabbit in the Moon’s psychedelic vaudeville routine.
Augmenting Rabbit’s midtempo techno was a theremin, samples from Sarah McLachlan, Goldie, and Chemical Brothers, and a costumed psycho whose personae mixed Sun Ra’s theatrical sci-fi with the antics of a court jester. His numerous jumpsuits included one made of sparkling silver complemented by an ignited blowtorch; another of AstroTurf, with logs for arms; a large, fluorescent-orange chain-mail coverall and face mask with a matching mace, which he swung menacingly around his head; a black and neon-green spider-monster get-up in which he feigned masturbation before diving into the crowd; and a rainbow glow-stick suit, pieces of which he tossed into the crowd as he swung around on a rope, before jumping in again and having the rest ripped from his body. At the end, the cyber-psycho produced a metal mask, which he held to his head, and with a power sander proceeded to give himself a spark-spraying facial. That’s entertainment.
Closing the evening was the man Fisher credits with helping to blow the local rave scene wide open, DJ Scott Henry. The crowd flew right up until the end when, at 2 a.m., the lights were flipped on and the smoky glass through which everyone had viewed one another for the past 12 hours was broken. In the light, the kids truly looked like kids; the average age seemed to be between 18 and 20. People filed out, heading to after-parties at Buzz or at their homes. One guy turned to his friend and said, “It’s weird to come outside and not see the sun rising.” Eclipse was spectacular, beautifully covering the sunlight hours, but for those clubbers, the night was just getting started. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Charles Steck.