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No Rant. Just Rave

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 1999; Page C1

   


    Buzz It's been a mellow Buzz for nearly four years. (By Jim Saah for The Washington Post)
   
A Gaithersburg bookstore clerk named Spacechild is exhorting his fellow demonstrators not to litter or trespass. A young woman dressed head to foot in yellow is presenting Blow Pops to the cops, who are having a very mellow time keeping order.

"Thank you for being so courteous to us," SnuggleBunny, a network engineer from Arlington, says to the officers.

Everyone keeps hugging each other.

The protesters carry stuffed animals and baby pacifiers, and wave signs with sentiments like "A smile is the simplest gift you can give." They invoke peace, love, unity and respect so often they have reduced them to an acronym: PLUR.

This is what happens when those sometimes controversial, rhythm-loving ravers are lured out of their all-night dance clubs to rally for a cause. It feels like a Summer of Love flashback with different hair and music. It's a great, big, baggy, moussed, spiked and pierced Be-Polite-In.

The ravers are fighting for their right to party. And for a little respect from elders and authorities who, they insist, criticize what they can't understand.

Last Friday, the weekly party that's the heart of the area rave scene was shut down following a hidden-camera report on WTTG-TV (Channel 5) depicting alleged drug activity. The party was called Buzz, and drew more than 1,000 ravers every Friday night to the club Nation (formerly the Capitol Ballroom) on Half Street SE.

Several D.C. police officers moonlighting as security guards are under investigation after the report alleged they stood by as young people used drugs. One officer was caught on tape kissing a patron. D.C. Council members and the mayor pronounced themselves shocked and fearful at how young adults spend their nights.

Buzz promoters and Nation's owners are lawyered up and more circumspect in their public statements than Exxon following an oil spill.

"We cannot comment at this time on advice of counsel," says David Kasdan, promotions director at Nation. Club owner John Boyle didn't return phone calls. Nation remains open for non-rave entertainment.

"We're not talking about that right now," says Lieven DeGeyndt, who, with partner Scott Henry, rented out Nation and has been putting on Buzz at various locations since 1993.

Meanwhile, the largely white and suburban devotees of the Washington rave scene are in an uproar – in their own PLUR-ful, smiley-face way.

Rave culture "is not about drugs," says Spacechild, a k a Daniel Conn, 19. "It's about family and community. It's about love and altruism."

They pour out their angst in hundreds of postings every day to the DCRaves Internet list. They issue impassioned fliers with testimonials: "I am an Eagle Scout. . . . I have never taken drugs or consumed alcohol in my life. I am a raver."

And they hit the streets. Several hundred rallied placidly outside Channel 5 studios on Wisconsin Avenue NW last Friday night, and they promise to return tonight.

While the promoters won't say so publicly, veteran observers of the scene say they are confident that Buzz is not dead. They predict that once the heat dissipates, Buzz will re-open, if not at Nation, then somewhere else in Washington.

But that's not the point.

"We're not trying to save Buzz," says Melzie Colton, 22, a college senior who administrates the DCRaves list. "We're trying to save the ability to enjoy our culture and our music."

For many area ravers, pulling the plug on Buzz represents more than the silencing of a dance party. It is an attack on who they are, how they live, and everything they value. The outside world came calling in the form of a grainy sweeps-month television expose that wasn't interested in the music or the culture, but only the misbehavior of a few.

A rave party "is a place you can go up and give somebody a hug and introduce yourself and have no problem," says Steve "Elmo" Gordy, 19, an art student from Frederick, Md. "People who are not accepted . . . come to raves and their self-esteem is raised so high. The acceptance you feel is life-altering."

The Channel 5 broadcast featured some Buzz-goers and a police officer saying people were on Ecstasy, the popular name for MDMA, an amphetamine derivative that induces euphoria. The ravers respond that there is no more substance abuse per capita at a rave party than elsewhere in society.

"Name me one youth culture where there's no drugs," says Tiffany Melton, 18, whose family lives on Andrews Air Force Base. "Name me one frat party where people aren't drunk."

"We don't like the people who go for the drugs," says Dan Arndt, 23, of Laurel.

Channel 5 officials did not return telephone calls for comment.

All the same, some ravers defend Ecstasy. At the rally, a 32-year-old computer industry professional from Washington says his experiments with the $25 pills have been positive. In moderation, he claims, the drug produces heightened sensations and eagerness to communicate with others. "It helped me reach an emotional state I've had trouble reaching."

The soundtrack of the rave scene is electronic dance music often called techno. It can be pumping, spacey, mesmerizing. The stars are the deejays, who construct endless instrumental dramas through the artful selection and melding of tracks recorded on vinyl.

The music emerged in the 1980s as influences from black and gay dance clubs of Chicago, Detroit and New York blended with the electronic avant-garde of Europe. Aficionados favor particular subgenres, such as trance, jungle, drum 'n' bass, happy hardcore, progressive house, etc.

The first raves – mass marathon dance gatherings – occurred in England in the late 1980s, and they reached Washington in about 1992, according to local fans and promoters. The weekly Buzz was not really a rave, because by definition a rave is a one-time, sometimes impromptu event.

Almost from the start, from London to San Francisco, ravers have been monitored by police, dogged by lawmakers, goaded by the media. Sometimes with good reason. Frequently raves drew thousands to old warehouses or empty fields where the promoters lacked the required permits, insurance and amenities such as toilets.

Buzz was created to get away from the rave's outlaw beginnings. Here was a legit club event that catered to ravers.

The demise of Buzz in spite of that only fuels the ravers' suspicion that the rest of the world – cynical and insincere – just doesn't get it. Ravers believe they have discovered a kind of utopia, with rhythm. PLUR is their response to a society that they perceive as slightly mad.

The high school shootings in Littleton, Colo., which underscored the lines that sometimes divide young people, remind ravers of what is different about their scene.

"It's caring about each other," says 25-year-old SnuggleBunny, whose daytime name is Keri Medei. "You see too much stuff on the news and in regular life, and you just shake your head and go, 'Gosh, why can't it be better?'"

Tim Sykes, 19, of Springfield, said people at his nondenominational Protestant church used to sneer at his baggy clothes, an attitude he didn't find particularly religious. He doesn't attend anymore.

"I see this as my religion," he says. "My club is my church, my music is my religion, dancing is my prayer. . . . I have not found any other group of people more loving about each other and more caring about each other."

Ravers are tolerant and open-minded, so they do trust people over 30. There's a group called Ravers Geriatric, for ravers 25 and older, and over-40 ravers are not uncommon.

You could describe ravers as cyber-hippies, but that's not quite right. For all their desire to tune out and turn on, hippies at least paid lip service to challenging the establishment and changing the world.

The conscientious raver will apply PLUR to life outside the clubs, but there's little raver activism, except to defend raving itself. "It's not that we're out to change the world," says Uri Halioua of Potomac, a 19-year-old club promoter. "It's kind of our little haven from the world."

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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