Sun-Times (Chicago, IL); Sunday May 8, 1994
A Weekend of 'Blissful Enlightenment' at a Rave
by Jim DeRogatis
(page 1B, 5B)
Hixton, Wis.The music was startlingly loud, and the earth reverberated
in time to the throbbing bass. A mass of sweaty young bodies gyrated
directly in front of a wall of speakers, drawn to the sound as if
pulled by a powerful magnet.
rave, a weekend of loud music, trippy lights and general debauchery,
is everything that Lollapalooza pretends to be but isn't.
tent was almost pitch-black, but a light illuminated a young man
dancing wildly atop the speakers. He was completely naked, and he
couldn't have been happier.
to the rave new world circa 1994. The rave, a pop culture phenomenon
that sprang up in England, is an underground dance party. This night's
location: a wooded hillside in a remote Wisconsin town called Hixton,
population 403 or 356, depending on which of the welcome signs you
choose to believe.
of cars made the five-hour trip from Chicago so their occupants
could dance all night, frying the eardrums with music and their
brains with Ecstasy, the hallucinogenic substance of choice.
cars hailed from Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kentucky. Many
of them looked as if they were borrowed from unsuspecting parents.
idea of 2,000 teenagers from across the Midwest descending on a
town like Hixton for a weekend of loud music, trippy lights and
general debauchery sound like the plot of a late '60s "acid freak-out"
movie. but it happened, and it's likely to happen more often in
Hixton event was dubbed "Furthur," after the colorful bus driven
by author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. It was everything
Lollapalooza pretends to be but isn't, succeeding where that annual
rock fest fails because it was untainted by the cynicism and greed
of the music business as usual.
through word of mouth, E-mail on the computer network Internet and
home-made fliers, raves spring up in the urban warehouses and remote
outdoor locales on the average of every other week. The exact location
in announced at the last possible moment. And despite premature
reports that the rave scene is dead, attendance has been growing
steadily for the past three years.
most active American scenes are in New York and San Francisco, but
raves in those cities are usually legal events held at dance or
rock clubs. The Midwestern scene is smaller and feistier, and committed
to more independent and idealistic goals.
May Day party that invaded Hixton's CMJ motocross track was the
Midwest's biggest rave to date. Fliers advertised "a gathering celebrating
the flowering of summer and our culture."
the cold, wet weather wasn't exactly conducive to the promised "blissful
enlightenment." the crowd didn't let the sogginess drag it down.
there was more that a little mud at Woodstock, right?
name, its billing and the mud all underscored the connection between
the psychedelic '60s and the psychedelic '90s, but this was no nostalgia
trip. The ravers of the '90s have their own agenda and culture,
and it's idealistic and energizing.
vowed to do was bring everybody together to communicate with each
other and create more of a family atmosphere similar to Dead shows."
said Kurt Eckes of Milwaukee's Drop Bass Network, which promoted
the rave with the Chicago magazine Reactor and M.O.R.E., the Minneapolis
Organization of Rave Enthusiasts.
it's wasn't a success. But everybody that I talked to was having
the weekend of their lives, and hearing that from as many people
as I did was exactly what I wanted to happen."
idea of people going five hours into the middle of nowhere to dance
to cutting-edge electronic music --that's the way it should be."
said Reactor editor David Prince. "Everybody came to have a good
time, and they weren't going to let the bad weather, the long drive
or anything else stop them."
certainly didn't let anything stop him: He was the naked young man
dancing atop the speakers to the music of the Aphex Twin.
thought what the party needed at that point was a little nudity
to really put it over the top," he said.
promoters erected four giant tents in different corners of the site
for band and DJs, including artists flown in from England and Germany.
Portable generators provided the power, and an intense green laser
cut spiraling patterns through the darkness and the smoke from dozens
bizarre setting, the frantic rhythms, the swirling dancers,
the droning melodies: It's a rave.
of ravers danced in each of the tents, wriggling their bodies in
free-form movements that were both awkward and beautiful. Ravers
don't dance in pairs, and no one is judged by his or her moves.
The sexual tension that usually prevails at discos is missing completely,
and in its place is a youthful optimism that's almost tangible.
What a feeling
are fond of saying that you don't hear acid house and techno music,
you feel it in your body. Combined with the bizarre setting, the
frantic rhythms (200 beats per minute or more), the droning melodies
and the ethereal voices made you feel as if you were tripping --ever
if you hasn't bought the $10 hit of Ecstasy that was so cheerfully
originated in London in the last '80s when people began flocking
to illegal underground parties to dance to the pulsating sound of
acid house, a version of the high-octane disco that originated in
Chicago and Detroit, updated by the distinctive drone of the Roland
808 bass synthesizer.
"acid" in acid house doesn't refer to the drug, but Ecstasy has
always been part of the scene, and marijuana and LSD are as prevalent
as they are in the parking lots of Grateful Dead shows.
the cold, wet weather wasn't exactly conducive to "blissful
enlightenment," the crowd didn't let the sogginess drag
Hixton, the temperature meant that the usual rave fashions were
covered by winter coats, but few people wore big red-and white Cat
in the Hat hats, fuzzy lime green vests or colorful, oversized sweatshirts.
Brothers from another planet.
the locals, the ravers looked like creatures from another planet.
County Sheriff Richard Galster only learned about the rave on Friday,
and he wasn't amused. He was elected in 1991 with his promise to
stop the annual Weedstock, a Deadhead-style gathering in nearby
Black River Falls. Furthur was even stranger.
sounds like this organization did like previous Weedstock organizations
in seeking out a rural area to have what as far as I'm concerned
was a drug party," Galster said.
complaining several times Saturday night about the noise, the police
shut Furthur down at 6 a.m. Sunday, just as the sun was starting
to warm the hillside and the bleary-eyed dancers were finally slowing
the police arrived, they spotted three ravers smoking pot in a van
near CMJ's gateway. The three occupants were the only people from
the crowd of 2,000 who were arrested.
was angry about the event, but he was also philosophical. "Of course
[they didn't have permits], but it's like telling a bank robber
not to go rob a bank because there is a law against it." he said.
promised that the county will seek action against the organizers
and the property owner: "If these types of things continue, attendance
that's exactly what the organizers want. "What happened at Furthur
was super-powerful in that it was completely underground," Eckes
fact that all these important people from around the world were
there is going to do great thing for parties here in the future."
of expectations and musical biases, it was hard to leave without
feeling that you'd witnessed something uplifting and magical.
you weren't there, you should probably wish you were.