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Massive (Milwaukee / Midwest, US); issue no.19 March 1998
Even Furthur 1998-The Long Strange Trip Ahead
by Matt Massive
(page 25)


As the first days of 1998 began to pass, something odd passed over me- the New Years marked the official beginning for myself to begin anticipating this year's Even Furthur event. Being (at least) five months away at the time, I felt somewhat odd to be so hyped for an event (hey, it's just a party right?) that was nearly half a year away. It wasn't until I brought the subject up with friends that I realized that I wasn't the only one. Furthur is much more than a party- it's a chance to truly see what the Midwest is all about: mobile sound systems, freaky people doing freaky things, fantastic talent, and a vibe unparalleled. For someone who is truly into what Furthur has to offer, five months is almost the minimum amount of time needed to plan everything you'd like to see. The only problem is this: even the people throwing the event don't even know when or what's going on, though there there are ideas in the works and plans in mind. Even Furthur this year is a strong possibility but unfortunately not yet a for sure thing! To their credit, the organization is no easy task, but it would help to know.

So what is Even Furthur? Though its attendance has swelled to 3500 or more, there are, sadly, people who still haven't ever heard of it. For those of us so much in the know, please allow this moment for the Special Ed. kids to get off their little bus and get on the Furthur bus... In an attempt to garner at least some information, I spoke with Kurt Eckes of the Drop Bass Network.

Furthur, first thrown on a miserable snowy weekend the first week of May, 1994, was borne from ideas and inspirations from the book 'The Electric Kool-Aid Test' by Tom Wolfe, considered by many as an historic textbook of 60's counterculture with it's true tales of the marauding Merry Pranksters driving across the country in their bus (the misspelled 'Furthur' written across its marquee plate) turning people on to a different mindset... and LSD. Kurt Eckes (aka jethrox), the central figure to the Even Furthur concept, explains: "I was reading it at the time and it was what got the discussions going about psychedelics and people getting together. The book really influenced me at the time. The name 'Furthur' was given to the bus the Merry Pranksters drove across the country. The whole 'on the bus' concept fit the idea of what we were working on. Plus the idea of the festival was to take our culture to something more than just a party- i.e. 'Furthur'" His ideas took more hold in conversations he was having with David Prince- the editor of Chicago's 'Reactor,' (a pioneering Midwest Rave magazine) and renowned commentator of the underground techno culture.

In these halcyon days of Midwest Rave history, the question was more imposing than ever- 'Where do we go from here?' The movements of the 1960's had their lasting effects upon the world, and Raves could arguable be the reincarnation (or at the very least a very similar close cousin) to these, with the beliefs espoused by the mass as a whole being quite similar. A growing mass of people with similar tastes, interests, and hopes for the world that united in a state of dance every weekend. It was Prince and Eckes' vision to contain this liquid mass in one grand celebration over a weekend- bringing in some of the best talent of the time and offering something more than just a party- it was to become a family gathering. The ideas laid all but idle in each of their heads, but upon the involvement of Minneapolis rave founding father and techno innovator ESP Woody McBride, the vision came closer to fruition. "Woody McBride was the one pushed to make the idea a reality- he's not afraid to take chances like that," recalls Kurt.

So, on a remote hilltop visible from Interstate 94 in northern Wisconsin, just outside of the appropriately-named town of Hixton, Furthur the party became a reality, as "a gathering celebrating the flowering of summer and our culture going beyond towards three days of blissful enlightenment" as it was written on the flier. "We decided to do it at the end of April / beginning of May to go with the idea that this flowering of our culture coincided with the flowering of summer. Plus this would also help give it the identity of our own little Mayday since it was on the first of May" -a novel idea, except that it was cold, muddy, raining, and even snowing for most of the three days. Regardless, any of the 1500 in attendance, through the chattering of their teeth, would tell you that something truly amazing was happening around them- even in the midst of frequent visits by the local police and endless amounts of we, cold, mud accumulating on every square inch below their waists. "We proved it could be done. The talent was second to none- Aphex Twin, Roland Casper, Bones, Adam X, the Hardkiss brothers, Micro, Barry Weaver, the St. Louis Vibe Tribe... Too much talent actually [because] a lot of them didn't get to play after the Sheriffs ended it early Sunday morning. There were lots of technical complications as well (many not our fault), but in the end everyone pulled through with the extra effort to make it work."

Many lessons were learned from this first year, and many of the technical difficulties experienced there stood as education on how to do it all again- bigger, better, and hopefully brighter- as the second year's event was moved to Memorial Day's four day weekend at the end of May, 1995. "The concept for the second one was, now that we went Furthur we should try to go Even Furthur." The journey came out of the gates somewhat shaky though- as the date change brought a falling out of Woody from the original camp. It's telling fate though- that with growth and change there isn't necessarily going to be unity and perfection. "Our space hunting went poorly and few things we thought looked good ended up look bad. At the last minute before we were going to decide not to do the event, we found the ski hill. The place just felt right. I tracked down the owner and convinced him this was something he wanted to do." Though the space was secured, insuring that the event had some hopes of going off, Furthur's second coming was riddled with other difficulties. Because of the late start, the line-up wasn't entirely to their liking and the flier was made with haste. When the party actually came to be it was again interrupted by the local law (this time the sound had to be turned off each night), two of the main headliners were no-shows, and possibly the worst scenario- the new suite of promoters behind it weren't even getting along. "[We] didn't trust or like each other much and it was more two camps against each instead of doing it together." Oh, and it rained the entire weekend, too.

Not that it wasn't spectacular- 3000 people came out to this family reunion in the wooded isolation of northern Wisconsin, and you could tell that much was learned from the first year's nightmares by how many of the technical difficulties were ironed out. And even though the rain made the basin-like space into a virtual lake, flooding many people from their tents, creating a no man's land smack-dab in the middle of the entire location, it almost seemed fitting-as if the weather was one of the family too. In some odd irony, the worse the weather became, the more people strived to enjoy themselves in its spite. While Furthur told us all that we can convene as a family, Even Furthur solidified just how much we will do to have a good time together. In the way that Marines are taught to improvise, it seems that Ravers just ignore anything negative out of existence and have the times of their lives. Even Furthur, on the family level, defined itself as something we need to have at least one a year- a chance to make new friends and to really realize the value of the friends you already have- in an outdoor atmosphere where everyone was dependent upon one another. "The main thing we wanted to achieve was the sense of purpose and family that could be created within a scene. We wanted to go for some of that sense you get at a Rainbow Family gathering." At the promotion level, the party paid off the debts from the first year and stood as yet another learning experience for all involved. There remains to this day some legal stuff, still in the courts, the Eckes would only define as "major" so we can only hope that this event doesn't come back to haunt him.

Even Furthur 1996 arrived the following Memorial Day weekend, and in Kurt's opinion, it was "everyone's shining moment," as he, Dave, and Woody were back together with a near-perfect line-up and two years of technical savvy backing them up to do it right. Though the space- a campground in Southwestern Wisconsin- was found only a few weeks prior to the event itself, it was near-perfect. Rain made its given appearance and made the space, with its steep roads, inescapable: "Everyone was basically trapped there." But it only seemed to make the event all the better. The presence of Daft Punk, like that of Aphex Twin the first year, just left you in awe of what you actually were attending. 3500 people -in Nowheresville, Wisconsin- soaked to the bone wet, going buck crazy to some of the best DJs and musicians in the world. "It was pretty instence seeing that many muddy people going mad!" recalls Kurt. "It was great to be part of that event. In my opinion it was one of, if not the best event, even to happen in the Midwest. It was by no means a demonstration of professionalism, but the edge created from the chaos gave it the usual Furthur feel. I think that feel is one of the most important aspects of this event. A lot of great press was created from the event that will make it a part of history when people look back."

It is at this point in the Furthur saga where the exponential rise stops unfortunately, because technically, there was no Even Furthur 1997. In its place, Drop Bass threw a "Little Furthur" because the planning for the real thing never got off the ground and they wanted to keep the Memorial Day weekend alive. It was sad that something with so much momentum behind it wasn't able to continue as so, but the usuals kept the party at bay- troubles organizing the promoters, spaces falling through, and to top if off, Tribal Gathering was planned for the same weekend in England- making many of the prime candidates for the line-up they wanted for Even Furthur unavailable, as most were booked for Tribal Gathering or simply wanted to attend it (Kraftwerk was doing their first live show in like 10 years at the event). The beginning of May arrived and an impressive line up was still managed together, but there still was no space for a party that was expected by many to exceed the number of attendees the year before. "With something this size it would be irresponsible to put out a flyer without a venue and after the start of May it was too late." Calmly and quietly, Even Furthur 1997 was written of as something that would perhaps have to be achieved later in the summer (it never happened). Luckily, it was never publicly 'canceled' and a buzz still existed - fueled by the disbelief that there couldn't be a Furthur to all the diehards who had attended any of the previous years in what came to define perhaps another true meaning behind Furthur, a space was found one week prior to Memorial Day in Central Wisconsin. And, with only minimal Kinko's copy promotions and word of mouth, Little Furthur came to be. "1500 people showed up on the minimal promotions and made the event a reality. In a lot of ways it was what Furthur was really about. Word-of-mouth gave it a family feeling in the sense that friends were telling friends." It didn't hold the 'bigness' that the last few years held, and the line-up wasn't as riddled with big names from all over the world (more so upon the unexplainable no-shows of Ed Rush, Trace and Nico and Tim Taylor being in the hospital), but "for a lot of people it was the best one yet because without the music being the reason for gathering it got to the heart of why we were there - to just be together." It was a great opportunity for much of the Midwest talent, as the event relied on them for the music that was to be presented. "They had to step up to the plate and show everyone what the had. A lot of people did a great job." Even our good friend rain arrived in its usual fashion- nearly non-stop all weekend long.

Little Furthur was as fulfilling, if not more, that its three larger predecessors. Each event has been a magical and educational experience on whatever level it was on. Those who attended any or all of the Furthur events went away with a better understanding of who we are as a group of people unified by the indefinable 'stuff' that bring us together. Kurt, and the numerous partners he has taken on to present each Furthur, have learned as much from their mistakes as they have from their successes- to the point that Little Furthur -a last ditch effort for anyone from the outside looking in- was presented with the same quality that Even Furthur was the year before.

To attend a Furthur event is to truly get a grasp of what makes the Midwest scene so unique compared to the rest of the country as well as the rest of the world. This isn't to suggest that we are any better than anyone else, but there is no place I'd rather be than right here. Unfortunately, at the time of this publication, the details are quite the same as they have always been this far in advance to the event- nothing is for sure, and if it is, no one wants to say much because things can change overnight. Spaces can be gained or last or just plain unusable for certain dates (Memorial Day being one of the bigger hurdles). This much is for sure: big or small, Memorial Day (four day!) or later in the summer (less rain!), the players this year will be Drop Bass in conjunction with Mushgroove of Chicago and Parotic Music of Madison. This is basically the same formula that presented the New Year's party 'Teenage Wasteland,' so rest assured the production will be complete. If Even Furthur does indeed happen on its traditional weekend, Memorial Day, Kurt has expressed an interest in possible doing a Little Furthur later in the summer, possible in August sometime "between the Rainbow Gathering and the Burning Man Festival." I doubt there would be any complaints about this 'Furthur spin-off' that we could look forward to closing each summer as well.

The road ahead involves all the same thrills for the organizers of Even Furthur: Finding a space, securing it, going through the mountain of legal hassles an event of this size entails; choosing a date that is suitable for the location and allows enough time for promotion; calling and booking the entertainment, buying their plane tickets if needed... you get the picture. "The hardest part is the three days before the event- doing all of the last minute stuff, travel, site preparation, etc. and then the four days of the event. It's basically 7 days with little to no sleep and without any 'extra assistance'. It takes a lot out of a person to do that. But when it's over it's a great feeling of accomplishment." At least the fliers have essentially been designed for nearly a year, a concept by the guy whose design has shaped the Furthur (and most everything Drop Bass-related) image to what most know it as today: Cody of 43D Studios. "I think a lot of people appreciate his work. A good gauge of what people think about a flyer is to look at the floor after the first couple of parties they are passed out at. Sometimes you don't ever find a 43D flyer."

So closes the little information available at this point on the event that has essentially become the 'family reunion' of the Midwest. Though it is disappointing that there really isn't any information to offer at this point, any person in their right mind will make a point to check this thing out- whenever and wherever it ends up being. Few things are ever 'satisfaction guaranteed,' but Even Furthur is a sure bet. For now, we'll just have to rely on the old-fashioned way of doing things- watching the voicemails (414.256.1733) and waiting for the flier...

 

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