(US); July 1994
Milwaukee's Rave New World
by David J. Prince
EITHER THE END OF THE WORLD OR THE BEGINNING.
AND IT'S ALL GOING DOWN IN MILWAUKEE.
JANUARY 1, 1994. Fifteen hundred young people are packed on the
dance floor of Massive, a giant all-night techno event celebrating
the New Year. There's no one still moving whose ears are not ringing;
the beats have been banging at deafening levels for the past six
hours at the rate of 200 per minute and show no sign of letting
up. Bodies twitch and move; eyes shut tight in deep concentration;
strange smiles fill most of the faces. One kid is sprawled out with
his head resting comfortably inside a giant vibrating bass cabinet.
the uninitiated, the noise is formless and directionless, but each
time the deejay switches records and pumps the techno while raising
a fist in the air, the tight-knit group of flailing flesh responds
with a burst of energy. The sight is surreal and somewhat frightening.
The harsh sounds are complemented with bursts of colored, patterned
lights provided by six Intellibeams, several grisly film loops bizarrely
projected on weather balloons strung from the ceiling, bouncing
laser beams, and psychedelic video projections. Multimedia run amok,
the scene is one of utter abandon and pure pleasure. It's either
the end of the world or the beginning, and it's all going down in
play all over the United States, and Milwaukee is one of the hardest
places. They like very hard, repetitive music," says deejay Repete,
the man responsible for bringing hardcore techno into New York City's
Limelight club and the headliner for that New Year's gathering.
"I was impressed by the Milwaukee scene. The harder you play it,
the more they like it."
night went on, and I played harder and harder and harder and harder.
I'm not used to seeing that. I'm used to a situation where you take
them up, then bring them down a little bit. Over there, you just
your friends about Milwaukee and instinctively they'll offer one
word: beer. And while you can often smell the hops from one of the
city's many breweries while wandering the small but clean downdown,
a true underground spirit exists just below the surface of this
industrial working-class town. Unbeknownst even to most people who
live within the county limits, Milwaukee is home to America's hardest
and perhaps strongest rave scene. Incorporating elements from the
city's residual punk-rock scene with heavy-metal sensibilities and
a comfort with house music it has absorbed from neighboring Chicago,
Milwaukee's rave community has withstood the mainstream media indifference,
police harassment, and quickly changing musical tastes that have
stalled the movement throughout the rest of North America.
Milwaukee scene is an amalgam of hippie sensibilities ("peace, love,
unity and respect"), punk spirit ("do it yourself"), and heavy-metal
attitude ("fking hardcore") can be attributed directly to Kurt
Eckes and Patrick Spencer, coconspirators in the Drop Bass Network.
What began as a couple of friends throwing techno-deejay parties in
their loft has blossomed into a business partnership that involves
monthly raves for more than 2,000 people, smaller loft parties, and
an underground record label, also called Drop Bass Network, which
has a growing reputation in the United States and Europe. As Jethrox
and Jedidiah the Messiah, Eckes and Spencer are also a popular deejay
team that plays a wide range of hard electronic dance music.
Bass Network Conspirator Kurt Eckes
operation of the Drop Bass Network is now a full-time job for the
27-year-old Eckes, who left his position as an industrial engineer
eight months ago. With his pierced tongue, Black Flag tattoo, and
semi-secret affection for the first Motley Crue album, Eckes embodies
the qualities that define Milwaukee ravers and is a hero to those
involved in the scene. His ability to inspire the support and devotion
of a large group of young assistants and his good luck have kept
the whole scene alive.
going on with our label isn't going on anywhere in the country,
except in the Midwest," Eckes says. "The same thing with our parties."
see flyers for parties in New York and California, and I can't understand
it," Spencer adds. "They're getting all these huge, huge acts to
come over and these parties are only pulling 2,000 people. Here,
you can throw a party with just local talent and maybe one guy from
a couple of states away, and you get 1,800 people who really want
to be there and stay all night. I just get such a rush out of that.
People here really get it."
is there to get? What exactly goes on at these parties? Tempest
and Descension were large-scale warehouse events; One and Genesis
were indoor/outdoor raves on remote farms, complete with bonfires,
video projections on the sides of silos, and out-of-control techno
among the bales of hay; Ascension and Massive were set in aboveground
clublike spaces. The duo also has worked on events in other cities,
providing a spark to a stagnant Chicago scene by working on two
of the best events in that city, Psychosis and Rejoice, as well
as producing parties in Madison, Wisconsin, Minneapolis, and Duluth,
Minnesota. And they have been responsible for bringing in some of
the best and most popular deejays and live performers in the genre,
including Moby, Psychic TV, Aphex Twin, Lenny Dee, Richie Hawtin,
Dubtribe, Mixmaster Morris, Adam X, and Jimmy Crash.
sets a Drop Bass event apart is the relentless beat of the hardest
techno music. The current favorite is gabber music. Enormously popular
in Belgium and Germany, these tracks are "all distorted 909 drum-machine
kicks, 170 to 240 beats per minute, hard, fast, distorted guitar
samples," Eckes explains. "The majority of the people who come to
our raves come from the heavy-metal and punk scenes, and its easier
for them to relate to this kind of music."
unidentified writer for Massive, a Milwaukee rave 'zine styled
after Maximum Rock N Roll, explains the appeal of the music
best: "They call it cold. Hell yeah, it's cold, and that's how I
like it. Hard, rugged, distorted. As a matter of fact, it should
be more distorted....This is what Milwaukee's all about.
It isn't surprising that a community as German as all shit would
flock to the Danish and Deutchen samples of Oranje Bovum and Neuchen
in die Keuchen."
enough, the music on the Drop Bass Network label does not reflect
the gabber style preferred during peak party hours. The first three
releases, all by Minneapolis deejay ESP Woody McBride, are acid
tracks built around the unique sound of the Roland 303 analog bass-line
label is more diverse than you'd really think, due to Kurt and Pat's
musical knowledge and preferences," says deejay Hyperactive, a popular
Chicago spinner who collaborates with ESP and has a release of his
own on the Drop Bass Network label. "Kurt is a little more hardheaded
and gabberish, more radical; Pat's a little more serious and into
the intelligent styles of music. Everyone that knows about the label
knows it kicks ass."
basically have the principle of hardcore. That's what Drop Bass
Network stands for: getting people together to listen to music,"
adds Mr. Bill, recognized as Milwaukee's hardest deejay and a veteran
of the earliest Drop Bass Network events. "They won't press house
music, pop music; they're not going to press it just because it's
a good song. They stick to their guns."
a few American labels press and sell hardcore-techno vinyl: Industrial
Strength, Experimental, Direct Drive, 12 Gauge, Plus 8, and Drop
Bass Network. All, with the exception of DBN, are based on the East
Coast, and the network of American deejays that buys this music
is very small. DBN sells about 2,000 copies of each 12-inch release
and 90 percent of those are exported. In Belgium and Germany, there
is a huge underground following of the Drop Bass Network. Its third
release, ESP's "Bad Acid-No Such Thing," was picked by Front
Page, the German techno equivalent to Billboard, as one
of the best releases in 1994. In Europe, Milwaukee is accorded major
its hometown, however, DBN's following is almost reverential. There
is something about the Milwaukee scene that inspires many people
who venture out to one event to get involved and participate long
term. Whether scamming free copies at Kinko's to produce a rave
'zine (at last count there were more than 20), starting
a side company like Waterworks (which now sells smart drinks at
all Drop Bass events), or buying some records and trying to get
a few minutes on the turntables as a deejay, young people see something
different and inspirational in the Milwaukee rave scene.
Spencer offers enthusiasm: "People are happy to say that this is
something coming from this area. There's a certain pleasure about
saying, 'This is what we do here, and we like it.' They have so
much energy. It feeds itself, it's always changing, and it keeps
going as long as there's something to loosely base it around.
we first started doing this, it would be like six in the morning,
and things would still be going, and I'd just go, 'Damn, I wish
I had had this.' It's good that kids are getting off their asses.
When I was in high school, I wasn't doing anything like this; I
was hanging out in the Burger King parking lot watching cars go
by. We could have actually been getting our brains to work, writing
things down, challenging each other's thoughts, picking each other's
brains, and exploring each other's minds and bodies or whatever.
Everyone talks about how it's the next generation that's going to
be doing something, and here I actually see it happening. They're
doing something besides accepting and saying, 'This is the way things
unifying forces are the relentless beat and the inspiration that
comes from moving and grooving in time. "It sounds corny," says
Spencer, "but Front 242 has a song, 'Life in the Rhythm': 'I love
the rhythm. Any time. Anywhere. Turn up that techno power.'"