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Trance Atlantic Two CD book (UK); Summer 1995
Raving Across the USA
feature by Sarah Champion
(page 68-84)



front cover
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It's raining, but nothing can dampen the euphoria. Green lasers carve a ceiling across the valley and the raindrops caught in the beams form a shower of green glitter. The sounds of half-a-dozen sound systems intermingle. At the top of the ski-slope a Wicker Man burns and as the music gets harder and faster, lightning streaks across the sky. Soaked to the skin, we just keep on dancing, grinning - can this really be happening? And here of all places...

 
Kurt of Drop Bass Network, Milwaukee


May 1995: at a ski-ing and snowmobiling site in Northern Wisconsin, a four-day 'techno camp out' called Even Furthur is going off. A celebration of the Midwest's rave scene. Even Furthur is promoted by Milwaukee's techno label Drop Bass Network.

You want the Aphex Twin? Fuck off, he played last year!

It is the sequel to last year's Furthur, an insane event at which three people were arrested and one of the promoters stripped naked and danced on the speakers throughout the Aphex Twin's entire DJ set.

"For three days and two nights we grabbed freedom in our mouths and held on tightly," enthused a free fanzine.

"We tasted Freedom on our tongues and it was sweet. We swallowed Freedom in our guts and it was warm.. We inhale the scent of Freedom and it made us high. We achievedFreedom together - it filled our bodies and commanded us to dance..."

 

The authorities made sure the event was well signposted

Welcome to the Great Lakes: land lumber mills, cider farms, cheese castles and tractor mills. Who'd have thought this would be the heartland of America's new guerrilla party underground? After all, this is classic rock territory, where the stations spin Supertramp, Boston, Van Morrison, The Who and Led Zeppelin round the clock.

At last this rock establishment is being challenged, as dance culture finally seeps out of the Chicago/ Detroit rustbelt and into the neighboring states of Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.

"I meet people from California and they say, Oh you're still raving, that's such an old thing to do!" a girl with pigtails and a Sesame Street backpack tells me.

Little do they know that what came and went in New York and LA four years ago is revolutionizing Hicksville. Just as acid house began in Manchester and London then spread in America it is now growing from the underground up. For example, in tiny towns along Lake Michigan - Racine, Manitowoc, Oshkosh - you'll find 'dayraves' in municipal parks and 'microraves' for 50-100 people.

Exuberant kids driver for up to 24 hours, across several states, to party. they bounce up to you and ask you what your name is/ where you're from/ what you're on. Weird deja vu - for a millisecond I'm back at Shelly's in Stoke in 1991 when kids would ride the motorways, dancing in service stations.

The American kids still adopt many of that era's crazes - Altern 8 facemasks, baby's dummies and children's TV kitsch. But it's evolving fast - now they also have pierced lips, nostrils, eyebrows and tongues; tribal tattoos; cyber make-up and punky haircuts. They wear West Coast hiphop pants, with biker's chains swinging between belt and back pocket.

 
Typical US ravers

"In a 'club', if you bump into someone they'd fume - like Hey, don't touch me, I'm beautiful," say one Milwaukee raver. "Here it's like, Touch me, I'm beautiful and so are you."

 

Musically, the Midwest scene is one of extremes. St. Louis is positively 'fluffy' thanks to the Superstars Of Love, into silver, glitter, disco kitsch and parties called 'Roller Boogie Rave Baby'. This is totally at odds with Milwaukee's Drop Bass Network, purveyors of hard acid, breakbeat, driving German techno and gabba.

The DIY tent where you can do it yourself.
Or damage it yourself.

At Even Furthur, the lights are minimal, almost sinister, while DJs like NYC's Frankie Bones spin unrelenting hard and heavy tunes. The rhythms are like gunshots, each beat a bullet, blowing away your body bit by bit until it feels like you're completely invisible. Lost in music.

This is what it's about. The party has been going so long in Europe that maybe we've forgotten what it's like to go that far out. In the Midwest they actually head-bang to techno and naturally techno-cover versions of Black Sabbath have proved popular!

Even more mental, they suicidally press themselves against the speakers all night long. "You can't get any more into the music than when it's three inches from your face!" says Kurt from Drop Bass. "In Canada or New York everyone is 20 feet from them. You come here and the kids are totally get into being part of the speakers.

"We pride ourselves in massive, super-sound systems. We like to make it so that the sound is load and heavy whether you're right next to the speakers or in the other room!"

The Midwest scene is about going furthur. "Musically, beat and melody communicate much more immediately than language and lyrics," someone enthuses. "That's why techno is getting massive, it takes you on an emotional journey, hits you in the gut and carries you."

Aided by chemicals, UFO sightings at parties are another quirk and around Even Furthur's campfires abduction stories are traded . Little green men are a big influence on the American rave scene, inspiring stickers, shirts and hats from posses like Liquid Sky, Shwa and Alien Workshop.

"Yeah the car looks good,
but is my dad really going to like it?"

Like metal and UFO's, cars are another unique ingredient. A bunch of kids cruise the parking lot in a white Cadillac - red leather seats, windows down, techno pumping. Cool or what? As they have done in the parking lots of Grateful Dead (RIP) gigs for years, they 'tailgate' - open up their car's boot and party out of the back. Amid ecstatic dancers at a Wisconsin 'dayrave', with sound systems nestling in glades of trees, you'll find kids having barbecues!

As you pockets fill with cyberdelic flyers for event all over the States, you begin to realize that things really are changing here. There's 'Wicked' in Denver; 'Family Affair' in Ohio; 'Real Non Stop' in Indianapolis; and '2001: A Bass Odyssey' in Chicago. Nowhere is sacred, not even the country backwater - there's 'Penetration' in Memphis and 'Sunshine" in Nashville.

"That your sleeping bag on fire?"
"No, no... I reckon it's yours..."
"Right, right... OK..."

By a campfire on the hill, a bunch of guys drink beers. One is self-confessed hick, "born in Kentucky; brought up on AC/DC, Marlboro, Bud and truck". This is his first rave and he's digging it. There are frat-boys, cheerleaders and lowlife casino dealers too and they're all getting the vibe.

"The thing I liked most about the event was the constant presence of techno," someone wrote on the internet later. "Everywhere you went and everything you did, you heard and felt the bass of the music. When i roasted my hot dog, I heard techno; when I jumped on the trampoline, I heard techno; when I used the portaloo, I heard techno.

"When I finally went to sleep in the back seat of my friend's car, I felt the bass of jungle vibrating the windows. It was as if techno had become the theme music to our lives. When I finally got home, I really missed it."

Techno is the new soundtrack to American teen culture.


RAVE USA GLOSSARY

X: Ecstasy
Xing: Taking ecstasy
Dosed: Tripping on LSD"
Are you rollin'?": "Are you coming up?"
MicroRave: Small party of 50-100 people
DayRave: Daytime free party in local park
Balloon: Nitrous oxide
Nitrous oxide: Laughing gas
Pacifier: Baby's dummy
Tailgating: partying out of your car boot
Mountain Dew: high caffeine soda drink

 


One man who should never stand too close to the fireplace

 

You want Muppet slaughter?
You got it.

You want serious acid casualties? You got 'em

You want hippie shit?
You got it

 

 

 


 

Trance Atlantic Two CD book (UK); Summer 1995
Fear & Loathing in Hixton, May '94
by Astro Girl
(page 85-93)



As the sheriff's car slid off into the darkness, he leaned out of the window. "If this hippie shit is anything to do with you," he sneered, "we're closing you down!"

The promoter had just stepped out of the car in a wobbly state "I've just been for a ride with my friends..." he murmured, before heading off to unplug the sounds, still shaking from the threats.

I guess it was inevitable. What else could have been expected at a rave in Hixton, Wisconsin, population 305? At Furthur, Drop Bass Network's first outdoor techno festival, there were 2000 kids, every one of them totally wasted. Even the promoter Dave Prince had been dancing naked on the speakers. There we'd been chilling out in a van - me, Frankie Bones, Adam X, the Hardkiss brothers and so on. A pipe was passed around. As I put it to my mouth to take a tug, the door was wrenched open and I was looking straight into the badge of a Wisconsin cop. Next thing we were all spreadeagled against the van, guns in our back, an eerie silence all around as they told us to take out our "weapons and needles".

The glass in the back of the Jackson County squad car displayed Visa/ Access stickers. "I knew I needed a credit card..." I thought, hands cuffed behind my back, so tight the metal cut my wrists. Just me, two cops and a long, deserted road peppered with wooded farmhouses and waterfalls.

I felt like I was in a KLF video and expected the cops to be Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond in disguise. No such luck. Other things occurred to me. I had no money. No ID. No phonebook. I was six hours' drive from Chicago, where I was staying.

Worse, I couldn't even remember the address, number or full name of the person I was staying with. Could they deport me without my passport? All these thoughts mingled with a strange euphoria. (I was tripping, by the way).

Back at the station, they searched and logged the ridiculous contents of my pockets - "several color balloons, a packet of Trebor mints, five party invitations, and an "an orange face mask". "Gee!" exclaimed a female officer. "You English. Do you know Def Leopard?"

She grappled with the concept of a 'rave' and told me she like old-fashioned music, "like the Who". She studies my flyers, for parties all over the Midwest.

"These look very 'psych-ee-delik," she commented accusingly. "Aren't The Who psychedelic?" I asked.

She went quiet. "What does this mean?" she wondered, pointing to graphics of a record and a letter E, equaling a smiley. I shrugged.

Possession of marijuana was the charge, although all I had was the contents of my lungs.

"Don't bother pleading 'not guilty', " I'm told. "It'll cost you 3,000 dollars for a lawyer and we'll make sure the judge sends you to jail!"

Before taking mug shots and fingerprints and every dollar I had on me, they tried to trick me into admitting possessing cocaine. In the local press, the sheriff bragged about large drug arrests. At court, the DA attempted to infer I was an international drug trafficker.

 

Raving is America's new outlaw culture. On one legendary occasion at Halloween, in an echo of the UK's 'Summer of Love' they raided Milwaukee's 'Grave Rave" and arrested all 950 people. Introducing the new prohibition.

The laws differ from state to state and county to county - and at the 'discretion' of your local sheriff. Bribery is essential.

In 20's Chicago, alcohol was banned. In the new prohibition era, they've tried to wipe out the party scene by making clubs 21 - and - over (the legal drinking age). There's no entrance anywhere without ID and no new licenses have been given to clubs for two years.

"The cops are catching up and shutting us down and the media is constantly going on about sex-and-drug orgies," says Sheri on Minneapolis techno store Cynesthesia. She was arrested at Love Generator in St. Louis for "taking a picture of a cop busting the party", manhandled, charged with 'interfering with on officer doing his duty' and thrown in jail.

As in the UK, the local papers run regular stories on this corrupting new youth culture. In one, it said the event seemed to be promoted by a mysterious organization called 'RAVE' - no one quite knowing who this was or what the letters stood for.

 


 

Trance Atlantic Two CD book (UK); Summer 1995
Drop Bass Network-Introducing the Midwest Hardcorps
feature by Sarah Champion
(page 96-103)



Milwaukee is known as 'Brew City'. It's a town renowned for beer, heavy metal, The Violent Femmes, its large number of German immigrants... and now, Drop Bass Network, the Midwest's foremost party promoter and techno label.

The Drop Bass working posse at Furthur
We drive into town along an aerial highway, through a skyline of factory chimneys and church spires reminiscent of a Northern English mill town. Outside a wooded suburban house is a clue that all is not what it seems - a Barbie doll, sprayed silver and fetishized in a cage of nails hangs on the wall. Welcome to Drop Bass HQ, from which Kurt Eckes (aka jethrox) and Patrick Spencer (aka Jedidah the Messiah) spin, record, run a label and organize their raves.

Inside, Kurt is studying a huge anthology of Native American designs. He's looking for a new tattoo to add to his collection, which tells the story of US subcultures of the past ten years. For life he will bear the name Black Flag, the letters LSD, Celtic symbols and even his own Drop Bass logo. Every week he looks one stage freakier, as his blonde dreads grow and he acquires more body piercings.

"The first music I was into was heavy metal - Kiss!" he confesses. "Then when I got to high school I was into the punk scene. I like English punk like the Sex Pistols and GBH of course, but mostly I loved Los Angeles bands like Black Flag."

Then, in the fall of '88, his life was changed.

"I made my way to a club in Chicago and took Ecstasy. It was all by chance. I'd never taken drugs. I didn't even drink. I'd never heard of dance music or been to a club. I was into skating and hanging out with all these skateboarders. One of them had just gotten out of college. He took us to this club called Medusa's in Chicago. It blew me away. I'd never danced before. It was probably one of the best times of my life."

 

Medusa's, a notorious underage party club, was responsible more than anything else for turning Chicago's white industrial/ punk kids on to dance. Others among the audience who would later become influential included Matt Adell (who now runs the Organico label) and David Prince (who was inspired to launch America's first ravezine, Reactor, and has become Rolling Stone's first techno columnist).

Until then, house had been an exclusively black (and before that gay) scene. Medusa's mixed up in every possible way. While Frankie Knuckles and Farley 'Jackmaster' Funk spun upstairs, downstairs you'd hear New Order and 'alternative' tracks. If punk and metal were ever going to morph into techno, it was bound to happen in Chicagoland's neighboring state of Wisconsin.

"Milwaukee is really heavy metal/ punk rock town," say Kurt. "Every year they have a thing called Metalfest, three days of black, Satanic metal. Our whole intention was to get the metal kids into the rave scene."

Since Kurt's mind-blowing conversion, he has gone on to throw a series of legendary parties. As well as the four-day techno festivals. Furthur and Even Furthur, they promoted the Chicago leg of the ground-breaking See The Light tour of Moby, Orbital and Aphex Twin.

"Raves started in Chicago in the winter of 1991. Basically we got impatient waiting for them to come to Milwaukee, so we started doing them ourselves!"

As well as establishing their own Midwest mafia of Woody McBride (DJ ESP), Hyperactive, Mystic Bill, Terry Mullan and so on, they promoted Chicago/ Detroit gurus like T1000 (Underground Resistance) and Ritchie Hawtin.

 

Every influential movement begins with the inspiration of a few maverick individuals. The Midwest is no exception. For the full picture you gotta go much further back - back to London in '88 where New York DJs Frankie Bones and Lenny Dee would fly in to play acid house parties. You could draw a ten-year dance family tree, with pioneers crossing the channel in both directions.

These New Yorkers took the rave ethos that they had witnessed on their many UK trips and tried to recreate it in tuff-ass NY style. By the early '90s, they'd jump-started a whole scene based around Brooklyn's Storm nights.

In turn, Milwaukee punk Kurt stumbled upon them, and returned to his home town on a mission. And so the cycle continues. "What was going on in the Midwest wasn't going on anywhere else in the country. We'd been playing breakbeat, house and happy hardcore," says Kurt. "Then, in the winter of '93 I went to new York for the Storm parties and heard hard acid and techno."

 

Inspired, the Drop Bass formula was sealed - drawing together some of the ruffest music from around the earth, pumping it out to rock-weaned Wisconsin kids at mental orgies and blowing their minds!

"The hardcore we love is really hard acid or really hard, monotone, driving German techno or UK hardcore like the Outcast Clan stuff or Spiral Tribe."

The parties, described as "techno pagan rituals", criss-cross from Biblical references to hedonism, peace 'n' love, rebirth and, at their weirdest, Satanism. They use skull and Exorcist logos and, like the Dutch Hellraiser parties, their flyers burn with hellfire.

"Demons of the darkside taking control of you soul" promises a flyer for their Grave Reverence party (Halloween '93'). "An epic pagan gathering of their tribes of evil."

Kurt says: "Personally, the dark side appeals to me more than the good side, but I'm not like a satanic person or anything, although that's how a lot of people perceive me.

"We threw a couple of parties that were based of hell: that you were in hell! People really got off on it! What we realized was that there was this core group of kids at our parties who were really into this whole concept of evil. It doesn't go along with the whole happy rave image I know, but that's what we and our parties are about. It's dark, but not depressing - just sort of unifying. This is what we're trying to do - you got this super-heavy music and 1000 people crammed into a small space. It's a really intense experience."

In the summer of '94 Drop Bass Network turned their fierce philosophies into a record label - an outlet for all the up-and-coming purveyors of gabba, acid, hardcore and techno whom they were booking and inspiring. This posse became known as the Midwest Hardcorps and included Woody McBride, DJ Hyperactive, Freddie Fresh, Astrocat and Delta 9.

The music... gritty, churning, urgent, lashing, grinding, throbbing, enforcing, strong, breakneck, metal-laced, stomping, percussive, hallucinating techno? Or speedy, trance-inducing, kick modulating, 200-plus bpm, acid-pounding, indescribably noisy, carnal, terrifyingly mean hardcore?

Gaining singles of the week in techno Bibles like Germany's Front Page, Drop Bass were soon able to recruit their heroes: New York's storm troopers Adam X, Jimmy Crash and Frankie Bones. Meantime, their success inspired their artists to launch their own labels - Woody McBride, Freddie Fresh...

 

Two years on, Drop Bass Network have grown beyond their Midwest roots to become a global force, selling most of their stock in Holland, Germany and Belgium. The label's logo of an arrow circling the world couldn't be more appropriate. Euro releases have included Deutschland's Speed Freak and Brixton, Mooses On Acid from Sweeden, Roland Casper from Switzerland and itinerant Spiral Tribe off-shoot R-Zac 23.

It's a neat irony. While Chicago's black house DJs found a home on Holland's Djax, there's an army of Scandinavian artists whose only outlet is Hicksville, Wisconsin. Their upcoming catalogue is virtually all Euro tunes. After they released the "deep dark hardcore" of Zekt and Nick East from Denmark, the word got out that these American nuttas were into hard and heavy and the Scandinavian demos flooded in.

"There really are no Scandinavian record labels, but in that part of the world there are a lot of artists doing Drop Bass-style hard acid," explains Kurt. "And you know what I reckon... Scandinavia is the Midwest of Europe! It has the same mixture of industry and farming..."

Both are cultural backwaters, too - where, out of boredom, the kids are driven by an enthusiasm for music and a wile desire to party.

"In my perfect world, I would have a farm out in the country," say Kurt.

"We could have massive drug binges. It would have a cultish type of atmosphere, where everyone totally believed in the same purpose. People could stay for weeks at a time listening to techno - just one continuous party."

 

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