Eulogy for the Rave Scene

Repost from old blog, 10/26/2006

I used to be a raver.

I think I went to my first party in May of 1999, at an Irish community center. The last party I went to was on February 11, 2001. I remember the date because in the wee hours of that morning, my head buzzy with acid, I witnessed the demolition of Pittsburgh’s old football stadium.

It wasn’t until another set of buildings fell to the ground, exactly seven months later, that I realized a new epoch was upon us.

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Even as I was going to raves I was aware of what I was doing, and what I wasn’t doing. These parties weren’t going to change or save the world, despite what the flyer purported – they never brought everybody together as one, they weren’t utopian by a long shot. They cost an assload of money to get into, for one thing, and that’s not even factoring in the drugs. There was an unspoken classism present in the rave scene, with the wealthier, “yuppie raver” types always lamenting those who only came for the drugs, those who didn’t understand that it was all about “the music.”

I took my fair share of the drugs and I enjoyed the music, even if I never seemed to know which DJ was spinning at any given time. Hell, that evening’s superstar DJ could’ve never shown up and I would’ve been none the wiser.

But the rave scene spoke to me at that time of my life, a time when I was young (21) and free and coming out of the closet. There were times when I felt like I was on the cusp of some brave new world, the Ecstasy breaking down – or at least giving the illusion of breaking down – emotional barriers, as I let go, dancing with abandon, getting lost in the music. Strangers would meet easily one minute, and the next minute they’d be massaging each other without embarrassment or anxiety. I went to parties in random fields, to one in an old stock exchange building smack in the middle of Downtown Pittsburgh, and one at an enormous expo center – a venue that probably never saw the likes of over a thousand tripping kids before or since.

So it was overwhelming at times, and easy, maybe, to overlook the more unsavory effects: my roommate who was rolling at least five nights a week, the night that everybody took bad pills that made them spontaneously vomit, the ridiculous fashions and conspicuous consumption (peppermint-scented UFO pants, anyone?).

I was always acknowledging these things, aware that the drugs were providing the catalyst for this sense of unity and emotional release; that sooner or later reality was bound to come knocking. That couple’s e-fueled romance wouldn’t last; even if they took ecstasy on each wedding anniversary. At raves, there were people who would give you the shirt off their back, and people who wouldn’t give you the time of day. And it was just like anywhere else, really.

And so these parties gradually tapered off (though I know they are still going on somewhere, just on a smaller scale) – probably because law enforcement started cracking down on them.

And now here we are, living with the constant warning of terrorism, mired in a war that gets worse every day, witnessing the worldwide nuclear proliferation that will slowly, surely bring about an end to all of this.

I yearn for those days in 1999 and 2000, when I was young, sure, but also when America was a little more innocent, more naive, when we had more hope, even if it was just a fantasy. The late 60s are the late 90s – it’s a facile but unavoidable connection. Nostalgia is so seductive, so insidious.

Best just to pull out my old Chemical Brothers CDs and forget the whole thing.

Photos are from some random Pgh raver page that hasn’t been updated since 2001 and still, inexplicably, exists.

Also, here is one of my favorite sites from this time: a collection of trip reports called “Diary of a Psychonaut”.