Cover Story: Raving On

Underground Electronic music is alive and well in Northside

Feb 28, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Katie Freshley

Twirling glow sticks are popular sidearms at raves

When sent on assignment to check out a rave, I wasn't sure there would even be three people in the club. I had been under the impression that raves or "parties" were totally dead. Sparkly and shiny and fuzzy, but dead nonetheless.

So when I showed up at midnight at Clockwork's Milk Bar in Northside — which used to be another underground club, which used to be my friend Holly's apartment — I was pleasantly surprised to find a huge crowd of people dancing and having a good time to super-loud Electronic music. The scene is definitely alive, although a lot has changed since its birth in the late '80s and early '90s.

Depending on whom you ask, raves came from either England or New York City and began with messages of peace, love, sex, drugs and fun. Basically hedonism at its finest. The parties often last until dawn and Ecstasy, which peaks the intense feelings of pleasure that ravers get from the beats in the music, has been connected with raves since the start.

Some local rave enthusiasts are trying to break the drug connection as they deal with the not-so-legal realities of the scene.

One of the organizers of the rave, Rachel Allen of Milford, told me that she and her group feel like there's great potential for Cincinnati.

"People have a love for this music, and it's a good thing," she said. "We want to keep the scene alive and not just get busted out by the cops. I mean, not everybody's here to get messed up. A lot of people just like it."

I asked Jordan Polling, also of Clockwork Productions, if he really thought there even was a "rave scene" in Cincinnati.

"I feel like it's growing," he said after a brief pause. "I remember the first event we put together, and it was really small. We're trying to legitimize things first and foremost. We have the ability to do things legally, and we all stand to gain something from it — DJs, promoters, the kids. A lot of people are opposed to the idea of what we're doing. They think it's selling out. I mean, people inherently don't want their music to get popular. But these people (the performers) have talent!"

Judging by the alert and alive faces of the kids on the dance floor, the patrons agreed. Clockwork's Milk Bar had plenty of people biting down on pacifiers in their Ecstasy-induced bliss and confusion, but more than anything it had sober and fun people of all ages dancing and cheering on the amazing live DJs. This really is entertainment, and these performers really can be extraordinary to watch.

Alex, also of Clockwork Productions, brought up another good point.

"Electronic musicians don't really get enough credit in Cincinnati," he said. "There's like a stigma against it. A lot of artists don't get seen. What we're trying to do is provide a safe, legal, legitimate place to show kids a good time."

I asked Alex and Jordan about the issue of drugs being off limits in their bar, since they have always been such a big part of the rave scene. Could you still have a real rave without them?

I did see a lot of glow sticks and UFO pants, which have long been a trademark of ravers and to some people could easily be linked to drug usage. You know, sort of like the Grateful Dead bumper stickers that can get you pulled over by a traffic cop for being "probable cause."

"Well, glow sticks and pacifiers did come from the whole Ecstasy thing," said Greg, another event organizer, "but it's past that point. When a kid goes to a rave ... he's gonna want to play with all that and look right, look the part, but that's the same with any genre of music. Punk music has a certain style, too. It's not just Electronic music fans. It's an expression. I mean, glow sticks came from art and culture, like fire dancing in tribes. It's not about the drugs but about feeling good at that moment."

"It's all about evolution, really," Alex explained. "We need to be able to evolve beyond all that. Things can't stay exactly the same, you know? The Electronic scene in Europe got big and legitimized because they were able to realize that throwing parties that are all about anarchy and drugs was really a self-destructive thing to do, and it was turning out to be bad for their generation."

"The kids want community," Jordan added. "That's what we want, and it can be achieved without drugs."

"It's the venue's responsibility to keep things safe and legal," Alex said. "We just want to evolve and do our best to let it not get out of control."

That's not to say that these parties don't get crazy, because they do. Raves have the common reputation of lasting until sunrise.

Anybody who has a taste for Rap, Dance, Pop or Rock could see the genuine goodness in this music and this kind of party. It's all about having fun, whether through dancing, listening or playing around. And Electronic music's multi-layered signature sound can connect with a wide variety of people.

These parties are also great places to meet people and lose your inhibitions. After all, there's no better a time to talk to a random stranger than over pumping bass and rainbow-colored strobe lights.

As I was leaving, I noticed Alex's blue tattoo on his upper arm, spelling out the letters P-L-U-R. I asked him what it meant.

"There were raves beginning in the early '90s in New York City, and Frankie Bones was the main DJ," he told me. "One night all of the power went out at this huge rave and Frankie just got up in front of the crowd and talked about what those parties were all about: peace, love, unity and respect. It was an explanation of the scene and what the music meant to him, and it just stuck around."

With that simple and kind message, I asked if anybody else had anything to say about Electronic music, raves or parties. A random sweaty guy ran up to me, very excited to tell me. I think he summed it up pretty well.

"This music doesn't tell you what to do," he said. "You find your element in it. You can get your own meaning from it. With Electronic music, it's what you feel. It's the love, the spirit and the soul. This music is beyond listening. It's something you feel ... you perceive it." ©