I was only vaguely aware of the rave scene in the late 90’s.
I knew it involved secret parties in abandoned or unused warehouse spaces, basements, and condemned buildings. Invitations were spread via word of mouth on the day of the event, and by that evening a crowd converged to rig lights, steal electricity, and cart in amps and consoles for DJs who would play electronic dance/trance music into the morning hours, so long as the cops didn’t find them.
These clandestine events were heavily associated with club drugs like ecstasy, dancers wearing and using pacifiers (to assuage the need to bite, often experienced by ecstasy users), and lots of black lights and glow sticks. Raves got a fair amount of bad press for good reasons.
The music seemed to have arisen out of the disco, new wave, and punk rock roots of the 80s — Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, and The Human League, for example. But the sounds were evolving toward pure electronic mixes — think Daft Punk now — designed exclusively for dancing, rather than singing.
And while all of that may have helped give rise to the electronic dance music trends and DJ stars (like Moby) of this decade, raves have most definitely changed.
EDM has fractured into a wealth of interesting styles: Techno, House, Trance, Electro, Hardstyle, and Dubstep, just to name a few. The electronic technology has exploded, and sometimes the draw is just to be able to watch the DJ stitch together a dance mix on the fly in the club.
There are of course monster concerts, with artists like Deadmaus (video below) who rule the arena circuit, playing from behind tables filled with mixers, computer monitors, and hundreds of cables.
But EDM parties and raves have also become smaller, more intimate, and frequently connected to a favorite local DJ who is creating custom mixes both in advance and on the fly during parties. There are lots of venues that cater to the under-21 crowd, and are both drug- and alcohol-free.
Here in NC, I’ve been increasingly aware of the EDM movement because my oldest son — whom I call The First — is making his name known as DJ Stepz.
He’s 16 years old, and he’s a dubstep DJ. He spends lots money from his summer job on tech, and hours up in his room building mixes and posting them to Soundcloud or Beatport, and linking them to his Facebook page for others to enjoy and remix.
He’s had several gigs now, and has started putting together shows with other bands and DJs.
It started because he naturally gravitated toward the job of creating the playlists and running sound for the Friday night youth group events at our church, but he quickly realized he could do more than just build playlists for parties.
He downloaded some free remixing software, and taught himself to create mixes even before he had a controller. After some careful research, he invested in a Numark Mixtrack and posted his first mixes online. He started hitting up his dad and other musician friends (techhounds, all) for cables, amps, lights, speakers, and other equipment, and pretty soon he had a basic setup.
He played the International Festival at his school, then played a set at The Brewery with some other DJ friends. Most recently he helped create and run a six-band/artist event (he had a set, of course) called Project Noize, which was probably the best-attended show he’s done so far.
Each time he agonizes over the mistakes and relentlessly makes plans for a bigger, better show next time. During his set at Project Noize, his power went out twice, not because of a breaker overload, but because of the configuration of his equipment (a not infrequent issue with EDM in general). He tracked down the problems, fixed them, and finished his set. I doubt he’ll have a similar problem next time.
When I asked him what the most annoying thing about performing was, he was quick to tell me about carting gear, arranging power, and configuring the sound system. But his friends and fans build him up, he says. He likes it when they enjoy his sets. He also loves meeting other local and semi-local DJs at places like Southland Ballroom and Lincoln Theatre. (That’s me, btw, on the bottom right of the front page of the Lincoln Theatre website — weird seeing it every time I click over.)
But more than anything, he likes it when someone hears his mixes and comes up to him to tell him that they would like to DJ, too. “And I try to tell them some of the things I wish I had known,” he says.
Give it up for DJ Stepz! Go give him a “like” on his Facebook page. He’s an incredible guy.
I could probably get you his autograph.