Rave Waves Pt. II - The British Invasion

While East-LA Latinos may have been first on the rave scene, they were certainly not alone. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, techno-and-house music fueled the flames of an orbital rave explosion, and as early as 1990, something was beginning to swell across town thanks to an influx of rave-crazed immigrants.

This, of course, is the British Invasion — and I’m not talking about The Beatles, The Stones, or Pink Floyd. Displaced, middle-class, Londoners were making their way out West and bringing the city’s notorious underground, dance culture with them. Unsurprisingly, things were getting pretty trippy up in San Francisco, where people saw raves as “a gathering of youth to engage in ritual dance and techno-shamanism for the dissolution of alienation found in the modern capitalist system, using the technology of the system.” (1)

There was a youthful optimism in those early days of the internet, not unlike the blockchain hysteria you hear nowadays. Techno was the music of early adopters. Ravers and coders were coming together to decentralize the unequal, late-capitalist system. Embrace technology, they begged; information is freedom. (1)

“Part of the explosion of the whole electronic music scene has been totally tied to the Internet, and the way we can communicate over vast distances,” Richie Hawtin told NPR in 2011.

The high-tech sound, especially amid San Francisco’s experimental tech boom, was seen as a tool on a much-needed, collective spiritual journey, and ironically, a return to tribal values. It was an interaction of the human and the machine, implicating a postmodern ‘secular religion’ where technology itself is worshipped. and emerging from this techno-religiosity was the nomadic phenomenon of Burning Man. One might even call it a… rave-olution. (1)

Meanwhile, down in Los Angeles, a tangential scene of its own beginning to take form. Unlike its techno-spiritual counterpart up North, the SoCal scene less about the pursuit of collective consciousnesses or spiritual awakenings and more about fashionable hedonism coupled with the increasing demand for the parties to continue after 2:00 am. Consequentially, while San Francisco’s techno-religiosity legacy is the nomadic phenomenon of Burning Man, LA’s more fashion-oriented legacy ultimately grew into events like EDC and Coachella. And although these events have grown into the global, corporate brands that they are today, if you take a deeper look, you’ll see their origins were very ‘underground’.

As early as 1990, signs for psychedelic after-parties began popping up around town. This of course, being for an entirely different community than the ditch parties that were happening in East LA. They may as well have been parallel universes. One of the non-British pioneers was Steve Levy, a DJ native to Santa Monica. After experiencing warehouse raves in London, he came back with a stack of acid house records 12 inches thick. He came back with a mission: to recreate the rave-friendly environments he found in the UK, right here in the UK. Along with his brother Jonathon, they started the Moonshine parties in 1989 in a warehouse in West Los Angeles, that was also used as an illegal casino. The event that has been called "the seeds of raving in the United States." This of course is referring to the nation-wide rave explosion that was soon to come. (2)

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Doc Martin, whose moved to the LA from San Francisco in 1990, marking a pivotal moment in California rave history, says that "whereas in San Francisco most things were in clubs, at that time LA was all about warehouses, clubs and places like Park Plaza." Taking cues from the UK rave scene, anywhere that could reasonably house a party was considered. With its endless sprawl of unoccupied industrial wasteland and open-minded, party-minded population, Los Angeles was primed for the explosion of friendly but fierce competition, amongst ambitious house and techno heads, to throw the most extravagant parties in the most outlandish locations just about anywhere they could find in SoCal. (2)

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There was Les Borsai from Orange County. Nowadays pioneering the blockchain space as an entrepreneur, he was a pioneer in LA rave scene — the first guy to start breaking into warehouses DTLA to throw parties. “For me it was all about the production, the idea of having a vision and building it up from the ground,” he said in Simon Reynolds’ book Generation Ecstasy. What started small led to increasingly grandiose raves in DLTA warehouses. With names like ‘Double Hit Mickey, Mr. Bubble, and King Neptune’s Underwater Wet Dream, they were having a lot of fun. For the latter, they “painted the whole warehouse fluorescent, using stencils of seashores and fish an sharks. There was blue lighting and bubble machines, which made the whole club look fuckin’ spectacular.” When police helicopters and LAPD arrived on the scene, the scrambling Borsai found another location underneath a massive underground parking structure within 24 hours. They tripped it out with their wacky paint designs, brought in a huge water truck and went cases of shampoo to foam up the hole dance floor. (2)

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Most Americans knew nothing about raves. That of course was until Les Borsai’s O3 show at the Long Beach Convention Center on September 14, 1991. Headlined by Manchester’s 808 State, who had broken through internationally with “Pacific State.” Bjork gave a famous surprise guest appearance for their song “Oops.” (3)

While Borsai, who became a serial entrepreneur and consultant specializing in the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry, was struggling to evade the clutches given his explosive success, Daven ‘the Mad Hatter’ Michaels was formulating a rave of his own called LSD — Love, Sex Dance.

Michaels had also become obsessed with spectacular, ‘fully themed’ productions. For one modeled on Ancient Rome, they got 400-pound guy called Fat Freddie to wear a toga and sit on a throne. When he sat down, the columns came crashing down to symbolize Rome crumbling. Then, suddenly, a hydraulics system lifted everything back together, evoking frenzied response from the young rave-goers.

Daven’s loopy ideas culminated with his series of parties called Paw Paw Patch,in the desert city of Hemet which he claimed was, “the first party where ravers saw the sun go up.” For Paw Paw Ranch II, in his usual, over-the-top fashion, he rented a ‘ghost town movie set’ from a film studio, which they erected at Horse Thief Canyon Stables in Orange County. The party attracted over 4,000 attendees, drawing attention to the drug use that can be found in any underground, music scene.

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But, according to legend, nothing tops the most extravagant SoCal rave ever which was Gilligan’s Island. Twelve hundred people ferried over to Catalina for the rave which took place in the Catalina casonio-cum-ballroom. With a massive budget and no possibility of ever recouping what they spent, it was a risk that paid off. They took over the island, easily outnumbering the small police force who wanted them to stop but couldn’t do anything to stop it — so outlawish, so brilliant. Gilligan’s island set the standard, and from then on, everyone was trying to re-create that vibe. (2)

Listen to Doc Martin's set @ Gilligans in 1991: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGAVWgwhXkg

In 1991 Club D.J. Swedish Egil accepted an opportunity to develop his music director skills and visionary style when he left KROQ-FM (106.7 FM) to join L.A.'s new Mars-FM. Along with fellow KROQ-FM alum Freddy Snakeskin who became Mars-FM's program director, the station became known for its role in introducing the techno musical style, with Egil being the guy responsible for "picking the hits" and breaking new artists.

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The station broadcast “the new music invasion” all day long, with its memorable tagline, “we want techno”, intermittently queued. There was an explosion of rave fashion on LA’s streets. Fresh Jive, Clobber, and other rave-oriented clothing lines became influential as kids adopted the style adopting the taste for the music. Happening in conjunction with the computer graphics revolution the whole culture got very visual.

Sure, there was a lot of fashion and ‘balls out hedonism’ during this era of the LA rave but there were utopian aspects as well. There was a moment of genuine cultural evolution — in both the country and the world — as for brief moments in secret, underground spaces, the acutely segregated city began to transcend its acutely segregated past. “For the first time in my life I saw people from every neighborhood - San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Long Beach - coming together, says Todd Roberts, editor of Urb, LA's DJ magazine. (2)

“It was especially nice being African American myself, to see black youth involved and not just a bunch of white kids acting weird. Rave allowed me to talk about see LA as a better community than most people give it credit for. It is a very divided city . But this was the first time those walls were breaking down. Utopian? It was as utopian as LA could get!”

For 18 months in 1990 and 1992, in conjunction with the wacky parties thrown by passionate entrepreneurs like Borsai and Michaels, LA had the most full-on rave scene in America.

By 1992 these raves began to lose their outlaw edge. Huge potential profit-margins were attracting both shady fly-by-night entrepreneurs and even serious criminals. Virtual crime was rife among LA promoters - hot checks, credit card scams, cellular phone fraud. Parties were often funded by doing things with other people’s money -- things without their consent. The one's that didn't start to legitimize descended into dark, druggie-infested that was more about addiction than music. (2)

This rebellious wave had finally crashed and washed up on a far more mainstream shore. What began as illegal spiritual gatherings in abandoned warehouses had morphed into fully licensed commercial behemoths that would eventually pave the way for global, electronic dance music touchstones like Coachella and EDC.

But as one waves fades, another one swells. Just because a small dip was to come after this epic era in the LA rave scene, didn't mean that the next generation of pioneers wasn't ready to take the torch. And take the torch they did. Make sure to stay tuned in for our next edition of Rave Waves.

Sources:

1) https://timeline.com/raves-tech-san-francisco-727d1e0d224d
2) https://www.amazon.com/Generation-Ecstasy-World-Techno-Culture/dp/0316741116
3) https://medium.com/@ghostdeep/rave-in-the-machine-the-story-of-skylab2000s-dennis-barton-1962-2017-298a1a30c3f1