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Trying to assemble a group of people to talk about the local rave scene is a Herculean task. After a few days of attempting to round up DJs, promoters, crew leaders and club owners for a roundtable discussion, one learns that it might be easier to get a table dance from Dominique Sachse. Either the ravers are performing that night or they simply cannot be found or they just flake out and don't show up. One promoter refused to breathe the same air as one of his rivals, a man he affectionately called "the Adolf Hitler of the Houston rave scene."
So it's damn near a miracle that three DJs/promoters would put all the, shall we say, bullshit aside and head over to an IHOP for a Wednesday-evening chat. Fortunately, the three gentlemen who did show up just happen, somehow, someway, to have had no problem with anyone in the scene, nor are they on anyone's shit list. You'd think they would be a dull lot. But these three guys -- Ramiro "Relay-One" Casas, Joel "Puff the Magic Dragon" Poff and the always resourceful John "Kung Fu Pimp" Tran -- have a lot of informative things to say.
The main reason for this sit-down, as Tony Soprano would call it, was to discuss the RAVE (Reducing America's Vulnerability to Ecstasy) Act. Drawn up by four senators a year ago, the federal bill is well on its way to becoming law. The bill, a rehash of 1980s crackhouse laws, states that any person throwing a rave or a rave-type event could face a $250,000 fine, a venue shutdown and even 20 years in prison if drugs are found on the premises.
The guys couldn't help but notice that there are a lot of holes in the plan. "There's no limit on it at all," says Puff, looking over a copy of the bill he got from the Net. "Now, if they narrow it down a little bit and say, 'Okay, all-ages events,' or be more specific with what you're trying to enforce, it might be a lot better. But right now, it's written so vaguely that they could pretty much make up the rules as they go."
It's not just onetime rave events that are under scrutiny. There's a good chance that dance clubs, like local techno hall Hyperia (2001 Commerce), could become casualties as well. "Under the guise of the act," explains Relay-One, "legitimate clubs could be shut down just because the powers that be chose to look at a certain club [as] unworthy under that act."
As many Houstonians know, local authorities already have been cracking down on raves in the last year. Police officers and fire marshals have canceled several before they started (often for "fire code violations"). Although many crews and promoters have followed new regulations to the letter (holding events in clean, legal venues, requiring that patrons be 18 and up), many shindigs were shut down nonetheless. It wasn't always so. "A year or two ago, every Saturday night there would be a rave, either at the International Ballroom[14035 South Main], the Lone Star Arena [5515 West Loop South] or De Andas Ballroom [5201 Hopper Road]," remembers the Pimp. "Now, what they're trying to do is -- or what they did was -- stop these venues from setting these deals and let the cops stop working there. So, yeah, they got what they wanted: no more raves."
The few who still manage to throw a party every now and again often have to go back to basics and hold the gatherings at respectable clubs. Casas and Poff, both from the Neverland Productions team, recently hired out Live Sports Cafe(407 Main) with no attendant hassles. "We've never had a problem," says Relay-One. "We didn't get raided. We haven't had anybody pass out in the corner and get left there, like they have on the news or whatever."
A couple of organizers have taken the sneaky route. Last May, radio and concert giant Clear Channel Communications raised some eyebrows in the community when they held a rave (it was called a "festival") featuring DJs Sasha and John Digweed, at, of all places, the Verizon Wireless Theater (520 Texas Avenue). Although some folks commended the slyness of the event ("It's a good thing because the people get to see it," says Pimp), others couldn't help but consider that if these concert/raves becomes a recurring thing, there could be a price. "If you get corporations taking over," warns Relay, "they're gonna dictate, just like Clear Channel does over the radio, who you're gonna see, what you're gonna hear and where they're gonna play. The local element is gonna be shut out completely."
With rival promoters at each other's throats, rave-unfriendly local authorities, the threat of corporations turning raves into legitimate, beer-sponsored eyesores and a draconian, vaguely worded bill that is likely to become law, is there any hope for the Houston rave underworld? Well, during our little session, the boys did shoot around the idea of starting up a collective of club owners, promoters, DJs and city officials, not unlike the Austin Nightlife Coalition (ANC). This group would keep raves alive in the city by maintaining a respectable order of things. Although it's still just an idea, at least they came together to talk about it.
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