By Aaron Reiss
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By Dianna Wray
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The events took place at traditional live and club music venues in addition to abandoned warehouses, open fields and parking lots. The International Ballroom, or I-Ball, in southwest Houston, was a favorite spot, hosting parties almost once a month.
"Pretty much anywhere and everywhere you could set up a sound system, someone tried to throw a party," says Levon Louis, a local DJ and producer.
Adrian Page, who estimates that she went to hundreds of parties during the period, attended her first one at age 14.
"When you're young and you've found something new -- I guess I was pretty much brought up on rock and roll, and for me to be exposed to this completely different world, it was amazing, it really was," she says. "It was just a completely different experience, a completely different world."
"It was coming from every angle," says DJ Bizz, a muscular and imposing 35-year-old who spins at the Rent party. Bizz had been Anderson's partner at Chemistry and was a part of After Dark, a rave promotions organization. At his town home west of Bellaire, he hauls out a box of mementos from the era, including a photo album stuffed with eye-popping flyers. Slick design accelerated throughout the decade, along with the size of the crowds, the frequency of shows, the quality of music and, yes, the amount of ecstasy being ingested.
"In the mid- to late '90s, it was retarded," says Robert M, referring to the serotonin bonanza. "That's what happens when you have kids at an adult thing." Indeed, just as youth largely propelled the success of the rave movement -- and with it, electronic dance music -- youth ultimately sealed its fate.
Chris Anderson watched what might be termed "the pant leg index," a measurement of raver fashions that saw the width of jean bottoms grow to absurd proportions. Teenage kids dragged their oversize denim along the ground like floppy elephant ears, decked out in candy charms, Tickle Me Elmo backpacks and, Anderson shudders, pacifiers.
"The pacifiers became the bling of the rave culture," he says. Such bling -- the paraphernalia of bacchanalia -- threatened to caricature and stigmatize the music.
Mister Spacely, a local DJ who describes his brand of UK hard house as "a car alarm with a bass line behind it," admits everyone was responsible for the indulgences of their scene. It's a sobering self-analysis shared by several others.
"Behind the decks, quite honestly, all I saw was a bunch of kids on drugs," he says, adding that DJs and promoters fed the image to some degree by putting allusions to "E" or "XTC" on flyers, CD covers and track names. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, citing a 2002 study, claims that teenagers who attended raves were seven times more likely to try ecstasy.
In a big way, raves and dance music were the perfect cultural metaphor for the times. The cold war had ended and September 11 had yet to decimate political confidence. An often-spouted (and clumsy) acronym was PLUR: peace, love, unity and respect. With the stock market booming, economic optimism trickled down to a generation of young people with more disposable income to blow than ever before. What better way to express that exuberance than by dropping E and dancing feverishly until the sun came up?
"It was a very special time to be a part of the new media formats," says Louis. "No one knew what to expect. Everyone felt this thing building, and it came through in music and visual art and graphic art and dance and expression and every facet of youth culture.
"The rave concert was at the forefront of that," he says, channeling hippie ideals through a postdigital prism. "Things were going well; the country was in a pretty good spot, and with the millennium right around the corner, everyone had this unison of feeling that something big was right around the corner."
Transit was, by all accounts, that tipping point -- an orgy of underage excess at an AstroArena megaparty of 18,000 people in April 2000.
"Transit was the Playskool equivalent of My First Rave," says Mister Spacely. "A whole bunch of kids told their parents they were staying at a friend's house, and they ended up coming out and taking E and seeing shit."
"It was bigger and bolder than anyone, including the promoters, could have expected," says Louis. "Leading up to that point, it was, well, we're having a good time and we've got great lasers and all kinds of freaky people hanging out -- how far can we take it? How big can we go?"
He remembers showing up to the parking lot when it was still daylight out and seeing a line of thousands of kids snaking around the building, blowing whistles, jacking up their sound systems and shaking the gates to get in. Those who performed were mesmerized by countless glowsticks flickering in the audience like tiny fireflies in the distance.
"It was super-packed, and a bunch of kids were just sitting down on the floor, just being messed up," says Daniel "DZ" Velasquez, who spun that night. "I remember having to walk through just puddles and puddles of kids; that's what I used to call 'em is puddles, because they used to be like liquid."