As an american who grew up in a hipster-y, politically correct college town in New England, I didn’t grow up a raver. Now that I’ve gotten out of my bubble, I’ve met lots of people who grew up in the rave scene. Austrians who went to their first psy-trance parties at fourteen. Van-life Italians who used to track down raves with gps coordinates like they were geo-caches. Germans who can ID different types of electronic music like I can ID vegetable seedlings. Bouncy house, dark psy, progressive, swamp, jungle…. Here I am, having to read Wikipedia articles with little audio samples attached to them like some old man who’s trying to get ‘hip with the times’. Americans who grew up in the bay area, sneaking out their parents’ windows to get rained on with human sweat. Returning home smelling like way-too-grown-up-body-odor. Tech kids from Chicago that found their first refuge from bullies in underground warehouse raves full of weirdos just like them.
The first time I ever left home, I did find my way to a rave in LA. I had to eat a lot of molly to stop worrying about the fact that I was wearing farm boots and a T-shirt while everyone else was a half-naked furry animal. I paid twenty bucks for the experience, and it was pretty commercial.
I can’t say I’d thought much about raves in the following years. I’d always had an interest, but I wasn’t connected with any underground ravers, and I was pretty clear that the raves in clubs are lame.
When I moved to super rural Southern Oregon, I discovered a surprising rave scene. My introduction was, strangely enough, through my passion for writing. I was working at a recreational marijuana farm with this Italian guy who was a writing maniac. We started hanging out often, making dinner and working on a manifesto. We finished the manifesto, and started working on a book together, a timepiece of the weed work culture on the west coast. We were chugging steadily along, when suddenly he had a strict deadline for us. We have to get out half of this book, publish it as a zine, and bring it to this rave that’s like six hours away. It’s french. It’s gonna be good. I don’t think he expected me to come. But my curiosity was piqued. I was for sure going to this rave.
We drove all the way down, basically to San Francisco, with a whole caravan. Five Italians, a German, a Spanish girl, a Mexican girl, some dude from South Africa, and me. It was awesome. Maybe two hundred people in a barn from every country imaginable. Everyone was a trimmer. Almost no one was american, and you could definitely spot the ones that were. Looking a little awkward, usually a pretty big guy who was probably a grower with a beer pressed against his chest. We were right at the front, and some of my friends were taking turns pressing their ear against the speaker. It was transcendent and silly. We were all passing beer, water, joints, and cigarettes around the room. Not just to our friends. To everyone. I felt like we were all taking care of each other. All smiling and sharing dance moves. Sunrise came and I crawled out of the barn to smoke a joint and lay in the sun. Some of my friends were snorting speed. I was confused. It was almost ten in the morning. I was ready to go to bed. But another stage was starting up. We had the most epic view of the valley below us. Partying on the edge of a mountain. The organizers had set up couches and rugs and tables all around and some people were lounging while others were still dancing. The music was still good. Fuck.
That was my introduction to the European rave culture that has found its way to the west coast. The next one, I was more prepared. I might be parked in for over twenty four hours. I should take a nap at some point during the night or around sunrise so that I can be fresh for the morning sets. Bring earplugs.
It was well organized anarchy at it’s best. I’ve since heard the term ‘institutionalization of revelry’. It’s a sad thought. I’ll never lose my love for seeing one of my favorite bands play, but this real freedom made me so happy. Plus, the production was basically… just as good. It was professional level, maybe even beyond professional, because there were no bureaucratic hoops to jump through.
Now I am so curious, what is the history of European raves? How did they find their way to the west coast? Are they exclusively associated with the immigrant trim-scene, or is there a longer history?
Is this a counterculture that will continue to grow and spread?
Raves became illegal in the UK in the 90s due to certain legislation. The Entertainments Act in 1990. Then there was the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, which was specifically about shutting down raves. The US had similar legislation, the RAVE Act, appear in 2003. It doesn’t surprise me that rave culture and weed culture have become fast friends. Everyone in the weed industry is also living on the edge of society. Risks and parties go hand-in-hand. Partying is ruled by Dionysus. He is the harbinger of festivities, theater, ecstasy; but also ritual madness and insanity.
Who are these European ravers that found their way to the west coast? They are adventurous ones, for sure. Travelers, creative money-makers. They actually talk to each other. How else do you hear about raves and trim jobs? Word of mouth. They also are primarily Southern Europeans. I suppose the traits of Southern Europe that are most relevant to this essay are the higher focus on the collective and the family than the individual, as well as higher poverty. The people who the system is built to serve have no need to step outside of the system.
I don’t think that many people in the United States know about this sub-culture of weed-trimming-immigrant-ravers. I don’t think that many people in the United States know that you could find one of these big raves somewhere in Northern California every couple of weeks. I think that most of us have a negative image of the types of people that party for 24-48 hours nonstop. That they are stupid, and boring to talk to. That they are draining society instead of contributing to it. That they are from rich families, wasting their potential. Experiencing this new kind of rave made me realize that I had a lot of these stereotypes. That I should think more on the subject. That these sorts of extended parties can actually be a thoughtful, intentional form of protest. Perhaps a more sustainable protest against society, since it’s one that connects us through joy and love.
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