Matthew Suárez 12:30 p.m., Oct. 20
Where’s the Reader’s Hip-hop Coverage?
Hip-hop quest, Rave culture tutorial, & a trip thru Tijuana's bathrooms
Hip-hop quest, Rave culture tutorial, & a trip thru Tijuana's bathrooms
“Where’s the hip-hop coverage?”
We get a lot of emails asking this, and (hopefully) readers have noticed increased coverage throughout the music section, including Blurt, Lists, Of Note, and Club Crawler. It wasn’t that we avoided hip-hop before – in my case, at least, I did and do talk to a lot of people involved in the local hip-hop scene.
Unfortunately, I don’t always find stories that fit what we look for at the Reader, which is topical, offbeat, backstage stuff, in particular stuff that HASN’T BEEN COVERED ELSEWHERE (both mandate and mantra for all Reader contribs).
With that in mind, I set out awhile back to check out a grass-roots hip-hop event in person.
Porter’s Pub, on the UCSD campus, was doing a Thursday night open mic hip-hop night, with an open invitation to area DJs, musicians, performance artists, lyricists, and spoken word poets (aka rappers). On the night I attended, three-quarters of the participants were white males.
Seven guys had co-opted tables and chairs throughout the room to set up and fiddle with their gear. A 20-something black guy wearing sunglasses was testing his Yamaha DX7 keyboard with sampled voice tracks loaded to play at his touch. I wasn’t aware that such a vintage instrument was good for laying down hip-hop tracks.
I mentioned this to the guy, and he introduced himself as “Kev-4Play” (at least that’s how he wrote it in my notebook).
In answer to my question, he said, “Yeah, but it weighs, like, a half pound, and it’s got mad beats…drum tracks, vocal snaps, orchestra hits, and everything I need. I just hook up my master blaster,” he said, indicating an Ampeg bass amp that’s at least 15 years old, ”with a mic,” whereupon he plugged his microphone in, “and I’m rollin’ out the rhymes.”
He launched into beat-backed rap that lasts ten seconds before he’s shushed by fellow contestants and patrons. Outside on the patio, I spotted a post-teen, Irish-looking guy with bushy red hair teased out to Carrot Top proportions. He had no gear, but he was reading to himself from a ream of handwritten papers scotch-taped together into one long toilet paper-like roll.
He looked like David Caruso in a wig.
I heard his solo a cappella rap later -- an amphetamine-paced verbal barrage that appeared to be about McDonalds, Iraq, the San Diego Police Department, something about Britney Spears’ panties (or lack thereof) and…Vikings? Hard to tell -- his enunciation was hampered by the way he inserted the microphone partway down his esophagus, as if trying to swallow it.
Is this really hip-hop, I wondered?
”Rap isn’t synonymous with hip-hop,” I’m told by DJ EVS (real name Evan McGinnis), of the three-piece Mission Infinite.
“I think KRS-One [a social/political rapper, co-founder of Boogie Down Productions] defined it best: ‘Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live.’ Rap is the style of how you compose your words, the rhyming and rhythm. Kind of like scat. Hip-hop is how you talk, how you wear your clothes, more of the lifestyle.”
It doesn’t surprise McGinnis that most people lump rap and hip-hop together. “I think people will see what they want to see. Since mainstream rap music is all about being a gangster and having shiny cars and watches, that’s all the people know, because it’s all over MTV and the radio.”
Public perception makes it hard to get local gigs because promoters, venue owners, and booking agents have the impression that rap and hip-hop shows are synonymous with violence. After a stabbing murder took place in the Coors VIP parking lot during an October 2002 Nelly concert, it was hard to downplay the concern.
”The best thing about the San Diego scene is that it still exists at all,” says Mission Infinite “rhyme master” Eye Focus. He says he’s never seen anything unduly violent at a hip-hop show, but admits that things can get pretty wild. “We did a show at the Boars Cross’n Bar [in Carlsbad], and while I was doing my verse for ‘Champion Sound,’ some lady in her late ‘30s came up to the stage and handed me a drink. Then she just lifted up her dress, showed her jewels, and started wildin' out. She was so drunk.”
”All I know is that I looked up, and saw her ghostly flapping white -ss and her nasty mint green granny panties,” says DJ EVS. “I almost forgot what I was doing on stage.”
Twenty-seven-year-old John Cornett writes the content for sandiegoundaground.com, an online hip-hop e-zine. He admits the hip-hop nation hasn’t planted many longstanding flags in southern California soil.
“I would say about three or fours years ago, the local hip-hop scene was really in high speed, with a lot of local groups putting out albums and doing shows all over San Diego, and there were hip-hop functions being held every weekend. There was always something to do. Now, you really have to be involved in the scene to know what’s happening.”
When asked, Kev-4Play emails me a set of lyrics that directly address his experiences in the San Diego scene. “Slartibartfast” is one such cut (spelling and punctuation left intact, at his insistence):
”Spacey-O, Oreo, Wendy Whitebread on a niggah roll,
Workin the Trax, Brother gotcha Ace in the Hole
When ya bangbang, yinying, tippin the scales
While they be trippin with whales,
I can’t afford no f--k’n Sea World
Cuz I barely made my bail!”
Another one by Kev-4Play, called “Fo Zample”:
”Hip-hop’s something ya gotta feel in your soul,” volunteers Kev-4Play. ”And, I tell you what, you ain’t black, so you ain’t got the soul, you ain’t never gonna feel it. I mean, really, really feel it, you know what I’m sayin’?”
Pause. I’m guessing I was fairly expressionless, which seemed to challenge him for clarification.
“You say this clear so I don’t sound like some kinda f--kin’ racist, but the reason San Diego’s so-called hip-hop scene is so lame is because it’s soooo white.”
Another piece later e-mailed to me by Kev-4Play is entitled “You Lite Up My Pipe”:
”Lite the Pizzo, burn the pipe, aight, aight
Rocky rules the ghetto, dimebag Gepetto
Make you feel like REAL boyz
But they got serious toyz, get the lead out, ballzout, headzup
AK-47 spray the night.
Cha lite yer pipe and its all right,
Ya never even saw the sight or heard the fight or seen the blood
through the glass o yo pipe.”
Kev tells me in an email “San Diego, I mean, it’s expensive; a yuppie, yacht club, rich b-tch, paint-the-ghetto, psychedelic kind of city, right? So you’re gonna see a lot of white guys slangin hip-hop. That’s lamelop… the whole f--kin’ thing makes it too f--kin’ white, too f--kin’ Blondie…I call it turning gabba to Abba…”
”Gabba” is an extreme kind of hardcore, a fast 4/4 beat with the bass low so that walls rattle (along with your bones), and it sonicates your organs. It can run up to 400 or 500 BPM (beats per minute). “Abba,” I’m assuming, refers to the ‘70s pop band.
Kev-4Play also says ”You go to any other city, hip-hop is gonna be a black thing, at least on the performance side…white kids’ll listen…but the shot callers [top talent] dropping beats on the street, DJing, rapping, graffing [which he later tells me is ‘bombing and tagging,’ explaining precisely nothing], those’re gonna be brothers most o’ the time…”
I can see that there’s some truth to what he says, at least about San Diego having a honky hip-hop scene.
Bad Credit fits the bill, a local guitar/bass/drum hip-hop trio of middle-aged white guys who call their craft “financial rap.”
”It’s a different kind of hip-hop,” Dr. Cliff Mixtable told me awhile back. “It’s not about girls, unless the girl owes you money.”
The group’s lyrics are inspired by subjects like Wall Street Journal articles and personal bank statements, with song titles such as “Balance Your Checkbook” and “Bill Gates Owes Me Five Bucks.”
“Yo, I got the dough and I’ll spend it on a whim
’cause I got more cash than an ATM.
Don’t give me no check or no C.O.D.,
I want cold hard cash, show me the mo-ney!”
Listening to Bad Credit, I feel that at least I’ve discovered what hip-hop is NOT. I mention this to Kev-4Play.
”Yo,” he says disdainfully, “that’s what I’m telling ya…Gabba to Abba!”
(Yabba Dabba Do!)
EVERYBODY’S GOTTA GO SOMETIME – TIJUANA BATHROOMS
Every weekend evening, thousands of people travel southbound across the San Ysidro-Puerta México Port of Entry. The majority will pass right by Plaza Viva Tijuana, a retail commercial center adjacent to the border station, and head straight for the nightclubs and bars along Avenida Revolución, the biggest "paseo" in town.
That's "where la patria begins," according to a municipal motto posted at the Tijuana Tourist Terminal between 6th and 7th streets.
The party continues in bars and cantinas on parallel streets like Constitución, Agua Caliente and Niños Heroes, and doesn't end until nearly sunrise. "No cover before 10:00 pm," "$20.00 all-U-can-drink" and "2-fer-1" specials pull the throngs of pedestrians into disco style bars such Club A, Baby Rock, El Jardin, Zka, Bacarat, Tequila Sunrise and Safari's, among others. These contemporary nightclubs have invested heavily in glitzy decors, elaborate lighting and powerful sound systems designed to blast out norteño, Tejano, Conjunto, rock and roll and techno music at decibel levels high enough to drown out conversation even among sidewalk passersby.
Inside, as whistles trill and onlookers hoot, it's common to see barhops moving through the crowd with Tequila bottles, inviting patrons to hold their heads back while servers pour straight shots directly down their throats. Club employees are usually Tijuana citizens (population, nearly 2 million), many of them first and second generation immigrants from all parts of the republic - Jalisco, Sinaloa, Veracruz, Guanajuato, Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas and every other state of the nation.
Most are concerned with getting liquor into their clientelle, but a few are on site to assist customers ridding themselves of those same drinks.
"Just because this is Tijuana and I work in a bathroom, I automatically get pity tips from the Americans," says "Manuel," at first reluctant to answer questions until assured he and his employer won't be mentioned by name. "I have to expect [an American] newspaper to make a joke about me and what I do. Then I'd lose this job. But I'm proud to work here, I'm proud to be working anywhere. Not everyone [in Tijuana] can say that."
He describes his position as "volunteer," in that he isn't paid a salary or required to maintain a set schedule. "I choose when I work, which is only the weekend, maybe Thursday and I pay the cost of my own combs, colognes, mouthwash, everything except the [toilet] paper and mop bucket."
Whereas bathroom attendants are a rare commodity in the U.S., except at upscale hotels and exclusive restaurants, in Tijuana the position is a fixture as integral as the wall urinals, toilet bowls and sinks for any club aspiring to provide at least a patina of high class creature comfort.
"You shouldn't need a platinum [credit] card or a diamond pinky ring to get a little pampering, a little service," says Manuel. "Why not fix up your hair, buff the shoes or splash on a little cologne so you don't walk out smelling like the burrito some guy just dumped into the toilet bowl next to yours. Everybody has got to go some time and everybody is equal when their pants are down around their knees."
Manuel says much of the bar's clientele is comprised of college students and military personnel. "Even though they don't make a lot of money, they tip very well, Many times, I make more [in tips] than the bartenders do. In the bar, one guy will buy drinks for five friends and tip a dollar. Nobody tips for someone else in the bathroom."
"They each have to walk past me, coming in and going out, and I get tips just because I keep [the bathroom] clean with toilet paper in the stalls and mop the floors."
Further down the street, a "$10.00/All You Can Drink” cover charge has lured a mostly teenage, mostly American, mostly inebriated crowd, most of them ignoring the Hispanic rock band playing cover tunes (sung in English). The line for the men’s room is long, and two multi-pierced youths shift back and forth on both feet, hands in pockets and shaking their baggie pants up and down pants nervously as they debate whether to run outside and urinate in the alley (“Nah, I hear the cops down here sell kids to South American cocaine farms”).
When I finally reach the bathroom, the attendant, Sammy, doesn’t look like he’s enjoying his job. “This night, they are not so generous. Usually, when bands play, [customers] drink very much alcohol and come into the bathroom all the time. Tonight, they come, [but] they don’t tip me.”
He explains that different events draw different patrons, with specific tipping patterns. “I thought tonight would be a beer crowd…they come to see bands play and drink beers. Beer drinkers [urinate] all night, except they’ll [urinate] almost anywhere. If the toilets are full [I think he meant occupied, not overflowing...at least I HOPE], they will go in the sink right in front of me, two feet away, looking me right in the eye while it gets all over the counter. And those are the ones who probably won’t tip me!"
"I once lifted my mop up on the counter and wiped a man’s [urine] up while he was still [urinating] in the sink, and he didn’t even thank me! So I shook the mop hard as he was walking out…it splashed up all over his back and he didn’t even notice.”
“There are DJ nights where they come to dance and there are also…I would call them cocktail crowds. [Cocktail crowds] come between dinner and ten or eleven. They wear nice clothes and ask for cloth towels. I keep the face cloths in plastic bags with [zipper] seals, so they look like hospital towels.”
He says he makes no claims to customers that the towels are sterile or laundered between each use, though he admits that the sealed bags are intended to give this impression. “When no one is in here, I rinse them in the sink, squeeze the water out and dry them under the hand dryer.”
I ask if the face cloth I just saw him use to wipe down a stall door might ever end up being sink-washed and sealed into a customer bag on the same night. He smiles but does not say anything. When I repeat the question, the smile becomes even wider as he shrugs his shoulders. Before interview’s end, I notice him casually tossing the small towel into a large toolbox full of other crumpled hand towels and toiletries kept in a (locked) cabinet under the sinks.
Sammy says that Ritmo Latina and Los Villains are popular bands who draw large, hard drinking rock and roll “beer” crowds. “When there is only dancing, nobody cares who the DJ is, they are all too drunk. Many times, the bartender does the DJ [work] and changes his name every night…nobody notices.”
I’d noticed the out-of-date sounds at other Revolución clubs, as if TJ’s DJs seem to have stopped buying new house music in 1995. Sammy has a theory about this. “The older songs were shorter, so that the customers will make more trips to the bar to buy drinks. I can hear the sounds through the walls so as soon as a song ends and another begins, I have everything ready…because many people will come at once. If there has been much yelling and cheering [during the previous song], I have extra cologne and deoderant because I know [patrons] are sweating and don’t want to smell bad for their dates."
An informal survey of patrons, asked how they rate the services in Tijuana's nightclub restrooms, reveals that not everyone feels pampered by the attendants. "It feels like extortion sometimes," reveals one customer. "I don't need someone to work my zipper or hold my [penis] for me, and I know how to wipe my own [buttocks], so why should I hand over a buck?"
Or: "I'm already getting ripped off at the hotel, with the exchange rate [average 8.8 pesos/$1.00 U.S.), and half the time the reason I'm in the bathroom is [because] I got the runs from the sewage in the water they use to mix drinks."
And: "There aren't any women in there, so who am I trying to impress by tipping?"
A little further up the street, "Juan" is willing to discuss, anonymously, his gig in a nightclub men's room. Like Manuel, he isn't paid a salary. "I don't mind because this gives me the incentive to make more [money]. We have a special permit from the town so that the bar can serve drinks until 5:00 am. Between 3 and 5, I would say that's when I make most of the money every night."
Juan usually starts his shift at 10:00 pm and works three to four nights each week. "I have a wife and two children, and this is enough [income] for us to eat, live and to send our children to school. My wife works for [a U.S. machine manufacturer] five days and makes only 300 pesos [around $40.00 U.S.] each week, which is not enough to live decently, but I can make that much in a single night. We have many poor friends with no money at all so we feel very lucky."
No salary, however, means no benefits - and no protection under Mexican labor laws. The Mexican government recently reformed the country’s social security laws, including provisions for employees who develop illnesses related to their jobs.
The main benefit to employees is that the new laws provide companies with a great incentive to improve their workplace environments - their premiums paid into the disability fund is calculated according to the number of accidents or illness claims naming the company so that the premiums increase drastically with each filing made against it.
Mexico’s Federal Regulation on Safety, Health and the Workplace (RFSH) outlines the country’s safety and health standards and their enforcement. RFSH rules and procedures require employers to ensure that employees are as safe as possible from illness and accidents originating in the workplace., in accordance with the Federal Labor Law and international treaties ratified by Mexico. Articles 165-167 of Title Six provide fines for violations from 15 to 315 times the daily minimum wage.
While this legislation is meant to protect employees like Juan, other new reforms could have very negative effects.
Juan says his income will drop by half if the nightclub is forced to close at 2:00 or 3:00 am, which is a looming likelihood. Tijuana city officials have ceased issuing permits allowing nightclubs to remain open until 5 a.m.
Further regulation has been hard to implement, however, according to Mariano Escobedo, president of the Visitors And Conventions Bureau, including legislation regarding labor laws and workers' rights. He says it's not unusual for the larger clubs to take in $20,000 a night on weekends, and that translates into a lot of civic clout. "We can't tell a bar owner he can't have free drinks for the ladies all night long, and we can't regulate $10 all-you-can-drink cover charges, or stop them from staying open [late]," Escobedo said. "Between 2 and 5 in the morning, everyone is half drunk and totally out of control."
I witness some of this wild wild west behaviour on the east side of Avenida Constitucion, just north of First Street. The Tijuana district known as Zona Norte is home to places like The Chicago Club, The Adelita bar, the Hong Kong Bar and others which look, from the outside, just like the clubs a few blocks away on Avenida Revolución.
The same songs pour out the entrances, women are dressed in slinky clothes and men are preening and swaggering no matter how obviously inebriated. On the other side of the leather curtains usually draped over the doorways, prostitutes are practicing the world’s oldest profession, which in this case is legal - licensed and regulated by the city.
The clubs are open until nearly dawn and, on weekends, the bathrooms are staffed with attendants who agree that men who frequent these bars aren’t worried about impressing a girl. “If a guy has the right amount of money,” an attendant at one club tells me, “he doesn’t need cologne or hair gel or a shoe shine. Mostly, I give change for twenty dollar bills, so they can pay for a room or tip the girls, and they usually give me a dollar each time. Not everyone automatically does this so [bar employees] come in every half hour and pretend to need change, just to make a big show, so men in here notice I have small bills, for tips.”
“I get tips when men ask questions [like] if Mexican condoms are safe, [ones] that they buy at the hotel desks, but they usually ask this after they’ve been to hotel to use one. I keep a basket full of American [brand] condoms right here but the men are so anxious to pick a girl that they don’t think about anything else. I don’t sell much [except] two ply toilet paper and soft paper towels I tear off rolls. Most of the tips are because I answer questions about the girls - which girls don’t make [the men] wear a condom, which girls do anal sex and which are the youngest girls. They want to think the girl is only thirteen or fourteen, even though they know that’s illegal here. I just say ‘I hear’ or ‘there’s a rumor,’ but I never say for sure. Especially since some club girls really are that young."
"Not at this club, of course,” he adds, making me repeat my promise not to specify his name or the venue where our conversation takes place. Answering my questions cost twice what I’d paid uptown, $20.00, which he demanded in advance when I told him I was a reporter.
My interview “tips” are higher at all the Zona Norte clubs. However, the restrooms in these noisy brothels, at least on the nights I visit, seem to be the cleanest in all of Tijuana, especially at Adelita where the fixtures and floors as spotless as those found in San Diego’s more expesive hotels and exclusive restaurants. The only cleaner bathrooms I find in all Tijuana are at McDonalds.
Of course, it’s only in Zona Norte where customers will find women casually walking into the men’s rooms, sometimes even soliciting business within. “It’s more quiet in here and already a lot of the women don’t speak English well enough,” I’m told. “I explain to the men what the girl charges and what she does, or tell her what the man wants from her. The man tips me when they leave, usually just a dollar, but the girl will come back and give me at least five dollars. If she doesn’t, I will do my best for other girls instead and tell the men only about them, not her. Or I tell the men that she will rob them.”
With so much liquor flowing, someone's inevitably going to get beligerrent or combatitive, so Javier's job at a dance club in the Zona Norte sometimes requires him to double as mediator, referee or even bouncer.
According to a 53-page report on alcohol and drug abuse recently published by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, nearly half of the weekend clubbers returning to the United States are legally drunk, with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or higher.
According to Javier, "I've been in the middle of some [very bad] fights. [Customers] have pulled knives on each other, usually because of a girl or because someone [got ripped off] for drugs. One time, I heard something metal drop...I see a guy [has] dropped his gun on the floor [while] sitting on the toilet. Two other guys were doing their business at the wall [urinals] and ran out the door before they even pulled up their zippers. I was right behind them...[that] seemed like a good time to take my break."
"My job is to take care of my customers," said Roberto Cervantes, a promoter at Club A. "I believe we do a good job keeping our customers safe. We're pretty strict about IDs and we search everyone for weapons, but you never know what can happen at a club." One of the club's bartenders agrees, but says he's never felt in danger of harm.
Except perhaps, he says as "The Thong Song" by Sisqo thumps away and all the club lights begin flashing, for the night he nearly died laughing.
"A girl went into the men's room and had [the attendent] put an empty beer bottle on the floor, open end up. She bet everyone in there, five bucks each, that she could [urinate], standing up, and get more [urine] in the bottle than any of the guys, or else she'd let them all [have sex with her]. You could tell she'd practiced how to [urinate] straight down from a standing position."
Did the woman win her bet? "Hell yeah, all the guys had [erections] and couldn't [urinate] straight down to save their lives. But, I'll tell you what, the girl had to split half her take with the guy working in there because, man, he had a hell of a mess to mop up!”
CREEPY OLD GUY GOES TO A RAVE
Okay, I know chances are good that my sideburns are older than a lotta people reading this blog. I’m old. How old AM I? I'm old enough to have…
a) …bought Beatles records while they were still together…
b) …witnessed Yaz in action, back when the name made you think of Fenway Park, not PMS pills, in a time when guys thought menstrual cycles were Italian bikes…
c) …carried an HR Pufnstuf lunchbox to school, with actual lunches inside rather than half-ounces of leafy, green puffin’ stuff…
d) …seen the first moon landing, live, as it was actually being faked…
e) …mailed in my vote for Quisp over Quake, for the Rabbit to get some Trix, and letters demanding the return of Star Trek (the FIRST time it was cancelled) and Lost In Space (if only in hopes of seeing the Robinsons finally throw Doctor Smith out the airlock once and for all)…
f) …played Pong on a sit-down arcade console…
g) …paid 65 cents for the first gallon of gas I ever bought, for the first car I ever drove (an AMC Gremlin...green)…
h) …watched Battlestar Galactica back when the fleet was led by the guy from Bonanza, Starbuck was still a guy, and the Cylons still wore silver painted pants and were ruled by an ambulatory bubble gum dispenser (who sounded suspiciously like the aforementioned Doc Smith)…
i) …seen Zeppelin with Bonham…
j) …Pink Floyd with Waters…
k) …Van Halen with Diamond Dave…
l) …Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny…
m) …Tull with John Glasscock (five times!)…
n) …Sabbath with Ozzy/before Dio…
o) …and Skynyrd with Ronnie & Wilkeson & Collins & Gaines AND the other Gaines!
So, yeah, I’m old. Worth bearing in mind as you read this account of my exploratory trips awhile back to three local rave parties.
For a tutorial in rave fashion, I first read the message board archives at socal-raves. The group philosophy stresses individualism and a come-as-you-are acceptance of all who enter. However, at the parties I attended, an unmistakable “dress to impress” code was evident, with certain constants seeming to be at least preferred, if not required.
Bellbottoms and black vinyl pants were common among both sexes, with the males leaning toward the extra baggy look while females wore their pants low on the hips, often riding below the visible straps of their thong underwear or bikini bottoms. Piercings and platform shoes were just as likely to be seen on boys as girls.
Oversized T-shirts and brightly colored sweatshirts were everywhere, though many guys shed these and went bare-chested after the first few hours of dancing. A majority of the girls wore their hair short, often in barrettes or kiddie pigtails. Bras seemed to be an endangered, almost non-existent relic.
Babydoll ruffled dresses and cut-off Ts were common, and the proliferation of people sucking on baby pacifiers or wearing these around their necks on candy-colored necklaces heightened the return-to-childhood (or never surrender childhood) infantilism prevalent in all aspects of rave culture.
I saw dozens of girls carrying stuffed animals and licking giant lollipops (a guaranteed attention getter that caused at least one four-male collision I witnessed). TV cartoon illustrations emblazoned more underdeveloped chests than the usual corporate or band logos seen on the shirts of female mallrats in the light of day.
Drugs have been a part of the rave scene from its inception, though it’s certainly possible to go to a rave and have a good time without being high. Among ravers administrating a buzz to the brain, MDMA (aka Ecstasy or “E”), tops the chemical chart and the most common fashion accessories – those baby pacifiers, as well as facemasks treated with menthol rubs like Icy Hot or Vicks Vapor Rub – often double as agents intended to assist the high (Ecstasy users say pacifiers keep their teeth from grinding together and menthol rubs sharpen the buzz).
In its pure form, it is a white crystalline powder, but the form sold at raves is usually a pill with a picture stamped into its surface, going under names like Green Nipples, Green Clovers, Pink Turbo and White CK. Ecstasy tablets come primarily from Western Europe where they can be purchased for around a dollar each. By the time they reach America, they regularly sell for between $10 and $45 per dose.
The drug is sometimes cut with amphetamines (speed), baking powder, caffeine pills or even pesticides or poisons. At the parties I attended, I saw various pills selling for between $10 and $20. Ecstasy can be swallowed, snorted or injected but the effects last longest when swallowed. Users on Ecstasy describe the phases of their high as "rolling" or "dropping." The initial rush can be accompanied by exhilaration and a tingling feeling like “butterflies” in the stomach, with the high lasting anywhere from four to six hours.
E instills energy and skin sensitivity is heightened, which is why people at raves are constantly seen touching, giving each other backrubs and, yes, since sexual sensations are heightened while in this state, lots of uninhibited bumping and grinding goes on.
“E is the ultimate aphrodesiac,” purrs one young lady in Cindy Brady pigtails who overhears me asking someone what the pill’s attraction is. “It brakes down barriers and makes you drop your inhibitions, so you feel at one with everything and everyone. I made out with a girl for the first time on E,” she says, “and, until I came down, I thought I was in love with her! I found out later she was just trying to get me to buy more E from her but, wow, we had an awesome time before I found out she was a pro [dealer].”
Others told me about their own favorite things to do while on Ecstasy:
“Dancing and jumping up and down makes you feel weightless.”
“Touching and being touched feels magical, even if it’s someone just blowing air into your face or your hair through a straw.” (This explains why I see so many people with straws in their mouths)
“It’s incredible to fall back and have someone catch you and slowly lift you back up…feels like slow motion.”
“Chewing hard candy, especially Wint-O-Green Lifesavers, because they make little flashing sparks in your mouth!”
“Being touched with a vibrator.” Actually, that particular conversation, with a young woman I’m positive was of legal age, went in directions best left unreported…
Ecstasy causes the body to easily overheat, so those dancing in close quarters can be in danger of heatstroke or dehydration if they don’t take in enough water. These are, in fact, about the only known causes of death while on Ecstasy.
Water bottles are probably the most commonly seen and most important accessories at any rave. Unfortunately, sometimes security guards don’t let patrons bring their own, because water is being sold by concessionaires inside for $3 to $6 per small bottle!
“Smart Drinks” are usually sold on site, made with amino acids and vitamin combinations - nutrients that supply the precursors and cofactors the body uses to manufacture neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that carry impulses in the brain. These neurotransmitters are depleted by heavy physical activity, stimulant drugs and lack of sleep and “smart drinks” are thought to battle these detrimental effects.
DMT, GHB and LSD can be found at many raves (I was offered several types of acid at two of the three raves I attended, and a surprising number of kids asked ME if I had acid to SELL...are old guys at raves typically there to sell drugs???).
Nitrous Oxide - “laughing gas” - has become popular, and I was offered this a few times too. Hard drugs have also moved into the scene, including crystal meth and even heroin, though I saw no overt use myself (I sure saw some suspected users, tho).
“Flipping” is taking a combination of Ecstasy and another drug. Some popular flips - Candy Flipping (LSD & E):
Elephant Flipping (PCP & E):
Hippie Flipping (Shrooms & E):
And Kitty Flipping (Ketamine & E).
However, many people I spoke with, in person and online, stress that drugs are frowned on and discouraged by many ravers, and even banned at some events with high enforcement by security to deter on-site drug use. Judging from the usual media preoccupation with drugs in connection with rave culture, this seems wise if ravers want to avoid being legislated out of existence.
Especially in light of the Congressional bill known as H.R. 3782, approved by the Senate and House Of Representatives on February 14th, 2002. The bill amends the Controlled Substance Act by inserting section 416A (21 U.S.C. 856), titled “Promoters Of Drug Oriented Entertainment.”
It reads, in part, “Whoever knowingly promotes any rave, dance, music, or other entertainment event, that takes place under circumstances where the promoter knows or reasonably ought to know that a controlled substance will be used or distributed in violation of Federal law or the law of the place were the event is held, shall be fined under title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned for not more than 9 years, or both.”
When federal law says anyone who throws a rave “ought to know” on-site drug use is likely and can go to jail for up to nine years, you can believe that a lot less people are anxious to promote raves nowadays.
Still, it’s no secret that even drug-free ravers can be seen sporting a wicked, knowing grin every time they see a commercial for the "E: Entertainment Network.”
Nothing much else interesting happened at the raves I attended, so here are some things I found out in researching the throbbing, concussive music that rang my eardrums like Quasimodo on a meth bender at Notre Dame…
The mostly electronic techno music favored at raves first took hold in gay dance clubs and discos in Chicago and Detroit, inspired by and often built from samples of progressive music by European artists like Philip Glass and Depeche Mode. DJs mix different prerecorded dance songs together using a drum synthesizer, alternate pitches, varying speeds and an equalizer, spontaneously creating “house” music - hybrid songs that change with every new spin.
Techno is anchored by a reverberating beat and the use of rhythm as a hypnotic tool. The music has a high concentration of bass in the forefront, with everything pumped up to a fast repeating beat, around 115 BPM [beats per minute] on up to 300 BPM. Songs programmed at 120 BPM create a trance-like effect because that’s the rate of your average heartbeat, and that subliminally recreates the sound unborn babies hear inside the womb.
Acid House has a lot of squeaks and samples, all stacked to play simultaneously. A synthesizer like a Roland 303 is good for mixing different layers and pitches that way, and what comes out is called a ‘funky worm’ sound…very liquid.
Trance is slow and steady, very melodic repetitive to create a hypnotizing effect.
Breakbeat uses sped-up hip-hop and reggae samples and it’s great for getting the crowd moving, but it has no hypnotic qualities.
Jungle is about percussion…bongos and drums and layers of chanting in the background.
Darkside is mostly minor chords, like a horror movie soundtrack.
Hardcore is basically a speed-metal tune treated with a beat-inducer like a TR-909 drum machine. When you advertise hardcore, it brings a lot of heavy metal and industrial fans into the rave fold and makes them feel at home.
Gabba is an extreme kind of hardcore, played fast with the bass so low [that] the walls rattle and your bones shake…it can run up to 400 or 500 BPM, which some people think is dangerous. I’ve heard stories about how gabba, along with flashing strobe lights, can actually give people seizures.
Of course, so can the drugs some people are taking, so don’t ask me how to tell what causes someone to end up twitching on the floor with foam coming out their mouth.
Maybe some jailbait chick just kicked him in the balls for rubbing her ass with a glowstick, or for blowing air up her nose with one of those damned straws.
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