When I was about 15 years old, all of my friends were intensely into raves and raver culture. They wore those ridiculous baggy black pants with reflectors all over them and spent their free time either practicing giving light shows or mastering their shuffle.
I never went with them because early high school me was too scared to leave her comfort zone, but I always got to hear a lot about what raves were like and felt at least relatively knowledgeable of the culture.
This past weekend, though, all of my conceptions of raves were blindsided when I actually, for the first time, in my life attended a rave.
We arrived at the rave about three hours after it started to join about 150 people spread out across the room, dancing by themselves, playing with LED poi balls or just standing around in what they probably hoped others perceived as apathetic coolness.
It was nothing like what I had imagined. In all the event pictures my friends got tagged in on Facebook, you could always see a sea of sweaty people covered in beads and likely reeking of regret. Though the people here did indeed have a plethora of beads, and I don’t doubt that they all had lifetimes full of regret, this was more of puddle than a sea, laying in its own abject misery.
The music was so loud that my ears have more than likely been permanently damaged, but never the less I danced, and I concede that I had fun doing it. Dancing at raves seems to mean flailing around and making slight jumping movements, so it’s perfect for someone with as impaired motor functions as my own.
My first spurt of dancing probably lasted a good 20 minutes before I got overheated and needed to take a break. My friends and I walked outside into a fenced-in area for resting. The cigarette smoke in the air was so think that it burned my eyes a little. Once my vision focused again I soaked in my surroundings and the eclectic assemblage before me.
There was an older man, probably late 50s, in denim overalls with a woman in a pink track suit that I assumed to be his wife leaning against the building. At first I thought they were parental chaperones, but later in the night I saw them dancing and having way too much fun just to be someone’s guardian. I also talked to a 16 year old girl dressed like Sailor Moon who claimed to have been raving since she was 11. Later in the evening, one of my friends who was a regular at these events told me that at the last rave she attended, the Sailor Moon girl had taken some serious drugs and she had to babysit her the whole night.
Though there were many patrons as unique as the aforementioned few, the majority of the people there reminded me almost too much of the characters of my awkward pubescent years. Though there was an abundance of actual high-schoolers there, many of the attendees were college-age and even beyond and still acting like my friends and I did when we were 15.
After standing out in the cold and shouting over the music, we returned to the festivities inside in time to hear the headliner DJ, a man who goes by Gammer and who I was lead to believe was highly prominent on the hardcore rave scene.
The three of us got as close to the stage as possible, and I suddenly found myself trapped between smelly men and young girls in fur leg-warmers.
DJ Gammer came out on stage with a British man in a Red Sox snapback and the bass got so intense I could literally feel my chest cavity vibrate. The British guy talked or rapped or something but you couldn’t hear him over the music so mostly he just paraded around the stage looking full of himself. Someone threw a plastic buffalo on stage, a gesture I still don’t understand, and the performance continued.
Another 20 minutes of intense fist pumping and cheering went by before I was ready to go for good. I pulled my friend who was also having his first rave experience that night aside and asked if he wanted to leave. He agreed and so we hung out for 2 hours in a parking lot full of drunken children and frat boys until our other friend was ready to go as well.
All in all I didn’t have that bad of a time. I had fun with my friends, danced around and cracked some jokes but I can’t say I would want raving to become a staple in my weekly entertainment routine. It was nothing like I imagined—which was probably something like people dipping themselves in ecstasy and feeling electronic music in their toes. Instead I found myself at what felt like a high school dance with all the weird kids who never went to high school dances.
Perhaps how I imagined raves back in high school was how they were in 2010, and now the scene is near its painful death. Maybe my friends hyperbolized their experiences to me because the sad truth of what raves were like was too shameful to admit. I may never know.
So if you like laser light shows on crack, loud music and the freedom to dance and act however you want because everyone is either too intoxicated or self-involved to care, I’d definitely recommend going to a rave. I’d also recommend bringing as many friends as possible because these kinds of things are always better in groups and also the more of you there are, the more likely you’ll be able to fill up the dance floor and live the idealized dream-rave experience teenage me had imagined.