It was that 2002 Mitsubishi Eclipse commercial. Remember the one where the chick was popping and locking in the front seat—grooving out to “Days Go By” by electronic act Dirty Vegas?
That’s when I realized a shift toward the mainstream was occurring in the rave culture in which I had long participated, with Ticketmaster beginning to sell tickets to events where promoters had actually secured legal permits. But by then, I was already on the tail end of my rave days, with no idea electronic dance music would become the behemoth it is today.
As Insomniac Events holds the 18th Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas this weekend, I fondly look back at my days as an LA raver.
It was 1994, and my friends and I had discovered techno music and the parties that went with it. I was a sophomore at a San Fernando Valley high school, where being a “raver” made you an outcast, but our group reveled in it. I was completely taken with the scene which, back then, was small.
Parties popped up in abandoned warehouses downtown, privately owned farms and the middle of the Mojave Desert, usually with no more than one or two stages and 10 DJs. Turntables, strobe lights, fog machines and other equipment ran off generators. To find the parties, you had to call a hotline or be in the know, and go on a treasure hunt-like search around the city to finally acquire the address of the party.
It only took three years for the scene to exponentially grow. Official venues like the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino, the Grand Olympic Auditorium and Alexandria Hotel in Downtown LA, and the Glass House in Pomona hosted legal raves.
In 1997, I got the flier for the first Electric Daisy Carnival, taking place one September night at the Shrine Expo Hall in Downtown LA. I was already familiar with Insomniac and its founder, Pasquale Rotella, from their weekly Friday night parties in North Hollywood, and they threw one helluva event, especially for the $20 ticket price.
The inaugural EDC had one stage, featuring a handful of techno DJs, black lights, strobes and a large backdrop projection screen continuously showing trippy, tie-dye-like visuals. The air was thick and poorly circulated, and distinctly smelled of Vicks VapoRub, which meant people sweating like they were running a marathon. Loud bass levels rocked our insides, provided by speaker cabinets piled high. Shrill whistle-blowing complemented the beats. The surrounding area boasted booths selling rave clothes, water (read: no alcohol) and hemp jewelry, and the only outdoor area was for smokers and those needing to cool off.
As for the attendees: It was a sea of pigtails, JNCO pants, stuffed-animal backpacks, Adidas shell-toe sneakers and visors, Looney Tunes T-shirts, Kangol hats, oversize track suits, rainbow-colored accessories, pacifiers … and lots of smiles. There were thousands, but only a few—it would take nearly 15 years for that scene to hit the six-figure attendance mark at an EDC just around the corner at the LA Coliseum. Our small community, however, maintained a vibe of love and celebration until the sun rose and the party ended.
That was as intimate as it got for EDC, as it later graduated to bigger venues, added more stages and booked bigger DJs.
I don’t need to explain the growth of the rave scene, EDM or Insomniac; or stand on a soapbox about our protest in front of the Wilshire Federal Building in 1997 for the right to rave; or wax poetic about the “underground vibe.” Nearly 20 years later, I’ve evolved, just like the scene. From what I hear now, there’s still a lot of hugs and PLUR (peace, love, unity and respect) going around. The music and the dancing—why we raved and why the culture keeps growing—remains the heart of the scene, still beating loudly.
This weekend, this old-school raver will return to EDC to check in with a culture that she fell in love with so long ago ... and maybe relive those bygone days.