A rave double-take from a virgin and a veteran

The 12th annual Devil’s Night costume ball, October 24, 2009.
Photo: Deanna Rilling

“‘A rave in its most simple sense is a party.’ For many, drug taking is a large part of the experience… However, the use of drugs is by no means mandatory, and consumption depends very much on availability and personal preference… not all ravers are drug users. Raves attract a wide variety of people, transcending class, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation differences.” – Daniel Martin, "Journal of Pop Culture"

Last Saturday, two Weekly staffers ventured forth to explore Devil’s Night XII, a Las Vegas rave. For one, it was a first time dive into the underground dance scene, for the other a trip back to familiar territory. Here’s what they felt, saw and have to say:

Laura Davis, the rave virgin

The 12th annual Devil's Night costume ball, October 24, 2009.

Saturday night I lost my virginity. I am officially no longer a virgin in the rave scene, thanks to a little help from a seasoned scene veteran, fellow Weekly writer Deanna Rilling.

After living in Las Vegas for the past 24 years, I had yet to experience the brightly colored counter culture that goes by the name rave. When Deanna proposed that I attend Devil’s Night XII at the Flamingo with her I decided it was about time I grabbed that little red guy by the horns and saw exactly what the florescent lights, beaded bracelets and mini backpacks were all about.

The first thing that struck me upon entering the ballroom was the head-splitting music coming from Evol Intent’s drum n bass set. (Deanna filled me in on the name of this style, I was originally referring to it as two dudes with laptops.) I’ve witnessed concerts before where ear bleeding is a serious risk, but it isn’t usually apparent until after the show. This performance was an immediate assault. When your eardrums start to tickle it’s usually not a good sign, but I gave up hope of retaining hearing into middle age years ago, so I continued my ascent into the scene. Mental note: All the experienced ravers are rocking earplugs.

The glow sticks caught my attention next. A persistent rave stereotype, I knew to expect the darting sticks of light, but I had no idea they could move like this. Dancers twirled them in circles over their heads and juggled them in the air while moving to the DJ’s beats. The expression was so fluid and rhythmic I found myself responding like a cat to a laser pointer. I was mesmerized.

Deanna herself performed a few quick glow-stick tricks for some onlookers, and I wondered if I should give them a whirl. My stage fright steered me away – probably a good idea, given that I’m slightly rhythm-challenged.

Devil's Night XII @ Flamingo

In line at the roped-off bar (it was an 18+ event, though most of the attendees looked like they barely qualified) I had a revelation: Everyone here was friendly. Really friendly. They were wide-eyed and smiled with none of that usual female rivalry you encounter in a Vegas nightclub. When people wanted to squeeze through you in line, there was no elbowing or huffing, instead everyone seemed very touchy and pleasant.

While socializing with my fellow ravers throughout the night, Deanna explained a traditional rave greeting to me. Apparently, the beaded bracelets often worn by ravers aren’t just to look cute; they’re referred to as “candy,” and they’re meant to be traded with other ravers as a sort of greeting or initiation. The French kiss on the cheek; ravers exchange accessories. (I couldn’t help but think how much more fun it would be if they used real candy bracelets. That way you’d have the added benefit of a built in treat).

And I learned other lessons throughout the night. For instance, the little, furry backpacks attached to many female ravers actually serve a purpose, too. “They make it easier to dance,” explained Deanna. Like hipsters and their fanny packs, the rave scene even had its own handbag of choice. Maybe all the counter cultures aren’t so different after all.

By the time I found myself wandering the Flamingo’s parking garage in search of my car it was after 4 a.m. My feet were sore from practicing some dance moves (after all, it was a rave), and I was thoroughly exhausted, but I had experienced something special for the first time that night at the Flamingo. Now, I’ll look back on Devil’s Night as a fond memory: the night my rave cherry was popped.

Deanna Rilling, the rave veteran

The 12th annual Devil's Night costume ball, October 24, 2009.

The 12th annual Devil's Night costume ball, October 24, 2009.

“The definition of a rave should be as lucid and amorphous as the event itself… A rave can be an indoor party with 50 people or an outdoor happening with 15,000 people. Participants can be 15 or even 45, gay or straight, and any ethnic background. There may be two DJs or 20; spinning banging techno music, uplifting trance or happy hardcore. Some ravers may take ecstasy, LSD, marijuana; some take nothing at all.” –Tara McCall, "This is not a Rave: In the Shadow of a Subculture"

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I went to a “rave” on Saturday, if that’s what you want to call it, anyway. I prefer the title “underground dance music party,” thanks to the negative connotation surrounding the word “rave.” Held at the Flamingo, the Devil’s Night XII Halloween costume ball included psy-trance group headliners Infected Mushroom performing with a full band, drum n bass trio Evol Intent with a live laptop set and DJ Dan delving deep with an underground set.

The party attracted a mixed crowd made up of Vegas nightclub DJs and dance music fans from ages 18 to 40-ish. Custom-designed creepy castle backdrops created by Chad Craig and his AWOL (A Way of Life) crew enhanced the ambiance, and holding the party a week prior to Halloween helped drum up a respectable turnout as a non compete with major Vegas club events. As it often happens with these events, the overall vibe was welcoming, the crowd just as entertaining as the acts on stage.

My first introduction into rave subculture was in 1999. Coincidentally, it was a party thrown by AWOL at what was then known as the Cande Factore. It fit all the rave stereotypes: The party was located in a warehouse downtown, it was packed, hot and sweaty. In my naïveté, I though some of the attendees were drinking copious amounts of water because they weren’t old enough to buy booze, and I figured their love for vitamin C tablets was just a health kick. They were also super friendly!

The 12th annual Devil's Night costume ball, October 24, 2009.

My roommate Kristin (aka Kneener) and I would sit around our ghetto apartment making kandy bracelets for hours on end to trade at the parties as a way of making new friends. We didn’t have cable TV or a VCR, so the rave accessories kept us entertained when we weren’t at work.

She and I became known as the Pixy Chicks, because we’d show up to events with a Costco sized bag of the sugar candy to hand out. I’d drink Jolt Cola so I could dance my ass off all night then drive friends home (yeah, I was a goodie goodie). When our ears were ringing from the bumping sound system and we needed a break from the lasers, we’d venture outside to a back area with sofas you’d never touch in the light of day. Trains would woosh by and everyone would make the gesture for the conductor to blast the whistle. He almost always obliged. It was one of the best times of my life, and I partially credit those parties for my job today writing about nightlife and electronic music.

Years later, Chad Craig still has the dedication to continue throwing events for electronic music fans. Of course, now the parties are legal, held at on-Strip casinos instead of downtown warehouses. Current laws make it difficult to organize 18 and up dance events, but he still has the determination and vision to put on an independent party. Sure, it may not make sense to those outside the culture. The stereotype that everyone is effed up on something may never go away (honestly, the same thing goes on at nightclubs, it just isn’t as publicized), but Devil’s Night was a damned good time for me and my rave virgin cohort. Fingers crossed there’ll be a Devil’s Night XIII.

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