Rollin' on the River

Inside St. Louis' growing rave culture, where the music is loud, the vibe is ecstatic and the kids are alright

"If somebody asked me what I play, I'd say I play hard deep funky disco tech house, and not necessarily in that order. I've married elements of -- in my house, there's a tech element: We're using drum machines, we're using techno sounds, we're using sounds that ... my records have sounds that border on industrial sounds. Sometimes the snare hit, sometimes the bass drums will be distorted, but the 909 in general and the 808 in general, anything made with them is techno. It's got a tech element. Some people would say that it has to be minimal to be techno. But I say it's got tech. The reason it's funk is because it's got funk, and disco and funk go together. They were about good ideas, and good feelings, and partying and getting together -- just enjoying that." -- DJ Adam Louis

There are a dozen shades of gray to the new electronic dance music and a unique language with which participants communicate. Despite the avalanche of the music that has come out in the last decade, it's received no radio play. Entire books have been written about all the varying subgenres of the umbrella "electronic dance music" category, and among the beat-heads and DJs, subtle variations that would have been considered a sort of regional difference in, say, rhythm & blues have been given their own names and subgenres.

There's house, techno, jungle, tech-step, gabber, hardcore, happy hardcore, garage, speed-garage, tech-house, ghetto tech, dark step, drum & bass, trance, progressive trance, progressive house, abstract, downtempo, blip-hop, trip-hop, hard house.

It's a mess and nearly impossible to wade through without immersing yourself in the music. Even then, one man's progressive house is another man's techno, and vice versa. Differences are subtle and distinctions often relatively pointless.

But this much is true: Electronic dance music is made with the aid of a computer chip of some sort and is, in the words of Adam Louis, "an expression of humanity through technology. That's exactly what I want to do. I want to learn everything I can about humanity, and about myself, and about others, and express that with technology."

The beat is king and drives all of it, whether it's the constant, repetitive bliss of progressive trance (a sort of aural strobe, with subtle tectonic shifts and subliminal motion), the more "complex" jungle (a.k.a. drum & bass, which concentrates on mixing machine-gun snare- and bass-drum shots with rumbling, rudderlike bass) or the more pop-oriented, 4/4-time-based house music, which has grown edgier and is St. Louis' preferred style, probably because of the proximity of the subgenre's birthplace, Chicago. ("House" is also the term that Louis, like many others, uses as the entire genre's umbrella. Others use "techno." The media prefers "electronica.")

Ryan Paradise of the Superstars knows that different people prefer different subgenres and that to construct a successful party, it's important to cover many of them. "In St. Louis, you want to have a variety, which is good. In Europe, they don't have too many mixed lineups. All the different styles of the music have branched off into different scenes -- the drum & bass scene, techno, house. Here, it's all mixed up, so you want to have a variety. House has been the prominent music of the St. Louis scene. Now, trance -- trance has always been there, but in the last year it's really blown up. And it's starting to seem like more people here prefer trance music than house music. And that's good, because it's a more progressed form of house music."

Most striking about the music and its place in a snowballing youth movement is the absolute truth that its lineage owes very little to Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Stones, the Sex Pistols or rock in general. A massive group of teens and twentysomethings -- the hipsters -- are listening to music -- electronic dance music and hip-hop -- that doesn't directly draw its inspiration from rock & roll. When's the last time that happened? About a week before Elvis hit.

And part of the knee-jerk fear the rave movement inspires in parents has its foundation in this simple truth: Rave culture isn't rock culture. Even though the goal is the same -- to achieve transcendence through music -- rock concerts and raves are fundamentally different concepts. At a rave, it's occasionally tough to determine the origin of the music, and, once it has been found, it's shocking to discover that the crowd isn't screaming at an electronica Mick Jagger or marveling at the prowess of a Jimi Hendrix. At a rave, rock & roll is irrelevant.

"That's why the police and the government are weirded out by it," says Ken Dussold, a DJ and manager of Deep Grooves, the city's most important electronic music-oriented shop. "They see this mass of kids that are spending this mass of money and doing this stuff that they don't understand. They're like, "Why do you want to get together and dance? It must be because of the drug ring or a sex ring or whatever.' They just can't understand that it's really nice to get together and dance with a bunch of people."

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