Rollin' on the River

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

There are no Mick Jaggers, no Madonnas, no Johnny Rottens in electronic music; the composer/performer vanishes behind the music, and it's not uncommon for one human being to release a dozen cuts a year under a dozen different pseudonyms.

The computer revolution created this music. It wouldn't exist without the silicon chip, and as a result of countless music-sampling software applications flooding the market, anyone with a halfway decent PC and a few pieces of hardware can create music. The composers of this music are, for the most part, bedroom composers; what the garage and the basement were to rock, the home computer is to electronic dance music.

As in any music genre, there are geniuses and dimwits, and once acclimated to the subtleties and variances, it gets easier to tell one from the other -- just like in any music. The geniuses create depth, create thoughtful, smart instrumental music that, despite its virtual wordlessness (most human voices heard are sampled snippets of dialog taken from movies, spoken-word albums, radio or wherever a sampler can steal an interesting word combo), nonetheless manages to express something profound.

Jennifer Silverberg

The music is the most important aspect, true, but the specifics -- Who made it? Where can it be bought? -- are less important. The songs arrive as loud whispers that, for many, never leave the warehouse, and never stand a chance, nor have a desire, to appear on K-Tel's Best of the '90s compilations. And although the music is far from disposable in the regular sense of the term, the "I love that! I have to own it!" mentality is strikingly absent for many fans of the music, the exceptions being fellow DJs who may want the cut for their set.

"The good sounds are going to be sampled again," explains Adam Louis, "and they're going to be used again. I have this infinite security when I go down to the record store that I'm not missing anything, even if I don't listen to every record on the wall, because I know that some other DJ will pick it up and that I'll hear it if I need to hear it. And that we're all in it together, and that it's about spreading this sound or this idea. I buy less than one record a week, and even if I go to the record store and hear five records that I like, I'll listen to them and narrow it down to one, because I realize that if I buy a record once every two weeks until the day I die, I'm going to have more records than I ever want and that I'm going to be giving them away."

"Sandra Collins made me cry." -- "Spooks in Space" attendee Grace Carlisle, age 15, on the effect of a recent set by the New York DJ

Superstars exist in rave culture, but they're not singers. They're DJs. It's the DJ who's king (unfortunately, there are few queens), whose job it is to wade through the thousands of 12-inch singles (yes, on vinyl; the culture is defiantly addicted to the format), find the best ones and then, over the course of his set, mix one into the next into the next, mix them seamlessly and beautifully, mix them to move the bodies and inspire the dance floor.

"You've got all these guys doing records for different labels under different names," says Deep Grooves' Ken Dussold, who also DJs. "And most of them come out on these antiquated pieces of dinosaur. So there's hundreds of thousands of them out every year. You have to do a lot of research, you have to listen to a lot of stuff that's crap, and you have to establish what you like. Then you have to go home and practice for a couple of years and decide what goes together with what. Where are you going with this? And then when you get that down, you gotta get it down where you can mesh the records together so they flow in and out. Then you can have a whole seamless set and not drop a beat for, like, hours, but if you don't have good taste or you have bad programming or you put one record where you shouldn't, it all comes (apart). They're creating live a whole feeling from music there on the fly. It takes a lot of skill and effort and practice to do it well. Like in anything, there's people who are mediocre, there's people who suck and there's people who are good at it."

Explains Jon Gotti, a jungle DJ: "It's something that you have to get instinctually. You can't think about it, you just gotta get it. It's really weird, because you can go up there and have a shitty time and the crowd's not into it, and then you're just kind of slapping on records. But then again, you can get up there and the crowd's really into it and you're into it, and you're feeding off of each other, and you don't even have to look at your records. You just go into your crate and you pick something up and you put it on, and it's like, there, and it actually blends, and you don't even have to think about it. That's when it's starts getting really cool. As far as moving a crowd, really, I think that's something you have to pick up naturally from playing to people."

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