Rollin' on the River

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

"The first time I went, I had heard some people talking about them, and I knew that they were out there, but I wasn't really sure what it was all about. But I had been listening to electronic-style music for a couple of years, and I really liked it. It sounds kind of funny now, but I was just expecting it to be a concert. You go, you listen to the music, you dance and you come home. I wasn't expecting anything like a vibe. "A vibe? What's that?' I wasn't expecting the social aspect. I was just expecting music and dancing and stuff like that. And then I went, and it blew my mind how much more it was than that. The whole thing -- the friends, the whole atmosphere, the vibe, everything. After I went to my first one, I came home, I woke my mom out of bed and I talked to my mom for over an hour about how much fun I had and how I wanted to keep on going to them." -- Grace Carlisle

Inside the warehouse, the scene is a mix of ages, though these days in St. Louis (and in America in general) the scene is positively fresh-faced, quite different from the parties going on across the ocean, where the culture is geared more toward twenty- and thirtysomethings. Groups of teenyboppers dance next to older hip-hop heads, who dance next to frat dudes. There are more whites than blacks, though the scene is more integrated than a Cardinal baseball game or a Rolling Stones concert. The price of an evening dictates that you need at least $20 to get in and drink your water, and a bit more than twice that if you're planning on rolling. Regardless, the music, which grew from the same seeds that created hip-hop, draws a varied audience, and there are as many black DJs as there are white. The bigger parties draw a wider variety of people, and more old-schoolers, but, frustratingly, the fashions and demographics are more homogenous than they used to be. In the past, says Aaron Chilton, "there were drag queens everywhere. St. Louis used to be really right on. I haven't seen a drag queen in God knows how long. Really, the freaks would come out at night. I'm serious. It was a place where everyone would meet up."

"When we used to throw parties," says Alterior of the Superstars, "we would have bikers show up. We had freaks. People would dress -- this fashion guy would come in a wedding dress. It was different. Nowadays, it's all Insta-raver: add water, a Blow-Pop, a whistle, fat pants. That's a lot of it."

Most striking, though, compared to a rock concert of a similar size and demographic, is the lack of security, which seems to be stationed only at the doors. No hefty red-shirted bouncers roam around glaring at revelers, nor do they seem necessary.

This is vibe, and this is why the scene has created such a positive, revolutionary design. This is what the diehards are talking about when they talk about PLUR, the acronym that twirls around the scene like the glow sticks: peace, love, unity, respect. Sure, the carrot is elusive; it always is, but people talk about vibe a lot, that unpredictable feeling one gets from being at a perfect party. It's intertwined with atmosphere, emotion, music and mood, an ephemeral, spiritual tone to a party. When participants speak of vibe, they speak of it as a living, breathing entity, speak of it as a sort of magic. When the warmest and fuzziest of the area promoters, Kindred Groove, speak of creating vibe, they treat it with a magical reverence. "We love the vibe," says one member, "and we go out of our way to make people happy. For past parties we've spent X amount of dollars on toys just to give away just so there are smiles on peoples' faces. At (last year's) "Got Vibe,' we bought 4 gallons of milk and cookies and gave them away at the end of the party."

Adds another Kindred: "We rented fuzzy animal costumes and walked around giving hugs to people. When you walk into one of our parties, there's 20 people there and they're all in T-shirts, and we're there at the door and we're smiling: Come on in; have a great time. Thank you. We're not about being cooler than thou; we're not about having any kind of attitude. We're just like, "Come party with us.'"

Though the whole notion may seem naive, the intention behind the search for vibe is sincere; seldom, if ever, do Riverport attendees catch each other's eyes and trade absolutely sincere, honest smiles, loaded with emotion. This sort of interaction happens all the time at a rave. It's not uncommon to communicate with a total stranger as though you've known that person your entire life, nor is it uncommon to see a lot of platonic hugging and affection.

It's free love without the sex -- yet another beguiling, curious aspect of the gestalt. This isn't one big sex den. The occasional groping couple appears on the radar, but for the most part the culture revolves around the idea of intimacy without sex.

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