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 other danger of Ecstasy, says Reynolds, is its status as a "gate" drug: "Because the overwhelming majority of early experiences with Ecstasy are so rewarding, punters become curious about other banned substances and get drawn into the culture of polydrug usage. MDMA's positive aura has rubbed off on other, far less deserving chemicals. This is the flaw in a drug policy that conflates all "drugs' as a single demon without distinguishing between different levels of risk."

This is why Ecstasy is so dangerous in the hands of kids and why the roll piles are looked down on by the overall rave community.

But if they're indulging in Ecstasy at raves, they're not indulging in alcohol. Other than anecdotal mentions, seldom is a bottle or a beer can uncovered, and no one seems loaded on booze. The only fluid consumed at a rave is the only one sold and the only one desired: water. Tons of it. Dancing dehydrates you, and so does Ecstasy, and as a result the parties deal in bottled water. Throughout the evening, the bottles are tossed, picked up and refilled from drinking fountains; tossed again and kicked around; refilled to be splashed on smoldering dancers. At the end of the night, the garbage is a mixture of plastic bottles and spent glow sticks. No broken glass; few cigarette butts.

Studies have proved inconclusive in regard to the long-term effects of moderate Ecstasy use. A recent study, though, says Wash. U.'s Compton, compared "nonusers to heavy users, and (users) had significant impairments in memory -- this was the specific abnormality found. Now, you don't know, because it's rare that it would just be MDMA; they might have used other things, and we also don't know whether differences in memory predated the use of the substance. And these are not definite conclusions. In animal research, they do show long-term toxic effects to the serotonin system. (In) monkey research, it persisted at least seven years after stopping the drug. And in monkeys, those studies tend to be heavy use, more than humans would take, so we don't know for sure whether that applies to the rave culture.

"I think we'd have to be vague in terms of long-term damage. I don't like to say people are definitely safe. If you have to put a risk on it, this is not one of the things I would worry about people doing as much as some other substances, but I certainly wouldn't give it a clean bill of health, either."

"On my 19th birthday, at a party called "Family Affair 4,' I had the epiphany that this is my family. I was there with three people from St. Louis. It was at a 4,000-, 5,000-person outdoor party. I lost my wallet and my pager, and I found them. I walked up to a friend, and he handed them to me, and I said, "Thanks. You found my wallet.' He said, "Nope. I was sitting right here among all these people, and somebody walked up to me with the wallet open and said, "Do you know an Adam from St. Louis?' And my friend said, "Yeah, he's the guy I came with.' And he got the wallet. It had my money in it, and it was this total scenario. At that point I was ready to go insane. I came to this party and wasn't ready to lose my wallet, not at 12:30 on my birthday in the middle of Ohio. It was that event that will allow me to stick with my family, even if I lose my wallet at a party, even if my car gets broken into outside of a warehouse. Even if this scene dies -- it can never die, even if everybody left St. Louis, everybody ran away to these "good scenes' in New York and Chicago and San Francisco, where there are raves every weekend and blah-blah-blah, that grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side crap. I'll still be here and I'll be throwing house parties, and when my house isn't big enough, I'll get a warehouse, and that will be my house. And if that house isn't big enough, I'll go out to a yoga retreat in Illinois, and that will be my house." -- DJ Adam Louis

It's no wonder, in conversations among participants, that people often get a glimmer in their eye when they talk of a particularly fantastic rave, because when raves are at their best, participants seem to exit the natural world and enter some sort of secret world, a big-scale, hi-fi art project. Walk in and the party's already going, and it feels as if it's always been going, a perpetual-motion machine that constantly rejuvenates itself. It's going strong and loud. It's overwhelming, but it's not scary at all. Turn a corner and there's a guy with blinking lights strapped all over his body. Yeah, he's a freak, or so it seems, but, although he's obviously doing it to attract attention to himself, there's also something altruistic, benevolent about his action: It's his gift to the bigger pool of celebration. If he doesn't do it, then maybe someone else won't do it, and soon enough it's not a big art project but a bunch of people dancing in a warehouse. But these days in St. Louis, the scene is one big sonic and scenic canvas, and every corner of it is covered with splashes of color and drops of beat.

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