By Sam Levin
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By Dennis Brown
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After midnight the North Broadway industrial zone seems a million miles away from Washington Avenue. Here, the streetlamps are crooked, the chain-link fences twisted. This winter night, though, the sound of heavy bass thumps deep with promise from within a large tin building.
Earlier, the sing-song jingle of the secret text-message alert arrived like the whistle of a faraway bird, carrying with it the announcement that a party called "Chop Suey" is coming to this former Asian wholesale warehouse.
The venue is no Velvet, nor is it Cheetah. And Chop Suey is no "Spooks in Space" or "Interstellar Dreamfest," two great St. Louis raves of the late 1990s.
In this rambling shack in north city, people swirl amid the flashing colored lights while DJ Astroboy strikes chords on a keyboard, his laptop kicking out the beats. Astroboy has come to play, and others have come to dance and they just didn't feel like doing it at a club. People stand in a semicircle around the DJ, twisting with the music or bobbing their heads. Nearby, in another, smaller room, two performance artists don masks and clang on steel rods.
"This is the first party I've been to in, like, two years," says one partygoer, who, like the others, has no worry about the specter of police intrusion.
"The cops came by once," recalls one of the party's promoters. "They said, 'Is anybody being raped or murdered inside?' They drove away and patrolled the neighborhood for the rest of the night."
To music fans, the words "techno" and "rave" seem so 1999. Has it only been seven years since raves were demonized for their connections with drugs and met with repeated police crackdowns? Used to be an underground party every weekend, huge gatherings of vibe junkies and then, there wasn't.
What happened to those superstar DJs? They're still around; you just don't see them on MTV. But something is afoot (a rave redux, perhaps), and those who dropped out of the scene are beginning to wander back.
On New Year's Eve, local promoters Brown & White (B&W) throw "Champagne Supernova." The bill features eleven DJs, and by midnight, the line pushes down Manchester Avenue in the Grove neighborhood.
Beats erupt from three rooms, the most vibrant emanating from the smallest, where at least 100 dancers rattle the floors beneath the dried flowers that DJ Trevor Matthews hung from the ceiling. In the bigger room, second-hand smoke makes the lasers glow as the East Coast Boogiemen tear through a live techno set.
In the not-so-distant past, the cops would have found reason to shut down a party this size. Now, one can happen across the street from a police substation and officers will actually helpcontrol the lines. Elsewhere in the city, little happenings are popping off as "break-ins" as in, literally, to break in and have a party.
All of this is a world away from the halcyon days of 1991, when the rave culture first jumped the pond from England to America or even, for that matter, from the second and bigger wave of 1999 to 2002. "Chop Suey" was a backyard barbecue (with a crowd estimate of 450) compared to "More Good Stuff," which, in the fall of 1999, drew 3,500 to a long-abandoned warehouse at the Lemp Brewery. Much has changed.
"People were literally climbing the brick walls to get into that party," says Bob Stolzberger (a.k.a. Techno Bob), a former member of Kindred Groove, the party's promoter. "I remember it vividly, coming into the space, and you'd see this sea of 2,000 fucking people in this Lemp warehouse.
"You wonder: Where did all those people go?"
On an afternoon in early January, Faith Amber and Jen303 (both pseudonyms) are slowly cruising the city's industrial districts in Faith's Toyota. From the passenger side, Jen is scribbling down addresses from the hundreds of "For Lease" signs. She'll fill three pages by day's end.
In the Chouteau's Landing district just south of the Arch, Faith spots a sign on a small building and conveys the phone number to Jen303. Pointing to a line of garage doors near some railroad tracks, Faith recalls a rave back in '99: "Horizons 5," she muses, "an Alexis Tucci party."
"Look near railroad tracks," Jen303 confides. "There are always good buildings near railroad tracks." They drive past the failed Powell Square condo development near Busch Stadium, the site of a break-in party thrown last year by a promoter named Dr. Kandee.
Faith drives nearer, close to the graffiti-painted flood wall, and decides the raw, windowless building littered with clothing and empty bottles warrants a walk-through.
Soon, a police car drives up and a cop rolls down her window and asks what they're doing.
"We're looking for a space to throw an art party," explains Faith.
"That sounds like fun," the officer replies with a smile, then points to a four-story warehouse. "I know that one is empty."
By day, Faith travels the trade-show circuit as a representative for a deck-railing manufacturer. Clean-cut with short-cropped hair, she looks more like an honors student than a party girl. Who'd guess that, for the past few years, Faith's after-hours have been consumed throwing both legal and illegal dance parties? When she's behind the turntables, she's DJ Butt Plug, spinning acid tech-house.
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