The Agony and the Ecstasy: A decade after the heyday of St. Louis' rave scene, it still feels like the morning after

It is 8:30 p.m., and Kenny is dancing alone.

You might actually say he is flailing alone. In the next room, a dreadlocked man in a cowboy hat and plaid suspenders is freaking out, also solo, to an acerbic techno beat backed only by the words "MUSCLE, GUNS, BURN" on repeat. But Kenny is the only one in Atomic Cowboy's central room. Darting frantically across the dark dance floor, Kenny rhythmically snakes his limp wrists vertically, then horizontally, then diagonally, then almost double-jointedly through the air around his face. His legs follow a similar, if more stilted, trajectory as he twists his thighs and jerks his feet even faster than his fingers, nine of which sport glow rings he ordered in bulk online. (The tenth one fell off during an ill-conceived dance move.) Kenny is raving — and he is recruiting.

The other patrons at Atomic Cowboy are, as a result, scooting further into the recesses of their leather sofas. They probably missed most of the era Kenny is single-handedly reviving with all the gusto it takes to be the first person on a dance floor devoted entirely to '90s rave music. The Kenny dancing by himself is now 42, which means he learned how to dance this way in his twenties.

The We Are Family Party at Atomic Cowboy.
Lee Haris
The We Are Family Party at Atomic Cowboy.
The We Are Family Party at Atomic Cowboy.
Lee Harris
The We Are Family Party at Atomic Cowboy.

Even today, Kenny holds fast to all the tenets that come with his moves. The first unofficial rule revolves around his lack of a surname. We know only Kenny's first name because that is all Kenny told us, and it's all he told most people at the raves he attended twenty years ago. The second rule is constant motion. If you stop dancing, you stop mattering. "You've got to do it," Kenny tells his attempted recruits as he offers them light-up necklaces. It takes a while for him to find his first partner, and when he does, she is considerably less vigorous than he. "You've got to move more than that," he chides. "Your feet aren't even moving."

The key, he says, is in the hands. "It's simple. Take your hands and pretend you're holding an invisible ball. Now just start rolling that ball, and don't stop until it's not even about the motherfucking ball anymore."

Perhaps it is this instant, with Kenny cradling his make-believe ball, or perhaps it was earlier, when someone plugged in the strobe lights. Maybe it comes even later, when Kenny is finally joined by hundreds of dance partners, and the old feeling of community comes flooding back.

Regardless, at some point, in one of the moments of this night, it becomes clear: The city's original rave culture, one that peaked and plummeted in the ten-year span between 1992 and 2002, has been revived almost twenty years after it mattered the most.

This feeling will last exactly one night.


Even now, there's dissension in the ranks. For a period of approximately ten years, some of them more vibrant than others, St. Louis was a cultural hub for both rave music and the lifestyle that accompanied it. The city was a tactical post between Detroit techno and Chicago's house scene, and its lack of territorial music rivalries made it the most open-minded rave stop in the central United States. St. Louis parties packed the biggest and most diverse setlists in a collection of regional-based sound, says Marc Buxton, a former St. Louis DJ.

Fans of either style of music — and those in between, like trance, ambient and trip-hop — found a comfortable home on the couches of St. Louis apartments. Every weekend, ravers flooded the city's warehouse district on rented buses and in shared cars, coming from Indianapolis, Akron, Dayton, Chicago, Cleveland, Memphis and Nashville. Some of them made the same trip almost every weekend for ten years, while some St. Louis natives were unable to use their own couches for the same period.

When St. Louis lost its title, it was largely because of a deteriorated internal dynamic: A newly mercurial group of people, jaded by drugs and the demands of constant partying, no longer resembled the naïve high school students they'd been when the party started. In the end, dancers kept their backs to the walls and watched their belongings. In the end, ravers called in their friends' drug habits rather than face their own being reported instead. In a homogenized era of pacifiers and phat pants, style-biting grew rampant, and people began to clone each other.

When it was time, the end was quick in coming.

"I have mixed emotions about it," says Davidian Alterior, a founding member of the local scene. "The whole old-school rave scene nostalgia bit — I haven't been too gung ho about it."

Today, most of the stories about the city's rave legacy — how the drugs entered the scene, what genre was most popular, whether rave still exists in St. Louis, whether the reunion should have happened — come from two camps, both arguing aggressively for their own perspective. Members of both groups will warn you whom to talk to, who was first-string, whose memories are wrong and who never cared enough. Those camps came to a head even at the scene's one-off reunion at Atomic Cowboy July 9, with rival factions disagreeing about the event's intentions, lineup and setting.

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39 comments
Hiattchad
Hiattchad

interesting read. i went to high school in the late 80's early 90's with a lot of the rave promoters you mentioned. i was there in the beginning with them seeing everything go down first hand. those were great times. alot was left out of the article which i dont mind at all. much of what went on behind the scenes should be left that way.

Angelo Dower
Angelo Dower

I don't even know what to say. This is ridiculous. It is so far from the truth of what it was like back then, what the reunion was all about, and the credit that should be given to those still involved in the scene today. Thank you for the effort, but I really would have rather it not be written at all. Complete fail.

Angelo Dower
Angelo Dower

What a shame. I was really looking forward to reading this.

Bobby Ballistic
Bobby Ballistic

overall I think The RFT overall put this rave/club scene article in a light that us old schoolers are a bunch of washed-up drug addicts; I think they have failed to understand that 1) drug use is a common fact of life regardless if you are into "Techno" Country Music or Opera for that matter. 2) That most of us here from the Rave Gang and the Velvet Guard are in our 30's, 40's, and yes 50's, we have normal day jobs, have families to feed, and yes have bills to pay; we can't just go out everynight anymore, we leave that to the college age crowd that generally are more into Hip Hop to begin with and like the majority of us in the past more than likely to blow $100 on shots and beer than on blow as this article is suggesting.

P.K. Rogers
P.K. Rogers

As usual, the most intelligent discussion on music in the RFT is the ads.

Bobby Ballistic
Bobby Ballistic

it was okay; of course it had its share of drama and politics; I got better along with the clubkids and though they do their best to worship me as "DJ Jesus" it does works for this 35 year heavy hitter, one would be stupid in life being a humble twit. The girlfriend drama was always a present fact for me, but when you DJ, you going to get a lot of "fans," and that makes a lot of folks jealous. :D On that here's my mix. Enjoy St. Louis http://soundcloud.com/bobbybal...

DVDN
DVDN

Let me clarify a few things. This article falsely portrays me as feeling snubbed by the reunion party at Atomic Cowboy (please remodel your club and restrooms) and quotes me as saying "it was difficult" not to go to it? I was living in LA and only in town visiting over 4th of July when this reunion party went down. I DJ'd the night before at Area 14 in Clayton and the promoters came and asked me to play the next night. They had even posted the party on my Facebook wall and I basically told them I didn't want to see people I hadn't seen in 10 years (I don't care about going to my high school reunion either). DJ Lance Rock has DJ'd with me at Atomic Cowboy, Sol Lounge and Halo Bar in the last 2 years when he's visited and it's ridiculous to expect us to show up out of obligation to a party we had nothing to do with. Sure, it's always nice to see people from back in the day and reconnect but it's not like I haven't been around for the past 10 years. I just chose to be with my current girlfriend and not see any ex-girlfriends the night before I had to fly back to LA. That's the main reason why I didn't wind up going to the reunion. I love St. Louis, it's my hometown, my family and good friends are still here and It's always good to come back after being away. I just don't like dealing with other promoters still acting like they are in high school. Superstars of Love wasn't featured in the old Channel 4 news story on raves, and I'd rather just do my own thing and not try to put the scene and what we were doing back then in a negative light. It almost seems like others want to still focus the spotlight of the scene onto themselves. I didn't care then and I certainly don't now. I wasn't just the "business half" of the group I created with my friends (and a bad business man according to the article) and we were always about being a group over being an individual. Although we were a dysfunctional family we all grew and evolved. We left St. Louis at the end of the 90's and played all over the country and the world (Love Parade 2001). In 2002 we returned to Germany with DJ Chris Holmes (who's now touring with Paul McCartney) and Tommie Sunshine who was a mainstay at early events we did in St. Louis. If it wasn't for coming up in the St. Louis scene in the early 90's none of what we accomplished would've happened so we're glad it did. The only other thing I'd like to say is that my original partner DJ Jajo was an amazing person who helped start our group. I'd like to pay my respects to him, Kyle T. and Eric 'FreeK' and thank everyone who ever appreciated what we did before the internet destroyed the human spirit. RIPeace Love Unity Respect - punk's not dead - dvdn

AaronOverfield
AaronOverfield

While the article is severely lacking in many ways and doesn't at all accurately reflect the scene back then or the vibe, purpose or outcome of the reunion party, some of the comments here are unnecessarily hateful, mean-spirited, homophobic, etc. Kelsey Whipple definitely did not hit the nail on the head with this article but one can only presume she tried to take as critical of a perspective as possible in order to seem informed about something she could not possibly be informed about since she wasn't there to witness any of it in the first place. The Oldschool Crew and the reunion party never intended to revitalize a scene we outgrew. Everyone's egos aside, people just wanted to get together and party with friends they likely hadn't seen in 10+ years to music they likely hadn't danced to in just as long. You were either a part of it back then or you weren't and if you weren't then the party wasn't necessarily meant for you. Take that as you may but it's no different than a high school reunion: either you went to that school or you didn't. People can bicker all they want about the history of the scene or whether rave is dead. If there is ever another reunion it will be for the same exact reasons: to see each other again, remember the crazy ass times we had together and hear the music we love(d). And, if it's anything like We Are Family, folks will still be partying well into the "morning after". Fuck all the rest, we're grown now.

Valoki
Valoki

Correct me if i'm wrong, but if we're talking about a decade (10 years) later, then where is all the information on parties that were thrown between 2001 and 2011? OMG it's 2001 at the family arena - shut down (and was blasted by the media), Red or blue, Over the hills, Whatchamacallit, setting of the sun, Unity, Booty Halloween (8 years running!), Winter Warpdrive are few among hundreds not even mentioned. St Louis has production companies that have been around for the last decade building the scene back up, and this article is written so that the uninformed reader doesn't even realize that a scene exists! There have been warehouse parties thrown over the past couple years that have the old school vibe of long ago - again, not mentioned. My message to the author: Go to an upcoming show, such as Panoptic Productions: Homegrown 9/24 or 4sho productions: Booty Halloween 10/22, and if you can honestly tell me after attending that "raves is dead," I'll be happy to eat my words.

Zaxx Davros
Zaxx Davros

Why doesn't the RFT and Atomic Cowboy just die from hipster aids already?

TruthHurts
TruthHurts

Thanks for Merlin and Mullin for temporarily ruining the scene by going way the fuck overboard with the drugs, drawing in the fbi and local police to fuck everyone and shut down as many parties as possible for years to come. So many close minded cunts from back in the day. It took years for others who were into techno, d&b, idm, ambient, etc to force their way in through being MORE UNDERGROUND. House was the dubstep of its day. Overplayed and crammed down everyone's throats by small dicked djs with huge egos. Everyone's next door neighbor was a house dj, and no one was any good. The music was gay as balls, and who the fuck really wanted to hear that bullshit?

nunya
nunya

as someone who, as a teenager, encountered his first rave at the city museum (in 2003), I can say that kenny's enthusiasm for dancing (and dance music) isn't necessarily a generational phenomenon. i remember listening to house music on Q104, 105.7's the love mix, and or course 88.1's the deep trance long before i'd tried e or been to a rave. i even remember hearing the commercials for operation: get down and thinking to myself, "that sounds like fun," presently oblivious to what a rave actually was. some things are just innate, i guess.

now, unfortunately, it seems that the scene is all about posturing, terrible fashion, and politics. onlookers scowl at the benevolent ones, sparsely dancing by the speakers with their bottled water in hand. somehow along the way, this became "uncool," unless shaded by the veil of irony and social preoccupation. in that sense, i'm jaded in the opposite capacity--nostalgic to share a nonverbal, momentary connection with a fellow dancefloor buddy, but long past expecting it.

it's rare and special to encounter others who could care less about all the rest of it. but this article isn't about that. it's a recap of all the unfortunate drama that people like to focus on instead ... which is interesting in its own right, although more of a history lesson than anything.

Illitrit
Illitrit

It's ironic that the author bashes another reporter for offering only the occasional insight among expected, slanted sensation when she herself only manages a slightly better ratio of insight to vapid namedropping.

Love Hz
Love Hz

To clarify: the music foolishly referred to as 'early dubstep' was, and still is, called drum n' bass. Calling drum n' bass 'early dubstep' is like calling the punk rock of Fear and Black Flag "early emo".

The author stresses the importance of music ad nauseum in this article; It's a shame the author didn't bother to actually learn about it in the process...

Eric Ward
Eric Ward

Just like the other "rave" article of so many years ago, you guys only wrote what any other mainstream media outlet would have. I remember the time when The RFT was a great source of local investigative journalism and 7 page articles that would keep my interest because of the in depth descriptions of the issues at hand. Instead, I read a glorified advertisement from a reporter who sounds like she was asked by someone who had only a passing interest in seeing themselves in the pages again. It's upsetting that an entire portion of the population of "ravers" was left out, (real ravers were marginalized, again, as always!), and that only the hard line issues regarding drug use and it's effects were highlighted.This entire piece lacked the soul that kept me reading the RFT for years, though it's not surprising that once again the new generation of writers has dropped the ball for it's loyal readers.Your words sound like the ramblings of an outsider who really doesn't understand anything about what the story should could and would have been had someone else written this article.Like someone who used to actually participate in the scene while still writing for the RFT.I'm old, never jaded, and always loved the music, and hated the fact that the media focused only on the things that applied to maybe 10% of the crowd of people!It's okay though, we've always been here, we always will be, and we'll still laugh as you pass by so blissfully unaware as we party the night away in the places you abandoned long ago, wondering when you'll finally get the point.

KITTY
KITTY

"Darting frantically across the dark dance floor, Kenny rhythmically snakes his limp wrists vertically, then horizontally....."

You gotta be kidding, Kelsey! Your syrupy and banal attempt to parse a romance novel is so hurtful to the eyes it caused me pain to read it.

Just think, if you really tried, you could have woven your story using an even better opening: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents -- except at occasional intervals when it was checked by a violent gust of wind."

Or you could just have gone for the jugular and wrote: "He was a skinny limp wristed garden variety fairy who was making an ass out of himself on the dance floor, oblilvious to the violent thunder storm pounding Manchester Avenue!"

Patriquo
Patriquo

Yea, a good read, seems like a revamped version of the last one. Overall, it still seems like an outside view of the scene that is obsessed with it's foundations, granted that's a good place to start, and skips over the most important years of the perpetuation of the scene. From the times where all the ravers had was an old skating rink to party in, to the party in The City Museum, to the Rave in a club, and back to the raves in warehouses. Dante's and B+W brought in some of the biggest (and most expensive) DJs in the world. After Operation Getdown, raves also took a big hit on attendance and has fluctuated ever since. Winterwarprives and Booty Halloweens started with a small attendence and have grown exponentially over the past 9 years. Promoters who are incredibly good at their jobs have studied the trends of the Festivals and brought in new crowds and new music for the past 5 years. I can never forget hearing dubstep from Bassnectar in a warehouse with a sea of 900+ kids going insane. A new generation of ravers has been born in the past 5 years and new production companies are seeing this. An older friend of mine has always said Raves is Dead, but a lot of us "3rd wavers" have realized that the scene never died, and it will never die. The music has grown to the point where it enterprised itself and the DJ's of the first generation are now making thousands and billions in Europe. As long as people keep making music, there will always be a rave scene.

Neil Smith
Neil Smith

Nice article. Inaccurate on so many levels........

Bobby Ballistic
Bobby Ballistic

of course the ads for penis enlargement are more too the truth than the articles

JewGirl
JewGirl

@Bobby Ballistic

fuck you, you piece of shit... you sucked then, and you still suck now - both as a DJ and as a person; and you have a limp penis.

JewGirl
JewGirl

@DVDN 

You were not missed.

Marilyn Smith Sherbundy
Marilyn Smith Sherbundy

Apparently thousands and thousands of people who showed up and continued to support that scene. No one had to "force" any particular type of music as I recall- I just danced to what moved me and will hold many of those people and times as memorable and important chapters to who I am now. Low calibur wannabees often throw names around and try to spin their own views on how things could have or should have been; It was. And that is the truth.

Caitlyn W.
Caitlyn W.

Couldn't have said it better myself... :]

JewGirl
JewGirl

@Patriquo 

Dubstep completely sucks. It does not belong in the rave scene. 

It's not  compatible with the rave scene. I guess when you grow up in an era of emo, shit hop, Justin Beiber,  MTV's Teen Moms, and cameras watching your every move, you're going to think dubstep is something "grand" and a sort of release from the open air prison which you've inhabited most of your socially engineered life.

JewGirl
JewGirl

@Marilyn Smith Sherbundy

"low caliber wannabees" ....LOL... Oh, you were so authentic, aristocratic and special in the rave scene. Wow... look out. Those chapters in your life were so "edifying" and "character-building", too,  weren't they? LMAO. Apparently, the illusion you lived in the rave scene continues to this day.

 
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