By Allison Heather
With flashing strobe lights and lasers so bright people wear sunglasses your first rave can be overwhelming. The music is incredibly loud. Projectors play animations or colourful psychedelic graphics on the walls. People wear bright colours and extraordinary clothes. Whistles, pacifiers, strange hats and dramatic facial piercings are common accessories. To some people, this may sound like a dance club. To d.j. and rave promoter Chris Samojlenko, they’re worlds apart.
Samojlenko went to his first rave about two years ago and hasn’t been to a night club or bar since. “I never really danced before my first rave, but I learned quickly that no one was watching me, and no one judged me, and as a crowd we were all individuals, but also we were together as one. A big difference from a dance club, where you have your little groups,” says Samojlenko.
He’s concerned about the future of raves in Toronto. Raves — which were once illegal parties held in warehouses — are now announced on the internet. THere’s a telephone number with a prerecorded message giving the necessary information. Ticketmaster even sells tickets. “Raving will probably evolve into a club culture as its mainstream appeal continues to grow,” says Jeffrey Cochran, a Ryerson Radio and Television Arts student also known as d.j. Vortex. As raves accelerate towards the mainstream, those who care about the Toronto rave culture worry about the future authenticity and friendliness of the scene. If rave downsize to clubs, heavier security could lead to less illegal drug use.
“The amount of drugs bother me and it bothers me that kids are not into the music first it seems these days. I’m hoping to change things a bit with more ‘happy-hardcore’ played as opposed to minimal techno, which I consider flat-out drug music,” says Samojlenko.
Some wonder if raves would be more easily accepted if drugs weren’t present. Others wonder if raves would even exist without them. Dancing and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) — the notorious rave drug “Ecstasy” or “E” — were first brought together in Dallas during the early ‘80s when the drug was distributed in nightclubs. It wasn’t banned until 1985 but the drug continued its popularity when raving began in the lat ‘80s, probably because many reported feeling euphoric and having energy to dance all night. British Entertainment magazine Face and Muzik tell of dosed ravers dancing themselves into severe dehydration and heat exhaustion requiring hospitalization. A few cases resulted in death cause by ignoring distress distress signals of overheating and not replenishing lost body fluids. There has never been an MDMA-related death in Toronto. But due to the relatively recent appearance of MDMA, there has not been enough time to discover the long-term effects. Drugs being sold under the name “E” could be any combination of speed, crystal, cocaine, heroine, or even home cleaning products or baking soda. There’s no way of knowing. More potent drugs have entered the rave scene over the past few years — drugs such as cocaine and GHB (Gamma hydroxy butyric acid). “Over the last six months I have seen more cocaine and GHB around,” says Di Lecce.
GHB is reported to produce similar feelings to those of Ecstasy. When too much is ingested, it can have the same effects as drinking to ouch alcohol; dizziness, nausea and unconsciousness to the point of coma. “I remember puking and passing out flat on my face,” says raver Dee Smith, sharing her first and only experience with GHB.
“There are too many 14-year-olds pounding back copious amounts of hard drugs and teetering on the line between living and overdosing. Most promoters aren’t teaching responsible drug use like they used to, and thank God T.R.I.P. (Toronto Raver Information Project) is around now,” says Cochran.
T.R.I.P. is a government-supported organization that provides free condoms and information on safer sex and drug use by handing out educational materials at raves. “We felt there was a need for education about drugs and sex in the rave community,” says Kim Stanford, T.R.I.P.’s coordinator.
“I see a bit more of an uprising in the drug-free rave culture,” says Di Lecce. “There are many people that choose to party without substances, and many old-school ravers have grown tired of substances.”
These people who care about Toronto’s rave culture have a common goal. They want the scene to return to the way it once was; smaller, friendlier, less commercial and less drug-oriented.
That’s what Nuno Silva found when he went to his first rave. He left the house wearing a Santa Claus hat and discovered something that is now a huge part of his life — a love for thumping techno music and the friendly culture to which it belongs. He made some new friends while waiting at Union Station for a bus to take him to the rave. “There I was, first time ever going out at night, and I met these strangers who basically embraced me,” Silva says, eagerly sharing his first experience with Toronto’s rave culture. He now organizes raves himself.
“What I’m trying to do with Elysium (Silva’s rave promotion company) is bring back the hardcore. I want people in Toronto who haven’t been raving for too long to feel what it really feels like to rush. Not when you’re on drugs but when you’re so happy you’re in tears,” says Silva.
Some of that happiness stems from the principles of P.L.U.R. — Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect. Those who believe in it share their water with thirsty dancers, smile at strangers and accept those who are different or look awkward. They don’t get upset when someone bumps into them.
“Ravers have an inherent respect for other people as human beings, regardless of their color and personal expression. I hope that someday this basic level of respect will infiltrate into the rest of society,” says 23-year-old Andrea Di Lecce, a raver with a biology degree.
Silva says, “The scene has to clean up and become a better example for some of these kids. It’s our world now, and it’s time we chose to run it our way.”