Depictions of the 90's Rave scene in books, movies and TV.
June 12, 2014 3:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm working on a writing project partially set in the 1990's underground rave scene in America, and I'm gathering research materials -- books, movies, tv, etc -- that will help me set the stage. I'm interested in both the underground rave scene as it really was, as well as its depiction in popular media, however warped/sensationalized -- basically, anything that could help me build a fully-formed immersive world for my audience, the way Mad Men has done for its time and place.

I'd gone into the project thinking that I'd be able to rely on my personal recollection, but for some entirely inexplicable reason, my memories of those days aren't exactly the clearest.

So far, a lot of the written material I've found is more concerned with the abstract sociology of the rave phenomenon -- what-did-it-all-mean type questions, what were its cultural precursors, what social void did it fill, etc -- and while I definitely want to get into that to some degree, right now I'm more concerned with the basic infrastructure of the parties themselves, the people that organized them, the people that attended them, how they were promoted but managed to stay "underground," and of course the symbiotically connected drug culture -- ecstasy ketamine, et al.

Essentially, materials that can help me with the more pragmatic and illustrative concerns of depicting the actual minute-to-minute "slice of life" experience of what it was like to be connected to that scene at that time.

[So far, I've already seen Go (1999), Groove (2000), Rolling (2007) and own all of Simon Reynolds' writing on the subject.]

Thanks in advance for your input, MeFites!
posted by patnasty to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
the oldest/earliest movie i've seen that directly featured this was Vibrations(1996).

It's not a documentary account, but it has several actual popular early 90s artists like moses on acid in it. It's a total pile of camp, but it's pretty much unknown and seems worthwhile to this quest.
posted by emptythought at 3:29 PM on June 12, 2014

Human Traffic
posted by pompomtom at 3:30 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Party Monster, maybe? Club scene rather than ravers, but similar enough.

There was also a recent episode of the British show My Mad Fat Diary (which takes place in 1996) set at a rave. It's similar to my memories of how raves were portrayed in contemporary media, and the show is super spot on to my own experience of being a teenager in the 90s. But I didn't actually go to raves in the 90s, so I can't be sure of how accurate it is.

There's also the rave-tinged party sequence in the 90s iteration of Romeo + Juliet.
posted by Sara C. at 3:39 PM on June 12, 2014

FWIW, I remember Go felt like kind of nonsense. Groove actually felt real in a lot of ways. (based on my experiences which didn't start until early 2001, but that's at least adjacent)
posted by flaterik at 3:44 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not a publication, but if you want the contact info of a person I know who was pretty deep in the promotion and organization of them in the Tampa Bay area, I can hook you up. MeMail me if interested.
posted by tomierna at 3:45 PM on June 12, 2014

The book Last Night a DJ Saved My Life is sort of a history of where DJ and rave culture came from. It's from 2000, so doesn't mention anything that would be way too new for your setting.

While it is focused on the music and the DJs, it does definitely discuss the culture and parties and drugs too. It's pretty fun to read if you're interested in this stuff.
posted by aubilenon at 3:48 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I should add that quite a lot of that book is about stuff before the 90's, talking about stuff like reggae, northern soul, disco, and hip hop. Still, I do recommend it.
posted by aubilenon at 3:52 PM on June 12, 2014

Michaelangelo Matos is currently at work on a book about the history of the U.S. rave/EDM scene (link is to his Tumblr).
posted by mirepoix at 4:02 PM on June 12, 2014

The closest representation of a certain kind of 90s rave has got to be True Detective.
posted by lattiboy at 4:08 PM on June 12, 2014

FWIW, I remember Go felt like kind of nonsense. Groove actually felt real in a lot of ways.

Seconding this, though I haven't seen either since the 90s. Even Groove was really a populist Hollywoodized take on the culture, though. I'm not aware of any non-documentary that has ever captured the scene accurately.

The Simon Reynolds stuff is good (Generation Ecstacy.)

Probably the biggest challenge of your writing project would be to not play up the embarrassing tropes. Not everyone was a candy kid with glowsticks hugging strangers, not everyone was out of their mind on drugs, etc. Portray the scene too much along those lines and it'll come off as sensationalized and inauthentic. (Different eras are important, too. What year in the 90s?)
posted by naju at 4:14 PM on June 12, 2014

The Rave Scene started in the early 80's.

Google Orbital Parties.

Similarly, I think 24 Hour Party People totally touches on this, but the plot is hazy.

Maybe more later, this part was on the fly....
posted by jbenben at 4:14 PM on June 12, 2014

I do also remember that ecstasy wasn't yet illegal in the US, and for some reason Texas figures in there as one of the first places (mid 80's?) ecstasy was freely handed out as a party drug.

Also, we used to have these "pop up" parties in Manhattan in the mid to late 80's that were like "flash raves" ... The name and promoter escapes me, but these were famous, and you will be able to google.

5 or 6 years later a certain Club Kid (murderer, now) used to run a version of them.

I have def been to warehouse raves in Brooklyn & Queens during the same time period.
posted by jbenben at 4:21 PM on June 12, 2014

Also, we used to have these "pop up" parties in Manhattan in the mid to late 80's that were like "flash raves" ... The name and promoter escapes me, but these were famous, and you will be able to google.

There is definitely a scene about this in Party Monster. Probably related to the "murderer" jbenben is referring to, since Party Monster is about that guy.

That said, I'm still on "pop up party" mailing lists 14 years after moving to NYC and AFAIK it's a perennial thing. You may want to talk to the people who run the Danger Parties and Gemini & Scorpio. Those are current going concerns, not 90s rave groups, but I bet there are folks who've been doing it since the early 2000s at least.
posted by Sara C. at 4:27 PM on June 12, 2014

A former prof of mine wrote a book on rave movies a few years ago.
posted by synecdoche at 4:42 PM on June 12, 2014

some useful youtube searches are "outlaw party" or "nasa nyc"

also scotto has some good videos up on his website
posted by elizardbits at 4:45 PM on June 12, 2014

There was also a really excellent post on the blue last year about how youtube comments on old rave tunes and/or videos tend to be some of the kindest and most emotionally honest comments ever.
posted by elizardbits at 4:58 PM on June 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

24 Hour Party People is primarily about Factory Records and Tony Wilson, but post-Ian Curtis in The Ha├žienda era there's some early rave stuff in re: Happy Mondays. And even if it's not totally about rave culture, it's a film worth watching.

The subject of Party Monster has been paroled after 18 years or thereabouts (and then he had dinner with James St. James and they watched Party Monster together what). Which means those of us who remember when he was arrested for murder and then went to prison are probably officially old.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:00 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Irvine Welsh, Ecstasy.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:11 PM on June 12, 2014

There's a book called Rave America, and Ecstasy Club

Better Living Through Circuitry, High Tech Soul, Pump Up The Volume, Limelight

Hyperreal is still up, believe it or not, but a lot of the links are dead. Here's a long story by Lonnie Fischer of Ultraworld detailing the conflicts he had with Baltimore police.

And there's a huge facebook group centered around the east coast 90s rave scene which I can invite you to if you memail me your facebook info. It's got loads of pictures and party flyers.

Here's an amusing expose that the local fox affiliate did of the club I used to dj at.
posted by empath at 12:33 AM on June 13, 2014

Impossible Dance by Fiona Buckland is pretty amazing. I know for sure there's a really detailed description of "getting ready" and another of dancing.

There are a couple of rave scenes in the Weetzie Bat series; they're by Francesca Lia Block, who sets a lot of her stories in this semi-mythic LA that (for me, at least) mixes the rave scene with a kind of glam '70s vibe. I liked I Was a Teenage Fairy better.

This is kind of a weird one: Pyrrhus by Mark Melis is kinda sorta set in the 90s/80s but there's gods and myths and demigods and also the Trojan War. It's about raves and clubbing and HIV/AIDS, but then there's magic and myth. It's beautiful and like a love letter to a lost NYC.
posted by spunweb at 12:45 AM on June 13, 2014

Chemical Cowboys looks at this time period from a law enforcement perspective.
posted by kjars at 10:16 AM on June 13, 2014

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