Rave ‘til dawn and live to tell about it
By Mike Pfeiffer
Michael Tullberg has been a prominent figure in the rave and electronic dance scene since its origins back in the early 90’s. His photographs have been used to define the scene in various publications and in his last book Dancefloor Thunderstorm. His latest book is The Raver Stories Project is a collection of stories from different periods of the rave scene told by various fixtures of the rave community.
As a photographer, in your last book Dancefloor Thunderstorm, you focus on letting your picture tell the story of rave culture. Why did you decide words were needed this time around?
Well, I’d been working on “Dancefloor Thunderstorm” for four years. I’d been living, eating, breathing and sleeping that photo book, so the truth is, I needed a break from photos! (laughs) What I really wanted to do was tell the larger story of the rave scene through a series of individual stories, and for that I needed more input, from outside sources…meaning other ravers and such. The people whose voices have historically been overlooked by the mainstream media….one of the reasons why I wrote “Dancefloor Thunderstorm”, and the primary reason behind putting together “The Raver Stories Project”—to give those least represented in the rave scene a voice, and demonstrate to the rest of the world that the rave scene is not some terrible, frightening underworld.
What was your ploy to get the writer’s to tell you their stories?
My “ploy”? Jeez, you make it sound so underhanded! There was no “ploy”. All I really did was remind them of the fact that the scene that they loved so much had historically been given short shrift by the media…. I knew that every raver has at least one story in them, about why the rave scene means so much to them. One story is long enough to tell something good, and short enough so that the story authors could focus on them without being intimidated by the prospect of writing an entire book by themselves.
Did you end up with more stories than you had room for?
I did, and I had to narrow things down…that’s what an editor does, after all. I felt the need to keep the book down to a reasonable size, because after a certain number of stories, you run the risk of your book becoming repetitive. There were some submissions that were incomplete, some others that were a bit less than coherent, and a few that were just not a good match for the project. Fortunately, it proved to be not too difficult to whittle things down to thirty stories, which is enough to keep things interesting, I think.
What I think a lot of people that are new to the EDM scene don’t realize is just how hard and adventurous it was to find these raves. It seems like the uncovering of it was a big part of the experience….
Oh, it definitely was. The map point wasn’t just a way to throw off the police, it was a teaser for the ravers as well. It was one example of the interactive nature of raves, where the fans had to be proactive in finding out where the gig was. It wasn’t just served up to them on a platter, or on the Internet. You’d have to call the info line just before the party was supposed to start, because that was when they’d post the directions to the map point. The thing is, sometimes the map points were in pretty sketchy areas of town—but then again, so were some of the parties! Then when you found the map point, you had to play it cool. You couldn’t be just another frat boy douchebag, because otherwise you might not get the map.
Then when you finally made it to the party, there was often a real feeling of accomplishment. You’d gone through the scavenger hunt, and now here you were in this special, secret place, with other people who were just as big fans of the music as you were. The anticipation was sometimes so high, you couldn’t wait to party, or to see what other off-the-wall people were going to show up.
Did the internet kill that part of it or was it more about the scene becoming more legit?
A bit of both. The Internet definitely made it easier (and cheaper!) to promote a party online, so that was a factor. The ability to get word about a party on your smartphone means that the system has become a bit more flexible. There’s no need to hit the record store any more to get the fliers with the info lines on it, you can get all the data on Eventbrite or Facebook. As a result, the underground thing has been lost a bit.
The other part of it, as you suggest in your question, is that much of the scene has migrated out of its underground beginnings and has found its way into the mainstream, either in the clubs or in festivals. I mean, EDC has its own app—that shows you how far things have come.
Do you have a favorite story or one that you like to call out?
My favorite stories tend to rotate. One of them is actually in “The Raver Stories Project” – it’s about a 1998 desert rave called “Dune 4”, which was held wayyyyy out in the middle of nowhere near the California/Arizona border. I particularly remember this event because at around midnight, a huge sandstorm whipped up and blasted its way through the party. I’m talking about winds up to 60 MPH, which was more than just a mild annoyance. Christopher Lawrence was spinning at the time, and his tone arms were being blown all over the place, so they had to tape stacks of quarters onto the arm so the needle would stay on the record. The problem was, Christopher was spinning with a lot of acetates that night, so a bunch of his records ended up being totally destroyed by the sand that was ground into them.
What is it about the rave scene that made it so personally influential?
….for me, it was the all-embracing nature of the rave scene that drew me in—along with the enormously high quality of music, of course. I had had my fill of the preening Hollywood VIP thing, and I really liked the fact that the 90’s rave scene did away with that. I respected that the rave scene was inclusive, rather than exclusive. At its best, it removed so many social barriers, like race, class, social status and sexuality. It just tossed them out the window, for it had no use for them. There was really only one criterion: did you like the music? If the answer was yes, then boom, you were in, and you were under no obligation to be a Kandi Raver, either… You could be whoever or whatever you wanted to be in the rave scene, without fear of ridicule or reprisal.
It was, in the words of the old Mixology motto, celebrating life through dance. How you did that was totally up to you. Of course, most chose to be very silly in one way or another.
Tell me more about your publishing company, 5150 Publishing and future plans?
5150 is dedicated to putting out material about the most interesting and unusual aspects of pop culture. At present, that means the electronic music world, but that could easily expand, given the right subject matter. The next book in the pipeline is likely a book of my DJ portraits, which will be a photo book like “Dancefloor Thunderstorm”. After that, there’s a bunch of ideas in the pipeline, so who knows?