Pubdate: Thu, 11 Dec 2003
Source: Los Angeles City Beat (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Southland Publishing
Author: Dennis Romero
Note: Also prints Los Angeles Valley Beat, often with similar content, and 
the same contact information.
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Raves)


Those 20,000-strong mega-raves at the Orange Show Fairgrounds in San 
Bernardino are no more. Big downtown events are fewer and farther between.

Superstar DJs are finding fewer and fewer gigs on the rave circuit. And 
fans of euphoric trance and emotional ecstasy are relegated to a handful of 
smaller, legit venues, places such as Pomona's Glass House, downtown L.A.'s 
Orion, and Qtopia in Hollywood. Not like it was.

At Qtopia, for example, raving is still alive but not so well. The promise 
of techno-hippie pastures filled with hugs and uplifting tunes has given 
way to kids crashed out on the dirty concrete and vibing to infantile 
trance. On a recent Saturday night at the club, all the trappings of 
e-culture are in evidence, but little of the original uplift. Green lasers 
pierce man-made fog as ravers begin hitting the ground with ecstasy-induced 
fatigue. Pot smoke clouds a concrete patio outside, nearly every single 
inch of which is covered in graffiti art. Cholos, skaters, and club kids 
bounce to the sound.

Dancers are in overdrive, but the vibe is one of a culture being driven 
posed to the thousands who would attend raves in the '90s. There are 
strange sightings on the dance floor. A girl holds her face in her hands, 
crying.Asian-American girls hold up a wall, pointing and giggling. Go-go 
girls in club-kid platforms and super-small boyshorts dance in front of a 
stack of eight speakers that let out an aural assault, but are later thrown 
out of the club, apparently for being too provocative. Rave toys of the 
sort once listed by the federal government as drug paraphernalia - blinking 
red pacifiers, glow-in-the-dark necklaces - are sold at two stands. The 
party's logo, an anime-style Michelin Man sendup, is depicted on banners in 
Day-Glo colors. In each image, he holds a Popsicle.

Authorities from the federal government to the San Bernardino County 
Supervisors have cracked down on ecstasy and raves. (In San Berdoo, you 
can't have a party of 200 without a permission slip from the 
county.)  Venue owners are afraid to host events, and researchers have 
unleashed dire, if not always accurate, information about ecstasy, once the 
drug of choice. But the agony of ecstasy may be to blame for the decline of 
rave culture, especially in a Southern California scene once known as the 
country's e-culture capital.

The drug produces inner warmth and familial buzz, a feeling pop culture 
journalist Simon Reynolds described as "an oozy yearn, a bliss-ache."

But frequent users often fall into a hole of depression and despair. The 
lucky ones drop out of the scene. The hardcore graduates move on to 
ketamine, GHB, and speed. Ecstasy's natural five-year cycle puts the rave 
scene on a roller coaster, chewing up new converts and spitting them out 
when they've hit bottom. With its deep depression, isolation, and wild 
psychological swings - not to mention the potential effects on jobs, 
family, and friends - ecstasy can be a long, dark, and lonely road. Last 
year's decline, after skyrocketing increases in ecstasy use in America, 
suggests that ravers have had enough.

Annual emergency-room visits for ecstasy users ages 20 to 25 declined by 39 
percent last year, according to the federal Substance Abuse & Mental Health 
Services Administration (SAMHSA). Total e-related visits to the E.R. peaked 
in 2001, but then dipped the next year. Ecstasy use had seen a steady, 
steep rise, with a peak of more than two million new users in 2001. But 
last year saw its first decline since 1993, according to SAMHSA. The 
percentage of high school seniors who had tried ecstasy also dipped last 
year after peaking out at more than 9 percent in 2002. With such tools as 
the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act and the federally funded 
Partnership for a Drug-Free America's television commercial campaign, the 
authorities and politicians are taking some credit for the decline.

"I think those campaigns do make a difference," says Trinka D. Porrata, a 
former Los Angeles police narcotics detective who has become an authority 
on ecstasy culture. But she says the kids' own experiences are the biggest 
influence.  "People either get totally screwed up on drugs and spiral down 
completely or they get off of it. There are kids out there who aren't 
totally stupid - rational kids who say, "Wait a minute, it could happen to me."

While the government has been warning youth - wrongly so, according to the 
recent retraction of federally funded research -  that ecstasy causes brain 
damage, and pro-psychedelia cheerleaders have been touting the so-called 
therapeutic benefits of the drug, the young unbelievers will continue with 
their own personal research until they come to their own conclusions. This 
year, their thumbs-down has led to e-culture exodus.

"It's a cycle - people are fucked up or they see their friends are fucked 
up, so they chill out," says one longtime Southern California scene 
observer who promoted his own raves at the dawn of the '90s. "A couple 
years down the line, you're naturally going to have a decline."

Everyone has their theories about the decline of raves and ecstasy use. 
Rick Doblin, the Harvard-trained Ph.D. ecstasy public policy expert and a 
proponent of the drug, thinks the feds' campaign against the drug and 
against raves has indeed had some impact. "There has been this major 
federal anti-rave act," he says. "I do think the ways in which they have 
intimidated promoters has had a chilling effect on free speech and expression."

Word on the street, however, is oblivious to the crackdown.

"I stopped taking ecstasy because a lot of people started dropping dead 
from that shit," said 16-year-old Kai as she tried to get into the party at 
Qtopia recently. "I went to rehab over it."


Outside the club, 23-year-old Shaun has E for sale, at an all-time low of 
$15 a pill. The ecstasy boom of late has produced a glut of pills, some 
manufactured stateside in places like the East Bay, and much of the rest 
imported from the Netherlands. It's more available than ever, even if the 
market has thinned out to club nights like this one which draw only a few 
hundred dancers.

"You still have massives and undergrounds," Shaun says, "but now it's all 
about the clubs."

Shaun says the crackdown of late has made things a little more 
uncomfortable, and he stays on his toes. Gone are the days of "X" baseball 
caps and "ecstasy" T-shirts for dealers. He wears a glow-in-the-dark 
plastic bracelet. "If you wear bracelets like this, or a pacifier, the cops 
will pull you outside the club," he says.

Still, business is not bad, and Shaun says he's a smart salesman.

"When I first come to a party, I sell them for $15, undercutting every 
other dealer," he says. "Then at the end, when people are jonesing, I 
charge $20. I walk out of a party making $500 a night."

Inside, a girl who looks not much older than 16 circles the main room again 
and again, advertising "X - X." Stopped by a stranger, she looks alarmed, 
positively busted, her face flush with guilt. After being assured there are 
no narcs within earshot, she admits business hasn't been too good for her 
$20-a-pill enterprise. Wearing a red sweatshirt and beige denim pants, she 
says she's 18, the minimum age for admittance.

"A lot of people are getting out of the scene," she says. "I think it's 
because a lot of the ecstasy is bad."

The DJs - older scene veterans including Mars and Thee-o - spin the same 
three-chord trance that's been in favor at raves for the last five years. 
Dreadlocked Mars gets on the turntables and rinses out a 
140-beats-per-minute version of 'O Fortuna' - a rave hit under its 
techno-version guise a decade ago - and the crowd goes wild, hands in the air.

The party's promoter, Jason Sperling, says the scene has indeed fallen on 
hard times. His Skills crew does big events in the Bay Area, and he claims 
to have had 9,000 customers at his last rave. The federal government's 
focus on raves has made club proprietors reluctant to risk their businesses 
on rave-like events. Rave is a dirty word.

"Our problem is venues,"4 Sperling says. "Everything ends at 2 a.m. Not too 
many venues will let us do these late-night shows. They don't want too many 
young kids gathering. The scene is slowly moving into legitimate clubs, but 
it's slow because not everyone is 21."

Mainstream media, however, is not too shy to capitalize on the remnants of 
e-culture, even while its core is marginalized, even criminalized. During 
the rainy drive home from the club, three radio stations are playing rave 
music. KROQ (106.7 FM) weighs in with British 'progressive' house. 'Party 
Station' KDL (103.1 FM) has pop trance. And Power 106 (105.9 FM) spins 'old 
school' techno.

Perhaps one of the surest signs a subculture has lost its edge is when 
corporations co-opt its trappings for a big buck, and here in the 
entertainment capital of the world, e-culture is for sale 
everywhere:  Mobile phones come with glow-in-the-dark accessories; 
psychedelic, blinking lights; and ring-tone downloads set to trance. Clear 
Channel, the country's largest radio chain, and a conservative one at that, 
owns KDL and has booked the king of trance DJs, Paul Oakenfold, at the 
mainstream Wiltern Theatre in Koreatown. It begs the question, where do you 
draw the line when it comes to regulating culture? The unsuccessful 
congressional RAVE Act would have held pacifiers, glow-sticks, and 
repetitive beats as evidence that a club owner or party promoter reasonably 
knows ecstasy use is going on at an event. But we doubt the feds will go 
after Clear Channel anytime soon. With this kind of absurd cultural 
policing, on top of what turned out to be faulty claims about the dangers 
of ecstasy, it's no wonder kids have turned to their own experiences to 
learn the hard way about the dark side of e-culture.


Chris, a 22-year-old office manager from Atlanta, felt so compelled about 
the real dangers of E that he posted his story on an e-culture website for 
all the world to see. Last year he went through several cycles of bingeing, 
only to end up in wild swings of depression or anger.

He did it "to escape reality, because of all the anxiety I had to deal 
with," Chris says. He was in a near break-up with his fiance. "All the 
while, I was making the problem that much worse. I went into a deep 
depression. I couldn't deal with normal everyday problems - they made me 
feel like I was going to blow up at the smallest thing. Carrying around 
that kind of attitude tends to push people away from you."

Six months off of E has helped Chris put his life in order and get back 
together with his girl. He still likes electronic music, but the scene is 
where he used to be, in a black hole.

"The party scene definitely went downhill, and drugs are to blame for it," 
he says. "A lot of heavier drugs like meth got popular. The whole feeling 
of it has changed. It's not a friendly place to go. There used to be a 
feeling of unity. Now people are all sketched-out on meth, others are 
coked-out. It's dirtied-up the scene in my opinion."

Many like him are graduating to greener pastures. Chris warns the new kids 
that "one of my friends abused ecstasy and sank into a depression and never 
wanted to leave the house or even his room."

"I'd tell them before they try ecstasy to research it," he says. "You need 
to respect drugs like that. It's a hard line to draw between using and 
abusing. If you end up in a hole, it's just not worth it, no matter how 
good it felt."

That's probably good advice, according to Dr. Charles Grob, a foremost 
authority on the psychiatry of ecstasy who's based at L.A.'s Harbor-UCLA 
Medical Center. "If you give people honest info, they're more likely to use 
good judgement," he says.

"If there's a dip right now in ecstasy use it has nothing to do with the 
government's dubious anti-ecstasy campaigns," he says. "These ebbs and 
flows are cyclical."

The federally funded anti-drug campaigns started in 1999 with the 
$54-million "club drug" media blitz and rolls ahead to this day. The latest 
commercial from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America depicts young 
people frolicking in a pasture. It's an almost humorous rave-style mock-up 
of a major-pharmaceutical spot. But the scene grows dark, teenagers hit the 
ground and hang their heads low. Subliminal messages such as "depression" 
flash on screen. Effective? Grob says not all of the government's messages 
have been honest, making any official anti-E arguments a hard sell with 
today's teens.

He points to the controversial research of Johns Hopkins University's 
Dr.George A. Ricaurte, a favorite scientific tool of the feds in their war 
on e-culture. His 2002 study concluded that even a single dose of ecstasy 
could result in permanent brain damage. But it turned out Ricaurte's test 
subjects, baboons and squirrel monkeys, had been injected with meth instead 
of E. He withdrew the federally funded study, and the journal Science 
retracted its publication of his findings. Grob says that kind of science 
will backfire with youth, who need to hear about the real risks of E before 
learning the hard way.

"If the federal government's goal is for safety and welfare, Ricaurte's 
research has blown up in their face," he says. "Science in the service of 
political agendas is very dangerous and distressing and counterproductive."

"There are serious medical risks, especially in these dangerous rave 
settings," Grob says of the drug. "The younger the age, the more 
psychiatric risks there are, for sure."

He warns that frequent use can lead to higher tolerance, higher doses, and 
even graduation to the harder drug methamphetamine. "Although they don't 
get much effect from the MDMA, they're into the scene, so the meth will 
energize them so they can dance all night," Grob says of these graduates. 
He also says he has seen many people recover successfully from the effects 
of long-term ecstasy abuse, and that there's always hope - and help - 

Former Los Angeles Police Department Detective Porrata would like to see 
greater awareness of the dangers of driving on ecstasy (which might have 
contributed to a notorious 1999 car crash that took the lives of five local 
ravers, for example). And she wants more warnings about eye damage caused 
by lasers beaming into teenagers' dilated pupils at raves. Ecstasy causes 
this wide-eyed phenomenon, and Porrata says she's talked to doctors who 
have seen vision problems as a result of too much eye candy.

Acting Out

This spring, Congress passed the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, a 
renamed version of the RAVE Act. It applies the infamous 1986 "crackhouse 
law" to any illicit drug use at concerts, clubs, festivals, and live 
performances - making club owners and promoters responsible for the 
behavior of their paying guests. Before it was rewritten, the Reducing 
Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act equated raves with drug dens and 
defined them as places where glow sticks, water consumption, and repetitive 
beats are found.

After the nation's electronic music community protested, the language was 
cleaned up to remove the rave slant and paraphernalia. As it stands, fines 
and penalties for venue owners and promoters found guilty of hosting 
parties where drugs are knowingly used and tolerated can reach $750,000, 
with the possibility of 20 years behind bars. The new law could apply to a 
rave, a reggae concert, and to a DJ set by Oakenfold at the Wiltern.

"This bill has drawn serious grass-roots opposition, and I know that I am 
not alone in hearing from many constituents about their serious and 
well-considered objections to it," a concerned Sen. Patrick D. Leahy 
[D-Vermont] told the U.S. Senate. "Business owners have come to Congress 
and told us there are only so many steps they can take to prevent any of 
the thousands of people who may attend a concert or a rave from using 
drugs. They are worried about being held personally accountable for the 
illegal acts of others."

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy 
Alliance have promised to challenge the law the minute a rave promoter or 
venue owner ends up in court. Clearly, however, many club-owners and 
promoters would rather not be in court at all and have shed the rave scene 
in favor of hip-hop or house music events.

Some argue that the latest rave and ecstasy crackdowns only force those who 
want to dance till dawn into dangerous, underground locales. But Detective 
Porrata says good riddance to mega-raves.

"When they say they have to go underground, they admit they have to keep it 
about drugs," she argues. "The culture is really depressing. Going to a 
rave is like standing in the middle of a giant ant farm, with people 
milling about because they have that energy for mindless rotation. I find 
raves really sad."

The Roots

The Los Angeles rave scene took root in the late 1980s when the Levy 
brothers from the U.K. held "Moonshine" parties near downtown that featured 
ecstasy-friendly acid-house music. The return of homegrown DJ Doc Martin 
from San Francisco in 1990, along with the launch of rave 'zine Urb that 
year, solidified the city's capital status for stateside rave culture 
(despite the dubious claims of some authors that New York's scene took off 

In boom-and-bust cycles, L.A.'s e-culture hit a low point in the mid-'90s, 
when many burned-out ecstasy users simply dropped out of the scene, 
although the hardcore moved on to the more economically potent 
methamphetamine. Gritty inner-city parties buoyed their need for speed.

In that era, a small club held in a deco residential hotel on Beverly 
Boulevard, not far from the LAPD's notorious Rampart Station, was haunted 
with lost souls hanging on to the music but too far gone to realize they 
had hit the curb. Speed was snorted in the bathroom and the hardcore passed 
out next to booming loudspeakers. By sunrise a chill-out lounge was filled 
with zombies, some barely conscious, others passed out on the dirty floor. 
Every few hours or so an LAPD cruiser would stop out front and officers 
would chitchat and joke around with the promoter.

Rave culture resurfaced again in 1996 with a local radio station, Groove 
Radio, and concert-style electronic music events. By 1997, the music 
industry was abuzz about the potential of electronic sounds, a promise that 
never quite filled the pockets of major-label suits, but one that fueled 
e-culture's biggest wave yet. From then on, the scene continued to grow, 
consuming new micro-generations of followers hooked by MTV's Amp e-music 
video show, Moby's No. 1 album Play, and college radio shows across the 
nation. Blockbuster sponsored a rave tour. Microsoft paired up with the 
foremost rave website, Raveworld. Mitsubishi, which, ironically or not, had 
its symbol become a popular stamp on ecstasy tablets, featured a 
psuedo-pop-locking raver in a television commercial.

The growth continued until 9/11.

After that, there was "a national mood of cynicism," says ecstasy proponent 
Doblin, head of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. 
"The open-hearted optimism associated with raves and MDMA is out of fashion 
now. It seems so hippyish and naive to talk about peace, love, unity, and 

Today the mainstreaming continues, but the underground foundation has been 
eroded. Raveworld has been taken over by leading skateboard magazine 
Thrasher. MTV no longer airs Amp, although e-music videos do make it into 
its mainstream rotation from time to time. The music plays on in Hummer 
advertisements and on commercial radio.

"There's been several cycles in the scene," says Gary Blitz, national 
coordinator of the Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund, which 
formed to defend a New Orleans rave promoter unsuccessfully prosecuted by 
the feds under the old crack house statute. "No one wants to listen to what 
their older brothers or sisters listened to. It can't be the same as it was 
10 years ago."

Back at the Hollywood party, a young man standing outside admits that 
things aren't as hype as they were only a few summers ago. But he says 
another cycle of teenagers is coming through the pipeline, ready to take 
over where the dropouts left off. "Us young people will bring it back,=" he 
promises. "It's already coming back. And the drugs will be around till the 
day that I die."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman