Nov 14 2008

ToonTown

Published by at 6:02 pm under music,virtual reality

reprint from the San Francisco Examiner, Image Section, 2-16-1992

The Ecstatic Cybernetic Amino Acid Test
By Cynthia Robins

By five minutes after midnight, New Year’s Eve, the music has been going for three hours. Bu the party is just starting to build. By 2 a.m., 6,000 bodies are shoehorned into a cavernous space below San Francisco’s Fashion Center, buffeted, embraced and engulfed by sound and lights caroming off the concrete walls, floors, and ceilings.

Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in _Fantasia_, the DJ directs the flow of energy with controlled waves of sound. Prancing like a high priest in front of dual turntables and a control panel whose decibel levels constantly violate the red line, he weaves a seemless skein, a solid blanket of sound. He is an electronic shaman. No one escapes his spell. Relentless, the music is almost all bass – a _boom_ da _boom_ do _boom_ da _boom_ cranked to marrow-boiling levels, plunging ahead at fetal heartbeat cadence. An incessant 118-126 beats per minute tickled incidentally by featureless vocals and snatches of sampled riffs and melodies. The beat soaks your shoes, enters your feet like a tidal surge and then charges up your body to attack your groin. If you have one ounce of rhythm, you gotta dance. If you don’t, you gotta leave.

The lights synch with the sound — pulsing, whipping, whirling. Video screens televise live crowd shots overlaid with psychedelic fractal pattern. Laser-green light rays explode on the floor like shattered snakes. Smoke machines spew faux fog through which Intellebeam spots direct shards of color and white light, fragmenting on bodies, walls, and ceiling like an akak barrage in Baghdad.

The total sensory environment wraps the dancers in a techno-cocoon. It is disco inferno, psychedelic apocalypse.

All around you are heaving bodies. Belles in leather and lace. Beaux in jimmy-jams and exaggerated Dr. Seuss Cat-in-the-Hats. Men in garter belts. Women stripped down to jeans and bras. Drag queens. Gender benders. Hoary- headed hipsters. The straight, the gay, the old, the young. Mostly young. A phantasmagoria hurled from the bar scene in Star Wars.

Their arms stretch heavenward. Eyes roll back, looking not at the fusillade of imagery, but inward. They dance like lone wolves, occasionally entering another’s intimate space, rubbing bodies, making connections, clocking new personae — but only in an incidental way. This is not the brittle, predatory hip-club-cruise scene. Nobody’s exchanging phone numbers. The air is highly charged with sexual energy, but nobody’s thinking about getting laid. Not while the dance is so intoxicating. A trance dance of random patterns and thrashing extremities and faces bathed in sweat and bliss — blank, glazed, open. innocent. Is it rapture? Or is it the drugs?

Someone comes up to you. A boy-child wearing an oversized shirt, his hair cut in a stylish wedge, his pupils reduced to pin-dots. “Wanna dance?” “Sure, why not.” So you do. For two, three hours non-stop. Sweat pours down your neck, making puddles in the small of your back. Four ounces of hair spray can’t keep your do in place. Even though the only substance you’re doing is Calistoga, you feel stoned. The membranes are blurring. There is no age. No gender. No time. You are time. In it. Of it. Definitely in The Flow.

Welcome to ToonTown, where it’s over-amped, over-medicated, over- populated, and over at 8 in the morning.

Where, over the course of 11 hours 7,200 people — a majority feuled on MD-MA (call it Ecstasy, XTC, E or X), amino-acid based nutrient “smart drinks” and mob induced energy — have paid the $30 door charge to party all night. There is very little liquor. The bars serving beer, wine, and champange and mixed drinks have closed at 1:45 a.m. And save for one minor fracas around midnight, there are no fights.

ToonTown — the name cadged from the city of cartoon characters in _Who_Framed_Roger_Rabbit_ — is the prototypical rave. Or perhaps, since the rave scene springs basically from youth-culture underground, it is the atypical overground rave, threatening to go mainstream. In any case, all requisite elements of the burgeoning rave culture are in place on New Year’s Eve: an all-encompassing electronic environment of DJ-controlled “house” music; computer-generated, digitized lights; youthful bodies obscured in unisex clothing; drug enhancement; disdain for alcoholic excess; and a singular disregard for financial status, gender, or sexual orientation.

Where the name comes from, no one really knows. Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”? Probably not. From the energetic raveups, or parties, of 60′s Britain? Certainly a logical precedent. Rave as in raving lunatic? Possibly, if you think about the madness of dancing all night for three, four, or in the case of the 150-300 hardcore ravers in San Francisco, five nights and two afternoons a week, at raves called The Gathering, Housing Project, A Rave Called Sharon, Mr. Floppy’s Funhouse, Sunnyside Up, Outrage, Wicked.

Like the Be-In Babies that announced the coming of the age of Aquarius, the ravers may be the heralds of a new culture, the first weird blips on the horizon of the techno-driven 90′s. The rave culture is a disparate blending of oddly meshing elements: computer-age technology mingled with trendy drugs, commercial savvy check-by-jowl with quasi-60′s flower power. Where this culture, if it is one, will go and what will come out of it is anyone’s guess. And the ravers aren’t making any predictions.

In 1988, a new kind of music-generated lifestyle began bubbling up from the British underground. Working-class kids, alienated by the mouldering class system, by Thatcherism and by the tired contemporary pop scene, weary of the blue laws that closed their clubs at 3 a.m., created a new scene. At “private” raves or celebrations, they danced all night to American “house” music while dosed on MDMA, the drug dubbed Ecstasy. In the next couple of years, the all-night parties that began in clubs like the Heaven at the Spectrum in London or the Hacienda Club in Manchester found their way to outdoor venues — the beaches of Ibiza, the gentle countryside or Kent. You could drive 20 miles out of London at 4 in the morning and find 20,000 bodies heaving rythmatically in the moonlight.

The Brits may have made the scene, but the Americans made the music that drove it. Just as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones adapted the rockabilly and rhythm and blues of the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Chuck Berry in the early ’60s, the ;atter-day Brits fell in love with another American musical invention — house music. In a time when punk was dead and rap was considered too negative and sexist for widespread appeal, “house” was the freshest brand of music the British kids had heard in years and it was addicting.

House music came out of Chicago, where Club DJ’s in the 80′s brought together the kids from the white North side and the black South side in a neutral location known as the “house” to dance all night to the only kind of music both factions liked. This music, known as “early” or “garage” house, was a blend of sampled, synthesized, and digitized “salsoul” — the hyper-rhythmic fusion of R & B and Latin music — and hip-hop. Rhythm, melody, and vocal tracks were lifted electronically from records, fed into a digital “sampler”, and manipulated by the DJ/producer into a totally new mix. Since then, new varieties of house music have sprung up, including “techno-house”, a totally computer-created, 138-144 beats-per-minute, apoplectic-seizure variant that’s popular with ravers.

By sampling other people’s vocals and riffs and digitally manipulating them, the DJ, not the artist, becomes the star. In fact, musicians are completely dispensible: an entire record can be created simply by using a sampler keyboard. (An 11-year-old from germany created a house music record in his bedroom that charted on the British Top Ten list last year.) Jim Hopkins, a 27-year-old principle in Twitch Records, a promotional service that reconstructs the 12-inch vinyl singles favored by rave DJs, describes house music as “a collage — a lot of elements from the past combining to make something new.”

One of the best house music DJ’s in the business, according to almost every raver polled, is Doc Martin, a 25-year-old former doorman at DNA who is now the electronic alchemist for the burgeoning L.A. rave scene. It has been said that if Do Martin’s name is on a rave invitation, he can pull as many people, if not more, in a club as a major live act. For Martin, the rave is a kind of Utopia. “The club or the ‘house’ is the only place where there aren’t any barriers of sex, race, or finance. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are or what background you’re form, it’s the coming together, the outlet form everyday life. And the music is everything.”

But the music was unable to save the British rave scene, which collapsed under its own weight. It had simply gotten too big, too commercial, too mainstream, therefore too un-hip, to keep the core ravers interested. At its height, circa 1989, there were thousands of ravers, partying in the crop circles at 4 a.m., drinking juices and dosing up on XTC in London. Three years later, it was over.

Governmental pressure, says one ex-British raver, also contributed to the demise of the English rave scene. The ravers, it seems, didn’t fit in. If they were outside on a field somewhere dosed up on smart drinks, they weren’t hanging out at the corner pub, hoisting a pint of ale. They were outsiders who were perceived at threatening. According to 30-year-old Jas. Morgan, the music and arts editor of the cyberpunk bible _Mondo 2000_, the rave scene, “caused economic grief with the established organizations.” Enforcing a law that forbade large gatherings, Morgan says, “The British government acquired a helicopter expressly for the purpose of flying around and looking down on these illegal raves, and finally they succeeded in snuffing out the scene in Britain.”

Undaunted, the primary rave-scene movers, the organizers of the parties, began looking for other suitable climates to recapture the original spirit. They looked at San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles. They chose The City — which, considering San Francisco’s legendary hospitality to exiles, visionaries, and serious partiers, should surprise no one.

Ex-Londoner Mark Heley, a 27-year-old former Cambridge student and music journalist who is one of the ToonTown partners, gets rhapsodic when he talks about his new turf. “San Francisco is one of the most sexually liberated cities in the world. So when I came here, I was blown away. I went to a club called Osmosis (a club-within-a-club at DV8) and the level of sexuality was so high, you didn’t know if someone was gay, straight, transsexual, bisexual — it didn’t matter. usually, when you’re brought into a club atmosphere, here is this girl trying to pick up a guy, or a guy trying to pick up a girl or another guy or whatever. but at Osmosis there’s so much sexual ambiguity people start treating each other as human beings instead of just sexual personae.”

In a peculiar mini-reprise of the British pop invasion of the early ’60s, the English ravers hit The City in the winter of 1991. Twenty-seven- year-old Michelle Barnett, a fresh-faced California blonde whose limber, long- legged body is obscured by layers of oversized garments, remembers: “We were suddenly surrounded by kids moving here from England. They were coming here in droves and bringing with them a new sensibility, a new style of clothes.” Initially resistant to the scene — “I had heard house music before and to me it sounded like bad disco” — Barnett succumbed. Today, she carries house tapes, bought from rave DJ’s for $10 or $15 apiece, in her purse.

The British kids tried to go to other cities before they came here,” she continues. But they chose San Francisco, she explains, “because this town is conductive to anyone coming here who, being young and wacked out, stakes their claim and says, ‘this is what we are, this is what we’re going to do.’ San Francisco applauds it. This is such a feminine city, and emits a form of ’60s feminine energy which attracts people who are off-kilter. It’s the call of the wild: ‘Come to San Francisco and watch things happen.’”

If music is the magnet for ravers, drugs are the catalyst. This was especially true of the English rave scene. ToonTown’s Heley, a shortish bloke with a studious face, owlish round glasses and a Julius Caesar haircut, recalls that, “The fact that house music was the first club environment that brought together black, white, gay and straight people in England was what really sealed it. It had its own energy, irrespective of the drugs. But England is an incredibly sexually repressed nation and Ecstasy provided the brilliant catalyst to allow people to express themselves. People there are very phobic about touching and Ecstasy gave them a tremendous release.

Ecstasy, or MDMA, was developed by the Germans in 1910 as an appetite suppressant, but its psychoactive effects weren’t discovered until the early ’70s. By 1976, psychiatrists were prescribing it for stress disorders and depression, as well as creativity enhancement and couples therapy. During the ’80s, it became the drug of choice for yuppies and young hipsters — less overwhelming in its effects than acid, more sensuous than pot, emotionally warmer than coke. The DEA declared it illegal in 1985.

According to Bruce Eisner, a pre-dissertation Ph.D. candidate at the Saybrook Institute who is the author of _Ecstasy: The MDMA Story_, “Nobody really knows how it works in the brain. But from a psychological standpoint, the drug seems to affect people in two very distinct ways. It works as an entactogen and as an empathogen.” Eisner defines an entactogen as a substance that, “affects the transformation of the inner psyche. It gives a sense of heightened self-esteem and a feeling of “alrightness” with the world.” Empathogens, he says, “increase empathy and interpersonal communication. People have a tendency to break through barriers in terms of enhanced intimacy and clarity of communication. Ecstasy tends to produce a feeling of ecstatic emotional response. In other words,” he concludes wryly, “you feel good.”

Add to this pharmaceutical paragon’s resume the fact that a number of ravers claim they can duplicate its high without actually taking the drug — a kind of high-tech, self-controlled, ’90s version of the old LSD flashback myth. Michelle Barnett says, “The E. experience went into my mental computer and now I can just ‘access’ it anytime I want.”

But the so-called “love drug” is not without its risks. According to Dr. Howard McKinney of the UCSF Poison Control Center, “There have been some deaths from Ecstasy, and several other cases where people who took normal doses experienced heart failure, liver failure or coma and cardiovascular and autonomic nervous system instability — high temperature, low blood pressure and no pumping action of the heart.” Other side-effects, according to McKinney, can include rapid heartbeat, palpitations, nausea, muscle aches and gritting or grinding of teeth.

But these dangers haven’t scared off the young people who are drawn to E. — drawn above all by its power to break down personal and social barriers. Says Eisner, “There is a lot of alienation and a lot of hype in our culture, and these kids want to get together. The rave is the way they do it, and Ecstasy is the catalyst. It produces this tremendous psychological breakthrough and fusion which gives them a real sense of empowerment.

But ravers deny that raving and XTC are immutably joined. And some hard-core ravers go even further, claiming that the drug is going out of style. “I hope you’re not just going to talk about being drugged up on E., because we’re doing less and less of it,” says 22-year-old Preston Lytton, an original co-founder of ToonTown who has since moved on. (Lytton, upset that ToonTown was getting too above-ground and Bridge-and-Tunnel-y, is planning to start his own rave parties.) “The rave culture is so much more than E.,” he continues. “Drugs may enhance somebody’s night or their feeling, but it has come from within them in the first place.” A gangly, handsome man with a sketchy mustache and goatee and a fondness for oversized hats, Lytton is a 9th-grade-dropout with a GED who helped initiate the rave scene in The City. “The feeling comes from the music, from getting out there and dancing,” he says. “If you’re not into the scene and you take drugs, you’re just going to be high.”

Several weeks after New Year’s, a group of rave kids are sitting in unmatched chairs at Ground Zero, a coffee house in the Lower Haight, drinking latte, eating chocolate pastry and trying to define the rave scene.

For Kadian Schwarz, an intensely intellectual 23-year-old student from Boston, the scene is “a gathering of youth to engage in ritual dance and techno-shamanism for the dissolution of alienation found in the modern capitalist system, using the technology of the system. In other words,” he says with heartfelt seriousness, “It’s a festival of madness.”

“Look,” says 24-year-old Nick Philip, another British transplant and a partner in Anarchic Adjustment, a San Jose-based apparel company that makes rave-oriented over-sized comfort clothing, “the ’80s were about looking good and getting laid. The ’90s? It’s about having fun. People are having such a good time dancing, there’s no time to cruise. You free yourself from your body. If you’re looking good to attract someone else, then they’re creating your reality. But once you get that buzz, it’s addicting. So many people in London gave up their yuppie jobs to support the rave culture. The house experience is not just getting swacked on E. It’s the music, the lights, being with your mates. It’s a shamanistic-tribal-religious experience.”

With his furry, dirty-blond flat-top covered by a rust-colored, knit watch cap decorated with noodles of yarn, Philip has the cartoony mein of some of the core ravers who have an affection for the silly and exaggerated. The pupils in his blue irises are so large that his eyes look like two black beads in his hawkish face. His slight, rangy build is completely enveloped in a size XXL black T-shirt and neon-orange camouflage pants that tie at the ankles. The sleeves of his shirt extend past his hands. He does not push them back. He says that he likes to dance, letting the extra material flop like a pair of flags. One day, he says, his company is going to do a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, “Find God on the dance floor.”

Seated next to Philip is a 21-year-old American named Gena Womack, a tall, solidly built woman with a pixie-fringed helmet of straw-colored hair and a silver ring in her nose. Wearing overalls and a neck draped with toilet chains hung with charms and amulets, Womack is a hardcore raver, avoiding 9-to-5 jobs (no self-respecting raver with their days and nights flipped would ever get up that early) working in clubs. “This scene is an expression of love, of ritual self-improvement,” she says. “I feel sometimes completely illuminated. When I’m dancing with my hands in the air and the music surging through my body, I feel energized by the others on the dance floor. It’s like a rapture. Even an hour of non-stop dancing will put me there. I’ve been known to lose time and be on the dance floor for three hours.”

“The XTC experience and the rave experience shows us where we all can go,” Philip concludes grandly, in a voice striaght up from the sidewalks of proletariat London. “But it’s not working-class kids revolting against society because they’ve not been treated right. I’ve got a job. I want to work. I want to be as successful as I can but just in a different way, an alternative. Mark my words, it’s gonna be massive. Wait until the rave catches on in America. It’s a global phenomenon.”

Predictable hype from one of the many entreprenuers involved with the rave? Maybe. But there are indications that the rave may indeed have a global pull. There is a small rave scene in the legendary counterculture haven of Goa, in India, mostly expatriate Brits who favor acid over Ecstasy and hold moonlight beach dances accompanied by generator-driven sound systems. Japan, where Anarchic Adjustment sold $300,000 worth of clothes last year, is reportedly ripe for the rave. And here in San Francisco, in one scant year, the scene has taken off.

This is remarkable, because raves are neither talked about in the mainstream media nor advertised. Organizers announce an evening’s rave by starting a “telephone tree” of expanding concentric calling circles. The 300 core ravers call their friends with information about a location where they can go purchase tickets and find out the location of the night’s rave. Their friends call their friends, and the news spreads like wildfire. Within five hours of a 7 p.m. call, crowds of 500 to 3,000 (depending on the size and location of the venue) can gather at spots as varied as south-of-Market warehouses, defunct clubs like Boppers (known in rave parlance as 650 Howard) or local beaches, the sites of monthly, outdoor full-moon raves.

For the hard-core raver, this can get expensive. Considering that raves cost $15-20 a ticket, E. is $20 a pop, smart drinks are $4 each, and taxis (few ravers own cars) can run $20 a night, a night of raving can run $50 to $80. To support their lifestyle, many ravers have become rave entreprenuers, selling clothes or smart drinks, DJing, selling tapes, and, of course, dealing E. Often they “flop” together in lofts, apartments or warehouses, as the hippies huddled together in like-minded communes.

The rave scene, like every cultural phenomenon these days, comes ready-made with great marketing possibilities. A number of rave cottage industries have sprung up. There are record stores that sell 12-inch vinyls. There are clothing stores like Ameba, on Haight Street, which owner Mark Metz likes to call “rave central” (“You should hear all the phone calls we get on Friday and Saturday with kids wanting to know where the rave is tonight”) and specializes in eye-popping, op-arty rave garb. Nick Philip’s Anarchic Adjustments exports rave fashions to Japan, Britain, Germany and Italy; his estimates for fiscal year 1992 top $1 million. There’s even a rave-related jewelry manufacturer, Do Not Eat, which makes black-light-active plastic jewelry (planets, space ships, smiley-faced atoms, some affixed with lower- case “e’s.”)

And there is the burgeoning “smart drink” business. “Smart bars” in local dance clubs do a thriving business selling “smart nutrients” with names like Intellex and Energy Elixur. (Cognoscenti distinguish between “smart nutrients” and “smart drugs”: the more innocuous smart nutrients, which are used to make smart drinks, mostly consist of amino acids and vitamins; smart drugs include anti-convulsants, diuretics, and substances aimed at slowing the course of Alzheimer’s.) Smart drinks, their boosters claim, not only replace the nutrient and electrolyte depletion caused by a night of dancing and drugging, but actually improve concentration, short-term memory and mental acuity.

These claims are controversial and have yet to gain substantial documented scientific proof; but in the rave scene, smart nutrients (as well as smart drugs) are very big, indeed. At the New Year’s Eve ToonTown, for instance, the Nutrient Cafe prepared more than 2,000 drinks and grossed more than $5,000

The rave, its burgeoning corps of entreprenuers proclaim, is definitely going mainstream. It’s hard to argue with them: there’s definitely money to be made.

Some people voice doubt as to whether a genuine youth movement can grow out of these profitable high-tech parties. ToonTown’s New Year’s Eve gate was reported to be $175,000; a recent Saturday night rave called the Gathering packed more than 700 people into the Stone at $15 a pop. The commercial nature of the rave scene makes some observers skeptical. Adam Block, rock critic for _The Advocate_ and an astute observer of the local scene, says “The ToonTown monstrosity on New Year’s Eve struck me as a pretentious, silly rip-off. These kids have stumbled into a social and cultural void that entreprenuers are exploiting. The raves have been appropriated from their underground roots and sold with all kinds of cyberpunk double-talk as ecstatic communalism. I’d say it’s an awfully yuppie form of Dionysian celebration.” Older scenester- hipsters like Rob “Rob Chop” Vance look around at the sonic youth and snort, “This scene’s in tatters. It’s teentown.”

As its critics argue, the overground has become a pre-packaged, money- making environment. But the critics miss the fact that under its protected canopy of sound, visuals, and sardine-packed bodies, there is undeniable energy, spontaneity, and creativity. “The rave isn’t just about making money,” says Dianna Jacobs, on of ToonTown’s organizers. “It’s about community.”

And it’s about to spread. ToonTowners have made a corporate decision to take their party not only above ground but into other markets like Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York. In the words of one of the principles, “We want to spread the gospel of the rave.”

In some ways, this party-octopus reaching out its tentacles from The City is reminiscent of ’60s, when invitations to come to San Francisco with flowers in your hair produced a cultural gridlock of tye-dyed, denim-clad long-hairs. The rave scene smacks of ’60s Flower Power revisited. Consider the clothes – the unisex look with the oppy-poppy geometric patterns in Day-Glo fuchsias, greens and blues, designed to appear in motion under black light. Or the drugs, the psychedelicized imagery and lights, the music. Or the tribalness of it all.

But this is love and peace squeezed through a techno-screen. This is a tripartite culture — a roiling combination trendy club kids who were ready to move onto the next level, eco-warrior Rainbow Coalitionists and computer nerds. It is a culture where the techno-shaman is more apt to be a Mac whiz than a psychedelic guru or leather-clad club cutie.

And there is another basic difference between the hippie of the ’60s and the raver of the ’90s. Rave culture is highly apolitical. Says ToonTown’s Mark Heley, “The house thing really doesn’t have an agenda. You can talk about its having an effect on society, and it has a specific effect, but it’s not as if it’s trying to save the world or anything.”

For the ravers, the important process in the dance. Like the Sufi dervishes who whirl their way to higher knowledge, the ravers use their own trance dances to make connections, promote unity and dissolve the concept of time.

It is the transcendental hippie philosophy for the ’90s. And like the hippies, the ravers are in large part middle-class white kids who dream of tearing down the walls — between people, between races, between cities, between nations. For them, the Star Trek ideal of one planet, one Earth facing alien worlds, is a foreseeable future. As one older observer of the scene says, “These kids are preparing to blast out into space.”

All of this one-worldism may seem fatuous and naive. And it’s sometimes difficult to understand, let alone accept, the Zen quality to the rant and the cant. But this is a generation that has seen the ozone layer weaken and the Berlin Wall come down. History, for these kids, has been moving at warp speed: it’s not surprising that they refuse to accept the limits imposed on them by conventional wisdom.

On a more practical level, these are the children of the electronic age — young adults who have been bombarded by sensory input since they climbed out of their cribs. As a teenager, for instance, Michelle Barnett says she was able to “watch television, listen to the stereo, talk on the phone, eat dinner, and do my homework, all at the same time — and still maintain all A’s.” From kindergarten on, she remembers “sitting in most of my classes, focused on the TV set or ‘the monitor.’ We spent three days a week watching the monitor. We were pretty much hooked on TV. It wasn’t a hindrance or bad — we just got fed our information that way.”

Ravers belong to the first bona fide techno-generation — a generation that learned its symbology not on the printed page but on the CRT screen. And, contrary to the fears of the traditionalists, theirs is a highly intelligent culture. Many of the ravers interviewed were extremely articulate; they possessed a lively curiosity about subjects ranging from Chaos Theory to the morphology of the latest “smart” drug.

But they are not conventionally literate. Reading, if not a lost art, has become just one of a necessary set of tools — a facilitator for feeding more information into the mental computer. The technoids who comprise a large percentage of the scene read purely for information, as input, but not for enjoyment. For that, they turn to electronics and technology. They get their kicks from borrowed images, fragments that have been scanned, digitalized, and manipulated electronically into a new, simulated reality.

There’s something a little disquieting about a borrowed culture. When you press them on this, when you ask them about originality, about producing something that has come directly from the imagination or the heart or the gut, when you ask where the new Picassos are, they answer with talk of “new paradigms,” of fresh and foreign ways of thinking, of a youth culture that has been so assaulted by images that it has learned to process information in a completely non-linear manner.

Asked, “Is this simulated environment really real?” Bryan Hughes laughs and says, “Depends on what your definition of ‘real’ is.” Hughes is a 24-year-old specialist in virtual reality, the computer-generated technology that creates stunning imaginary environments. “This is just _new_,” he says. “By taking borrowed sounds and collaging them, you create a primary experience composed of second-hand material. The computer will allow there to be 100 new Picassos, a thousand Beethovens.”

Dan Mapes, who runs Digital Media, the Santa-Cruz-based multimedia company that created the visuals for New Year’s Eve ToonTown, agrees. “The rave culture is the front edge of the new ’90s art forms, no doubt about it. They’re pushing the boundaries of art and society.” The final vision? “Earth as community.”

If the ravers live up to their own billing, the seeds of the Global Village planted in the ’60s may be coming to an unexpected fruition. Welcome the post-literate technobrat, the symbolic progeny of William Burroughs, Marshall McLuhan, Aldous Huxley, John Lilly and Timothy Leary.

That the ravers should be the emotional inheritors of the hippie ideal is, on the face of it, surprising. Most of the rave culture is too young ever to have met a ’60s hippie, and probably too old to have had hippies for parents. Many of them haven’t even read about the peace-love-dove generation.

_Mondo 2000′s_ Jas. Morgan has a novel explanation. “My dear,” he says, “these are all the people that got enough television when they were young.” He goes on to explain that after the hippies, the road forked. The New Agers, whom he dismisses, went one way; the rave generation kids, or what he calls “New Edgers,” went in the right direction. “Most of the back-to-the-earth, crystal folks had highly authoritarian parents. And in the ’60s, one of the most crushing punishments you could receive was to have your TV privileges taken away from you for misbehavior. So I suspect that the New Age, in part, is peopled by people who didn’t get quite as much TV as they needed to make the full mutation.”

And the people who did? According to Morgan, “They’re doing computer graphics and synthesizing new compounds that make us intelligent, putting us in touch with what Huxley would call ‘the ineffable’. What you’re seeing is the birth of a completely new species,. The rave kids are the mutation. And the rave is where they go to meet, to fuse with one another, to meet others with a similar neurological pedigree.”

Bryan Hughes, the virtual-reality whiz, considers himself such an evolutionary mutant. Well-versed in computers, Hughes has become involved with the ’60s counterculture guru and LSD advocate Timothy Leary, sharing the lecture platform with him nine times in the last two years. He confesses that before he met Leary he didn’t have a clue who he was.

“Then I started hanging out with Leary and read his theories,” says Hughes, whos antic energy seems to crackle from the ends of his spiked brush cut. “And what Leary is about is behavior modification through sensory overload. Formatting your own brain. That’s what acid does. When you’re peaking, you’re overloading your senses. IN a way, the rave, with its barrage of strobes, lights, and loud music, does the same thing.”

For Mapes, Hughes and his fellow ravers represent more than just another new underground scene; they represent hope. “These are evolved kids, it’s real important to tune into that. This is where art and technology and evolution are all linked. We evolve through our art and technology.”

That evolution, Mapes believes, will lead to a more enlightened future. “We’re laying the foundation of a 21st-century society and things like the rave are an expression of it. Think about New Year’s Eve – 7,200 people and no fights. That’s incredible. That’s a lot of people who were harmonious with each other. And for them, it’s an experience in living in the world they want to live in — a microcosm of a possible future world. For a moment in time, hang out with a large number of like-minded people and you’re grooving with them. That’s very evolutionary. That’s very healing.”

So what does it all add up to? Cynics will dismiss the rave scene cursorily as a bunch of drugged-out kids dancing to music they neither like nor understand. But something else is going on, something big. The ravers are the precursors of something. Just what is a huge question mark. But the movement is gaining in strength, in numbers, in vision of purpose. It is international in scope, and, like a strange new virus in our cultural computer, is not to be ignored.

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