Class of ’99, Vol. 13
This month, I had the honor of chatting with Music For All about my mix series, and about rave culture in general. The conversation got me thinking about raves as a counter-culture movement. Despite its apolitical nature, the 90’s rave scene was truly countercultural. It ran parallel to mainstream culture completely, and against the grain of society in more than just the symbolic ways we often associate with teen rebellion. For better or worse, this meant a lot of antisocial behavior.
Rave was America’s last great outlaw musical subculture: created by kids, for kids, designed to be impenetrable to adults.NPR, “How The Internet Transformed The American Rave Scene”
Ravers were a motley assortment of drug addicts, wiggers, juvenlile delinquents, and other undesirables. Chicago ravers, in particular, had a deserved reputation for being especially shady, and were notorious for:
- Organized Shoplifting: There was this one department store called Sunglass Hut that started selling ravewear in the mid-90s. We would go there and throw a bunch of clothes into the wastebins, which would then be thrown out by the night crew once the antitheft alarms had already been disabled. We would then break into the dumpsters in the middle of the night to get our stolen wares.
- Cheating the CTA: I knew kids that would jump the fence at Belmont, climb an electrical transformer, then crawl up between the train tracks to get a free ride that would normally cost $1.25! One time, a group of us skipped the fare at Bryn Mawr by crawling around the toll booth and under the turnstiles. A friend of mine tried to lay on his skateboard and paddle under, but he stood up too soon, hit the turnstile, the agent in the fare booth saw him, and she radioed the police. We dashed up the stairs to the platform, but with no approaching train to save us, we had no choice but to jump off the end of it and run down the tracks to the Berwyn stop, hoping not to trip on our giant pants. CTA tracks are electrified, mind you, and if you touch that third rail you’re toast!
- Sneaking into parties: If there was a will, there was usually a way. They used to throw huge parties at the Logan Square Ballroom, and we would go into their alley, climb onto a van, pull down the fire escape, run to the top and pry open the door to the balcony. At some point, kids figured out you could scale the wall at Route 66, walk across the roof, and there was a spot where you could crawl into the duct work and then fall through the drop ceiling onto the dancefloor below. Ravers would congregate in that spot, so when a new kid fell through the ceiling they would just get lost in the crowd.
- Running away from home: It was practically a rite of passage for a raver to just stop going home at some point. One of my closest friends ran away for months, and lived in the basement of this cokehead named Lolo. His mom called me once, exasperated, asking if I new where he was. I lied and said I didn’t, but that I knew he was OK. There was this weed dealer we knew called Bagl (because he was Jewish and because those were his initials) whose home became a halfway house for ravers when his parents left for an entire summer. I actually ran away from home for about a week, and I didn’t even remember it until a few years ago when my mom reminded me. And I still don’t remember where I was for that week.
- Ganging up on you: One time, I phoned this kid Bashamba from Bagl’s house, calling him out for stealing my visor at a party and demanding he come return it. Instead, he showed up with 5 other kids who jumped me in the alley behind the house. They really gave me a beating—one of them even tried to rip out my eyebrow ring! A neighbor saw it all, called the police, and brought me into her apartment to clean all the blood off my face. Bashamba and his crew spent the night in jail, after which he vowed to find and jump me again for “getting him arrested”.
- Taking the money and running: I once threw a party in River West with my best friend, and this Korean kid who worked at a flea market called Clark MegaMall. The kid colluded with the bouncer to steal all the money collected at the door, and they made off with over a thousand dollars! Turns out he already had a one-way ticket to Seoul and must have planned this heist out in advance. My best friend and I tried to go ambush him outside his job, but he had already left the country. Motherfucker!
I wouldn’t characterize ravers as rebellious, so much as out of control. I hated the city for shutting down raves, but it was probably the responsible thing to do.
About the cover
This month’s cover comes from a 1998 party called Meow Mix and features the once-famous, now-forgotten Sanrio frog known as Keroppi.
Follow these links to read more about the selections:
Solar Sides — Birk's Works (1999)
“Birk’s Works” is a Jazz standard written by Dizzy Gillespie. Solar Sides replayed all the songs on this album, but the samples at the beginning of this track are probably taken from Gillespie Concert 1950 N.2, recorded live in Paris.
Disco Elements — Muzik Takes Me Higher (1994)
Disco Elements was another one of these faceless projects, like Disco-Tex or Studio 54, that allowed established producers—in this case, Rob Mello—to release tunes with Disco samples they probably couldn’t clear. This one samples “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester, “Dancer” By Gino Soccio, and borrows from “It Looks Like Love” by Goody Goody (or maybe “Dance, Dance, Dance” by Chic—you take your pick).
Johnny Fiasco — Keep On Dancing (1996)
I remember the night I first heard this track. I was in a carpool with this graffiti writer named MARS, a raver named Mike who worked at a cardboard box factory, The driver whose name I didn’t know, and this girl Kim I was trying to step to. We were all on acid, and Mike had arranged this ride to get us to the rave, but first we had to go to the Southwest side so our driver could pick his best friend up from his neighborhood.
Misfortune often found me when I was on acid, and this evening was no exception. LSD distorts your judgment, and a series of small, bad decisions can quickly add up to a nightmare scenario.
When we pulled up to the friend’s house, another car quickly boxed us into the driveway. Turns out our driver had run away from home, and a family member spotted him as he re-entered his neighborhood. His family ambushed him on the front lawn of his friend’s house and tried to have a flash intervention! His mom was crying, and there was a girl there holding a baby I assumed was his, and it just was a really bad scene. Did I mention I was on acid?
So there went our ride to the party. The rest of us spilled out of the car and into the house of the friend, who said he couldn’t leave anymore because of this whole thing happening in front of his house, Kim then found his older brother, who was in the middle of a days-long bender. She convinced him to drive us to the party, and I wanted to get as far away from this family showdown as possible so I left with them.
We left out the back door as this scene continued to play out in the front, we piled into the brother’s Ford Taurus and peeled out. He cranked up B-96, turned onto the Stevenson and started drunk driving up the expressway, blasting DJ Markski and swerving all over the road. At one point, he tried to steer with his knee so he could smoke a bowl on the highway, and a car full of Mexicans pulled up along side us to honk and laugh.
Kim and I were clinging onto each other for dear life and I started contemplating whether I should make out with her, since we were both going to die anyway. Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any more nightmarish, Markski dropped a record I had never heard before. It was “Barbie Girl” by Aqua—literally the worst song I have ever heard in my life. At that moment I became convinced that I was the victim of some cruel, cosmic joke. I suddenly believed in God and cursed him for ending my life with such indignity.
But somehow, we actually made it to the rave! It was on the 5th floor of this building that’s now a self-storage facility. I heard this Fiasco record for the first time, and also Fly Life which rocked my world, and a bunch of other wicked tunes. I planted one on Kim’s lips that night and asked her to be my girlfriend, taking our survival as a sign we were meant to be together. The next day, she asked me to clip her hair into an A-cut, which all the raver girls wanted, and I cut the back of her neck by accident. She broke up with me by the end of the night, and then went and lived at Bagl’s house for the rest of the summer.
Disco-Tex — Open Your Heart (1997)
The Disco Tex series was very much like Disco Elements, and always a lot of fun. This tune samples “Let’s Dance” by Bombers, “Power of Love” by Deee-Lite, the oft-sampled house classic:
Smokin Beats — Smokin Funk (1997)
I guess Smokin Beats was the name of the “group”, but again, their releases read as more of a project, or a series. They put out their album Ready To Fly as a mixed CD, even though every track was produced by them—a rare move.
Dave Angel — Funk Music (DJ Tonka remix) (1997)
This DJ Tonka remix comes from Dave Angel’s single “Funk Music”. It samples “Take Some Time Out For Love” by SalSoul Orchestra, from their eponymous album.
Smokin Beats — Musik (1996)
This one comes from the EP Lessons in Disco II. Odd that they decided to spell “Musik” with a “K”, which the sample explicitly spells it with a “C”. I don’t know the source of that sample, but I know it appears on Bizarre Inc’s album Energique, which is a rave classic. If you know the sample, please let me know. The sample I do recognize is “You’re The One For Me” by D-Train, from the album of the same name.
JohNick — The Captain (1998)
I’ve tried to make Class of ’99 the mix series of record for mid-late ’90s house music, as it related to the Chicago rave scene. There are some records and artists I would consider “essential” only because of their historical significance, but that I don’t actually like, and never liked. This includes almost everything ever released by Armand Van Helden, yet I felt it was necessary to include him somehow.
Armand Van Helden was an A-list DJ, rave superstar, and self-styled bad boy of house. He regularly befouled dancefloors with his wildly popular, completely awful brand of speed garage—first with this stupid Nuyorican Soul record, then with an inexplicable hit remix of Tori Amos, followed by his rework for Sneaker Pimps, and his version of “Sugar Is Sweeter” by CJ Bolland. These were all massive hits, and they all sucked. Armand Van Helden was lame and full of himself, and he’s better remembered for his parody, Ali G., than for his own music.
“The Captain” is meant as a placeholder for the much more popular “You Don’t Even Know Me” by Armand Van Helden. This is a better record and it’s based around the same “Dance With You” sample by Carrie Lucas, from Carrie Lucas In Danceland.
Ian Pooley — 900 Degrees (2000)
Ian Pooley was the self-unstyled dough boy of house, but a much better producer than Armand Van Helden. This track, from the album Since Then, samples “Love You More” by René and Angela, from the album Wall To Wall.
Gene Farris — Visions Of The Future (1996)
I thought I had this on a compilation called “Cosmic Disco” by Derrick Carter, but now I don’t see it in the track listing. Force Inc. is a German label, but Gene Farris is a Chicago producer.
Daft Punk — Musique (1996)
Musique appeared on the soundtrack to Wipeout 2097, probably the raviest videogame ever made. The game was developed in collaboration with The Designer’s Republic, the hugely influential design collective and absolute progenitors of rave design.
Mousse T — Horny (1997)
This single was a real slammer when it dropped. I liked this one better as an instrumental, but then they made “Horny ’98” where they added a woman singing about how horny she was.
Either way, I have fond memories of dancing to this record under a gazebo in 1998, and luckily there is video of this on the Internet for you all to enjoy:
Wildchild — Jump To My Beat (U.S. mix)
As I mentioned before, I owned this record by accident. The first time I heard this mix was on WNUR’s Street Beat, a radio show broadcast from the Evanston campus of Northwestern University. Street Beat was the bleeding edge of rave music. Jungle blew up so big in Chicago that WNUR spun Street Beat off into the Strictly Jungle show, the first jungle/drum&bass radio program in North America.
The ravers I knew were OBSESSED with jungle around 1995, especially this DJ named Arlan who lived in Evanston and spun jungle elusively. Arlan was highly creative, and had become fairly eccentric after being struck by lightning. As a DJ, he was in very high demand until one night, when he was booked to spin at Positive Thursday in Hyde Park. He lugged his crates onto the Red Line and brought them all the way to 55th, where he got jacked at the bus stop. They stole all his records, thereby ending his DJ career. Bogus!
Les Rythmes Digitales — Jacques Your Body (1999)
Virgin Records had a surprise hit in 1997 with Daft Punk’s Homework, and they tried to build on this success with a number of also-ran “French touch” acts—including Cassius, Phoenix, and Les Rythmes Digitales who wasn’t even French. It’s clear what he was trying to do with his album Darkdancer, but it just didn’t really work. Stupid pun aside, “Jacques Your Body” was one of the more palatable entries on the album, and Virgin shelled out for a high-budget music video that took everything cool and Parisian about Daft Punk, and just took a cold, limey piss all over it.
Anyway, Les Rythmes Digitales was crap, But then he formed Zoot Woman right when Electroclash started blowing up, and everything fell into place. “Jacques Your Body” samples “You Got Me Running” by Lenny Williams, from the album Spark Of Love.
Baffled Republic — Knee High (1996)
I once met George Clinton in downtown Chicago. I was rollerblading past The House of Blues, and he was just wandering around outside, stoned out of his mind. It was maybe 9:30 in the morning. I pulled a disposable camera out of my sling back and he let me take a photo with him, but I lost the photo a long time ago. Oh well.
Ground 96 — Throw Ya Hands Up (1996)
Ground 96 was an alias for UK super-producer and very important raver, Grant Nelson, who dropped some absolutely timeless Happy Hardcore tunes as “Wishdokta” and as “Naughty Naughty”. Happy Hardcore had a bad reputation, even among ravers, and I’ll admit that it became a kind of self-parody by the end of the 90s. But when it was good, it was soooo ravery and soooo good. I’m tempted to start another series just to evangelize Happy Hardcore.
“Throw Ya Hands Up” comes from Volume Two of Inna City Dubs.
Freesoul — Disco Eyes (Freeform Reform)
Basement Jaxx — Automatic (1999)
This came out as a bootleg because Basement Jaxx couldn’t clear the Pointer Sisters sample. I guess you just had to kind of know it was secretly Basement Jaxx. I think DJ Sativa let me in on the secret when he worked at Gramaphone. Anyway, the original is on the album Break Out.
Paul Johnson - No Big Thang (1996)
Huge, slamming tune from the late, great Paul Johnson, off his full-length double LP The Other Side Of Me. Kids used to go nuts for this one—though it is slightly out of tune with itself. It samples “It Ain’t No Big Thing” by Donna McGhee, from the album Make It Last Forever.
Nail — Dancin (Unilateral Disco Free Zone Revision) (1998)
Another one from the Classic Label Samplers. All the stuff on Classic sounded pretty similar, and it all seemed a little under-compressed, where you had to crank it up to hear the details and then the kick was overpowering. Great tune anyway, though. This one is meant as a stand-in for “Chicago Southside”, a rave favorite and CZR’s biggest hit single. Both tunes sample “When You’re Number One” By Gene Chandler, from the album of the same name.