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In a grungy nightclub near train tracks in Hollywood, there's a strange time warp going on. Like the millennium never happened, nearly 200 ravers fill the four rooms of X-it Nightclub. There's a woman who seems to have forgotten to wear pants, her black underwear and thigh-high tights on display as she clutches a stuffed animal. A sweaty couple makes out on the stairs. Three partiers wearing sunglasses sit on a couch sucking pacifiers. The DJ puts on a pulsing techno track that samples Eminem saying "nobody listens to techno," and happy party people sweaty, pierced, half-naked swing glowsticks and dance.
Ravers? In 2006? Maybe so, but these aren't old-timers pushing 40 who wish the party had never ended. Raves were officially killed off when they were labeled drug menaces by the mainstream media, and police cracked down on warehouse gigs and ecstasy-fueled shows in the late 1990s. But the crowd in Hollywood is an entirely new generation, some not even old enough to own driver's licenses and many who were infants when the rave phenomenon first crossed the Atlantic while the first President Bush was still in office.
The funny thing is, this rave revival has an unlikely person to thank for creating the conditions that allow it to thrive: Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti.
The late-night gathering of teens and 20-somethings, some suspiciously spaced out, probably isn't what Giulianti had in mind when, last year, she set out to clean up the city's nightlife. But without her highly publicized crackdown, the rave revival at X-it might not exist.
Giulianti, not known for her love of club life, said she was determined to stamp out an "anti-social crowd" in town when she and the City Commission passed new restrictions on late-night alcohol licenses in July. Police Chief Jim Scarberry derided a "wild club party scene that nobody wants," but many observers noticed that hip-hop clubs and the black clientele they attracted appeared to be the target of the new law. The ordinance specified that alcohol sales couldn't continue past midnight at clubs that employed disc jockeys. It made little sense. A "disc jockey," for example, was defined narrowly as "an announcer who presents recorded music interspersed with chatter and/or commentary." Mute DJs seemed exempt.
But if the law was badly written, its effect was clear. The hip-hop clubs did suffer, and some closed.
Looking for ways to keep the doors open, the owner of X-it turned to a persistent 37-year-old man who wished the rave scene had never evaporated.
A true believer, Mitch Waas still talks about the rave movement as a force for positive change in the world. The kids who come to his parties spout the same warm and fuzzy talk that cranked up the first rave scene. But mostly, they just want to dance, sweat, swing glowsticks, suck on pacifiers, and cuddle.
It's like 1995 never ended.
And Mara made it all possible.
Talk about over. There was little question that the rave scene's days were numbered when, on April 25, 2000, 60 Minutes caught on that kids were dancing to electronica and staying up all night on ecstasy and bottled water. Then in June, Time magazine ran a story designed to scare parents about the prominence of drug use at the parties. Even ravers could see that the party was coming to a close.
Still, there was one final nail in the coffin to come. A federal bill called the RAVE Act (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy) was drafted in 2002 and after several revisions and a new name (the PROTECT Act) was quietly lumped in with legislation that created Amber alerts. It was signed into law by President Bush the younger on April 30, 2003. Under it, property owners who "knowingly" use or lease their property for the purpose of drug distribution or use can face $500,000 fines and 20 years in prison.
What a buzzkill.
"Rave is still a bad word to some extent. I'm trying to reinvent it," Waas says.
It's about 1:30 in the morning at the club, and Waas finally has a moment to sit and talk. He's fixed numerous technical problems, worked the guest list, greeted regulars, doled out bear hugs, and checked on the cash register. He pulls up a chair in the unused, industrial kitchen at Club X-it, the only place quiet enough to have a conversation, though a constant beat thumps through the walls.
Big, blond, bespectacled, and sweating, Waas boldly pairs a plaid shirt with camouflage pants. A low-key guy, he's probably the least glamorous person at his own raves. Many of his regulars are less than half his age. But that doesn't seem to matter much to a man with a mission.
"This scene is based purely upon unity and respect and love of music," he says. "It's people who truly love music and are really passionate about it, passionate about dancing, and who are looking for a positive vibe at a club. My goal is to bring the entire scene together."
Waas spends nearly all his time thinking about and marketing raves. Most days, he says, "I wake up at 9, and I'm on the computer until I go to sleep at 10 o'clock at night to promote these parties. I advertise on about 600 websites." He keeps a MySpace page and obsessively edits his company's site, euphoriaproject.org. He archives old e-mails and posts attendance records online. The "Back to the OldSkool" rave drew 725 people. "Awakening" attracted 78. But Waas seems conflicted about how to describe his events. His website refers to "Florida's rave culture," and some of his e-mails end with "Mad respect to Florida's rave scene!" Other dispatches, however, carry the disclaimer, "THIS IS NOT A RAVE!" and he keeps the word off fliers because he doesn't need the hassle. He also doesn't really need the money. Waas says there's no real profit motive behind his promotions. "Most of my parties lose money or break even," he says. He charges $5 to $25, depending on the night and the time and whether it's an all-ages crowd or not. He splits the gate with the club.