New book of essays written by ravers and compiled by author, Michael Tullberg explores the amazing world of being a raver and how these experiences shape our lives. We sat down with Michael to discuss this book and why raving has such an impact on our soul.
Your new book The Raver Stories Project is coming out this month, tell us about it.
“The Raver Stories Project” is an awesome collection of thirty stories about the most memorable, amazing, and even transformative moments that people have experienced in the rave scene. It differs greatly from other rave literature because these stories were written by ravers, DJs and promoters themselves—not academics, critics or pop culture historians. The reason for this was to make “The Raver Stories Project” as authentic and as street-level as possible. I served as the book’s story editor, and from the get-go it was important to me to make sure that the authors’ own voices remained clear throughout the process of assembling the book, because it has been their voices that have been overlooked and dismissed by many in the mainstream media over the past two decades.
I put together “The Raver Stories Project” because, as a member of the electronic music media and a fan of the music, I have long been dissatisfied with the reporting about the scene by the mainstream media. It’s been no secret in this community that the MSM’s coverage of the scene has been primarily one-sided, and slanted in a very negative fashion, focusing nearly exclusively on the controversies surrounding the scene and not much else. Veterans from back in the day can tell you of the often wildly inaccurate stories that would appear on shows like “Dateline”, “Hard Copy” and “Inside Edition” during the 90s. You can still find many of these stories on YouTube, and if you go there to investigate, you’ll notice pretty quickly that there’s one thing that’s glaringly missing in almost all of them: the point of view of those in the scene. Sadly, most of the print media of the day was little different.
With rare exception, almost none of these news organizations so much as bothered to investigate the positive aspects of electronic music culture. You almost never saw anything in the MSM about the embracing, healing properties that have made the rave scene such a supportive place for those in it. There were precious few articles that discussed how rave promotion companies like Insomniac and its competitors were changing the landscape of concert entertainment and marketing. As a result, the voices of those in the scene were largely ignored or belittled, and unfortunately not much has changed today. In controlling the narrative about the rave scene, the MSM has ended up perpetuating the negative stigma associated with electronic music and its fans. I felt that this was something that needed to be countered in some way. Somebody needed to represent the raver side of this equation.
So, in late 2016, I put out a Call for Submissions to the electronic music community, asking for peoples’ best raving stories. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I sure as heck didn’t count on receiving the volume of essays that came flowing in. I got material in from all over the world, and much of it was just fantastic. The stories started in the original UK acid house explosion in the late 80s, and ran through until the present day. Tales came in about warehouse parties, desert raves, mansion parties, underground clubs, and festivals. Just a few of the events and places included were EDC, Ministry Of Sound London, and Burning Man. I was bouncing on my feet, there was so much good stuff.
More hard-hitting than the locations, though, were the accounts about how the story authors’ lives were changed or fundamentally impacted by the rave scene. There were many of these, such as those from survivors of emotional and physical abuse who found solace in the healing arms of the rave scene. One account is from a Chicano DJ/producer who credits the rave scene from saving him from gang life. One of our British authors tells about how raves helped quell soccer hooligan violence in England better than Margaret Thatcher’s policies did. In another, a fan of dance music finally attends her first rave…at age 48. Along the way, the reader can also see the growth and development of the scene itself, from its underground beginnings to today’s very much above-the-ground EDM era.
It was a real privilege to be able to go through all of the pieces, and the dedication of the story authors has to be applauded in the biggest possible way. These people were totally into this project, because the rave scene means an enormous amount to all of them, and they all wanted people to know it. I worked with each of them on their stories—that is what editors do, after all—and let me tell you, they came through like you wouldn’t believe. When I would send out questions or suggestions for text changes, they jumped all over them and delivered great material in response without fail. It made for some great finished product at the end, which really shows their love and affinity for this music and the scene.
You’ve been an avid raver for many years, can you tell us a few highlights from the early days?
Oh, man…there were so many incredible highlights from those days, so it’s going to be a little difficult to narrow this down. One definite major one was a desert rave called “Dune 4”, which I wrote about in “The Raver Stories Project”. This was memorable because the party got blasted by a sandstorm for several hours, sending everyone running for their tents, including me. Another great one was the 1998 edition of “Nocturnal Wonderland” in San Bernardino…well, it was great if you were inside, because the lineup was top-notch (Lady Miss Kier, Juan Atkins, Invisibl Skratch Picklz) and the vibe was just fantastic. On the other hand, outside the crowd in the parking lot was being dispersed by the police, who were dropping tear gas canisters from a helicopter. The “Together As One” ’99 New Years’ Eve party at the old L.A. Sports Arena was stellar, since the headliners were Carl Cox, Frankie Bones, DJ Dan and Donald Glaude. Donald rang in the New Year at midnight with…yeah, you guessed it, a remix of Prince’s “1999”. Frankie actually ended up stealing the show that night, but I’ll always remember that roar from the crowd when Donald pumped those familiar 80s synthesizer chords through the speakers at 12:00.
One of the best clubbing highlights was undoubtedly the Bud Brothers Monday Social, at the late, great Louis XIV in Hollywood. The Monday Social would end up running for twenty years in several venues, but it was those first five years that were really magical. Louis XIV was a small, cozy club/restaurant that served great food and atmosphere together. The place was basically the old sit-com “Cheers” plus house music, because like in the TV show, everybody seemed to know who you were when you went there. It was very intimate and cosmopolitan in its own way, and we loved that you could be sipping fine wine while the Propellerheads played a raging set in that tiny little DJ booth, next to the almost-as-tiny dance floor. Everybody in the L.A. scene went to hang there at one point or another, and major league artists passing through would make a point to drop by if their schedules would allow it. Louis XIV was where I first met The Crystal Method, John Digweed, David Holmes and many others. I miss that place a lot, and I know that I’m not alone.
Of course when you’re talking about L.A. clubbing, you have to mention Giant at least once. Giant’s first year in the old Circus nightclub on Santa Monica Boulevard was absolutely incredible. It was basically a transplanting of the rave crowd, vibe and DJ talent into clubland, and it worked like gangbusters in the beginning. That first year, you’d get the best DJs in the world, week after week after week, and the audience was amazing, since it hadn’t been infiltrated by Hollywood douchebags yet. That would come soon after—predictably, in retrospect—as would a move to Avalon Hollywood. And, although Avalon still puts out good nights of entertainment to this day, that first year of Giant at Circus was truly great; a really high level of clubbing excellence that sadly doesn’t come around very often.
And then there was that night when Sandra Collins and I got sort of kidnapped by Superstar DJ Keoki. Well, maybe “kidnapped” is a little harsh…I think “lured” is a better word. He plied us with whisky and promises of a good time. (laughs) And delivered on both!
You’re also a professional photographer for Getty Images and have done ample work for magazines in this regard. What advice would you give aspiring photographers?
Learn your craft. Invest in as high quality equipment as you can afford. Be patient. Develop your own visual style. Take inspiration from other photographers and visual artists. Network, network, network. Learn how to run a business. Develop a first-class sales pitch for selling yourself. Learn marketing. Be prepared for failure. Shoot on film when possible. Don’t give in to underselling. Create an image filing system that works. Exhibit your work whenever possible. Make sure your portfolios are constantly updated with your best material—really make them pop. Follow up with your contacts whenever possible—make them remember you in a good way. Remain focused.
You also have a coffee table book called “Dancefloor Thunderstorm” that chronicles the early rave scene in photos. Can you tell us the inspiration for this one?
I wrote and published “Dancefloor Thunderstorm” in 2015 for a number of reasons, one of which is the same one for putting out “The Raver Stories Project”: showing the rest of the world what a wonderful and incredible era the 1990s rave scene really was. I wanted to counter the almost exclusively anti-rave bias found in much of the mainstream media. That was very important to me, because as I said before, the MSM was reporting a view of the rave scene that often had very little to do with reality. They completely missed the fact that the rave scene had shaken the entertainment world, and in doing so had established the rave era as the most significant musical movement in this country since the rise of hip-hop.
It was clear to me that the scene’s history was not being told properly in the mainstream, and I felt that as a result, there was a very real danger that the impact of those magical years could be lost. I had been kicking the idea of a rave photo book around for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2009, when still none of my old rave photojournalist colleagues were doing any sort of similar project, that I finally got serious about it. As I was writing “Dancefloor Thunderstorm”, I was simultaneously shopping it around to about 25 different publishers, all of whom turned the project down. When it became evident that once again, no mainstream support was coming, I decided to form my own publishing company and put the book out myself. It wasn’t a cheap proposition, and thankfully I managed to successfully raise a good deal of crowdfunding money on Indiegogo to help fund the book’s printing. That’s a testament of the loyalty to the rave scene that’s exhibited regularly by those in it. It makes me very proud to be a part of it.
I also wanted to show the rave scene in an artistic frame of my own making. When I was shooting the scene in the 1990s and 2000s for my music magazines, I always made a conscious effort to not simply take conventional pictures like everybody else at the time did. As far as I was concerned, that conventional approach almost never succeeded in capturing the magical energy, the vibe, the celebration of music and of life that existed at those parties. So, I developed many photographic techniques of my own that were designed to do exactly that.
I didn’t want to simply document the scene, because let’s face it, nowadays anyone can “document” pretty much anything. I wanted to recreate the instant art that the DJs and the ravers themselves were producing on the spot. I wanted to show the incredible vibrant connections that were being forged right there on the dance floor. So, I introduced two- and three-tone lighting using colored gels on my flashes, extreme long exposures, stroboscopic effects, camera movement and rotation, silhouettes, laser painting, and other tricks. The point was to capture that incredible, fluttering moment on the film in a way that regular pictures couldn’t, and it ended up working very well. In certain cases, so well that people in the scene began to recognize my visual style in my mags, which is of course what every photographer wants. Years later, “Dancefloor Thunderstorm” would end up becoming my signature stamp on the classic rave era.
What is your favorite part of the rave scene?
If I had to name just one thing, I would have to say the embracing, inclusive atmosphere of the rave scene. That part of this culture has thankfully remained pretty much the same over the decades, having successfully been passed down from the original rave generation to the EDM one. It’s such a vital and important part of this subculture—the acceptance of people as who they are, and what they want to become. At its best, the rave scene eliminated the barriers of class, social status, sexuality and race. There was only one real criterion: were you a fan of the music, or not? If you were, you were in…it really was that simple. It was the total opposite of the elitist, velvet rope mentality that has unfortunately never really been abandoned by the mainstream club circuit in this country. You know, the places where the douchebaggery factor runs at a continuously high level. Not coincidentally, these are also the venues who almost invariably have much lower quality music than that found at raves.
The social aspect aside, above everything else it was the music that drew me in, and which has kept me in this thing all this time. You have to understand that the music found in raves back in the 90s was so much better than the anemic crap played in the L.A. clubs. This issue is mentioned more than once in “The Raver Stories Project”, and a great example comes from my friend Houman Salem: “In general, the club scene in L.A. was strong in those days, at least in terms of numbers. People went out to have a good time, but the music was becoming somewhat stale. Clubs like The Roxbury, The Century Club, The Gate, and Tempest were always packed, but I don’t think most people went for the music. People went out just to go out, and the music was always the same mix of hip-hop and disco. Every club would play the same mix. You would hear 2Pac’s “California Love” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” at least 3 times each night.” I couldn’t have summed it up better, other than to say that the third-rate, middle of the road commercial house knock-offs and 80s mash-ups that these guys regularly spun were so completely and utterly unimpressive, and boring. So music-wise, the rave scene was a giant step upwards…and really, with people like Sasha & Digweed, Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin, DJ Rap, Christopher Lawrence and Sandra Collins reaching their 90s peaks, how could it not be?
Finally, the creativity of rave promoters and producers has always been something that I’ve admired. These are the people who took the paradigm of mainstream concert entertainment and chucked it out the window, replacing it with what would eventually become the enormously effective EDM festival model that we know today. Groups like Insomniac and GoVentures were far ahead of rock and pop concert promoters in terms of party theme and design—“Nocturnal Wonderland” was a great example of this, more so than “EDC”, I think. It created a really wonderful, playful atmosphere that the fans absolutely loved, and it would end up setting the norm for Insomniac’s parties for years to come. And remember that they did this with no major ad campaigns, no major label support, no corporate sponsorship and no major media attention of any kind. It was D-I-Y at its most insanely successful. It’s only been over the last few years that more mainstream festivals have begun emulating this model, and only after “EDC”, “Ultra”, “HARD” and other similar events proved that it could be done.
If you could go back in time to ONE party or rave, which one and why?
That is a really, really tough question, because there are so many great and important events in raving history that could qualify. After some long moments of thought, I’m going to have to go all the way back to the beginning of American rave, when Frankie Bones threw the first STORM rave in 1991. Two hundred people made their way into a brickyard in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It was the start of everything, like the 1976 Sex Pistols show in Manchester that launched the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Fall and The Smiths. Wish I could have been there.
We hear there will be a release party for Raver Stories in LA in September- can you give us the scoop and how can fans attend?
The release party for “The Raver Stories Project” is going to take place on Saturday, September 9, at a very cool space called Industry DTLA. There will be DJs spinning, and I’ll be on-hand to talk about the book and sign copies for buyers. This is the same location that I used for the release party for “Dancefloor Thunderstorm”, which was a great gig. Additional info will be posted at www.raverstoriesproject.com, and on the Raver Stories Project’s social media outlets. If you want to come down, we’d love to have you, so it would be best to RSVP through the party’s event page on Facebook when it’s up, or through contacting us through the web site. Of course, you can just show up as well.
In the meantime, you can pre-order “The Raver Stories Project” on Amazon now. Its release date is August 15.
What are you next book plans?
The next book on the drawing board is a photo book of DJ portraits. However, if “The Raver Stories Project” is successful enough, a Volume 2 might be in the cards…