Techno emerges from the underground
It’s being billed as ”the Ravestock of the ’90s,” the first Southern, Northern, and central California rave ever. When is it? June 27 and 28. Where is it? Call a certain L.A. number and a five-minute recorded message will tell you — at a ranch ”only 23 short minutes from L.A.,” precise directions to come the day of the show. What is it? A free Western barbecue, boat rides, clowns, fire breathers, ”and other strange oddities,” the hugest disco ball ever known to humankind, and — at the center of the two-day, nonstop marathon — DJs like Mark Lewis, whipping up ”a delicious acid groove,” and DJ Destructo, offering ”hardcore in your face” to those who can’t nod off in the sleeping bags they’ve been encouraged to bring. Hey, dudes: The ranch is rented until Sunday night. Have a ball.
Such crazy all-night dancefests, where the beat and the groove rule all, have come to define today’s rave scene. In California the onetime underground phenomenon now gets regular write-ups in the press — mostly about how it’s being co-opted by overzealous promoters. Or how drugs taken by some ravers (Ecstasy, nitrous oxide) are ruining the finest minds of an entirely new generation. At the heart of this scene is an upbeat, keyboard-driven musical style called ”techno.” Radio stations such as L.A.’s MARS-FM are continuously playing this mostly instrumental dance music, in which one pulsating track can be seamlessly blended with another. Record companies are racing to sign techno groups. And — a significant first — a techno song has cracked Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart. The track, by a European group called L.A. Style, is an anti-sampling call to arms titled ”James Brown Is Dead.”
If it has roots anywhere, techno came from the house-music styles popularized in Detroit and Chicago in the mid-’80s. But in typical fashion (ask Chuck Berry or John Lee Hooker), open-minded Europeans listened, liked what they heard, put a new spin to it, and are now selling it back to us, often at higher import prices. Their spin: adding the space-age synthesizer sounds (pioneered by cool ’70s bands like Germany’s Kraftwerk and later used in the 1982 hip-hop single ”Planet Rock”) now available to the layman for a pittance, courtesy of keyboard makers Casio and Yamaha. Thanks to a new generation of hip DJs who grew up on techno’s stylistic antecedents — hip-hop, Hi-NRG, and acid house music — and who have no compunctions about throwing anything into the mix and calling it their own, you’ve got a music form that rivals late-’70s punk rock for its do-it-yourself spirit. The result: some great records by nonmusicians, and some clunkers. Almost all of them in tune.
This is a world where the records rule. At today’s raves, just as on ’70s disco floors, dancers working up a sweat respond more to the overall sensual experience — the beat, the groove, the light show, each other — and the music itself, rather than its creator. That’s one reason it’s doubtful that the best-known techno artists — Moby (a DJ), Quadrophonia, N-Joi, or L.A. Style — will become stars to the general public. Faces may sell records in other markets. Here the only visage that has come to symbolize the rave scene is the yellow smiley-face regularly grinning from rave T-shirts and fliers, and that ubiquitous little booger can’t make a record to save his ecstatic life.