X Marks The Spot

Jonanna Widner
Santa Fe Reporter
July 2, 2003

When I first heard about the RAVE Act, I thought, finally, all those government types in Washington are doing something about all the bad techno that’s slowly been taking over our fine country. But I soon learned, of course, that it was something far darker. For those who don’t know, the RAVE Act was a bit of legislation introduced by Democrat Sen. Joe Biden in 2002. An attempt to dramatically curb Ecstasy use among young people, the act quickly fell under criticism for specifically targeting rave culture. Biden reintroduced it as the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, which was enacted on April 30, 2003, with the claim that it did not target any particular group.

Well, it does, of course. Not much about the act changed except the name. Regardless, and many may not agree with me, I genuinely believe that Biden thinks he’s doing the right thing, and I’ll also give him the benefit of the doubt that he does not want to shut down all raves but only hopes to target the most egregiously dangerous ones.

But it doesn’t really matter what Biden’s motives are, because only the results count. There are lots of issues going on here, but let’s start with the language of the bill, which opponents say is its most dangerous aspect. The bill makes anyone “knowingly opening, maintaining, managing, controlling, renting, leasing, making available for use or profiting from any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing or using a controlled substance” susceptible to prosecution. Biden contends in his preface to the bill that “rogue rave organizers” promote their raves – which he says are actually a cover to sell drugs – as safe and alcohol-free so that parents will let their kids go, and that these “unscrupulous promoters get rich as they exploit and endanger kids ... by selling popular Ecstasy paraphernalia such as baby pacifiers, glow sticks or mentholated inhalers” and overpriced water. Combined, the language of the bill and the language of Biden’s intro make it sound like any venue wherein the promoter of a party or owner of the building has any inkling that drugs could be being used is susceptible to serious legal repercussions. So Biden may be targeting predatory promoters, but some small club owner who turns a blind eye to anyone sparking up a doobie in his bathroom may pay the price. Second, the message also becomes: The presence of the accouterments of rave culture is a clear sign that the promoter is using techno music as a front to sell drugs.

In his intro, Biden further claims that incidental drug use of which an owner is not aware “is not the type of activity that my bill would address.” It doesn’t matter – the door is open, regardless of his intent. As far as the evil glow stick factor, Biden also claims he is not trying to wipe out rave culture, merely the vultures that prey on that culture’s energy. Again, doesn’t matter. If having glow sticks and pacifiers and expensive water at your venue is a sign to federal agents that you’re handing out X to every adolescent day-glo kid in the house, you’re probably going to rethink those accouterments. And accouterments are what a culture is made of. Kill of the glow sticks, you kill off the scene.

But would that be so bad? Rave culture shares a definitive history with other generational get-togethers involving loud music that your parents hate, large spaces and an icky drug dealer lurking in the corner. There were the ’60s happenings (pot, acid) and the ’70s disco scene (coke) and others in between, sharing the same catch phrases that we hear relating to raves: “community,” “uninhibited,” “youth” and “dude.” These movements always consider themselves unique, and they do have their own particulars, but they all come and go, each time killed off by a number of things, including boredom, new music and, yes, sometimes legislation. But from the ashes rises the next big thing, and that combination of recycling and novelty gives culture its dynamism. So maybe it’s time for the raves to die off anyway, to bring something new to the surface. And maybe in his own square way, Biden is unknowingly helping that happen. Suckah.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is that Austin DJ D:FUSE spins at Swig this Saturday. Over his 10-year career, D:FUSE has been known as a much more political figure than most DJs, and he’s extremely vocal and knowledgeable about the RAVE Act. Check him out, and fill your head with some knowledge as well as some soulful beats.