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The rave scene was born in warehouses and underground clubs, was chased by cops into the Riverside hinterland and has now moved back to the city. Audiotistic, one of last year's largest and most distinctive all-night, dance-music parties, comes to the decidedly more urban environs of the Long Beach Convention Center this weekend—only without the all-night part.
Last year's Audiotistic packed 37,000 people tightly—very tightly, some would argue—into the National Orange Show Fairgrounds in San Bernardino with a lineup that fused the dance and hip-hop cultures. This year, to secure the more central (and highly coveted) Long Beach venue, Audiotistic promoter and owner of Channel 36 Productions Meelo Solis had to rely on a little help from the larger, more established promotions company Goldenvoice. Insomniac Productions worked out a similar arrangement with Goldenvoice last September for the hugely successful Nocturnal Wonderland massive in Indio, which wound up drawing more than 40,000.
Last year's—and so far, this year's Together As One and How Sweet It Is—local massives went off without a hitch. But there's a negative stigma surrounding the electronic-music scene; witness the federal Drug Enforcement Agency's vigorous pursuit of two Louisiana rave promoters as part of a misguided strategy to curb the use of Ecstasy. That's why, despite five unblemished years of Audiotistic, Solis could not have landed the Long Beach Convention Center on his own.
"Goldenvoice just guaranteed that I got the venue," confirmed Solis, who has staged Audiotistic successfully every year on the second weekend of April since 1996, and who personally booked the more than 50 topnotch hip-hop groups and DJs for this year's event. "I'd been talking to the Convention Center people since late December, and they were a little nervous about [hosting Audiotistic]. They didn't know who I was or that I'm 100 percent capable of throwing a safe and secure show."
Besides the urban location and size of the Convention Center—more than 220,000 square feet of available dance-floor space, if not quite the million the Audiotistic fliers boast about—Goldenvoice co-owner Paul Tollett says there are many other things that make the site a desirable place.
"They're well-prepared for an event like this," he said. "They handle large crowds on a regular basis. They know the logistics of it. Plus, it's nicer just because it's an indoor place with facilities. When you put on something like this out in a field, you're just starting from scratch."
Goldenvoice has been working with the Long Beach Convention Center for years, most notably holding the annual Bob Marley Day festival in the complex's arena. Tollete says he's sure Channel 36 is "completely capable" of handling this event, pointing out the 37,000 people who went to San Bernardino last year. That figure was a few thousand too many for some people, though, to the point of discomfort.
"We got a little negative feedback about that," Solis said. "But this year, we're not going to have that problem because the venue is a lot bigger, and the capacity is lower—a strict 25,000. It's a good formula. Plus, it'll go well into Easter morning, which could keep some away."
Marcellaus Taylor, event manager for the Long Beach Convention Center, is optimistic about hosting Audiotistic and says no one was particularly discouraged by its 4 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. schedule.
"We have shows that go until 2 or 3 in the morning quite often," he said. "We have normal concerts here regularly, and this is kind of an opening for the rave scene. We hope it goes well."
Tollett says neither the Convention Center people nor the city of Long Beach made any extraordinary demands, but attendees can expect plenty of security, especially at the entrance. The Long Beach Police Department wouldn't say just how many police officers will be on hand but told the Weekly they "will be staffing Audiotistic heavily" as well as directing traffic.
A few years ago, cops at a rave meant it was time to run. Now, they're almost an expected presence amongst the twirling laser projections and writhing dancers. As massives get more massive, Tollett and Solis agree it's simply too hard to keep the culture clandestine. Many veterans of the late '80s/early '90s formative raves scoff at the massives and what they perceive as the scene's slow march toward conformity, but Solis shrugs this off.
"Channel 36 has a pretty large following of fans who don't feel that way," he says. "These kinds of events, what I'm trying to do, are like a new breed of concert—what I like to call 'future festivals,' where you can see all types of new music and be entertained wherever you're standing."
And by "new music," Solis means anything electronic or DJ-based. Within those parameters, he has once again mined the world for a lineup that's a bit more hip-hop-heavy than your typical massive. Last year's Audiotistic, in fact, was the first massive headlined by rap groups, and this year's fest continues that thread with sets from Jurassic 5, Common, Dilated Peoples and Blackalicious.
Solis explained that the focus on hip-hop comes from his company's background. "Channel 36 has always been very involved in promoting and working with hip-hop, mostly turntablism," Solis says—think of it as hip-hop without an MC—"and it just kind of snowballed. We wound up getting the attention of bigger talent like Jurassic 5 and the Roots, and it came together that way."