BY DENNIS ROMERO
There was a lot of buzz in clubland last month when the organizers of Electric Daisy Carnival claimed that 135,000 people attended its two-day dance music event at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. All the action up there makes it seem like crickets have taken over in Orange County, which has but a handful of regular, DJ-driven events these days. Of course, that wasn't always the case. There was a time when Orange County practically overshadowed L.A. as the rave capital of the nation.
In the newborn hours of New Year's Day, 1993, a young promoter named Gary Richards put on a little party called K-Rave '93 at an amusement part some of you have heard of--Knott's Berry Farm. At least 17,000 people came, shattering all records for North American raves at the time and putting an exclamation point on the culture's early '90s coming out. The place was so packed and overrun by backpack-toting, e-dropping kids that hundreds, perhaps thousands, surrounded the place clamoring to get it. Some made it by storming the perimeter before cops put a stop to it. It was nuts. And Knott's Berry Farm would never host such an event again. Of course, techno lovers had their sights set on the ultimate infantile venue, Disneyland, but that pipe dream never came to fruition. There were, however, "raver days"--when day trippers would unofficially meet up at the land of Mickey. (And who could forgot Richards' own pre-K-Rave events in L.A., called "Double Hit Mickey," a reference to a double dose of psychedelia?). Some of SoCal raving's earliest promoters, including Daven the Mad Hatter, an L.A. staple of the early '90s, hailed from behind the Orange Curtain. And some of the nation's earliest mega-raves, including an annual event called Grape Ape at Wild Rivers water park in Irvine, sprouted in the O.C.. The whole notion of raving-gone-mainstream took root in Orange County. The area's venues were the perfect cover for teenagers heading out for a night of mischief. What parent could deny a dance at Knott's Berry Farm or Wild Rivers? They were family destinations - places their kids grew up with. Of course the results weren't as wholesome. Fights broke out, children O.D.'d on ecstasy, and riots took root by the end of rave's first wave in 1994.
Still, raving would eventually take off anew--in the latter half of the decade. A music industry tiring of grunge rock tapped electronic dance music as the next big thing. It didn't pan out, but rave culture evolved and became club culture. Remnants of the music are now heard on car commercials, on movie soundtracks and in coffee shops. The parties--they don't call them raves anymore--are bigger than ever. Richards does a little event called HARD that has blown the lid off a new generation of dance fans in neon-colored clothing. Coachella is a huge, mainstream rave with indie sensibilities. And it wouldn't have happened without OC's part in bringing a gritty, urban, warehouse phenomenon to tract-house children of America.