Ravaged by the Rave

On the dance floor an older fellow who had come south from Orlando bounced inexhaustibly in a St. Vitus's dance. Robbie Tatoul is rail-thin, six feet tall, and has a beard that suggests former surgeon general C. Everett Koop. The 28-year-old chiropractor wore baggy khakis, a sweat-soaked white sleeveless undershirt, and an unbuttoned polyester shirt. Tatoul, who had attended several similar affairs in his hometown before they were effectively banned, declared Circa '98 his favorite rave to date. "This is well worth the drive," he noted. "Orlando would be jealous."

Next door a slightly different scene went on in the main, or "boom," room. A mini bazaar of a few booths lined a side wall. A wooden cart on wheels was loaded with silver jewelry. Another stand hawked T-shirts, cassettes, CDs, pot pipes, a variety of plastic sticks filled with glowing pastel-color liquid (ravers like to hold them in their hands when they dance), lollipops, candy pacifiers, and chewing gum to keep jaws moving instead of tightly clenched (another side effect of this evening's drugs). A popular stop for many was the piercing area manned by a heavily tattooed and prodigiously pierced chap named Kenny. For $35 a raver could buy a ring or a rod, which resembled a tiny barbell, and have it punched in wherever he or she desired. People get pierced "for aesthetic reasons, sexual enhancement, and sometimes a little self-abuse," said Kenny, who has practiced the art of poking holes into body parts for the past nine years. For much of the night he was kept busy jabbing jewelry into nipples, eyebrows, bellybuttons, lips, and tongues.

Being pierced may have hurt, but several revelers had an equally unpleasant experience: vomiting. Most of them held their heads over plastic garbage cans that were scattered about for just such purpose. Across the room a glass door led to the mist tent, where for a mere three dollars overheated ravers could rinse the sweat and cool off. All the while the music boomed ceaselessly and the lights gleamed. A slew of DJs performed 30- to 45-minute sets that blended seamlessly. At 1:30 a.m. electro-funk icon Afrika Bambaataa took the stage. He greeted the crowd, but really, anyone could have been up there spinning: Lights flashed straight in the eyes of the audience, and the stage was obscured by clouds of smoke. By 3:30 hip-hop king Grandmaster Flash, decked out in a red T-shirt and cap that made him visible from far across the room, began his 90-minute set. Interacting more with the crowd than Bambaataa had, Flash roused them to punch their fists in the air, jump up and down, and yell like banshees. Local celeb DJ George Acosta, trumpeted as a headliner on a promo poster, never showed.

Not that anyone seemed to mind. They were feeling just fine. Drugs were not used openly and dealers did not seem to be in hard-core sales mode, but judging from the ravers' ultrafriendly behavior, infinite energy, and general imperturbability (amazingly unlike nightclub dancers, people were respectful; any bumping elicited a quick apology) a good majority of them were clearly high on something. Most were discreet, barely nodding when asked if they were rolling. Others didn't care who knew and sauntered around the rooms sporting surgical masks like junior versions of Michael Jackson. The masks were coated in Vicks VapoRub, which, according to ravers, enhances the effects of Ecstasy. Several times on the dance floor ravers would place the wrong end of a nasal inhaler into their mouths and "blow Vicks" into the eyes, nose, and all over the face of friends to perk them up.

After a while, though, the attempts were futile. The drugs were clearly wearing off by 5:30 a.m., when the band Spacemen landed onstage, looking like Druids from another planet in their alien masks and silver robes. Dancers exhibited less brio than they had hours earlier; the floor was an obstacle course strewn with hundreds of plastic water bottles. The crowd had thinned considerably, and dancers were no longer offering apologies after on-floor collisions. The urge to touch and the massage circles had disappeared.

Watching two teenagers lying flat, sweeping their arms and legs across the filthy, cold floor attempting to make snow angels among the rubble, made one muse: Is this all there is? Why this urge to rave repeatedly -- if at all? Erin Bales, a nineteen-year-old girl from Davie, tried to explain the allure: "It's a calmer, more loving, fun atmosphere. It brings people closer together. You don't have this at a club where people are getting into fights."

As the sunrise became visible through the clerestory windows, Bales seemed to make sense. But considering the Vicks, the snow angels, and the vomit, maybe not.

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