Casey Stephens, AKA DJ Merlyn, is quick to remember at least eight Miami raves busted by police in the underground days of the '90s. It didn’t matter if the party was permitted, says Merlyn, who has been a staple in the dance music scene since the beginning. If there were dance beats, JNCOs, and lasers, cops were coming. Police typically cited noise and over-capacity as reasons to shut down parties — perhaps it was something else. Maybe the early ravers were ahead of their time.
How times have changed. From the underground to a college campus, Summerfest is a rave that will take place at Florida International University this Thursday from 7 p.m. to midnight. The foam party is heavy on safety and bass. The lineup includes Bonnie X Clyde, Ookay, Party Favor, and Valentino Khan. And alcohol, drugs, and smoking are not allowed. Even the foam is safe, the university’s website explains: "The foam is approximately 99 percent water, which is 100 percent natural."
“A rave at FIU? I’m pleasantly shocked," Merlyn says. "It’s surprising yet refreshing to hear the powers-that-be understand the importance of people getting together for dance music.”
FIU's leadership is embracing a movement that was once persecuted. Summerfest is a program within the Department of Campus Life, operated by the Division of Student Affairs. Its aim is to engage students outside of the classroom. Other programs, such as the student newspaper, the fraternity and sorority community, and homecoming are similarly backed. Under the direction of FIU faculty member John Parmenter and summer 2017 graduate Sisi Gospodinov, a 20-student committee helps plan, build, manage, supervise, break down, and clean up after the party, which is free to FIU students.
“This is my fourth and final Summerfest,” Gospodinov says. “I’m definitely going to cry when it’s over... Each year we get better and bigger.”
Gospodinov parlayed her experience into jobs with the EDM-centric Groove Cruise and Life in Color. Her career path is clear: She'll work in music, and Summerfest provided a foothold in an industry that otherwise can be difficult to crack.
Summerfest was not a dance music event when it began, but it has conformed to demand. While kids at other public universities suffer through ventriloquists, hypnotists, and spiky-haired metrosexual country singers, FIU students get what they want: a rave.
"It's an affordable mini-Ultra," Parmenter says of the event. "A lot of my students on this committee are event and hospitality management majors. This is what they want to do, and this is great experience for them. And because we’ve kept it safe and have not had problems, our president allows us to keep Summerfest going.”
Courtesy of the Fort Lauderdale-based visuals company Light Up the Night, nine-foot-tall LED robots will dance onstage and blast the expected 7,000 attendees with cold carbon dioxide. The stage will be framed by thousands of computer-controlled lights. And for the first time, Light Up the Night is introducing a custom-built LED experience. Pound for pound, Summerfest can bang with the best festivals.
The evening’s lineup is set to begin with Bonnie X Clyde, a vocal bass duo. "Bonnie," Paige Lopynski, and "Clyde," Daniel Litman, attended high school together in Virginia and then went their separate ways. They reconnected in Miami after college and are now based in Los Angeles. Their debut performance was at Hard Rock Stadium for Life in Color 2016. They return to Miami following gigs at EDC Japan and EDC Las Vegas but are stoked about this college campus party.
“I love it, and it’s great to see that people are starting to loosen up about dance music," Litman says. "The Miami market is and always has been progressive with the dance music culture. The people in Miami and all over South Florida live for it."
Part of the fest's charm is that the greenrooms for performers are dorm rooms, which Litman also supports. “That’s awesome and superfunny," he says. "We don’t typically drink before shows, so the no-alcohol rule is not a problem. But I did sneak an entire keg into my dorm room when I was in college, so if I really want to, I still got it in me."
Expect Bonnie X Clyde to perform “Rise Above,” “Where It Hurts,” and music from their new EP, Wanted, released in March.
In light of so much positivity happening at Summerfest, it’s sad to think about the misconception dance music has endured through the years. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding, and old-school ravers are owed an apology. Summerfest is a fun and safe event where like-minded music fans can get loose for a few hours. That's all it is. That's all it has ever been.
And for those who still live with their parents and are in the doghouse, this Thursday ask Mom for a ride to the FIU library and then take a detour to the stage between the Blue and Gold parking garages.
With Party Favor, Valentino Khan, Ookay, and Bonnie X Clyde. 7 p.m. Thursday, July 13, at Florida International University Modesto A. Maidique Campus, 11200 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-348-2000; fiu.edu. Tickets cost $30 via tickets.completeticketsolutions.com or $35 at the gate. FIU students get in free.
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