This is the full 18th chapter of my book Paper Squares and Purple Stars: My Life as a Rave Outlaw. I have decided to share the whole book here for free. The book is already available for purchase at www.raveoutlaw.com, and the mobile game is coming soon, www.immortalgames.co.uk.
Chapter 18 - Back to Ground Zero (Spring 2009)
A few days later, I met with Charles at the club to see what happened with the cops and find out what the consequences would be. He told me that the guy who overdosed had been drinking and taking prescription pills, something that gets ambulances called to clubs on a regular basis. The guy was revived shortly after I escaped from the club and was taken to the hospital to recover. Charles assured me that the cops had no clue about our operation. He said that them coming into the building was merely protocol when an overdose is reported. There was one huge problem though, the fire marshal came through that night and declared that the upstairs was not up to code for various reasons and that we could no longer have it open during shows. They were obviously targeting us and trying to damage us any way they possibly could. It turns out that the cops were pretty pissed off about the lawsuit that Charles filed against them, so they must have put pressure on the fire marshal to come down on us. There is not a structure in the entire town of Dundalk that is up to code. Galaxy may have been in rough shape, but it was not nearly as bad as some of the other buildings in the area. They picked the most popular part of our venue, and they shut it down. When I heard that the upstairs was closed, I felt like we lost the venue altogether. There was no way that we would be able to keep the same type of atmosphere going with just the one room. It would be more like a concert than a rave with one big open room of sound, instead of a maze of multiple rooms and floors to get lost in. To make matters worse, since they were keeping such a close eye on us, we wouldn’t be able to stay open late anymore. Charles promised that he would be hard at work throughout the next month to get the building up to code for my next show, which was supposed to be another milestone. The party was going to be called "Rollin on Dubs," and it was my first dubstep event. The name was a blatant drug reference, which I saw as a type of civil disobedience in defiance of the drug war, and a rejection of the respectability politics that was sanitizing the culture.
Over the next few weeks the crowds definitely tapered off at Galaxy, because as I expected, it just wasn't the same without the upstairs. I would still work the shows every night, I needed to, it was my job, but night after night, people would ask me what was going to happen with Rollin on Dubs. After a while, I became bold enough to start telling people that if Charles didn't get his act together and give me an honest answer about the status of the upstairs for my show, I would just move it to another venue, like I saw Mickey do when things went wrong at God's Basement. I definitely had the right idea, but probably for all the wrong reasons. At the time there was this fierce competition among the promoters there, with everyone feeling as if it was their unique contribution that truly made the place a success. Even writing this book, I am telling the story from my perspective, and that is exactly how I feel about the situation. I was there from the beginning, and I brought God’s Basement southward to Baltimore, so I feel responsible for the club’s success. Looking back, I realize that there were many other hardworking people who made that place what it was, but I still feel like I was the catalyst for the club’s success. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with recognizing your accomplishments, but at the time I allowed that kind of thing to fill me with toxic ego. I was determined to prove that I was different, that I could survive outside of Galaxy because I still felt like I wasn't taken seriously. It seemed like all the other promoters at the club had similar motivations, because they were just as fierce and territorial as I was. Regardless of these negative motivations, I was also genuinely motivated by a desire to keep the crowds happy and keep my dream alive.
Eventually, it came to the night before the show, but I still had no word about what was happening with the upstairs, and it had been shut down all month. When I got to the club, Charles wasn't even there, but security told me that the upstairs wasn't going to be open and that Charles was ducking me. I went back to my car and started making some calls. A few minutes later, Stryda answered his phone and told me that he might be able to help, so I rushed across town to see him at Shorty’s. When I walked through the door, Stryda was at the bar as usual. As soon as he saw me, he said, “So Charles still ain’t worked out that shit with the upstairs?”
“Nah, and even worse he ducked me when we were supposed to meet to talk about it tonight,” I replied.
“Ahh, he's basically making it so you have no choice,” Stryda said.
“Yeah but I’m not gonna put up with that shit. I can move the venue by tomorrow if I wanted to, as long as I can find a place tonight,” I said.
“How would you spread the word?” Stryda asked incredulously.
“Well, I've seen it happen before. I could just put out word to the people I trust, then have them tell all their friends, and it will spread like a virus. If it's some underground spot, I can make sure that everyone keeps the information offline,” I explained.
“The only place I could think of is super underground. We can’t be blowing this spot up. This is an old-school rave warehouse that was jumpin back in the day. My friends still live there, and we go back, so maybe they'd be willing to help the crew out,” he said.
He took out his phone and made a call that was quickly picked up on the other end, and the conversation as I heard it went something like this: “Yeah, I'm down here at Shorty’s, but I might need a favor. Well, would you consider opening Ground Zero for a party on short notice? It's kind of an emergency. We would need it tomorrow... Yeah, tomorrow, it’s for that guy John from Galaxy. They had some issues, and now he needs a new venue tomorrow...I don’t know, he seems confident he can pull it off. Yeah, he’s with me. Sure, we’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Stryda hung up the phone and said, “I think we might have a spot, but we gotta take a quick trip across town and meet them at the warehouse to sort it out. I'll get one of the bartenders to keep an eye on things around here while we’re gone.”
A few minutes later, we pulled in front of Ground Zero, the legendary warehouse that I heard about from the golden age of Baltimore raves. I heard about the place from old heads for years but never got the chance to go there. They haven't had a big show there since the scene in the area faded away with Buzz and Fever nearly a decade ago. The place wasn’t sitting empty all that time though, it acted as an apartment building for artists and sound engineers who kept studios there. We wouldn't be able to get access to the whole building, but the people that we were about to meet with had one of the largest studios there, which could maybe fit about 400 people packed to the gills. This was less than half of the capacity of Galaxy, which would have made it mathematically impossible for me to make money on the show, but I was happy to break even or take a slight loss if it meant having a sold out show and keeping my reputation going in the right direction. Taking a loss on a sold-out show seemed way better than having a thin crowd at Galaxy and losing credibility. We stood outside of a red door in a dark alleyway for a few minutes until someone called down from the balcony, “Just a minute, I’ll be right there, I gotta let you in.”
A minute or so later the door opened, and I saw three familiar faces, but I wasn't quite sure where I remembered them from. There was a girl with blue hair who introduced herself as Danielle, a guy with red dreadlocks named Anthony, and another guy with red hair named Andrew. Danielle and Anthony were both very talented artists, and Andrew was a well-known DJ who had been in the scene for years, he went by DJ Amp. They walked me around the warehouse to show me the space, and while they gave me the tour, they reminisced about their biggest party ever, Superfunk, where they opened up the entire building for the night and booked some of the biggest headliners of the time. After chatting for a while, we got down to business. They wanted me to cover their rent for the month, but more importantly, they wanted to make sure that I was going to be responsible with the address and that I wasn't going to bring Galaxy’s troubles to their home. They were skeptical, after all, I was a young kid with a crew that was less than a year old, coming from a club that just got busted after becoming the talk of the town. Somehow though, they ended up agreeing to let me use their spot for the evening, probably mostly out of curiosity to see if I could actually pull it off.
Everyone that heard my plan may have thought I was crazy, but I knew that I had just cleared the most challenging obstacle of this whole dilemma, and nothing was going to stop me now that I had come this far. Of course, once again, as with many parts of my story, I was guided and assisted by mentors who had serious connections and who believed in me for some reason that I couldn't quite understand. I would have never been able to do these things on my own, or without the help of people like Stryda, Mickey or the many others who gave me a hand-up on my journey. When I got back home that night, I immediately began to initiate my plan, calling, texting, and MySpace messaging everyone I could about the venue change. I quickly spread the word that “Good Vibes was going underground” and that Rollin on Dubs was now going to be a warehouse party at an undisclosed location, which will be sent only to verified emails a few hours before the show. I also sent Charles an email informing him that since he was unable to supply me with a proper venue and since he stood me up for our meeting, I had no choice but to go ahead and find another place to do my show, I bet he didn't see that one coming. The reply I got from him the next day was filled with anger and threats, which was to be expected, but he was trying to sacrifice my show and my reputation to save his own business. I guess I was essentially trying to do the same to him though, since me pulling my show would add to the loss in credibility that the club was seeing. Still, I saw that people were losing interest in the venue and I was not willing to go down with that ship, not after everything I had earned. I was on such a roll that I was terrified of throwing a show that was a failure, so preventing that at all costs was the only thing on my mind. I don't know who was right or wrong, but things would have been different if he were more honest with me or had at least shown up for that meeting. The next day, I had to wake up early and rush down to the warehouse so I could get it ready for the show. I spent the morning there with the Ground Zero crew going over the ins and outs of the venue and the best ways to handle a show there.
Halfway through the day, I had to take a break from the preparations to pick up my headliner from the airport. He was a producer and the owner of a famous California dubstep label. This was going to be his first time on the east coast, and this booking had a lot of hype behind it, so I was nervous as hell about giving him bad news when he landed. When he got in the car, we exchanged some quick small talk about the flight, and then I broke the news to him.
“So, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that we had some issues with the club, and the good news is that I found a new one last minute and I'm confident everyone is still gonna come. I've also been saving up some money, so I’m just going to pay you in full now, so you feel more comfortable about the situation,” I said, handing him a white envelope with his full fee inside.
"That was not nearly as bad as I expected, but I’m still nervous about changing a venue with less than 24 hours to get the word out. You got more on the line than I do at this point though, and you haven't given me any reason to doubt you so far, so I’m along for the ride,” he said.
Apparently, if a DJ gets paid and has a venue with decent gear, they consider themselves lucky. There are a ton of promoters out there who skip out on the bill if the show doesn't go well, and even sometimes when it does, so in reality, this situation wasn't so bad for him. After I dropped him off at the hotel, I rushed back to the warehouse where everyone was setting up for the show. The Ground Zero crew was working diligently getting the sound hooked up, and DJ Ghost showed up early to help out too. I had Dave and a few others hanging out in the Galaxy parking lot, waiting to give directions to anyone who didn't get the news. Gordon offered to cover the door for me so I could take care of things inside and try to hustle some pills to make up for the loss I was going to be taking at the door.
As soon as the sun went down, hordes of ravers began flowing through the alley towards the warehouse. Most of them followed the instructions in the email to wait until they got inside to crack their glowsticks and avoid drawing any attention to themselves while they approached the spot. The first few hours of the night flew by because we were so busy just trying to get people in the door. It was important to get everyone inside as quickly as possible, so they weren't congregating in the alley and calling attention to the building. We had the entry point set up at the door downstairs, and both rooms of sound were set up in the main studio on the second floor.
Within a half hour of us opening the doors, the place was already packed and going wild. The whole building felt like a sauna, and the walls and ceiling were both dripping with sweat, but no one seemed to care. There was no way we could have fit any more people in there, but luckily, we didn't have to turn anyone away either. As I made my rounds through the venue, I kept returning to the front door all night, poking my head out every few minutes to check for cops, trouble, or party people trying to get in.
The Ground Zero crew seemed impressed that I was on top of things and not walking around drunk or in a K hole, and they were a huge help too. Since it was just us running the show, it had the same kind of family feel that God’s Basement did, which was the only thing that was really missing from Galaxy because of their hired security.
Unfortunately for me, Ground Zero wasn't the kind of place that could be open every weekend, they could only do a show once a year at most. People lived here, it wouldn't be right to bring trouble to their home, and trouble inevitably seems to come when you throw a lot of raves somewhere in a short amount of time. I was too busy working to see how things were going most of the night, but the people I spoke with seemed happy, and a great many of them told me that they had the time of their lives.
We kept the music on until the sun came up, and there were still hundreds of people in the building when we finally shut the party down and turned on the lights. I lost some money on the show that night because we downsized our venue, but I gained respect and credibility that was worth more than a one-time payment.