Chapter 32 - Dance with the Devil (Fall 2010) - PSPS: My Life As A Rave Outlaw

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This is the full 32nd 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.

If you missed chapters 1 2 34567891011121314151617181920212223242526272829, 30 or 31 go back and read those in order first.

Chapter 32 - Dance with the Devil (Fall 2010)


Good Vibes was on life support at this point, maintaining relevancy through my work with other crews. It wasn't that bad though, I was starting to realize that my contribution to the scene did not have to be limited to the Good Vibes name. By now, my decision not to put the strength of my crew behind Broski and Empire Raves was truly beginning to haunt me. It was too late for me to ask if the original deal was still on the table though, he already got what he needed from me. Even though I had a good thing going with Symbiotic, I was still eager to get involved with as many venues and crews as I could. Perhaps that’s why I jumped on the opportunity when I got another offer from Silver Spoon, my corporate arch-nemesis, even though they stiffed me the last time I dealt with them. That summer, I got an email from DJ Hulk offering another gig, this time he promised payment and an ongoing deal. It was funny too, he seemed to be under some strange impression that things were actually going well for me. It is interesting how sometimes things can be falling apart for us, but we still seem to appear successful from the outside looking in.

The email read, “Yo, John, how you been? I seen you have been busy this summer! How many markets are you in now? Cincinnati? North Carolina? Crazy man, you’re blowin up. Props on locking up Ground Zero too, I don't know how you did it. Everyone has been trying to get in there for a decade, and you come along and start throwing parties in there. It seems like you got a monopoly on this hardcore thing out here too, and we are trying to tap into that audience, so we thought that we should bring you in on these shows, so we do it right.”

I couldn't believe it, the decision not to burn my bridge with them actually paid off. I wrote back telling him I was interested in the deal, and we started talking back and forth about how to put together a successful hardcore show. He asked me what the absolute top headliners in the genre were, the biggest ticket sellers, and he said to not think about money as an obstacle. I instantly told him that we needed to book Showtek or Angerfist right off the bat if we really wanted to make a splash in that market. I was still skeptical that this was going to come into fruition until he got back to me a few days later saying that Showtek and Angerfist were both possible and that he was already in talks with their agents about setting up two different dates, one for each, over the next few months. The bookings went through, and in just a few weeks we were promoting the first show. These were artists that I would have never been able to book on my own, so it really felt like I was entering a new phase in my career. Luckily, Silver Spoon gave me freedom with the lineup because they didn't know a damn thing about the genre, but they were insistent on being in charge of the marketing. I gave them a long list of ideas for names for the party, and I suggested that we do a different theme each time, because that would keep things exciting for people and would be a part of the appeal, this was one of my ongoing strategies. They didn't see the value in that, they were interested in creating a brand, a name that they could use again and again, as they did with their other projects like the legendary “Dub Country.” Since they had blinders on with their business model, they ignored my suggestions and made up their own name “Hard Dropz,” which I thought was pretty lame, but fuck it, they were paying for Showtek and Angerfist, so I was along for the ride. I put everything I had into promoting that show, online, on the streets, and in my mind. I even tried having psychedelic sessions where I would trip in silent darkness and visualize a sold-out show in hopes of manifesting that wish as a reality. I really felt that this was the opportunity of a lifetime, I was finally getting a real shot at the mainstream, I was on the cusp of greatness. If I managed to pull this off, I was finally going to “make it.”


On the night of the show, I arrived at the club almost two hours early, and there was already a dozen ravers waiting outside. I called Hulk and was let in a side door by his crew, they gave me and Caylee VIP wristbands and let us in early, but Hulk and his partner were nowhere to be found, so we waited around awkwardly as the stagehands prepared for the show. When the doors opened, the place filled up fast, and it was packed to capacity just after 10pm. Around that time, I had a few people texting me from outside telling me that they couldn't get in because the show was sold out.

The vibe of this show was like a crazy mixture of underground and mainstream, taking the best elements of both to create an amazing atmosphere. Hours into the party, I started getting a bit nervous about my payment since they burned me in the past, so I began looking around the club in search of someone from the crew. Eventually, I saw one of them through the crowd, and I followed him to a set of stairs behind the stage that led up to a door. I walked up to the door and noticed a sign that said “VIP,” so I opened the door without knocking. Even though I still felt like I didn't belong there, I knew I had to act the part around these guys. I was relieved to find Hulk and his partner in there, watching TV and drinking Heinekens, what a way to spend a rave.

“Oh, look who it is! Welcome, I was wondering when you would come and join us, what you been up to?” Hulk asked.

“Well, I was just making sure everything was going alright and greeting some people I know from out of town. The DJs playing tonight are some of my favorites too, so I’m trying to catch what I can,” I replied.

“Yeah, I feel that. So, what’s up?” he asked.

“Well, a couple of the DJs were asking me about payment,” I explained.

“Yeah, I figured, best to get that sorted early I guess,” he said.

He reached into the inside pocket of his black leather jacket and pulled out a few envelopes and handed them to me.

“Here, you know those guys better than I do, so you can sort this out. One of those envelopes is for you, good job, it was a sell-out show tonight,” he said.

“Thanks, tonight has been awesome, I'm really looking forward to working with you guys in the future. I think we make a good team,” I said.

“Yeah man sounds good,” Hulk said taking a sip of his beer and turning to catch the basketball game on the TV. He started yelling at the television as sports people do, then he and one of his friends gave each other a high five.

“I am gonna go take care of these payments. I’ll catch you later,” I said.

I was happy to have an exit like that, even though I saw this as a huge opportunity I still got a weird vibe from those guys. I always thought that VIP rooms were a bit elitist for my tastes anyway, and the short amount of time I spent in there with them was creepy. I also got a strange feeling that I wasn't welcome in there, but I get that feeling when I walk into most rooms, so that part might have just been in my head. Still, there was definitely a very cold energy around them, that much I can say for certain. When I walked down the steps and turned the corner, I immediately ripped open the envelope with my name on it to see what they decided to pay me. I pulled out five crisp 100 dollar bills, they paid me 500 bucks. I wasn't exactly sure what their budget or bottom line looked like, but I didn't have to deal with any of that, I didn't have to take a financial risk, and it was in their venue, so I was happy to at least be getting something, and 500 bucks seemed like a good deal. After I got all the DJs paid out, I figured that my responsibilities were done for the night, so I hunted down some pills. I had to be careful though, Silver Spoon was notorious for firing their street team kids for getting fucked up at parties. When I walked around the club, I noticed a few ravers getting scooped up by security for dumb shit. Sold out shows were common at this place, and so was electronic music, but my crowd was a bit wilder than they were used to, we were actually ravers. Security could only do so much, we took the place over for the night, and they were overwhelmed. It wasn’t like anyone was actually doing anything wrong though, it was just people trying to party and have a good time, but these mainstream clubs liked to treat every one of their shows like some kind of dress-and-tie event.

At one point some girl freaked out and started screaming near the bar, she was obviously trippin and not having a good time, so security picked her up and threw her outside, probably making the situation worse. They kicked her boyfriend out too and told her they needed to get away from the club, but she wouldn't leave, so they forced the boyfriend to carry her out to the parking lot. This was probably the dumbest thing they could have done because a bunch of people on the street saw some dude carrying a screaming girl into a car, so they called the cops, thinking some serious shit was going down. When the cops came, the girl and her boyfriend ended up getting arrested, but then the devils realized what kind of show was going on inside the club, so they came out in full force.

They weren't able to get inside because it was a perfectly legal event at a well-known club, but they sat outside all night, mounted on horses waiting for the crowds to come out at closing time, or to shake down anyone who got kicked out. We even had a helicopter flying overhead for a while, shining its spotlight on the building and street below. Safe inside, there was a different type of chaos, as a thousand or so souls practiced the age-old ritual of entranced dance. The show was amazing, and for once I was actually able to experience one of my own parties. This was the way it was supposed to be, a guaranteed paycheck and a stress-free night with all of the finer details taken care of by someone else. Everyone was congratulating me and telling me that I’ve “made it” and that they always believed in me. I guess that's how things looked from the outside, I was in the big leagues now, hosting a party with international headliners at the biggest club in the city.

I still didn't feel any different though, and really, I only made a few hundred bucks with no real promise of anything steady. I was now beginning to realize that this idea of “making it” was a total fiction, and that life was much more complicated than that. I think that growing up poor gave me the perspective that success was a sort of finish line, a time where there are no more worries and your future is guaranteed. Now I was learning that success is a momentary victory, which leaves behind a building block that could help you achieve future victories if you are willing, able and lucky enough to see the opportunities in front of you and capitalize on them as consistently as possible. When the lights came on, and the music stopped, people were still dancing. It was one of those magical nights that only come around every once and awhile. I didn't realize how fucked up I was until we had to go outside and walk past the half-cop half-horse minotaur-like creatures that blocked off the street. We made it through the parking lot and back to the car without getting in any trouble, which was a challenge because there were a lot of cops out there.

After how well things went with Showtek, I was hoping for another sellout event for Angerfist, and it was right around the corner. Before I knew it, I was standing back in the middle of that dance floor, waiting for security to open the doors as ravers were camped outside, waiting to get in. We sold out of tickets within the first hour, and the crowd was going insane.

It was just like the last show, the only difference was that I never got an envelope with my name on it when it was time to pay out the DJs. By the time I went to confront the Silver Spoon crew they had all disappeared and turned off their phones. I knew now for sure that these guys were not to be trusted, but at the same time, I also felt that they were my ticket out of the underground, my shot at comfort and success. I decided that the most productive and professional thing to do would be to acknowledge the lack of payment without hassling them about it and try to preserve the relationship without being a total doormat. I thought that maybe they were testing me, trying to see how I would react, so I tried to be as professional as possible when I confronted them.

After the show, I sent Hulk an email that said, “Hey, another great show last night! I am looking forward to planning the next one. I was never able to catch up with you about payment though. I'd rather not chase you down for money, so just hook me up with two VIP tickets for the few festivals that you guys are hosting, and we’ll call it even. Let's just make sure that we have a better system to make sure everyone gets paid next time. We should be making a lot of money together in the coming year anyway, so I'm not that worried about a few hundred bucks. I just think we should plan better in the future, so it doesn't happen again.”

Hours later, I got a short reply that said, “Oh, sorry John, paying you was my production manager’s responsibility, I guess that fell through the cracks. It would be a bit tough to meet up at this point, but I got you on VIP passes for all our shows for the next year. You really are the real deal man.”

I could tell that he wasn't being genuine and that there was no way I could ever trust these people, but I was hoping that this connection could somehow lead to future opportunities, so I continued to play the game. It took a ton of patience and self-control to work with these guys, but luckily my next show with them wasn't happening until the spring, which was a few months away, so I had some time before I would have to deal with them again. Later that week, as I was stressing about my rave drama, I got a call from Jerry that made me realize how small my worries were. When I answered the phone, I could tell right away that he was upset, and that something was wrong. It took him a minute to break the news and say the words, Duke was found dead of a heroin overdose. I didn't want to believe it, all these years that we had been partying together, since high school, we always had a pact to stay the fuck away from dope. We all knew that shit was a death sentence, I really thought he knew better, I just kept asking myself why. I also blamed myself, I had been so wrapped up in my own ambitions that I wasn't able to keep up with him as much as I should have. I kept thinking that maybe there was something I could have done if I just paid more attention, if I was just a better friend. What can you really do when someone is caught up in that shit though? In that same conversation, Jerry told me that he and some other close friends were using too. Even though I had an opportunity to help a friend right in front of me, I still didn't know what to say or do. I told him that I cared, and that I was there for him. I was also careful that I didn't give the impression that I was judging or shaming him in any way, because I wasn't. He promised to get help, he said that hearing about the death of one of his friends was enough to wake him up. At Duke’s funeral, I had an unexpected heart to heart with Clyde that totally took me by surprise. We hadn’t spoken in a long time, and that old tension between us never seemed to fade away, but these types of grudges tend to seem meaningless when you are burying a close friend. Duke was a close friend to Clyde too, and they had gotten even closer in the past few years, as I became distracted by my ambitions. When everyone was getting ready to leave the cemetery, Clyde approached me with a somber look on his face. After a bit of awkward small talk, there was a long silence, then he spoke up.

“We were starting to get really close, like brothers. I was caught up in the shit too. This whole thing has been a big wake up call for me. Not just about the drugs either, I’ve been thinking a lot about everything. I haven’t been the best version of myself, especially these past few years. I don’t even recognize some parts of myself anymore, and I want to be a better person, the person I know I am. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, and I still think I was in the right about some shit, but I was wrong about a lot of it. So, I guess what I am trying to say is that I am sorry, and I’m gonna leave this lifestyle behind for a while to work on myself,” Clyde said, choking back tears.

I grabbed him and gave him a hug. “It takes a lot to say some shit like that dude and I can tell you mean it. Whatever you need, I got you. I totally support this new path for you, everyone deserves redemption,” I said.

We talked for a few minutes longer before parting ways. He told me that he might leave town for a while to sort himself out. It really did seem like he was an entirely different person. We had been through a lot of shit, but like I told him, everyone deserves redemption.

Finding out that so many people I knew were on dope woke me up to the harsh reality of how common opiate addiction is in the scene, and society in general. They say most people get hooked from using prescription pills, and that the heroin on the streets is often cut with other substances that make it far more deadly. All of this is true, and should not be taken lightly, but these are conditions that have been created through the drug war. In times of prohibition, the product gets more dangerous and dirtier because it is being manufactured by people who don't have to attach their reputation to it. Another problem is that addicts are far less likely to seek help under prohibition because they fear the legal consequences associated with controlled substances. The heroin problem goes deeper than drug policy though, it is an existential crisis caused by the constant pressures of our soulless society. From my experience, it is the trauma, loneliness, and depression that we are attempting to grapple with in our lives that lead us down a path of addiction.

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