This is the full 35th 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 35 - What A Long Strange Trip It's Been
That summer, I didn't have much going on aside from working and writing my book. I wasn't involved with many shows, and the scene was changing. My deal with Silver Spoon was going south fast, mainly because after those first two sold-out shows they tried to take control and started putting together events with artists and venues that I knew people wouldn’t like. They didn’t listen to me or seem to care because they were in the business of booking EDM-concerts, not raves, so they had an entirely different vision and plan then I did. This became a problem because as I already knew, their business model was not going to work with my audience, they didn’t want a concert, they wanted a rave. As time went on, those shows began to lose money, and the guys from Silver Spoon said that they were going to “go in another direction.” Our last show together was a bit embarrassing, we had one of the biggest hardstyle acts in the world and barely 100 people showed up, but I knew that party was doomed from the moment they booked it. For some reason, they scheduled the show at some concert hall that was not suited for a rave, and they booked it on the same weekend as a huge festival that Broski was throwing called Dub Mountain. Dub Mountain was an all weekend event, while my party was on that Friday night. Everyone in the scene was at that festival, even some of my most loyal supporters. I sat there once again in an empty club as everyone I knew, the customer base I had taken years to build, was at one of Broski’s shows. This was starting to happen a lot, and I was beginning to feel old, washed up and out of touch. I couldn't be mad at him though, he wasn't doing this to me on purpose, he was just trying to fulfill his own destiny, and he was better prepared for the changes in the scene than I was. The days of the underground raves were quickly fading away, we were being culturally gentrified by the big-budget festivals and mainstream concert halls. Electronic music was now being played on the radio and even on television commercials, but it was mostly dubstep and pop styles that I never really tapped into. This was a world that was completely foreign to me and a world that I was not equipped to survive in. The scene was going mainstream, and there was no place for the outlaws anymore. Most of the audience seemed to welcome this shift because they were tired of getting busted at parties and running from the cops. They were also developing a taste for more mainstream artists that were way out of my price range. Broski had one foot in each world, one in the underground and one in the mainstream, so he was in a perfect position to adapt to the changes that were happening in the industry at the time. He was not a sore winner though, he was always supportive of what I was doing, and was never hesitant to admit that he built upon the foundation that I created. He even included me in the Dub Mountain festival that year by inviting me to host a symposium during the day hours, since he heard I was writing a book. So, the day after my party failed, I was driving to my first public speaking appearance, which just so happened to be at the festival that my audience chose over my event the day before. Life is interesting sometimes.
When I arrived at the gate, Broski was there at the front office handling something. He looked busy, but when he saw me, he stopped what he was doing to come over and make sure I got in for free, then he showed me where I would be speaking later. When we finished up with him, we took a walk around the venue, and the place was amazing. It was a campground that was owned by a group of wine-making pagan hippies, so the owners were cool, and there was a very spiritual vibe to the place. There were even different areas where people had set up shrines. Best of all, there were legit bathrooms, so people could live like human beings for the weekend. This was the perfect place for a festival. As we walked around, I was greeted by a different old friend every few steps, it was easy to forget how many people I had connected with over the years until moments like this. They had the seminars set up at a pavilion in the middle of the festival grounds, but when it was my time to talk, I was nervous that no one would show up since there were so many other distractions. When I began talking, no one was there except for Caylee and the small group that came with me. Luckily, within the first few minutes, crowds noticed that I was speaking so they began to slowly gather in front of the pavilion. I was stuttery at first, but as soon as I got into my comfort zone, it came just as naturally as one of the rants that I’d often go on in private. I spoke about tangible 5-sense stuff like the prison system, the drug war, and anarchism, as well as more far out topics like shamanism, synchronicity, and spirituality. When I finished, everyone stood up and started clapping, and for the next two hours, I sat around in a circle talking with people and answering their questions. I was thrilled that so many people were interested in the topics I was talking about and I was relieved that I seemed to have done a decent job. That night we stayed for the party, and I actually got to enjoy myself without anything to promote or sell, and no sketchy accomplices lurking around either. I wandered around the mountaintop that night from stage to stage, dancing, getting caught up in random conversations or staring at the stars, just like the old days. That festival may have been a big-budget production, but if you looked close enough, and knew what to look for, you would notice the renegade vibe hidden just beneath the surface. That weekend made me remember what I loved about raves, and it made me want to recapture the magic of the underground that I saw slipping away from my culture. There was only one place that I knew of where outlaws were welcome though, and that was Galaxy. I left over a year before, and I hadn't spoken with Charles since, but at the festival I talked to a few people who told me that he was cleaning up his act. Apparently, he realized how bad he was fucking everything up, so he got rid of the sketchy people, hired a new crew and stopped trying to monopolize the drug market. He had this new guy in there named White Owl, he was an old head from New York who was down with the revolution and understood what PLUR was really all about. He was an outlaw just like me, and a lot of people were saying that he was getting the club back on track. I had to give the place another shot, that was my home, that was where it all began. So, the week after the festival, I drove by the club and noticed that Charles’ truck was one of the only vehicles in the lot, so I pulled in and parked. I walked through the door and saw Charles in his usual place, moving things around behind the bar with a towel slung over his shoulder.
As I walked through the center of the dance floor towards the bar, he looked up and gasped, “John, wow, I always hoped you would come back someday, but I wasn't sure you ever would. I don't like how we left things,” he said, stuttering a bit.
“Me either, that's why I came to talk. I hear you are doing a lot better,” I said.
“Yeah man, I know I was fucked up. I'm sorry, I don't blame you for leaving like you did. I've learned a lot of hard lessons in the year that you have been gone,” he said.
“I have too actually,” I replied.
His aura was entirely different than it was the year before when he was at the height of his bender. His eyes were now warm and calm instead of dark and soulless, and he seemed genuinely remorseful about the past. We talked for a little while longer before I brought up the topic of working together again.
“So, look, I’ve went everywhere, and I can't seem to find a place like this. How would you feel about me coming back?” I asked.
“Of course, when have I ever turned you away? What did you have in mind?” He asked.
“Let's start with the first show, we can do another free one like we used to do, only this time instead of bringing locals I'll bring in a big headliner. If we can pop that off then we will start to line some more up,” I said.
“Sounds good. I'll pay for the headliner as my way of saying sorry for everything that happened,” he said
“Thanks, oh yeah, how has everything been going with the cops?” I asked.
“I think they gave up, they don't ever come around and bother us anymore, I might even be able to get the upstairs opened up again soon,” he replied.
After everything we had been through, it felt good to finally bury the hatchet. Neither one of us wanted to be enemies, we built something amazing together, but life pulls people in different directions, and most of us just go where the tides take us, which sometimes puts us at odds with one another. The days of conflict were over though, I was coming back home. I had a show planned within days, it was to be called “Rave Against the Machine” and featured a lineup that would usually cost between $20-$30 per ticket, but it was totally free. The week of the show, everyone was talking about Good Vibes’ return to Galaxy. It seemed like people were ready to give the place another chance. I had plans of Galaxy once again becoming a mecca of the underground, and it seemed within the realm of possibility. Then at the 11th hour, just two days before my party, a full SWAT team pulled into the parking lot and raided the club, taking everyone by surprise. The raid happened on a Thursday night, and my party was scheduled for that Saturday. I was on my way there that night, but when I was about 20 minutes away, I began getting phone calls and text messages warning me about what was happening. One of the calls was from Konvikt, he said that there were dozens of cop cars and vans in front of the club when he got there, so he pulled across the street and watched as they hauled people away. He said they got Charles, White Owl and a few other random party kids, but it was early on a Thursday night, so there weren’t many people in the building when they raided it. White Owl ended up catching the bulk of the charges and doing the most time because he was the house dealer and he refused to snitch. Charles managed to get away with a relatively short sentence, considering the extent of the investigation. After all these years of harassment they finally had what they needed to shut the place down, the pigs won. The first thought that went through my head was that it could have easily been me with a bag of pills in my pocket when those thugs came through the door. After the bust, everyone was looking to me, expecting me to find a venue and save the rave at the last minute like I had a reputation for doing. I gave it a half-hearted effort and made a few phone calls, but I just didn't have it in me, so I canceled the show, something that I had never done before. For the first time ever, I was truly ready to throw in the towel and give up on Good Vibes. It felt like there were no more doors to open, especially for someone like me, who publicly condoned drug use and refused to get permits as a matter of principle. It became impossible for me to compete, and eventually impossible to host any shows because I was so deep in debt. It wasn't just that the scene was changing either, the lifestyle was also beginning to take a toll on me as well. The short time that I spent in the spotlight was filled with so much manipulation and backstabbing that it nearly drove me to insanity, and I was always worried that a SWAT team was waiting just around the corner. It was a stressful lifestyle that had been slowly taking its toll on me over the years, and the club getting busted just a few days before my party seemed like some sort of strange omen. I remembered back to the last time I spoke with Mickey and the warning he gave me, how he told me to stop the minute that it stopped making me happy, now I understood, and now I knew it was time. In the end, I didn't necessarily achieve what I hoped to, but life rarely ever works that way. It turns out that the destination I had envisioned for my future was merely a necessary stepping stone towards the path that would take me where I really needed to be. It wasn't really the music that drew me to this culture, it was the revolutionary spirit, and I was starting to feel like my writing was a better avenue for expressing that kind of thing anyway.
I couldn't go away without saying goodbye though, my whole life had been wrapped up into this for so long, I had to give myself a proper retirement show. My farewell would have to be underground, and the only place around that would be fitting for something like that was Ground Zero. I talked with my friends in Symbiotic who were in charge of the warehouse, and they agreed to host my farewell show there. The venue had nearly a year to cool off since the last party, so they felt it was safe to open the place up for a one-time event. I called the show “GV is for Good Vibes,” and used all of the “V for Vendetta” imagery. That theme was a call to a lot of the activism that was going on at the time, between anonymous and occupy, two interesting movements that I supported even though I didn’t entirely agree with all of their political positions.
When I put out that flyer and announced that it would be my last show, the response was overwhelming, and I was shocked to see so much support from so many people. I still hadn’t overcome that case of imposter syndrome and for most of my time in the industry I was convinced that my success was all just the result of dumb luck. To my surprise, we sold out of tickets within days, and it seemed that maybe I hadn't given myself enough credit. While it's true that I didn't get to where I was on my own, and I did owe quite a bit to being in the right place at the right time, it seemed that I had left a lasting impression on a lot of people, and that's why they kept on coming back to my shows. So, it was a little bit more than dumb luck after all. Even so, I knew that the hype I was seeing was temporary, and I wouldn’t have the resources to capitalize on it anyway, so I had to say goodbye.
The night of my retirement party I was approached by countless familiar faces, and some not so familiar, each of them sharing similar stories with me. They told me about how my events and my message touched their lives. Some of these stories I remembered, and others I didn't, but I had no clue that those moments were so impactful. A few party kids that I had known since they were using fake IDs to sneak in told me that they started businesses because of me, because of the example that I had shown them, because I told them that anyone could do what I was doing. There was at least a half dozen ravers who were now running their own businesses in a variety of different fields, and most of them were doing a hell of a lot better than my parties ever did. A few of my runners even took the money that they made hustling for me and invested it in their first startup. There were a few ravers who got into activism too, there was even one guy who quit the fucking military, which literally brought tears to my eyes. Of course, he made that incredible decision on his own, and I can’t take credit for that. Still, it could have been one of the proudest moments of my life, because I like to think that maybe I had a little bit of influence on the path that he chose to take. There were some happy couples who met at my parties too, just like Caylee and I had met at God’s Basement. Nearly every DJ in the building came up to me to thank me for either kickstarting or resurrecting their careers. There were even a few ravers who started promo crews of their own after watching my every move from the shadows of the dance floor. I was the underdog, and for a brief time, I gave the other underdogs hope that they could have their time in the sun as well. A few ravers thanked me for sitting with them during those bad trips when they thought the world was closing in around them. Some of them were apparently able to conquer massive life challenges or shed self-destructive habits after those nights. It was weird for me to be showered with all this love and appreciation at once, not only was it unexpected, but it was also incredibly weird to be seen as some kind of role model. I like drugs way too much, I'm not even close to mentally stable, and I have made a ton of mistakes along the way. Maybe they see something I don't see, or maybe it was just enough that I was one of them and that I never forgot where I came from. That night all the feelings of doubt and failure that I carried for so long faded away and for once I was able to step back and see the difference that I had made in people's lives. All these years, everyone wondered what was so special about my shows, and I couldn't figure it out either, but it turns out that those small acts of humanity and compassion go a long way. Maybe I really was an outcast like I had always feared, but oddly enough, that was where my power came from. Instead of sitting up in a VIP ivory tower, I created a home for the other outsiders where we were free and safe from judgment. For one more night, our dysfunctional family was all together under one roof, but this wasn't the end, it was merely a celebration of how it all began. After that night, I did leave the scene for a few years, but it ended up being more of a break than a retirement. While I was off the grid, I ended up finishing that book of mine, and a few others as well. I became a full-time writer and public speaker, after much effort and dedication, and took my message to a global stage.
Even years later it is hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I lived through all of this, and to this day I am still processing all the lessons that I learned. This lifestyle is not entirely positive or negative, same goes for the drugs. As with most things in life, the cultures that we adopt and the substances we put in our bodies have the potential to unlock our inner demons, or angels, depending on the situations we find ourselves in and how we respond to them. Raving is a beautiful thing, and for many people who are beaten down by society like I was, it can give them their first taste of real community, a place where they can find acceptance. This lifestyle can also become an escape very easily, which can be especially dangerous for those who are not able to balance the freedom of the scene with the responsibilities of everyday life. There is also the problem of toxic ego and shallow friendships, both of which seem to run rampant in any environment where there is a spotlight for people to fight over. I saw something different though, beyond the show business, the hustlers and scene politics. I saw the revival of an age-old renegade tradition where people altered their consciousness during celebrations of music and dance, both for ritual and for fun. This is something that has been a part of human life all along, yet so often in our history, these natural practices have been forbidden or suppressed, left only for those who dared to step outside the boundaries of their culture. This is a realm that has always belonged to the outlaws, those who were willing to risk everything in search of the freedom that our ancestors experienced around their campfires, under an ancient sky.