This is the full 19th 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 19 - A Lesson in Business (Summer 2009)
After my success at Ground Zero, I really felt that my crowd would follow me anywhere, and since Charles told me that I wasn’t welcome back to Galaxy, I immediately began looking for new venues. After meeting with a few other club owners, I started to remember why we loved Galaxy so much in the first place, Baltimore’s other clubs were not rave-friendly. I had to find somewhere though, even if it wasn't perfect, since I had contracts signed with headliners who were supposed to be playing for me throughout the summer. Eventually, I found a place downtown called Elements that seemed like it could work. The club looked amazing inside, with four separate floors filled with elaborate lighting and decor, each of them themed after a different element, earth, air, water, and fire.
This club was a part of Baltimore history because it was open for years and a few scenes from the show “The Wire” were filmed there. I decided to go ahead and book a night there since it was really the only suitable place in the city that I could get into. I ended up putting together a Matrix-themed party and calling it “Unplug the Planet.” Since it had been almost a year since my first show, I billed it as my “One-Year Anniversary” as a gimmick to hook as much of my crowd as I could. I really felt like this party was my do-or-die moment, if I could pull this show off, I would be pretty much unstoppable.
There was only one problem though, I was broke. It was hard to make deals after the crowds stopped coming out to Galaxy, and I lost money on my last show even though it was sold out. All this time, Charles had been my investor, so I needed to find someone new to put up money for the club, flights, and fees for the DJs.
Luckily, Gordon stepped up to the plate and set up a deal with his girlfriend where she would lend me money for the show if I paid it back with interest after the party was over. With that problem solved, I booked my most ambitious event ever, with my first headliner from overseas and some of the most popular DJs in the area. I worked harder promoting that party than I have any other event in my life. I was at every show with flyers trying to hype the party and telling people I was bringing the rave downtown, and I had flyers in every storefront in the city. It was my most aggressive promotional campaign yet, because like I said, this show was do-or-die.
On the night of the show, I called in every favor I was owed and tried to drum up any last-minute hype that I could. Despite my best efforts, the show got off to a rocky start. There were issues with the DJ equipment and sound gear that I was promised by the club, and less than an hour after the show began, I watched Dave get thrown out of the club for working with some of my pills. He wasn’t being as careful as he should have been, but he was used to doing things at Galaxy where he didn't have to watch his back. He was making a deal right out in the open and a team of security guards just swarmed him and threw him out on the street. They took his pills too, leaving me 100 bucks in the red to start the night off. I had bigger problems than that though, my turnout wasn't looking great either.
By the time 11pm rolled around, the crowd was still thin, and the writing was on the wall, I didn't have the magic touch, I wasn't destined for greatness, I had failed, and my wave had crashed. A few hours into the show, I was sitting by myself in a back room, looking at my spreadsheet trying to figure out how far away I was from breaking even. I realized that if at least 200 more people didn't show up, I was going to be thousands of dollars in debt by the end of the night. Even though I had the borrowed cash there to cover my expenses for the night, I lost control and began to cry. I felt like my career was over and I refused to go back out into the crowd for the rest of the night because I was so humiliated to be the host of a lame party. Looking back, it's obvious for me to see that I was acting like a two-year-old, but at the time I was devastated. Getting knocked down like that after riding so high for so long isn't easy. I put all my hopes into this dream, and I thought that this failure meant that the dream was over. I became convinced by my unexpected success that I was on some sort of chosen path, and I really hoped that I had found a ticket to a better life. I thought it was going to be a one-way track though, I didn’t realize that there were going to be so many obstacles standing in my way, probably because it wasn’t something that I could afford. I had no resources of my own, and no clue where to get a real investor, so a simple set-back like the loss of a few thousand dollars could knock me out of the game for good. Towards the end of the night, I came out of hiding to pay out all the DJs so I at least wouldn't get a reputation for breaking promises, even if my party sucked. When it came time to pay MC IQ, he must have noticed that I had tears in my eyes.
“What’s wrong brotha, is everything ok?” he asked.
“You don't have to be nice and pretend you don't realize that this party sucks,” I replied.
“Oh...I see, I don't know, this club is cool as shit, and it seems like everyone had a blast. I’m guessing from the looks of things you took a loss on the money end though, that's rough. If it helps, you don't gotta pay me tonight, but let's go outside and talk a minute, you look like you could use some fresh air,” IQ said.
As we stepped outside onto the sidewalk, I began to lose control of my emotions again.
“I don't know what’s gonna happen, I really thought I was made for this, I thought I had a future in this. I thought this business was going to be my life,” I said.
“Shit, you are damn good at this. Why do you think everyone has your back like we do? We believe in you because you have proven yourself. This is just one show, everyone takes a loss every now and then. Not every one of Mickey’s shows at God’s Basement made money, trust me, I was there standing right next to him on nights just like this. There has even been a time or two that Candy Ball parties were thin, and I was there backstage when that all went down too. Hell, even Silver Spoon has bad nights, it's sadly a part of this business dude. You got lucky you had so much success so early. You got nothing to worry about though, you have earned so much trust and goodwill from people in this past year that one show is not going to ruin you. And let me tell you something else bro, half of the people in there don't even realize that this party was not a financial success. They don't know or care about your spreadsheet or budget or your bank account. At the end of the day, they came here to listen to some great music, or to find someone to take home, or to get fucked up and forget about their week at work, and you still helped them do that regardless of how packed the show was,” IQ said.
“Thank you so much brotha, I really needed that, I guess I thought that luck I had was gonna last forever,” I said.
“It doesn't last forever for anyone man, this is a natural part of life, and especially a natural part of this scene. You are gonna have nights like this, everyone does, I know that doesn't help, but this ain't gonna be the end of you, trust me,” he said.
I was at rock bottom, but once again a legend in the scene who knew much more than I did was showing me the way, and I was starting to come back to reality, although I was obviously still disappointed. My failure that night taught me one of the most valuable lessons that I ever learned in my life, and IQ spelled it out for me so I wouldn't miss it. The lesson was this, everyone faces failure, even the people I looked up to and the people I envied, but instead of being defined by that failure, they chose to rise above it and learn from it.
When I was packing up at the end of the night, some kid that I didn't really recognize came up and said he had a great time, but he also said that he missed Galaxy and hoped that I would start to do parties there again. I asked him if he cared about the upstairs being shut down and he said that he wasn't happy about it, but it was still the best place to go in the city. He told me what I already knew, he wanted to go someplace where he had freedom. I told him that I would work on getting back to Galaxy, and that maybe I would book one of my next shows there. It was starting to look like going back to Galaxy was my only option anyway, since it was a free venue with an investor. A few minutes later, I was moving all my equipment out to my car when a cop who was standing on the sidewalk asked me what I was doing. I explained to him that I was a promoter for one of the clubs and that I was moving my equipment. I was sure that I was about to get hassled, but surprisingly he just snickered and said, “You better hurry your ass up, there’s a storm comin’,” and he walked away.
I wasn't sure if that was a threat or if he was just being a smartass, but I was finished anyway, so I locked up the car and went inside to tell Caylee that I was ready to go. When I got back outside just five minutes later, the streets were filled with hundreds of people who were just let out from one of the mainstream top 40 clubs that were on the same road. It was absolute pandemonium, there were multiple fist fights in the middle of the street, people getting into car accidents and driving away, or nearly hitting pedestrians as they navigated through the crowd. I even saw one guy hanging out the driver's side of a large SUV, ghost riding the vehicle while swinging a tire iron above his head. Somehow, we made it down the street without incident. Within minutes, several police vans and cops on horses came to clear the road. That is apparently the kind of environment that they allow in the mainstream clubs while they shut down raves and arrest people for expanding their minds.
The outcome of that party was hard for me to deal with, and for a few days, I honestly felt like I wanted to quit. Eventually, I started to come to terms with the reality of the situation and realized that I had to keep going. Now that I was in debt and had no one to fund my parties, I had no choice but to go back to Charles and hope that we could make amends. I wasn't very nervous about going back there, I was banned from the club once before and returning this time was no different. I was confident that they needed me there. During my meeting with Charles, I could tell that he was still pissed about my lack of “loyalty” for the club, but in reality, everyone involved was just looking out for themselves. When all was said and done though, he did need me, just like I needed him.
We booked a few dates for the beginning of the summer, and they were alright, but the crowds were nowhere near as big as they once were. It was clear that our core audience had lost interest in the club. I tried various strategies to get people back in the door, and slowly but surely, we did start to win people back. Overall though, progress was slow, and for once I had to learn what it was like to build a crowd from the ground up. To keep my bills paid, I began to venture out of my comfort zone and started hustling at other clubs, which was much more difficult and riskier than what I was used to. I had it easy at Galaxy since I didn't have to drive with anything, and I could keep all the pills at the club overnight. I also didn't have to worry about sneaking them through security, hell, I was protected by security. Now I was being forced to work outside of my own territory, where the chances of robbery or arrest were much higher.
The first big score of the summer was Moonscape, so I packed heavy for that show, sneaking in over a thousand pills, and telling all of my runners to be ready when they got inside. Everything went according to plan, and my runners did most of the work for me that night, so I was able to party without worrying too much about sales.
As with most Moonscapes, the night was a blur, but the most memorable part of the evening was Dave losing his shit. He was making me a lot of money that night, and he was making a lot of money for himself too, but he was spending his whole share on nitrous and pills. At one point in the evening, we took him back to a secluded area of the park to calm down. It was basically a clearing in the middle of the woods that overlooked a graffiti-covered concrete tunnel.
There was a dozen or so people back there, likely ravers who had been going for years and managed to find out about this secret spot somewhere along the way. We sat back there for an hour or so as Dave calmed down, telling us about his problems at home, his troubles fitting in, and his awkwardness around girls. It wasn't that difficult to get him to calm down, he just needed someone to talk to. Walking these kids through their bad trips and mental struggles became a regular thing for me. I started to feel like it was a part of my responsibility to the tribe. It was weird, I remembered that quite recently I was the spun-out kid who the old heads needed to look out for, but now I was stepping into a sort of guardian role.
Sometimes it felt like I was really making a difference, but it was always hard to tell since I usually only saw these people when they were out partying. As much as I tried to help Dave out though, it seemed like he was on a course of self-destruction. Later in the night when we rejoined the crowds, he ran off and got lost again. At sunrise, when we went to get our yearly picture in front of the bridge, we saw him standing shirtless next to a nitrous tank with a balloon in each hand. The kid was in rough shape, he had lost his phone, lost his ride, and had no clue what was going on. We ended up taking him back to an afterparty at Galaxy, where he could wind down before going home. That night I also made enough cash to settle up with Gordon from the loan his girlfriend gave me for my failed party, so I paid him off before leaving Galaxy, settling my debt.