About a thousand teenagers crowd the sidewalks in front of the Colorado Springs City Auditorium late on a Saturday night. They stand in lines that wrap around the building, their pierced faces and latex jeans sparkling beneath the streetlamps. Puffs of cigarette and clove smoke escape with exhaled breath into the chilly midnight air.
People with colored hair and hooded sweatshirts dash through traffic to greet each other with hugs and laughter while some dance to the strains of electronic music wafting from the doors. The lines move slowly ahead, as each kid is patted down by a steely-faced security guard before entering. He looks bored.
Inside, bright lights spin across the huge room, and a DJ spins a mesmerizing, monotonous techno beat while a thousand more people rotate and bend their bodies in time.
A young girl, about 15, her hair intricately twisted around her head and secured with plastic baby barrettes, rainbow-colored rings adorning her nostril and eyebrow, moves her hips with the beat. The light plays over her waving fingertips and tight T-shirt, which reads "porn star." Her lips sparkle with glitter as she stops to smile for a moment and explain: "Me? I'm here to dance. That's what it's all about, dancing and having fun and being yourself. It's like a community here. You can just, like, be yourself, and everyone's cool with you."
The elaborately decorated kids have gathered at Colorado Springs' usually laid-back City Auditorium to attend Moonshine Over America '99, one in a series of giant raves put on by Denver-based Together Productions. The underground party and its site has not been publicized -- the ravers have heard about Moonshine from word of mouth, various Web sites and fliers at local record and clothing stores. After calling the Together info line and learning the location of the "map point," kids travel there to purchase tickets and receive the date, time and place of the party.
This local production has evolved from rave's early Detroit beginnings, when DJ's began experimenting with an eclectic mix of German electronica, synthesizers and drum machines. The music attracted unorthodox groups of people, and, eventually, basements and abandoned warehouses became the site of huge gatherings focused around the music.
The popularity of the carnival-like parties infected Europe before spreading across the United States in the late 1980s. The draw was the fact that no rules applied -- the goal was summed up in four letters, PLUR: Peace, Love, Unity and Respect, the basic raver code. The music, DJs, dancers and promoters strove to create a stress-free, Utopian fantasia -- if only for one night.
While the goal remains the same, the free-for-all atmosphere has changed. After drugs like Ecstasy and speed, and their effects, became commonplace at raves, police began to raid the parties on a regular basis, forcing rave promoters to seek out new and legal routes to put on the decadent celebrations. While the majority of Colorado raves once occurred in Denver, they steadily have crept farther and farther away from the city and into surrounding areas where production companies can legally rent spaces and win permits from more friendly authorities, such as those in Boulder and Longmont.
Only recently have promoters taken a serious interest in Colorado Springs. The city's reputation of close-mindedness, atavistic police officers and an uptight social scene has not exactly encouraged the growth of a rave scene. Once promoters took the chance, however, they discovered that there were thousands of interested kids looking for something to do on the weekends, kids that didn't have the resources to travel north each Saturday night.
Slowly, parties began to pop up in strange places -- the old Pace warehouse on South Academy Boulevard, a huge empty store space in the Mission Trace shopping center. Most recently, the Youth Outreach Center, housed in an old K-Mart on Airport Road, has rented its space to raves almost every Saturday for the past few weeks.
While Moonshine Over America may be an indication of a fledgling rave scene, some see it as merely one of the occasional bones thrown by the large and established Denver-based production companies. Many attempts have been made to create a consistent, successful techno club scene in Colorado Springs, to no avail. Local clubs such as the Funktion and Tiki Boom Boom hosted short-lived underground-music nights but canceled them due to low attendance and small profits. Clubs thrive on liquor sales, and the average rave kid is simply too young to purchase a drink, or even enter a bar.
"They can't take the risks and try something different, because their business will fail. Go towards a more conservative demographic; that way you make your money," said local DJ Squidzilla.
Along with True Identity Enterprises, a recording label and Web site devoted to spreading the word about the local rave scene operated by local DJ Barnabas, Squidzilla attempted to convince local club owners to take a chance and devote a night or two to unconventional, underground music. They feel that, although the weekend parties draw huge crowds, a true rave scene is destined to failure without the support of a consistent electronic-music venue.
"West Coast, East Coast, Midwest... Colorado Springs has always been five to 10 years behind. There isn't a lot of musical, how should I say, awareness," said Squidzilla. "There's a lot of wonderful music out there that's really cutting-edge, but there isn't any exposure here, because our radio market is very conservative."
Lack of a techno club isn't the only problem facing the Colorado Springs rave scene. Unlike downtown Denver, Colorado Springs' raver population is anything but localized. In a town this size, club-hopping on foot is virtually impossible.
"I think the biggest problem with getting a scene going here is that the city is so damn big. If you put a club [at Austin Bluffs and Academy], how many people are going to walk to that?" said Barnabas. He argues that rave-age kids don't always have transportation and can't afford cab fare to distant events.
While the promise of an available, legitimate rave scene in the Springs still seems like a far-off dream, local promoters and DJs continue to put their money and effort into realizing it. An Internet calendar lists seven upcoming mountain raves just on Halloween weekend; and Barnabas and Squidzilla plan to keep trying, pitching their ideas to local club owners.
But despite obstacles, local raves are most often packed to capacity. As the hour presses closer to 1 a.m., the auditorium becomes packed with bodies, and still hundreds more wait outside. The music flows from every direction -- an inescapable tribal beat, drumming through every bone, muscle, pore. The air is becoming oppressive, heated with the energy of thousands of whirling dancers. The ravers will continue their pursuit of joy and oblivion until the first rays of the dawn creep over the horizon, when they will drag their weary bodies to Denny's or Dunkin Donuts for cheap coffee and recuperation.
I am mesmerized by the rave, but I don't have the stamina to last the night through. I push my way to the doors, yearning for oblivion myself -- warm in my bed, dreaming for the next eight hours while downtown Colorado Springs rocks to a techno beat.