“For such a widespread phenomenon as the global EDM, festival, rave … movement, whatever you want to call it, there’s shockingly few movies about it. I wanted to document another piece of the puzzle — how this social phenomenon came into existence,” says Wade Randolph Hampton, the DJ, producer and now filmmaker behind a forthcoming documentary called Live Fast, Dream Hard that chronicles the earliest days of rave culture in America, from Dallas to Los Angeles and beyond.
It's a story Hampton, also known by his DJ/producer alias WishFM, knows firsthand. As a teenager in mid-'80s Dallas, Hampton was crushed by his parents’ divorce and found solace in the city’s nightlife. The Starck Club was Dallas’ answer to the Warhol-esque club scene of the world’s major cities, but it did them all one better — because at the time, MDMA was legal in Texas. You could buy it with your credit card at the bar. And among the eclectic, MDMA-fueled hedonists, Wade Hampton found solace, a place where people could be themselves.
He never forgot that feeling, and first tried to replicate it in Chicago. Instead of attending art school as he anticipated, he majored in throwing house-music parties for up to 2,000 people. He also wrote for the local fashion/club scene magazine Exeter, which assigned him the task of driving to Los Angeles with then-up-and-coming DJ Mark Farina to interview LSD guru Timothy Leary.
Smitten with Los Angeles, Hampton returned a month later and attended a prototypical rave club on the Sunset Strip, Sunday Love, where he met a young promoter and artist named Tef Foo. Foo, who now runs the design and event production company MillionWishes, invited Hampton into his inner circle, a tight-knit group that included Rick Klotz (future founder of Freshjive clothing) and actress Drew Barrymore, who monitored the door at their parties. Their mentor was English club veteran Solomon Mansoor, who leased a mansion near MacArthur Park that functioned as a crash pad for visiting DJs and would become Hampton's home.
One night, Hampton and a friend took a particularly strong hit of LSD while clubbing. Back at Mansoor's place, they listened to a recently recorded mixtape from a San Francisco DJ named Scott Hardkiss over and over (and over). When his housemates returned, they wanted to know what had Wade and his friend so giddy. Once they found out, the tape continued to spin, and a new direction for their parties began to take shape.
"It was moody, lush and emotional," Hampton says, remembering Hardkiss's mixtape. "'Papau New Guniea' was the gold standard of the genre that spring. But, that was just one song that year ... and yet Scott somehow was able to mystically conjure an entire mixtape that seemed to improve on that type of sound. 90 minutes of deep, brooding dance floor killers that took it all somewhere brand new."
Around this time, Foo brought a master serigraph printer, Richard Duardo, known as the "West Coast Warhol," into the fold. Together they formed a team called CPU101, to plot a party that would bring together their artistic and musical sensibilities and take into the “cyberdelic” age.
But first, they had to agree on a name for their party. “Richard stopped his car in middle of the desert, told us to get out and threatened to drive off unless me and Tef stopped arguing," Hampton remembers. "We were near Edwards Air Force Base and B-2 stealth bombers were buzzing in the sky when we finally agreed on 'Circa.'"
Hampton and Foo made sure Scott Hardkiss was inserted into the lineup for their first event, Circa ’92. Sure enough, that night he delivered a set that was an improved version of the mixtape that had changed the lives of the inhabitants of the Mansoor mansion. To accompany his set, the team organized a massive array of LED screens displaying stream-of-conscious, Ram Dass phrases being sent in via fax machine from Duardo’s friends and collaborators, Terrence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson.
The party seemed like a wild success, and in retrospect, epitomized a brief era in the rave scene that fused the loftier ideals of the psychedelic ‘60s with the burgeoning information age. But in reality, says Hampton, the party only netted $650.
“A few days after Circa ’92, Richard revealed to us that he had built us a studio, so that we could keep working. That studio became Om Laboratories,” says Hampton. Through Om Laboratories, Hampton would plot the next Circa parties with Foo and Duardo and promote the Hardkiss Experience, featuring Scott with his "brothers" Gavin and Robbie (Hardkiss was a stage name) across the country.
To finance the Hardkiss team's out-of-town gigs, Hampton had to get creative — and sometimes more than a little shady. In one of the many interviews Hampton is currently editing into his documentary, Gavin Hardkiss explains, “So Wade would expedite the flow of Hardkiss talent to other cities by setting up partnerships, which would involve drug deals through third parties that would create the capital to buy plane tickets and actually promote the party.”
"Living through the early Dallas cat-and-mouse days when ecstasy was on its way to being illegal gave me a much different vantage point," Hampton explains. He likens his use of the MDMA trade to what Bill Graham did with psychedelics and The Grateful Dead in the '60s and early '70s. "Magic just appeared out of thin air," he says of those early Dead shows, which were often partially financed by drug sales. "I would like to think we had similar agendas. My motivation was never to simply get rich and build a house on the hill. Which is also good way to stay out of serious trouble. So I developed a method for mitigating risk by creating lots and lots of layers."
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Circa ’96, held on New Year's Eve 1995, would be CPU101’s apex. About 14,000 people, according to Hampton (7,000, according to reporter Dennis Romero, then with the L.A. Times and now a staff writer for L.A. Weekly) attended one of America’s largest raves up to that time. The event is today perhaps best remembered for the bravado of its marketing; Hampton and Foo devised a 16-page, tabloid-style flier which parodied the news of the day and perfectly summarized the anarchic attitude of the ‘90s rave scene.
The following year, ticket sales were strong for CPU101's next event, another New Year's Eve rave, this time called In Seventh Heaven. But as ravers filed into the Grand Olympic Auditorium, numerous attendees began to fall deathly ill. Nearby hospitals ran out of ambulances. (The culprit turned out to be a new energy drink that contained a chemical similar to GHB.) Police shut down the party and a riot ensued. When the rioters tried to flip over an MTA bus, the police started shooting beanbags and rubber bullets into the crowd. “The most surreal thing was hearing the rioters scream the countdown to midnight as they threw metal and concrete from the parking garages onto the police,” Hampton recalls.
The event would turn out to be CPU101's last. “The next day, I gathered my girlfriend, newborn baby and my mother, who had always supported my efforts, and said it was time to leave. I had to get away from the chaos and make sense of it all.”
Hampton, who relocated next to San Francisco and eventually back to Dallas, went on to produce the soundtrack for the 2000 fictional film Groove, one of the first and arguably best cinematic portrayals of early rave culture. He also played a fictionalized version of himself, under his DJ name WishFM, in the film. “Even then, I wanted to document the early rave period," he says. "You could say this documentary is almost 17 years in the making. Luckily, there are still a lot of people from that era that can help tell the tale" — though Scott Hardkiss, sadly, is not one of them; he died in 2013 at the age of 43. "And they’re ready to tell it.”