The Crack-House Rave

Some 600 ravers gathered on the lawn outside the Federal Building in Westwood last Friday to protest proposed federal legislation that could force raves underground. “It upsets me that this culture will die,” said 18-year-old USC student Sydney Katz, as she passed out Arrowhead water to the throng of mostly teenagers at “Freedom To Dance,” the five-hour DJ-driven demonstration. “The culture thrives on the ability to be live. You have this DJ above you that creates an energy and vibe. If promoters don’t throw events, DJs won‘t be able to make the music they want to.”

The RAVE (Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy) Act would modify a 16-year-old law that makes it a federal crime to knowingly house or rent residences to drug dealers. It would expand the definition of a crack house to include raves and other music events and make it easier to fine venue owners and promoters up to $250,000 or imprison them up to 20 years if they fail to stop the sales or use of drugs at events. In June, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill, introduced by Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.). A vote by the full Congress is expected in the next few weeks.

“It is unrealistic,” said Susan Mainzer, the rally organizer. “Some of these parties have up to 40,000 people in attendance. Even the most careful promoter can‘t check everyone.”

Although there is no official death count on Ecstasy overdoses, the Partnership for a Drug Free America says that more than one in 10 teens have dropped “E.” Just last week, the family of Marcello Maurizio filed a wrongful-death suit against Circus Disco & Arena in Hollywood, contending that the nightclub was negligent because it failed to control the alleged sale and distribution of the illegal drug.

Brett Ballou, promoter of Jujubeats and How Sweet It Is, two of the largest raves in Southern California, said the law would force big promoters out of the business. “There will be a lot of little promoters who will be doing things illegal under the radar of the police,” said Ballou, who has been sued for $35 million by the families of five kids who died after their car went over a cliff after attending Jujubeats in 1999. “They think it will make it more safe, but in my opinion there will definitely not be as much supervision. The events will become more dangerous.”

A few feet away from Katz and Mainzer, local and international DJs, such as KCRW’s Garth Trinidad, DJ Colette and Richard “Humpty” Vission, took to the makeshift stage. Teens and adults danced to the electronic beat while, on nearby Wilshire Boulevard, a few dozen teen protesters, holding signs reading “Stop Oppression” and “Say Yes to Freedom of Expression,” giggled and screamed when passing motorists honked in solidarity.

“I just fell in love with the scene,” said 51-year-old Mary Withers, who has been going to raves since 1996 with her kids, who are 25 and 19. “The depravity is exaggerated. It is absolutely not what America thinks it is. This is the most positive and nonviolent event I have seen in my entire life. You don‘t see ravers shooting each other in the streets like Tupac and Biggie Smalls.”

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