To go to an underground party back in the day was an experience in sensory overload. Whether the location was a repurposed skating rink or abandoned warehouse, setting and decoration were just as important as the lineup — if not more so. Looped film clips from cartoons, space documentaries and other psychedelic visuals blended with the carnivalesque atmosphere that partygoers themselves brought to the dance floor with their own unique style. While there was no one typical outfit, accessories ranging from Tickle Me Elmo backpacks to Muppet beanies could easily be found paired with a mix of Doc Martens, Dickies, overalls, baggy jeans and oversize shirts.
For many O.G. ravers, the classic era feels like yesterday, so to do the math and realize that we're talking about an era nearly 30 years ago is sure to cause some heart palpitations while also allowing us to marvel at just how ubiquitous electronic dance music culture has become.
As Insomniac continues to be at the forefront of that movement, its founder-CEO continues to be vocal about his desire to pay homage to the past, even as he actively looks ahead to the continued evolution of both the Insomniac brand and the culture it continues to help shape.
For Rotella in particular, a piece of the vision he has for the future is focused specifically on fashion and extending the reach of the Insomniac lifestyle into the kind of clothes one would wear every day. It's a vision that's been simmering for quite some time but it wasn't until Rotella linked up with iconic designer, artist and rave fashion O.G. Rick Klotz that the vision of a proper Insomniac fashion line started to formalize.
A legend in his own right, Klotz earned his stripes designing flyers for underground promoters in Los Angeles before launching his seminal line of streetwear, Freshjive, in 1989. Capturing the unique mix of rap, surf, skate and punk cultures that was bubbling in Southern California in the late '80s and early '90s, Freshjive was a clothing line and brand that became an instant hit among the freaks, geeks and outsiders we now call ravers, as well as like-minded outcasts in other subcultural milieus.
From corporate logo knockoffs to exclusive merch and flyer design for local promoters, Klotz originally conceived Freshjive as a kind of art project that combined his interests in music, fashion and action sports. His early designs were bright and bold plays on familiar consumer goods graphics, ranging from Tide to Bazooka Gum. Oversized T-shirts and baggy jeans were de rigueur.
The style quickly made its way from boutique shops like Beat Non-Stop and NaNa into mainstream chain stores like Pacific Sunwear and the Buckle.
As names like Clobber, Conart and JNCO battled for shelf space, Klotz admits to not even realizing how much of an impact his clothing line had made. "I wasn't even dressing like a raver back in the day," he laughs.
Admitting that his personal style was "all over the place," Klotz remembers raiding thrift stores in search of vintage '50s high-fashion gear, an attitude that no doubt served as a precursor to the Warhol-tinged pop-art aesthetic that would come to define his early Freshjive years. It was an ethos that seemed ready-made for a community that was already repurposing Mickey Mouse gloves and Dr. Seuss hats.
But unlike the Warhol generation, Klotz had an Apple computer at his fingertips, a technological breakthrough that he credits with allowing him to smash and grab his way across a commercial iconographic landscape to create a subcultural attitude and language all its own.
For Rotella, then, it's not too hard to see how the merging of a well-established Insomniac aesthetic with a designer like Klotz is more than just reinvigorating the festival merch market; the project in many ways is about elevating the Insomniac brand to heretofore unseen levels of influence, all while staying true to the underground culture from which it was born.
Surprisingly, Rotella and Klotz didn't meet face-to-face until just a few years ago. But when they did finally connect, the vibe was immediate as the pair bonded over shared memories of old raves, venues, flyer designs and people they've lost touch with along the way.
Rotella convinced Klotz to join him at Insomniac, with the long-term goal of helping Rotella realize his vision of establishing an Insomniac-branded fashion line at a global level.
The initial results of that collaboration debuted last year at Beyond Wonderland SoCal, where Klotz quickly made his mark on a line centered on classic rave and streetwear elements, with just the right touch of future flair.
The ability to merge the past, present and future into something all its own is not only one of Klotz's main strengths as a designer and artist but a key element of the direction the Insomniac fashion line is headed.
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As the team looks ahead, Klotz is the first to tell you that the goal is not only to "tell the story of Insomniac's history while also exploring dance music's roots through clothing design" but also to establish Insomniac as a lifestyle brand geared toward a boutique market outside the usual space of clubs and festivals.
While event merch including T-shirts, hats, jackets and pullovers has been a mainstay of Insomniac events for years, the two men say this "new" direction the brand is heading is not so much a relaunch as it is quite explicitly introducing a proper fashion division to the company. "What we're working on didn't exist before," Klotz says, describing the line as a synergy between fans and their lifestyle.
Looking ahead to the spring 2019 line currently under development, Klotz is quick to point out that it is not to be mistaken for a "rave clothing line." As he shares sketches of designs he and the rest of his team are developing, he explains, "It's a cultural [fashion] line — it's related to dance music culture but it's more than that. We'll keep doing merchandise for festivals — that's not going away. But those are more appropriate for what you'd take away as a collectible from an event. These new pieces are designed for you to integrate into your everyday style, your ongoing identity."
While spring 2019 may seem pretty far off, based on what we've seen, fans can rest assured that the new line not only carries the DNA of the past but is keeping pace, if not leading the way toward a new and exciting future. Just like the flyers and clothes that Klotz designed back in the day, the visual remix culture of yesteryear seems about to come full circle on a more evolved level that will forever pay homage to its roots.