“The point of view of the everyday raver has really been marginalized by the mainstream media," says author and photographer Michael Tullberg. "I wanted to give [those] people a voice."
For more than 20 years, Tullberg has documented raves and dance music culture, largely through his photos, many of which he collected into a 2015 book, Dancefloor Thunderstorm. While those photos beautifully captured a seminal time and place in the evolution of rave culture — specifically, Southern California in the late ’90s and early 2000s — Tullberg came away from the project feeling there was a larger story that remained untold. Now, with The Raver Stories Project, he's telling it — or, more accurately, enabling members of the global rave community to share their own narratives.
Last fall, Tullberg put out a call asking for contributions to The Raver Stories Project. The responses he got came from as far afield as England and Argentina. He then whittled the submissions down to 30 and presented them roughly in chronological order, tracing rave culture from its origins in England in the late ’80s right through to the EDM explosion of the last decade. Along the way, The Raver Stories Project touches on everything from New York's notorious Limelight club to the infamous Mojave Desert sandstorm at Dune 4 in 1998 (the one story recounted by Tullberg himself) to Burning Man in 2011 and EDC Orlando in 2014.
But, as Tullberg explains, “It wasn’t just, ‘Oh, it’s a series of crazy parties.’ There was a larger story to be told.” It was especially important to him to include the many positive aspects of rave culture that he feels the media has ignored. In a chapter called "Raving Saved My Life," raver Sabrina Dolling recounts how attending her first rave at age 14 helped her overcome a traumatic childhood. In another, DJ Sinner describes immersing himself in the rave scene as a way to escape gang life in the Inland Empire.
“It was really an eye-opener for me personally," Tullberg says. "It really gave me a chance to get inside these people’s heads and find out what their motivations were for coming back to this scene again and again ... and what was it that made them fall in love with this whole thing to begin with.”
In the following excerpt from The Raver Stories Project, Sid Zuber tells the story of throwing his first rave in 1994 with his L.A.-based group, The People Who Love You!!! — and how being a rave promoter led him to a career in the music industry, starting with a certain festival you've probably heard of:
It was Nov. 19, 1994.
“The Doorway to the Future is in your mind” were the words placed inside our fortune-cookie invites for the very first “official” party I did, called Opium, along with a date and voicemail for the recipients to call. To add to the vibe, I did a voice impression on the party’s voicemail of a wise old man, sharing what to expect. The vision I had for the party was based on my passion for martial arts, Bruce Lee and all the action-packed kung fu movies I’d watched over and over while growing up. I was quite fond of fortune cookies and the excitement of opening one, so using this as a promotional tool made a lot of sense to me. Some thought I was crazy for spending significantly more money on these cookies on top of printing a flyer, but it didn’t matter to me — it was all about building the hype!
The People Who Love You!!! was our promotion group that was born in Los Angeles. We were a collective of friends (DJ Xavier, Markus Manley [R.I.P.], Val and others who came in and out of our lives) who met weekly at raves, wherever the map point led us. They led us to friendships, adventures, my house and sometimes trouble. We referred to ourselves as The People Who Love You!!! as a tribute to anyone and everyone coming together with us for a positive experience. As promoters, we all added our own unique spin on the overall theme, and amazing memories happened as a result. We all wanted the crowd to feel the vibe, from the moment they received a flyer to the overall experience of themed production. It all had to be tied in, and we made sure that it was.
The inspiration for Opium took place while I attended another party called Narnia, and was hanging out in the artist tent with GWAR. Funny how I met them. The festival organizers had a series of tents and vendors on a hillside overlooking the festival grounds in the lower valley. I was walking through the vendor area leading down the hill when I came across a vendor named Lulu, who was a regular at my events. She was a delightful spirit, and always offering free trinkets and free goodies. She placed a colorful necklace around my neck. It was a short black necklace with a black-light, hand-painted caterpillar on it. Lulu tried to explain to me the significance of the necklace, but it was quite loud, so I didn’t hear the explanation until shortly after. After running into many friends, one of them pulled me into a teepee where a small group of performers were preparing for their set. One of the artists pulled at my necklace and asked if he could use it. I hadn’t realized until that point that it had a secret area that unscrewed and served as a pipe.
After that, well ... let’s put it this way: I know we were sending out smoke signals from the top of the teepee tent, because it was quite cloudy in there for some time. The people in the tent took a liking to me and invited me and my caterpillar to join them, and we all began walking down the path to the festival. As we made our way down, the festival lights dimmed and all the focus was on us coming in. I didn’t realize I was going to be a part of GWAR’s live show, and it was life-changing for me! It inspired me to have private invite house parties at my house at Venice and Sawtelle Boulevards, just off the 405 freeway.
House parties? Yes, I happened to have four roomies who were from all walks of life. They had no connection to the electronica music I loved, but they were rockers who appreciated a great party. Our house was great for parties, because we had a front door that had a small window near the top of the door, which opened to reveal a pair of eyes. “What’s the password?” Just like in the old black-and-white gangster movies.
These parties were often attended by an eclectic group of party people, from ravers to punkers to party crashers. I mean, where else could I see DJ Thee-O spinning house in my living room next to my roommate’s piranha tank, while Rob Zombie was hanging talking to my roommate who was a roadie? My roommates loved to party and drink. They soon also became fascinated by rave culture and we all meshed together well. One of my roomies designed punk flyers and was known as “Scum.” He had some crazy skills to get everyone he invited to show up. The crazy part about Scum was he didn’t drink or do any party favors. If he went through a two-liter of Pepsi at the party, he was a happy person.
All of us at P.W.L.Y. would invite 20 or so people each, and we always had a good diverse group of about a hundred there. Pasquale [Rotella] from Insomniac often asked me if I was worried about inviting so many people I didn’t know into my house. I never did, because I believe there is good in all of us and I was willing to take my chances. Over the course of many house parties, I had two electric razors stolen, and one night, even had a gun pulled on my friends in my bedroom ... because the DJ was not spinning Depeche Mode. No one was even hurt, but after that, we always made sure we had at least one DM record on hand and I started to use disposable razors to shave. Clean-up was a group effort, as friends stayed until morning to help clean up and recover from a fantastic night of music and friends. Fatburger was on the catty-corner from us, and their egg sandwiches became our go-to once the sun had risen.
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After many successful parties at the house, we decided it was time to try and have an event at a legit venue. I found a place (now called Fantasy Island) near home where an acid-jazz club by Marques Wyatt called Blowfish was held on occasion. The concept of our first party was based on the poppy flower that generates opium, which is also the state flower of California. We printed a small amount of flyers and a small amount of wrapped fortune cookies with our date, voicemail and a message: “The Doorway to the Future is in your mind,” and the rest is history. The overall flyer fit in your pocket and featured a wise man with a classic Fu Manchu mustache who was hovering over a steam pot. The back side of the flyer featured our lineup, mostly of friends. We couldn’t afford to make larger flyers with fancy full-color artwork at the time, so we trusted our friends’ network, our fortune cookies and a positive vision to help guide us. We themed out the event with yin-yang die-cuts, Chinese lanterns, kabuki-themed Club Kids and a giant gong that was struck outside as we announced your arrival. Prior to the doors opening, we had a line down the block! It was a great feeling knowing our vision was felt and believed in by over 500 people.
I was truly inspired by all the love that day in November 1994, so much so that I ended up producing over 80 P.W.L.Y. events, such as Weeble World, Digital Hut, Psychedelic Circus, Secret Squirrel, Mission to Mars and Opium. One of my all-time favorite venues is the Glass House in Pomona. This was my home, because I had 100% support of Perry Tollett, who co-ran the place. Perry is an amazing visionary who helped me communicate my crazy ideas to the city. Heck, we shut down city blocks time and time again for Opium and Weeble World annually, which hit over 4,000 people. This connection led me in 1999 to Paul Tollett and an opportunity to work on the greatest festival on earth ... the Coachella Music & Arts Festival. I ended up working on Coachella for 13 years. Since then, I have designed, produced, toured and consulted for festivals and corporate client activations.
And to think that it all started with a dream, GWAR and promotion that you could eat. The world is funny that way sometimes.
The Raver Stories Project is out now via Amazon and other major booksellers. There will be a launch party for the book at Industry DTLA on Saturday, Sept. 9. To learn more, visit raverstoriesproject.com.