Breakneck beats, nudity, and ecstasy. It’s a wonder the cops didn’t show up sooner. A decade ago, the state of Texas burned bright as a hot spot for the electronic music movement. On weekends, from the mid ’90s to early aughts, thousands of thrill seekers in their early teens to late 20s flocked to the huge outdoor and warehouse parties known as raves. Think Pinocchio’s Fantasy Island for the Y Generation: Kids dressed in glitter make-up, oversized clothing (the mercifully deceased phat pants), and handmade fantasy costumes. “Just imagine if Woodstock happened every week,” recalls Leonard Trujillo, aka DJ Rise, who played many of the parties back in the day. “You’re basically giving free rein to kids without parental supervision to be exposed to loud, psychedelic music, with pulsating lights. I mean, what kid out there isn’t going to be entranced by it or want to try it?”
Trujillo, now 35, reminisces this Saturday at Limelight, where he’ll bring together DJs from his time spent with House Nation, the long-running KSYM show. Though it’s been a decade since glow sticks ruled the night, the radio program is marking nearly 15 years as the voice of San Antonio’s electronic dance scene with Soul Sensation, a night in an ongoing series of funked-up beat fests featuring guests JJ Lopez and Chris Galvan. Odds are the evening will be toned down compared to the raves of old, when the combination of “anything goes” mentality, the availability of mind-altering drugs, and a lack of oversight, occasionally led to scenes of pure debauchery — mind-blowing to suburban kids whose previous idea of excitement was a Sunday-school retreat. “`I was at` a Halloween party called Armageddon in a two-story parking garage,” says JJ Lopez, who spent years on the scene. “This guy was dressed as a Minotaur. There were candles lighting a walkway in the chill-out area. He walked by a candle, and it caught the bottom of his Minotaur outfit on fire — then boom! It’s kind of sad that you’d judge the intensity of a party on how many dramatic things happened.”
But those scenes were more the exception than a rule — music was the real reason for the raves. Tickets to shows were expensive (up to $75), but the larger events in Austin, Houston, and Dallas brought in big-name talent such as Armand Van Helden, Doc Martin, and Keoki, and featured sets by as many as two dozen turntable acts. This strange new world proved positively revelatory to someone growing up in the alternative nation where Dookie-era Green Day neo-punks and grunge-lite Nirvana-wannabes were commercial radio’s best options.Schedule I pharmaceuticals ecstasy and acid were easy to find if one knew where to look, but most of those who participated simply wanted to let loose for the night before heading back to dead-end jobs or the tedium of school.
San Antonio didn’t hold the same esteem as other cities on the Texas circuit, but its rave scene included a dedicated corps of DJs, promoters, and followers. Now-defunct Eclipse Records and Underground Sound served as meeting points where DJs could shop for records and gear, promoters could drop off kaleidoscopic posters for the next big event, and party-goers could purchase tickets and music. KSYM’s House Nation provided the soundtrack for the scene, playing the latest sounds being produced around the country and beyond.
“House Nation was essential,” says Gibby Diaz, who worked with Trujillo and Lopez at Underground Sound and hosted his own electronic show on KSYM. “It inspired me so much that I was like, I’m going to have a show after House Nation one day. Without House Nation there definitely wouldn’t have been a scene that lasted as long.”
Local promoters didn’t stage raves as big as the 10,000-plus bangers held in other Texas metros, but the Cameo Theatre, Wild Club, Sunset Station, Spy Room (now Club Rio), and even Cowboys Dancehall held regular events. In particular, Cameo Theatre featured regular electronic music nights called Next Generation until 2002, often with the House Nation DJs headlining.
The Alamo City also bears the distinction of being the beginning of the end for Texas raves. Inevitably, Ecstasy horror stories and the rave scene’s PLUR (peace, love, unity, respect) counterculture scared the bejesus out of conservatives, parents, and authorities as it threatened to be the largest youth movement since the summer of ’69. On September 7, 2001, shortly after Bush’s revitalized war on drugs brought the Ecstasy Prevention Act of 2001, which allowed rave promoters to be prosecuted under federal “crackhouse” laws, SAPD shut down the Geisha-a-Go-Go party at Sunset Station. Authorities across the state followed suit. Soon after, promoters were unwilling to take the financial or legal risk.
“I think if you put too much of one thing in a jar, it’s going to overflow at some point,” Trujillo says. “The bigger and bigger it gets, it’s going to go from bad to worse. It just takes one story or one experience to get out and it snowballs.”
Although rave parties died out, the most vital aspect of that time lives on in the music. It’s not uncommon to see several big-name DJs play under one roof, banging out the four-to-the-floor beats, albeit in a much smaller club environment. Meanwhile, House Nation continues to thrive, giving old-school diehards and a new generation of electronica devotees the best in dancefloor gems on KSYM and at shows such as the Soul Sensation series.
“I know places like Cowboys hold rave-like events with DJ Tiesto, Paul Van Dyk, or Paul Oakenfold,” says Trujillo. “I find that kind of ironic. What’s really strange is back in the heyday, you could never experience these guys because they were so expensive. Now they’re making Sunday trips to San Antonio.”
Originally, the story incorrectly referred to Leonard Trujillo as Richard. The Current regrets the error.