"When you have a storm, it's an atmospheric change in the weather. New York City, in '89-'90 was very racially charged, people didn't get along, it was very territorial. The Storm Rave was the change, we were gonna change everything that was going on in the scene." - Frankie Bones, rainmaker
This exclusive mix from Frankie Bones channels the spirit of Storm Rave for a new era of ravers
In 1989, the word "rave" had little meaning in the United States. No candy, no glow sticks, no UFO pants, no furry boots. When New York DJ Frankie Bones answered the phone in June 1989 and was told that his music was blowing up at "rave parties" in the UK, he responded, "what are those?" At the invitation of London party crew Karma Productions, 23-year-old Bones decided to make his first trip to the UK, playing a rave in an airplane hanger filled with 25,000 people.
On the way, the roads were gridlocked, and Bones took his first hit of ecstasy in the car. As he was coming up, the car in front of him was playing one of his songs, and the car behind him was playing another one. That was the moment Bones knew that he was witnessing a phenomenon that had the potential to consume North America. "I pretty much lost my mind," he told rave zine Massive.
Bones was going to bring rave to New York City. The following year, he opened Groove Records in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, which would serve as the base of operations for the North American rave movement. "We used the record store as a place where we could break the scene open by giving mixtapes away for free, selling records and not selling CDs," he explains to THUMP. "A lot of the people who were producing at the time like Lenny [Dee], Joey Beltram, and my brother [Adam X], could come and share ideas, and that's how we started promoting."
The record store opened during a time when racial tension, territory wars, the crack epidemic, and AIDS plagued New York. Neighborhoods were segregated and the streets were tough. The city's youth was in desperate need of a revolution—and that's exactly what it got, on July 4, 1990, when Frankie's brother and Storm Rave collaborator Adam X painted "Peace Love Unity" on a train car. What started as P.L.U.M. (Peace, Love, Unity Movement) evolved into Peace, Love, Unity & Respect. This would become the motto of the international rave movement, spread largely thanks to Bones stubbornly repeating the phrase on the mic during his sets.
Frankie Bones and Adam X started small, with a party called 1077, named after the address of a friend's apartment on Coney Island Avenue. Since the door was chained up, they would enter the building through a broken-through wall. "We did three parties there. It was when we were first giving people ecstasy, trying it out. Twenty, thirty people all on ecstasy at once," Bones recalls.
One of those early attendees was a DJ named Heather Heart. "She was at that party and I guess she was really blown away by the music," Adam X recalls. "She started to do a fanzine called Under One Sky, and that blew up—you could get it at all the main record stores in Europe." The wide reach of Under One Sky helped spread the word about the developing New York rave scene.
The first Storm Rave was on May 11, 1991 in a brickyard in Flatbush, Brooklyn. 200 people showed up. His crew developed strategies for breaking into illegal spaces for these "outlaw parties," like cutting the locks off gates and putting their own locks on. "If you came back in a week's time and your lock was still on the gate, that meant that you were good to go," Bones says with a grin.
Those first parties were free, but generated income in other ways. Bones was never directly involved with the sale of drugs at his parties, but in the beginning, he'd get a piece of the action. "When the first batches of ecstasy came into the city—and I mean, there was a lot—whatever people were buying paid to do the parties. Unil we had that disagreement with 'Lord' Michael." Bones is referring to 'Lord' Michael Caruso, the infamous Limelight promoter who ran the first ecstasy empire in New York, including Storm Rave, before burning his bridges by scamming people.
"I remember my partner Dave Lights going to me, 'This guy hates you Bones, you gotta watch out, something bad's going to happen. He's not looking you in the eyes when he talks to you.' And I was like, 'Nah he's cool man, he's just under a lot of stress.' I ended up learning the hard way. I got set up, I got jumped in front of my house, I got stitches in my head. The only reason I'm not mad at 'Lord' Michael Caruso to this day is that he sent guys to kill me and I'm still alive." A description of the attack was included in the next month's flyer.
On June 20, 1992, they curated the first international DJ lineup in New York, bringing in Sven Vath from Germany, Casper Pound from London, and some of America's biggest players like Richie Hawtin and Doc Martin. Over 3,000 people came. "That party was like exactly what was going on in Europe, we totally did it," Bones says triumphantly. The party was even becoming financially successful. "I had money stuffed in hefty bags. It was the first time where we actually really made money."
Yet, the liability of throwing massive parties in illegal warehouses weighed heavily on Frankie's better judgment. On December 12, 1992, Frankie experienced what he perceived as a cosmic sign. On the date of what would become the final Storm Rave, a blizzard blanketed the entire eastern United States with two feet of snow, the first time a winter storm had hit with that level of ferocity before New Year's Day. The blizzard killed attendance and only 2,500 people of the expected 5,000 showed up. They took the storm as a sign and decided to end things right there, content with the fact that they had built the scene.
On Saturday, May 16, 2015, almost 23 years after the last Storm Rave, it returns to a secret Brooklyn location as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival. Frankie had previously maintained that he had no interest in bringing back the parties, but in the wake electronic music's recent explosion around the world, he's reconsidered. "Now that [the EDM] scene has reached it's apex, you can't do anything more. Kim Kardashian could start DJing next year, but I don't think anything's gonna come as a shock anymore. It's mainstream culture, it's as big as it's ever been, and I think now we need to just show people again that there was an underground when it began."
So if you're a 22-year-old NYU graduate, and you've been to Electric Zoo and Bang On!, what does a twenty-five-year-old rave have to offer you? Both Adam and Frankie stress that this will by no means be a nostalgia-seeped reunion. They're approaching this weekend's party the same way they approached the first Storm Rave: as a no-frills opportunity to experience cutting-edge techno.
"Storm Rave was about bringing the future of music to people, why would I want to, in 2015, play music from 1992 when half the people at the party weren't even born yet?" Adam says. "Techno is still really big and strong and new and fresh in different aspects and it's just time to bring what it is now." The only thing that Adam promises will be the same is the intensity and tension of the original party. If all goes according to plan, this may mark a new generation for Storm Rave. The future is at the whim of the weathermen.
Dan Wender is a co-founder of the RINSED parties in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.