The following is Chapter 14 of my memoir, "Paper Squares and Purple Stars: My Life as a Rave Outlaw." I'll be sharing the book on t2 for free, chapter by chapter, but you can buy a copy and check out the reviews here. If you're just getting started now, check my t2 page and start at the bottom to read the previous chapters and the preface to catch up!

Chapter 14 - Purple Stars (Fall 2008)

In September of that year, Caylee and I decided to move in together. We had only been dating since New Year’s, but we spent every day of those nine months with one another, so we were essentially living together already anyway. We got a cheap apartment that was about a half hour away from the club, just on the outskirts of the city along Route 40. Since the last show was such a success, Charles planned dates for me throughout the rest of the year in October, November, and December. I was still having trouble coming up with names for my events, so those first few parties had some very generic titles. For our Halloween party in October, the best name that I could come up with was “Trick or Treat,” which is so unoriginal it's embarrassing. I intentionally booked the party a few weeks before Halloween, that way I could avoid competing with larger and more established events.

This time I was a bit hung up on the lineup though, since I only knew a handful of DJs and they had already played my other shows. I would be able to get away with hiring one or two DJs that played for me in the past, but most of the lineup would have to be filled with fresh talent. I was spending a ton of time on different online forums learning about the various crews and DJs that were popular on the east coast. I also found a program called “Friend Blaster,” which automatically sent out friend requests and posted comments from my MySpace profile. I programmed the software to gather the profile addresses of all the people who subscribed to the most prominent rave pages I could find. The program would then send requests to all those profiles and post the flyers and event pages for my shows in their comments. The program did all that work for me, I just had to keep my computer running all day.

With my research online I was able to put together about half of a lineup, and I decided to bring back a few of the DJs who expressed interest in being a part of the crew, but I still had some spots to fill. I started going to all the weekly bar events in the city to learn more about the local scene and maybe scout some DJs. Weekly events were usually small free shows at bars on weeknights, and they didn’t draw much of a crowd. It was mostly DJs and promoters who showed up for stuff like this, and maybe sometimes dealers too. Generally, these were shows for people who made their money in the industry or the hardcore ravers that couldn’t get enough on the weekends.

Most of the weekly parties in Baltimore were totally empty all the time, except for a Thursday night show at a small bar called Shorty’s. The place was never packed, but it always had the biggest crowd that you could find on a weekday, which was maybe 50 people throughout the whole night.

The show was run by a guy who went by DJ Stryda. I recognized his name from one of the forums that I posted on, and it seemed like he had some serious street cred. When I talked to him at one of his parties, he was way more relaxed than I expected, and when I told him about my show, he offered to take my opening spot for free. He also recommended a few more DJs to help me complete my lineup. The promotion for this show was a bit rushed and I didn’t even do printed flyers, but I had the hype of Yabba Dabba Doo behind me and that computer program to handle online promotion on a level that no human could match.

On the night of the show, we could tell it was going to be huge because the entire lot was full before the doors even opened, something that this club had never seen before. Within the first hour, the place was packed, and cars were driving down side roads looking for a parking space. Early in the night, I ran into Stryda at the bar and asked him if he was enjoying the party.

“Holy shit man! This is crazy! I haven't seen anything like this in years! I started off playing some mellow stuff for my first few tracks because I figured it was an early set, but when I looked up the floor was packed, so I picked up the pace,” he said.

“Yeah, our last few shows were pretty good, but I really wasn't expecting this tonight. I really didn’t even do that great of a job with the promo this time,” I said.

“You really got something here dude! Upstairs I saw some guy rolling a blunt on the bar while he was waiting for his drink! There are people everywhere rollin balls! I haven't seen that kinda shit since the Buzz days! You know, I was around back then and still got all those connections, if you wanna work together I can bring all them old heads through here,” He said.

“Damn dude, that would be awesome, that would really help take this to the next level. Let's talk about it next week at Shorty’s,” I replied.

“Sounds good, go handle business,” he said before turning around and slinking his way through the crowd with a drink above his head.

Buzz was a legendary party in DC, held at a massive club called Nation that closed down a few years ago. The club was thriving back when raves were just getting started and were in their most wild and pure form. The shows were way bigger back then too. If we could book some of the DJs that ran through that place people might start to take us seriously. Tonight, was the night that I began to assemble a group of DJs that believed in me and wanted to be a part of the crew.

I had a chance encounter later that night as I passed by the bar and noticed two guys spitting rhymes with a small crowd around them. I wouldn't call it a rap “battle,” it was more of a verbal dance with each of them respectfully taking turns showing off their skills. After their exhibit (I wouldn't call it a contest), I gave them both props on a great performance and asked what brought them out to the show. I was shocked to learn that both of them were professional MCs that just came out to my show to have a good time, one was named MC High IQ, and the other MC Manifest. High IQ was one of the MCs for God’s Basement and the guy who designed Mickey’s flyers. He said that he heard I was in search of a designer and offered to help me out. This was a massive relief, since getting those flyers was always one of my major roadblocks, and I was excited that people would probably recognize the art style from God’s Basement. MC Manifest was really cool too, he told me that he saw the Good Vibes page making crazy posts about the government on MySpace and wanted to come see what I was all about. He said that it was rare for promoters to post about controversial topics when they were trying to sell tickets. I always assumed that rave culture was about throwing up your middle finger to the establishment, so I never really even considered that those posts might have cost me ticket sales. We seemed to have a lot in common though, and we both shared a strange obsession with the occult. I thought that I was deep into the conspiracy research until I met this guy. He was into everything from aliens and anarchism to astrology and numerology, and he was able to connect it all to the rave scene in this very interesting way. He told me that someday the world would be saved by ravers who were destined to spread the message of PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect) to the masses. He spoke of the outlaw nature of rave culture that attracted me to the community in the first place and shared his theories about how there were government agents among the movers and shakers in the scene. Everything was esoteric to him, and he saw symbolism everywhere, even in the most trivial things. Some of the weird connections he made were interesting though, like the idea that the junglists originally wore camo because they were revolutionaries, or that the government was keeping tabs on what was going on in the scene. Needless to say, we got along pretty well.

The night was a massive success, not only was it our biggest show ever, but I added a whole list of DJs to my roster, along with 2 MCs and a designer, now I had a real crew. I ended up making about the same amount of money as I did on the previous show, but I was still just grateful to be getting paid to party. At the end of the night, Charles took me and Clyde aside and told us that we had to settle our differences for the good of the club because our feud was making things difficult and awkward for everyone. I was still talking shit about Clyde to everyone that I could, and he was preventing me from booking certain DJs because he dealt with them first. We both reluctantly and begrudgingly agreed to squash the beef, but our hatred for one another ran too deep for a handshake to heal. Still, even though we hated each other, we both had a shared goal in seeing the club succeed, and fighting wasn't going to help that goal become a reality.

The next week was busy, I was behind schedule for promotion on my next rave, “Jungle Juice,” but IQ was able to rush on the flyer so I could have printed copies for the biggest show of the month, a free Bassnectar party hosted by the city’s corporate promoter, Silver Spoon promo.

The show was on a Monday night, but everyone had off school and work the next day for another worthless election, where people participated in a ritual to convince themselves that they were free. We showed up to the club early but there was a line around the block, this was another one of those places with TSA-style checkpoints set up outside. When we finally got inside, the club was packed almost to capacity, and the opening acts were just getting started. Clyde spotted me as I walked through the crowd and waved me over. I decided it was best to listen to what Charles said and play nice, so I went over to see what was up.

“Hey John, you want to help me unload some of these rolls? I'll give you a free one for every ten you sell,” He said.

“Actually yeah, I was gonna start looking for some for myself,” I replied.

“Well, now you don't have to look. I'm tellin you man, these are the best pills I've ever had, they're shaped like stars,” he said.

“What do you mean? Like that's the stamp?” I asked.

“Nah they are actually cut like stars, look,” He said, looking over his shoulder before taking a purple star-shaped pill out of his pocket and placing it in the palm of his hand.

“Fuck, I've never seen anything like this. Yeah give me two ten packs,” I said.

Clyde dug around in his pocket and handed me four small plastic baggies with 5 pills in each bag, and I quickly stuffed them into my pocket.

“I'll go see what I can do,” I said before slipping away into the crowd.

I explored the club for a few minutes, handing out flyers and looking for people who wanted rolls, but I made sure to take two for myself. I was surprised by how quickly I was able to unload those pills. Now that I was on a first name basis with a large portion of the crowd, I no longer needed to take the risk of making sales to strangers. I met up with Clyde downstairs where there was another room of music and settled up with him. The crowd was going wild down there, jumping up and down for this weird music that sounded like it was coming from a spaceship.

“What is this shit?” I asked.

“They call it dubstep, I don't like it, but apparently everyone else does,” Clyde said.

“Yeah I don't know how they are dancing to this, they seem to like it though,” I said.

The music definitely wasn't my style, but the crowd was going nuts for this DJ, so I decided to approach him and see if he was interested in playing one of my shows. After the set was over, I made my way to the front of the crowd and caught up with the DJ while he was packing up his gear.

“Hey, I’m John, that was a dope set! If you are ever interested in playing at Galaxy send me an email, it’s at the bottom of this,” I said, handing him a flyer out of my backpack.

He looked the flyer up and down for a second with a strange scowl on his face and threw it back at me.

“This is my party you’re at right now, you know that right? I am DJ Hulk, and you better not be passing those out to the crowd, only Silver Spoon flyers are allowed in this building tonight. They shouldn't have even let you in the door with those,” he said.

“Wow, well I guess you’re only interested in playing your own shows then, cool by me,” I said, turning to walk away.

“No, I just don’t need to play your shit show at your shit venue,” he said smugly.

As I walked away trying to keep my cool, Duke and Jerry came up to me to ask what just happened, and that’s when I lost it.

“Apparently that's the guy that runs Silver Spoon, and he's a fucking dick. I tried to give him a booking, and he just acted like he was too good for it. This dumb ass frat boy thinks he’s some kinda big shot cuz he’s got mommy and daddy’s trust fund money to book all these big DJs!” I shouted, hoping that he could still hear me.

Jerry and Duke started laughing hysterically. “That fool got you all fired up yo,” Jerry said.

“Let’s go upstairs, I think Bassnectar is starting in a few minutes,” I said.

As we turned to walk up the stairs we were stopped by security.

“I need the kid with the backpack, you two get lost,” he said.

“What did I do?” I asked.

“You're coming with me,” he said, grabbing me by the arm and leading me away into an office without any explanation.

“What the fuck man, I didn't do anything,” I shouted.

“Empty your pockets, we have gotten reports that you were selling drugs,” he said.

“Well that's bullshit because I ain't got no drugs and I’m broke ass,” I said arrogantly, knowing that I already sold out of pills and dropped the cash off with Clyde.

“Give me your bag and empty your pockets then,” he ordered.

I followed his orders and stood there as he rummaged through my bag, then he and one of his buddies gave me a prison style pat down.

“See, I'm just here to have a good time and promote my show, you got the wrong guy,” I said.

“We’ll be watching you,” he said, quickly zipping my bag and throwing it back at me.

As I walked back out into the crowd to rejoin my friends, I wondered if Hulk was the one who had me searched, it did seem weird that I got the shake down right after my encounter with him, but at least they didn't find anything. Things got really weird after that, Clyde was right, these pills were awesome. I danced for a few minutes and went into this strange trance-like state. I wouldn't call what I was experiencing “hallucinations,” but my imagination was running wild with visions of a past life where I belonged to some magical renegade cult that was fighting to preserve an ancient art form. Was my newfound success a part of some cosmic plan wrapped up in a multigenerational spiritual war with mainstream society? I know it sounds weird, and it's hard to explain, but my mind began flowing with all these ideas about how I've walked similar paths in previous lives, on the outside of society with a small handful of rebels who saw through the popular lies of the time and hoped for a better world. You could call this a delusion, or perhaps divine intuition, I don't know which, but I was filled with a sense of existential meaning that I'm not sure I felt any other time in my life. Who knows, I might be crazy, but these are the sorts of things that started running through my head that night, and they stuck with me. Before the end of the show, Bassnectar gave some dumb speech telling people who to vote for, which I was disgusted by, especially in my current state. I thought that our culture was supposed to tear down the system, not participate in it. I didn't really care who was gonna win, because the whole system is a scam, and none of the candidates were even talking about entirely ending war or prohibition. Until a politician comes along who is serious about dismantling the empire, they aren't worthy of my support or respect. I'm not holding my breath either, because people who seek power rarely have good intentions, and even if they do, the power will intoxicate them until they are corrupted. It's just the nature of the beast, it takes a special kind of scumbag to stab enough backs and tell enough lies to come first place in the king pig contest. Plus, I am sure they aren't really the people running the show anyway, they are just puppets, put there to give us the illusion of freedom. After the lame political speech, the lights came on, and security began to herd us out the door like animals. As hundreds of ravers stood there on the sidewalk socializing and smoking cigarettes, I started handing out flyers to everyone I could. In a few short minutes, I managed to get rid of my whole bag of flyers. We stood around talking and smoking cigarettes until cops on horses came to clear the street, shouting into megaphones for everyone to go home. Once we saw the cops, we quickly made our way to the car to avoid any trouble. As I glided through a lonely Baltimore neighborhood, I noticed that the street lights were all surrounded by luminous pulsating rings that rippled into the night sky, and it felt like the car was floating.

“Dude, these pills are crazy, I feel like I’m having my first roll all over again. I wonder where the hell Clyde got these things,” I said.

“You can't be serious dude. You don't know where those pills came from?” Jerry asked.

“Nah, what am I missing?” I replied.

“They come from Galaxy, from Charles, they been pushing them stars since your Flintstones party,” Jerry said.

“What! How did I miss this? Why didn't anyone tell me this?” I said.

“We thought you knew. Everybody knows, it's kinda obvious,” Duke chimed in from the back seat.

“Wow, I am such a dumbass. I guess I just wasn't paying that much attention to that side of things since I've been staying sober at my own shows, and I haven't really been going to the other shows there,” I replied thoughtfully.

“Yeah man they been jammin off with pills in there ever since u started bringing people in the door, and I'm guessin they are making mad loot off your shows,” Jerry said.

“While I make a few hundred bucks,” I said.

“You should talk to Charles and see if he’ll cut you in,” Duke suggested.

“I was trying to stay away from doing shit like that if I was gonna be promoting shows, but it was super easy tonight, I didn't even have to approach any strangers. Maybe I can just sell to the people I know and try to keep that part of the business separate from the professional part,” I said.

“You’re leaving money on the table if you don’t man, I'm sure this is how all the clubs work,” Jerry said.

“For sure dude, every club in the city is some kinda front for something. Even some restaurants and bars are just cover businesses for some type of illegal operation Make no mistake, most of these clubs are selling drugs, and I ain’t just talking about the alcohol. Even at the big clubs, security guards will steal the drugs from the dealers at the front door, just to have their approved people go right back in there and sell the shit for a commission. It's how a lot of these shows are paid for,” Duke explained.

They were right, I was losing a lot of money by keeping my nose clean. I remembered what Mickey told me about staying away from hustling, but this was something that I had to do to compete and grow my business. On the night of Jungle Juice, I got to the club extra early to talk to Charles about getting involved in the back end of the business. When I got to the club, he was cleaning the bar as he usually was in the late afternoon.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?” I said.

“Sure, give me a minute, and I’ll meet you in my office,” he said.

A few minutes later we sat down in his office, and he asked me, “What's up?”

I shut the door and said, “I want in on whatever deal you got with Clyde on the stars, if I’m bringing all these people in here I want to collect a bonus too,” I said.

Charles smiled and said, “That sounds fair, I'll give them to you at the beginning of every show, and you bring me back 10 bucks a piece at the end of the night, you can charge whatever you want,” he explained.

“Cool, can I start tonight?” I asked.

“Yeah, Hows 100? I’ll start you off with 100. If you need more, come back, and we will sort it out,” he said.

“Sounds great,” I said.

Charles reached into a carrying case under the desk and opened it up, revealing thousands of pills, all carefully separated into bags of 100, and tossed me one of the bags. After we handled all our other business, I left the office and got to work. That night was overwhelming, it was like I had two jobs at once, because that's exactly what was happening. Not only did I have to keep the show going but I had a product to sell too, and I wanted to try to keep my new business venture a secret from the DJs or anyone else who might judge me. With so much to focus on, the night flew by quicker than ever, and it was busy as hell that night too.

I managed to top myself again with the best turnout at the club yet, continuing our exponential growth. It was a smooth night, until the after-hours portion of the party when we ran into some trouble. As I mentioned earlier, all the clubs in the state were required to close at 2am, but Charles had no problem breaking the law to stay open late, and this became one of the major selling points of the venue.

He realized that it made the club more attractive and that it was also much safer for people to have a few hours to sober up before driving home. So, after 2am, we just shut off the music in the main room and sent everyone upstairs to continue the party until the sun came up. This was a very risky move though, and it became more dangerous as our shows got more popular, since it was obvious by the number of cars in the parking lot that there were people inside the building after hours. The coast was clear for the better part of the night, but around 3am two cop cars pulled into the parking lot and just sat there. Within minutes, whispers of cops outside spread throughout the club and reached my ears while I was upstairs in the lounge making a deal. As soon as I heard the warning, I ran behind the bar and stashed my bag of pills behind a few cases of beer. Then I ran downstairs to the office, where Charles was monitoring the security cameras.

“This doesn't look good, do you think they are gonna come in?” I asked.

“Nah, that would be too much work. I don't even think they know what’s going on. We have private parties here sometimes that are allowed to go late,” he replied.

“What do you think we should do? We are on a roll, it would really suck to have to close early. People might lose confidence in the place,” I said.

Charles stood with his hands on his hips staring at the screen.

“No, we aren't going to close, It wouldn't be smart to send a bunch of ravers out in the parking lot while they are sitting out there. We would totally expose ourselves if we did that. Let's just hold out, make an announcement and tell everyone to stay inside until it's safe to leave,” he said, not taking his eyes off the screen.

By the time I got back up the stairs, the lights were turned on, and Clyde was in the DJ booth trying to get the music shut off. I think he was all too eager to see the end of my show.

I ran to the DJ booth and told Clyde “Go talk to Charles, it's not over,” I said, rushing by him and grabbing the mic.

“We’re not done yet tonight, but I do have a quick announcement,” I said, feeling a bit awkward my first time speaking into a microphone like that.

The crowd fell silent and turned their attention to the booth.

“As you may have heard we have cops outside. They are probably here because its 3am and there are a lot of cars in the parking lot, and we are only legally allowed to stay open until 2, but we think the law is bullshit, you should be able to dance and party until the sun comes up. So, FUCK THE POLICE! And if you're undercover and you're in here I'm talking to you too,” I shouted into the mic, not knowing what had just come over me.

The crowd went nuts, waving their middle fingers in the air and saying fuck the police, I'm surprised that they couldn't hear it outside. When the cheers died down, I spoke into the mic again.

"Just to be safe, we are going to ask everyone to stay in here until the cops leave. We are gonna turn the music back on at a slightly lower volume, just enjoy yourselves and pretend they aren't out there. You’ll know it's safe to leave when we open those double doors in the corner,” I said, pointing to the doors that led downstairs.

We started the music again, then I walked back over to the light switch and turned the lights back off, causing everyone to cheer again. I tried to get down to Charles as quickly as possible, but I was getting mobbed by people telling me that they never expected a promoter to say something like that.

Most established promoters were afraid of being associated with the “criminal element” in the scene. For me, that was everything that I loved about rave culture, it was a rejection of the mainstream norms of society, which included legal norms. When I finally got downstairs, Clyde and Charles were watching the cop cars pulling out of the parking lot on the security feed.

“Did you have to go that fucking far? It looks like you got lucky tonight, but you are going to get this place shut down. All you had to do was make a simple announcement, but you had to get on your soapbox,” Clyde said.

“I thought it was awesome,” Charles said, grabbing me and giving me a hug.

“Everyone thought it was great Clyde, we all won tonight,” Charles said.

“Speak for yourself, it was a pain in the ass dealing with all those annoying kids tonight. My crowd is way more chill,” Clyde said as he left the office.

“Don’t listen to him, he’s just mad it's not his party,” Charles said.

“Fuckin crabs in a bucket,” I muttered.

“What’s this about crabs?” Charles asked curiously.

“It's this old piece of wisdom, I think it originates from Asia somewhere, but rappers talk about it all the time. The idea is basically this - if you throw a bunch of live crabs in a bucket, they would be able to escape by clinging together and climbing out of the bucket, but that never happens because every time one of the crabs gets ahead, the others rush to pull it down. I am butchering it, but the idea is that humans act like that too, because we don’t like to see each other succeed,” I explained.

“That’s some crazy shit man! That is exactly how people behave! You seem to stay away from the drama for the most part though. Clyde is a unique case because you and him have history, everyone else seems to give you a pass though,” Charles said.

“Give me a pass? What do you mean?” I asked.

“I don't know. You have a way with people. You disarm people, you make them feel comfortable. People don’t see you as a threat, which is very rare when someone is successful,” Charles replied thoughtfully.

“I think when people get lucky, or if they are born lucky, they always swing their ego around and try to inflate their own self-worth at everyone else’s expense. They go around acting better than everyone else which makes people hate them. That kinda attitude creates obstacles and enemies, and I have always hated people who acted like that anyway,” I said.

“That is a good way to look at things. It probably saves you a ton of trouble,” Charles said.

“I still have plenty of trouble man!” I said.

“Don't worry about Clyde, he’ll get over himself eventually,” Charles said.

“I am more worried about these pigs sniffing around,” I said.

“Oh, that? That’s nothing. They ain’t worried about us, and if they were, I would be ready for them,” Charles reassured me.

I'm not sure why, but the cops seemed to leave us alone after their strange stake out that night. We didn't see them come through the parking lot much after that.