Party Classics

Lauren Hunter Thomas

Dan Labovitch was no stranger to the “visor, pacifier, and huge pants” look back in the day. But aesthetics come and go with the movements that define them, and Labovitch, one of the founders of ravearchive.com, can certainly attest to that. Now that he wears wristwatches rather than kandi bracelets and slacks rather than phat pants, Labovitch has turned to preserving the legacy of rave culture.

Labovitch first launched the online archive in 2008, in order to catalog the music and ephemera of the party scene from 1991 to 2000. It’s no small project. Labovitch and co-founder Adam Dorfman, have had to collect, organize, and upload thousands of gigabytes of music (originally recorded on mixtapes), in addition to scanning flyers and fan zines from across the continent. But, he is quick to emphasize, it’s a labor of true, discerning love: “I’m not objective when it comes to [collecting] this stuff, because I value what I went through, and that [music] is the stuff I want to put out there.” Labovitch is true to his word, motivated by his dedication to the subculture rather than the desire for profit–he covers out-of-pocket the operating costs not offset by donations.

Rave music isn’t a totality–it’s a subculture made up of subcultures. Under the umbrella of rave, there are many different kinds of dance music, including techno, house, trance, and Labovitch’s personal favorite, jungle. But what is behind all these types of rave, then? Well, for one thing, there’s the power of “repetitive beats.” According to the 1994 British Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, a piece of legislation created to empower police to break up large parties, this was a fundamental feature of  the various subcategories of rave. While the statute’s definition points to the music’s appeal, to Labovitch and his fellow enthusiasts, it is also a sad symptom of the public’s reductionist interpretation of the genre’s concerts. For Labovitch and the more than 8,000 on his website’s forums, rave is about a lot more than thumping drum machines and glowsticks. Nonetheless, that particular law, was both the beginning of the end for ravers and an example of the attitude that they reveled in resisting. In other words, the community was strengthened by persecution.

“Growing up, it was the youth culture,” Labovitch recalls. “You’d drive way out to one of these things and people would just be super nice…if drugs were your thing, they’d take care of you…or it would be as simple as giving someone a ride home.” Labovitch attended his first parties in 1996 at age 16, about seven years after the pioneering acid house parties in Manchester and London. He recalls the way the internet fostered connections across the rave community, which was particularly helpful given that he knew “at most a half dozen kids in the scene from [his] high school class of 800.” It also made finding a ride to a far away show much easier. Ravers could “get online and meet people from different states, different cities…and that way you’d have a way to get to the party and a couch to crash on after.” And, most importantly, for someone like Labovitch, whose adolescence in Palatine, Illinois wasn’t particularly rocky, a rave was an experience comparable to off-roading at 90 miles per hour.

Today, Labovitch has “a pretty straight job in insurance,” he says. Yet he brings little of the office home with him to the home he shares with his wife (an archival librarian by day), Dexter the Rottweiler, and a gray cat. The house is a vault for the WWII buff’s military history books and model war planes, as well as the physical relics that ravearchive.com has cast into cyberspace for eager IP addresses to cache. Balancing a bottle of Arcadia Ale in the crook of his elbow, Labovitch flicks gently through the tapes nestled tooth-to-jowl in a cabinet of 72 two-foot deep drawers. He’s looking for a tape by DJ Snuggles, a significant name in jungle music. When he finds the tape, he succumbs to nostalgia, meticulously rifling through an arresting wealth of artifacts: flyer after flyer, file boxes of zines whose Xeroxed pages trumpet the initials of now-infamous chemicals, and the first very neon issue of Reactor, a magazine that served and defined Chicago rave culture in the early 90s. As artifacts pile up, he sighs, without a hint of resentment, “We jungle fans were always at the back of the warehouse.”

Speaking to the character of the rave movement, Labovitch is careful to acknowledge the air of cliché that has developed around its credo of “Peace, Love, Unity and Respect.” But he is also adamant that this is the essential character of the scene that gave him no small number of euphoric nights. Frankie Bones, a founding father of the American rave scene, is credited with first stating the mantra. At a party in 1989, he got on the speaker system to break up a fight and said, “If you don’t start showing some peace, love, and unity, I’ll break your fucking faces.” When asked about Bones’s reaction to the archive, Labovitch is modest: “He gave us an atta-boy.” Rave musicians, he says, “are just glad somebody’s trying to keep track.”