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There’s no ‘free sex’ at raves
RAVINA RAWAL  3rd Jul 2011

French soldiers participate in a rave at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan last year. Raves are largely about psychedelic trance music.

t's ironic, or perhaps fateful, that the United Nations declared 26 June the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Somewhere along the Mumbai-Pune highway, on the same day, at a little resort that will never get this much publicity again, close to 300 kids partied to 145 beats per minute thrown at them by a psychedelic trance DJ from France, Absolum.

"Rave Party" screamed news networks when the anti-narcotics department closed in on the gathering just after midnight and detained every single reveller — including an inspector from their own team — till they had been tested for drugs at a nearby hospital.

Rave party. For starters, we should either be calling it a rave or a party (not both at once), but that's not all we have got wrong.

There's no "free sex" and there's no drug-laced orgy. So what is it then? A rave is an outdoor party that plays psychedelic trance. The kind they have — or used to — in Goa. In the late 1990s, when raves were big in the cities, these were secret underground parties that usually took place in obscure locations outside city limits.

There was a time when you could find one every week. You would receive an SMS or an e-mail with directions to the party, and when you were near you would be able to find your way by following an exciting trail of white tissue paper draped on bushes, neon arrows or, if you were in Goa, fellow-party people on their motorbikes. Today, the parties are announced on Facebook/Twitter first, and then come the SMS directions.

Are there drugs? Yes, there are. Just like there are drugs at the nightclubs you frequent, and the posh farmhouse weddings that you attend, and even the get-together on your friend’s terrace.

Once you reach the location, if it's a paid gig (some parties were free back in the day), you pay an entrance fee (Rs 500-2,000, depending on the artist and the scale of the party), and it's party time. Thumping, fast-paced electronic music rips through the open ground, which is usually decorated with trippy visuals, hand-painted psychedelic backdrops and intricate thread work, all glowing under black UV lights. Because this isn't a nightclub with a designated dance floor, you will find a majority of the crowd is dancing facing the same direction. That's where the DJs/artistes are. A party typically kick-starts with home-grown talent, and then moves on to the international acts. A popular international DJ will pull in large crowds of over 800 people, a smaller act will draw around 300-400. They could be between 19 and 40 or even older, and include college kids, hippies, models, actors, designers, lawyers, bankers, journalists, doctors. There's something of a hippy vibe at a rave, but nothing happens here that does not happen anywhere else.

Are there drugs? Yes, there are. Just like there are drugs at the nightclubs you frequent, and the posh farmhouse weddings that you attend, and even the get-together on your friend's terrace, where hashish joints and cocaine are more than commonplace. Sometimes harder party drugs such as LSD and ecstasy make the rounds, and in speaking to someone for this piece, I learned of cocaine paan (go figure).

"Everyone has their own dealer today, their own tried and trusted source. Organisers are not involved in whether or not there are drug peddlers at a party; we are not part of the earning or the selling, and are not stupid enough to encourage this at our own parties — because should they get raided by the cops, we are the ones that get into the most trouble," said an organiser who, of course, did not wish to be named.

Says a DJ who has been a part of this subculture for a long time (and who also wishes to remain anonymous), "A few years ago I was playing at a party that got busted. When it was time for my urine test, I knew I was going to fail because I had smoked a joint. So I asked someone else who was completely clean to pee in my cup for me. Somehow he failed my test, but passed his. Both tests were done at the same time, with urine samples from the same person — how did one fail and one pass? Of course I could not contest it, but I am trying to make a point about not being able to challenge these reports."

hatever the story, and whatever the defence, the bottom line is that raves, and the genre of music they represent, has earned a bad reputation. It has perhaps been targeted because psychedelic trance is the only kind of music that's played outdoors.

There was a time we could only listen to this music in Goa," a die-hard psytrance fan and ex-organiser tries to explain. "But that was just a few days a year. We wanted to bring it back to the city. So we would start with just 10 people, which the next weekend would become 20 people and so on. When it started growing bigger and bigger, we had to start renting out places — I say places and not clubs because this music did not find place in any nightclub; it was too niche. Weekends were reserved for Bollywood disco music. So we did what we had to do: make our own parties, and let others like us come. Believe it or not, this was never a money-making business."

With the music scene seeing new energy in India, and with Bollywood not being the only genre enjoying widespread popularity, clubs are now open to all kinds of genres and artistes, so psytrance has slowly been moving in. Psytrance has a dedicated crowd, willing to spend money to listen to their favourite artistes. Raves and psytrance have always been about the music, not the drugs. Or, to rephrase, they are as much about the drugs as Hip-Hop club nights or your high society wedding sangeets are.

This party in particular, organised by Beyond Logic Records, was expected to go off without a hitch because there was a cop involved, and because they had received an unnamed politician's blessing. Attendees said the organisers followed a no-tolerance policy with regards to illegal substances; people were frisked at the entrance, and they were not allowed re-entry into the party once they left.

"We were all shocked to see the scale of the bust," says a young boy from Mumbai who was detained for over 14 hours with 200 others. "Many friends made a run for it in the forest. They all were caught; the anti-narcotics officials had surrounded the place from all four sides." According to sources, groups of 50-60 people were taken in buses to different medical facilities in Karjat and Khopoli. The tests continued till Monday afternoon.

There are several ongoing debates about whether this was a scripted set-up or not, whether political parties were involved or not, how much of the drugs were planted by the cops themselves, and whether political and financial influence was used to get some of those who were detained released. The media in its frenzied race for the best headline again focused on only the drugs seized, ignoring some other fairly large issues: You are not allowed to play loud music after 10 p.m. You are not allowed to serve alcohol without an excise license. You are not allowed to serve alcohol to minors. Then again, you are also not allowed to have a less sensational headline than your rivals.

Ravina Rawal, 28, is a reluctant traveller, song-looper, wi-fi stealing lover of mangoes who is scared to tell you she ever attended a rave. She is also the editor of alternative youth culture magazine MTV Noise Factory.

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