Brooklyn Raves: An escape for some, a nuisance for others

November 18, 2015 By Scott Enman Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A masked figure in charge of loading blindfolded ravers onto a bus keeps watch. Photos: Daniel Leinweber for Razberry Photography /
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Deafening music. Blinding lights. Decrepit buildings.

This is a typical weekend for many of New York’s youth who choose to dance for hours on end in a trance at Brooklyn’s raves.

A rave, which tends to have a negative connotation, is a large, underground dance party featuring DJs who play a variation of house and electronic music.

Helen Evans, author of “Out Of Sight, Out of Mind: An Analysis of Rave Culture,” writes that “the term rave first came into use in late ’50s Britain as a name for the wild bohemian parties of the time.”

Sociologist Tammy L. Anderson, in her essay “Understanding the Alteration and Decline of a Music Scene: Observations from Rave Culture,” explains when raves became prominent.

“Raves, or grass-roots organized, antiestablishment, unlicensed all-night dance parties, featuring electronically produced dance music (EDM), emerged during the repressive Thatcher and Reagan eras in the United Kingdom and United States via Generation X’s efforts and actions,” says Anderson.

These secretive drug-fueled gatherings typically take place at unlicensed venues on the outskirts of cities in warehouses, factories and abandoned buildings. The raves sometimes sell liquor without alcohol licenses, can be over capacity and do not always meet fire regulations.

The parties, which are advertised over social media, have “Secret Location” as the address so as to avoid police interference.

Those attending receive an email or text with the address hours before the proposed start time. The invitees will sometimes, after appearing at the supposed location, be given a second address to go to where the actual party is being held.

Olivia Wohl, a 19-year-old house music aficionado, often travels to Brooklyn from her college in Massachusetts to attend raves.  

“I bought my ticket about three weeks prior for one warehouse event; the location then was undisclosed,” said Wohl. “It wasn’t until the day before that I received an email telling me where it would be held. A lot of my excitement came from the anticipation of not knowing exactly where I was going for so long. It was exciting to get off the train and have no idea where I was.”

Once you’re finally inside, the atmosphere may be reminiscent of a speakeasy, carnival or ancient ritual. One can find pulsating music, a multicolored lightshow and bizarre images projected on the walls.

Attendees often come baring glow sticks and decked out in eccentric attire.  

Anderson writes in her essay that “Baggy track or parachute pants, T-shirts with rave or antiestablishment messages, and comfortable shoes or trainers in bright and neon colors dominated raves. Props such as neon bracelets, pacifiers, lollipops, and stuffed animals” are common as well.

For those of you still having trouble picturing these extravagant, lawless gatherings, perhaps taking a look at a scene from “Man On Fire” — in which Denzel Washington is running through a rave in Mexico City — will help:

One raver, who asked to remain anonymous, attempted to describe the euphoria some say they expereince at raves.  

“It’s a hard thing to explain. Your senses are just heightened and you’re more aware and appreciative of your environment. Lights are brighter, sounds become sensual and your thoughts are nonjudgmental. All is good and feel that way for what seems like forever.”

Although the term rave was coined in London, these parties are popular in Brooklyn due to the high number of abandoned industrial buildings that line the borough’s waterfront.

Specific neighborhoods heavily concentrated with abandoned buildings include Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Red Hook, which were all once hubs in Brooklyn’s shipbuilding industry.

In addition, the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek provided industrial access to the waterfront and therefore have many vacated premises on their shores.

Brooklyn today doesn’t boast nearly as much ship traffic as it used to, and thus is lined with many vacated piers and factories. These buildings, however, are ideal locations for a group of mischievous teenagers looking to throw a party.

Some abandoned buildings that have played host to several raves include the “Bat Cave,” an abandoned MTA power station on the shore of the Gowanus Canal, and the deserted Domino Sugar Refinery along the East River.

Many nightclubs, however, have started to commercialize and monetize these raves.

Clubs will take advantage of the hip grunginess that Brooklyn has to offer and rent out these warehouses legally by acquiring all the necessary permits.

They subsequently sell tickets ranging from $50 to $90.

One raver told Anderson in her essay that “the commercialization of the scene kind of takes away from why people are really there. You can flip it around and say it’s really helping the scene by introducing it to a lot more people via big DJs, but basically there’s no intimacy.”

Daley Padley, a British DJ who goes by the alias Hot Since 82, throws a series of parties called “Taken.” One of those parties took place in Brooklyn and sold out within a day.

At Hot Since 82’s Taken party in New York, his team gathered a group of fans in Manhattan, blindfolded them, and had them driven to an unknown location for an all-night party.

That location happened to be in a warehouse in Red Hook.

Hot Since 82 spoke about his Taken series in a press release.

“This is one of the most exciting and interesting experiences I’ve had as a DJ!” he said. “Taken is about pushing the boundaries and giving something back to my fans, a bespoke event that’ll be remembered for years to come.

“It’s also a little nod to the old illegal rave days, where people didn’t know where the party was being held.”

Pacha, an international club chain, which has a location in New York, also takes advantage of Brooklyn by hosting a series of parties called “BKWRHS,” or Brooklyn Warehouses.

Wohl recalls overhearing a fellow party-goer at one of these BKWRHS parties saying, “this is as underground as it gets, except for these $14 drinks.”

When asked how a warehouse rave might be different from a normal nightclub, Wohl didn’t have to think.

“At a warehouse party there is a more tolerant, laid-back energy as opposed to an upscale, flashy club in Manhattan,” said Wohl. “At a warehouse event where set times are longer, DJs get the chance to try out new sounds in front of a more authentic, music-driven crowd.”

“There’s a sense of exclusivity in using a warehouse or abandoned building to host a party, because it’s not the norm,” added Wohl. “Just the fact of not knowing exactly what to expect is alluring. The anticipation was a huge factor in the appeal of the warehouse location for me.”

While many young adults love raves, not everyone sees eye to eye with these partygoers.

As Brooklyn continues to grow in population, and as these warehouses continue to be converted into high-rise apartments and condominiums, many residents have fought against these raves.

For example, on Halloween, CityFox, a Zurich-based entertainment company, attempted to throw a massive rave inside the NuHart Plastics Factory, a deserted Greenpoint warehouse, part of which is a Superfund site.

The party, however, was shut down by the FDNY for a litany of reasons.

On Nov. 4, Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D-North Brooklyn) wrote to New York state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman requesting that his office investigate these “pop-up rave parties plaguing Brooklyn.”

In the letter, Lentol commented on CityFox’s attempt to throw a party in the NuHart Factory, saying, “Organizing a large-scale party of this nature at this location is akin to having a pool party in Newtown Creek. The fact that CityFox was able to obtain permits within such a short period of time, let alone at a Superfund site, is very disturbing.”

Ben Colombo, a Department of Buildings spokesman, released a statement explaining why the rave was shut down.

“The event was shut down due to flammable chemicals being hidden behind flammable curtains,” said Colombo. “Additionally [CityFox] sold 6,000 tickets, but the space was only cleared for 3,500.”

Go a little deeper into Brooklyn and there is another planned party that is also being met with resistance.

The Time Warp Music Festival, a two-day annual electronic music party, which was created in Germany, was set to take place at the Bedford-Union Armory this weekend, but was forced to move to the 39th Street Pier.

The festival, which had planned to go each night from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., was met with opposition from the surrounding community — although this time, it wasn’t because of a toxic waste site.

Assemblymember Walter Mosley, who had been trying to cancel the event for some time now, told DNAinfo that neighbors were concerned about “quality-of-life issues,” like parking and the effect of “potentially intoxicated” visitors in a “residential community like Crown Heights.”

Richard Hurley, an attorney and leader of a local group of block associations, sent out several emails to the community about the festival.

He wrote in an Oct. 20 message that the event could bring “noise, garbage, alcohol, drugs” and “police action.”

Time Warp addressed the location change on its Facebook page:

“As techno fans, we are members of a global community that celebrates inclusion and equality. That spirit manifests at the local level too. Out of respect to the community of Crown Heights, we have agreed to move Time Warp US 2015 from the Bedford Union Armory to the spectacular site of Time Warp US 2014, just 5 miles away. The dates remain the same.”

While many residents, police officers and local politicians may be opposed to these raves, the teenagers and young adults of this city will continue to try and host them.

It seems imperative that both groups start a dialogue so that they can coexist

The kids, after all, should be able to party as long as it’s done safely and not at the expense of others.

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