by robert hyers
Unlike Peter, I had to grow up.
But even as an adult, it feels good to return to Neverland now and again. Almost a decade ago, long before rent and utilities became a part of my vocabulary, I would pull a Strawberry Shortcake tee over my head, loosely tie my kwikwear pants around my waist, roll fluorescent candy bracelets up to my elbows, and head out to listen to some happy hardcore with like-minded partykids. We lived at 160 beats per minute dancing all night, "e-bonding" with friends and strangers, watching the sun rise, then doing it all again the next night.
In the past few years my candy bracelets have found a home in Tupperware at the bottom of my closet (I can't bring myself to throw them out) and the cartoon tees and kwikwear have been given away. (Who am I kidding? No one I know now wants that clothing--I actually did throw those out).
But just like Wendy could never completely forget Peter, I can never completely leave the hardcore scene, especially the music. So once a year, I go back to where I first found Neverland, a massive that's been coming back for nine years now, Whistle.
My first Whistle was in 2000 at the Expo Center in South Jersey. The venue was a dump, but dumps make the perfect Neverlands since children are especially talented at making messes. I had been to raves before, but never on this massive scale. It was 3 rooms with 36 DJs. Each room was vast, with masses of strangers, and only thin colored lights to cut the darkness. Welcome to Neverland.
We met lost boys (and girls) from all over: Georgia, Ohio, upstate New York. We exchanged candy bracelets and screen names, and wandered the rooms together. Finally, around 5 am, we heard the sample from 2001: A Space Odyssey that Vinylgroover had recently transformed into a happy hardcore anthem. It was Anabolic Frolic at the tables.
He didn't even spin for an hour, but I and the other lost children were still ecstatic. At one point, while Brisk's 1997 mix of Bang!'s Cloudy Daze played, someone opened up the three metal bay doors that ran from floor to ceiling and took up one wall. By now dawn was pouring in, bathing us, as a blanket of synthesizers and a loop of Jo James' voice surrounded us. After Anabolic finished his set, the new day's sun, rather than complementing our euphoria, showed us our dilapidated bodies, broken from double digit hours of dancing.
It also showed us the layer of shit from unknown origins that had collected itself on the dance floor; shit that our big old raver pants had been sopping up all night; shit that would be our Whistle souvenir when we finally got home. God only knows what that shit was. If we had scraped it and grew a culture, we probably could've cured cancer, or created a new hallucinogen. Either outcome would've thrilled me at the time.
I have to admit, I was always one step behind the trends. It was no different with happy hardcore. I came into it as it went out of fashion. Before I knew it, happy hardcore had become the EDM pariah, and was replaced first by hard house, then by its more serious, but still good-natured cousin, liquid funk. I didn't care. I still wanted my HHC. As the years went on it became harder to find the happy stuff. Slipmatt and Vinylgroover moved onto UK hard house. And first Anabolic was banned from spinning in the states when he didn't have working papers. Then he stopped spinning altogether, and auctioned off some of his vinyl to make room for baby. Things were looking bad for Neverland.
I'm probably exaggerating just a little. Whistle was still fun. It was still Neverland, with plenty of lost children. The fourbeat just moved a little slower, perhaps 150 BPMs max. Whistle also seemed to shrink, as it moved from the Expo Center in Jersey to Shampoo nightclub in Philly. (Of course this shrinkage had nothing to do with hardcore's popularity, and everything to do with the RAVE act--Thanks again, Senator Biden!) Then last year I saw 2 DJs billed as a happy hardcore tag team for the Whistle Pre-Party, DJ Sirius and Dupont. I had to check them out.
In 6 years happy hardcore had been demoted at Whistle from headliner to opening act. But at least it was there. By 2006 I'd moved and lost most of my party friends. I took a new friend who had never been "raving" before. She wore a jean skirt and very eighties torn black shirt with gold lettering that said "Call Me." I was in a button down shirt and straight-legged blue jeans. I didn't pull out that Tupperware of candy, or try to find kwikwear that I might've neglected to toss because it hid in some basement box. Wearing those things felt silly now. I could return to Neverland, but I could never be a lost boy again.
Everything I expected to see I saw: the big pants, the visors, the day-glo, the bracelets. At least one girl in the crowd wore fairy wings, all standard attire here. Then Sirius and Dupont began. The beat was as it always was: fast and bouncy, driving the dancer into euphoria. They spun a few songs utilizing the new merge with hardbounce for the beats, and the tried and true HHC formula over top. (This formula consists of one generous helping of sped up female vocals singing very cheesy 80s covers). Then we heard a sample I immediately recognized. I'm sure the other hardcore kids did too. The sample was brought in and out several times, over the span of a few minutes. Then the buildup. Finally, the break.
The single piano keys came down around us like electric rain. It was Scott Brown's elysium, the song that supposedly saved hardcore. The crowd moved back and forth, listening, perhaps reminiscing. I know I was. The song was seven years old, but we were acting like it was a first pressing, like the DJ was spinning a brand new experience that had been dug into grooves on wax and flown across the Atlantic for our consumption. Then the synth came in, weaving itself between the raindrops. Then the four sequential cymbal crashes. Then the beat returned.
We all bounced around in our little circles with friends. My friend did a sort of half hop thing, because her shoes weren't suited for the kind of abuse hardcore dancing incurs. The two DJs spun some singles that were even older than elysium, like Brisk and Trixxy's Eyeopener and Vinylgroover's Time. I realized that everyone in that room (with the exception of my friend who chose her footwear poorly) was trying to hold on to a moment. A moment that might've happened 7 seconds or 7 years ago; a moment so magical it bordered on epiphany. Perhaps that moment is PLUR.
Now I can feel your eyes rolling, but hear me out. It's what most of us believed when we came into the movement. And it still strikes me that at every rave, whether a little party thrown in the woods, or a massive like Whistle, I always meet a few kids who are genuine and kind, and have a gentle way of viewing their world. Whether this disposition is natural or altered, it doesn't matter to me. That magic is what this is about. That magic is what makes this Neverland.
After Sirius and Duponts' set, I sat down next to some partykid with pale skin and long black hair.
"Do you mind if I smoke?" he asked.
"Not at all."
He lit up and somehow we got into a conversation. He and his friends had driven to Philly from DC, and were attending all three parties.
"Will you be at the main party tomorrow?"
"No! Why not? Whistle is one of the best parties!"
"I know," I told him. "I figured that out about six years ago."
"So why aren't you goin'?"
What could I tell him? I had stretched my disposable income to the limit for this Pre-Party: $5 to get in, a few beers, and taxi fare to get me and my Call Me friend back home to the burbs. Those rent and utilities ruin everything. No wonder Peter refused to leave Neverland.
"I just can't."
He stopped asking after that, and I excused myself to find Call Me. We had a few beers, danced to some great techno and drum n bass, and then hailed our taxi home.
The pressures of being a grown-up had reached in and pulled me out of Neverland. But Neverland was never that far away. And I knew I'd be back.
Rob also has a micro currently appearing in Shine..The Journal. When he's not writing, he's spinning the happy stuff in & around Philly.
Interview with Shayne of Pink Cyberkitty (maker of cybergoth hair extensions)
Interview with Jessie and Leigh of Cvalda (super-cool indie clothing designers)
The zine section of this site is back, and it is starting off with: A TRIBUTE TO GENE's GREATNESS. As in, The Rev. Go listen to his tracks and mixes and bask in his general greatness like the HUGE! massif does. Gene has single-handedly saved me from the clutches of my former toxic work environment and transplanted me into my wonderful new job. ALL HAIL GENE!
(photos of us chillin' at work to follow)
Nybar: "I can't come. I have a cat on me."
st3ph: "Well bring her with you!"
Nybar: "The cat is male."
Jubz, later in the evening: "Nybar doesn't even have a cat."
The girl who would bite people on command. She bit a guy, a girl, and herself before the night was over, after shouts of "Bite 'em! Bite 'em!!" from Tony and I.
The girl who broke through the barricaded, out of order bathroom stall with a sign on the door that said: "OUT OF ORDER. HOW COULD YOU MISS THAT BADLY?" She then proceeded to zoom in on the epicenter of disaster with her digital camera, and showed the results to me at 3x optical resolution. I almost dry-heaved.
This of course goes to Matt, who complained of having his brass knuckles taken away at the door, but was consoled by the fact that his friend still had her mace, and that he could always stab someone in the neck with a pen again.
The girl in the b-girl ensemble, who probably intended to take over the dance circle at the end of the night, but instead did a painfully long flailing butterfingers backwards through the circle, finally falling onto a few people at the perimeter, and landing on her ass. [ if only I had been ready with my camera at the time, instead of yelling at some befuddled stranger that Amy was stepping to him, and was he going to take that kind of shit from her, while Amy stood unaware. ]
Amy, to Teardrop: "I'm not sober enough to drive home. Hey, can I get a dip for the road?"
Teardrop: "Sure, I can get you a dip, just wait here."
Amy: "Make that five. Five dips! I need five dips for the drive home."
st3ph: "Make that FIFTY dips! We need FIFTY dips, damnit!!"
Teardrop, not phased at all: "OK hold on while I get them, wait here."
[ goes to go get dips ]
st3ph, to Amy: "How does he not recognize us by now?"