Combine graffiti, a scavenger hunt, an undisclosed location, civil disobedience, and radical self expression, add a heavy helping of underground electronic music, and you get Sonic Attenuation. The brain child of Jason Morrall (Universal Vibe, Acid. TV) and Scotty Manners (Jive Wise), this event was one of a kind. However, before I get into the details of this unique event, I need to give you all a bit of history as to why this event was so special.
Hop inside the way back machine with me and let’s travel to a magical place in time, the year 2000. We partied like it was 1999 and survived Y2K. Rave culture is going strong here in the United States, and so is war on drugs. Reports of young people overdosing on Ecstasy (MDMA) at raves have garnished the attention of fear mongering politicians and concerned parents. While in reality the numbers of people who overdosed at raves were relatively low, one politician in particular made it his mission to end the rave scene. Joe Biden, who at the time was the Senator of Delaware, introduced the R.A.V.E. ACT (Reducing Americans Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act). This act built off the back of the crack house statute that held landlords legally responsible if drugs were being sold or manufactured on their property. Initially, the bill was shot down twice in Congress in 2001, and again in 2002. However, a reworked version passed in 2003 as the Illicit Drug Proliferation Act, a rider to the Protect Act, amending the Controlled Substances Act. This passed under President George W. Bush in a bipartisan effort that was spearheaded once again by Joe Biden. According to Congress.gov, this bill prohibits “Knowingly opening, maintaining, managing, controlling, renting, leasing, making available for use, or profiting from any place for manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance. Intentionally profiting from any place, whether permanently or temporarily.” This bill was aimed directly at club owners and party promoters. Individuals found to be in violation would be subject to fines up to $250,000; or 2 times the gross receipts of the proceeds of the event for each violation. This meant that paramedics or other harm reduction organizations would no longer be allowed on site. The reasoning being that their presence would suggest the promoters and club owners had prior knowledge of illicit drugs being present or being sold at the event. As a result overdoses skyrocketed, raves shut down, venues raided, and club owners and promoters faced prosecution and fines. The underground Rave scene in the United States, and particularly in Indiana, came to a near standstill.
The topography of the dance music scene in the United States was forever changed, and out of the ashes of the Rave scene came EDM, the rise of large scale festivals, and the “glam” club scene. EDM festivals and today’s clubs are markedly different from yesterday’s raves. They have a more commercial vibe, appealing to people en masse. Big festivals like EDC and Electric Forest boast attendance numbers that can range from 50,000 to 100,000. Gone are days of underground dance music being held at secret gritty and oftentimes illegal locations. Warehouse parties are few and far between. The festival kids have developed a deeply uniquely, distinct, and valid culture of their own. But it’s a very different experience. Of course, I enjoy today’s new vibrant dance culture, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the rave.
Imagine my delight when I learned about the collaborative effort that was Sonic Attenuation. The location was a secret. If you wanted to attend you would have to do a scavenger hunt. All of the clues and locations involved local graffiti around the city and spotlighted the artists who created them. They used progressive marketing techniques like AI and QR codes that definitely paid off. In the week leading up to the event, they would drop one clue a day, with the last clue being dropped the day of. The clue would tell you where to find the QR code that you needed to scan. Everytime you scan a QR code you would get information on the artist and a part of the coordinates to the rave.
No money would be accepted at the door, however if you were so inclined you could bring non-perishable food items that would be donated to a local food bank. The coordinates you received would get you to the first location. The second location would be revealed when you got to the rave. The second location was a backup in case the cops came to shut the rave down. The cops coming was really more of a question of when rather than if, given that it was being held in a public space that we did not ask for permission to be in, and the noise ordinance cut off time is 11 P.M.
You may be asking yourself, what does graffiti have to do with rave culture? According to Jason Morrall, the tie is closer than you may think. He says that that tie lies in radical self expression. Radical self expression is the idea of giving yourself permission to be yourself and live authentically, regardless of what that looks like. A place where you can come as you are and celebrate yourself. Raves played alternative dance music made by underground artists for underground people. People who rejected the prepackaged and manufactured pop music. It was full of misfits, artists, and weirdos. When you came to a rave, you knew you were around family. This was the vibe that Jason Moral wants to bring back. The scavenger hunt was the ONLY way to get into the rave. This is a nod to back in the day when you would have to be in the know about things, and they didn’t give you an address because sometimes there wasn’t one. You had to get out a paper map and do it by longitude and latitude.
The location itself was a cool little green space out by some factories in Indianapolis. It had an area that almost seemed like it was made for a stage and little paved walking path that ran through the little park. However, getting to that area there was a bit of steep incline and wearing the proper footwear definitely paid off.
Once you got down the incline, you were at the walking path. You were met by security who were checking ID’s to make sure you were at least 18 yrs old. Then you were given a bracelet and the address of the second location. Walking in on the right, you had a steep cement incline that was a support to a small bridge above where the road was. To the left, they had hung some canvas and had spray paint available for you to create your own art if you so wished. Beyond that was the stage and a grassy area perfect for dancing. There was a cement wall behind that stage that worked well for some visuals, as well as stage lighting, and lasers. A lot of them. These guys had more lasers than an Excision show.
The lineup was made up of out of town talent as well as some local artists. On the bill was Fortune, DJ Shaw Shank, AZA, Houser, Tonic Clonic, and Jive Wise, Acid TV, and friends. To make sure that the artists from out of town got to play their sets were first at location one.
The party was kicking! I saw some faces I knew, but more importantly I saw faces I didn’t know. The vibe was spot on as well. People were friendly and had a great time. The dance floor was full, and the incline facing the stage was full of people sitting and hanging out. But the fun didn’t last forever. Around 1AM, the cops came and shut the party down. No one was in trouble and we all quickly exited to the second location, The Marilyn Rose Center.
The Marilyn Rose Center is an artist community inside an old industrial warehouse on the old south side of Indianapolis. Artful graffiti covers the outside walls and the inside boats over sixteen artist studios, as well as two stages and an event room. It was awesome to see how many people came to the second location to continue the party, and those who made it enjoyed performances from fire spinners, performance dance from Foxy Flame, a second set from Fortune, a set from Uriah G., along with various other DJ’s who kept the dance floor moving until 4 or 5 in the morning.
This party was one for the record books! It was amazing to see so many fresh faces. It thrilled me to see two gentlemen in their 50s at The Marilyn Rose Center whom I had met at the first location. They had been walking by when they were setting up and asked what was going on. After being given a brief rundown of the event, they stayed and followed us over to the second location. I asked them what they thought about the event, and they told me they had never been to anything like this. They were already inquiring about the next event and said that they had a blast!
Spike Heart reached out to Fortune and got some of her thoughts on the event.
“Hearing the bass guiding us in from half a mile away, then parking in the line of cars on the industrial road with nothing but huge factories around, and clambering down the embankment heading towards the lights under the railway bridge, there was that so familiar but rarely felt pang of excitement… holy shit, a real rave!!! The second venue was also wicked cool, filled with art and unique. I’ll always play for Jason, his commitment to curating creative spaces in the most unexpected places, combined with his community mindedness, creates a unique, warm, engaged and exciting vibe, that’s hard to pull off in smaller American cities.”
This party stood out to me for many reasons. I was grateful for a departure from the status quo and a return to grassroots. It had fresh energy with old school vibes. It was awesome to see people experiencing a real rave for the first time and it reminded me how amazing my first time was. That feeling is the reason I am writing this today twenty-three years later. Sonic Attenuation was a complete success and I am excited to see what the folks at Universal Vibe have in store for us next.