Back in the day, I was a sneaky kid growing up in the urban oasis they carved out of a steamy, sticky South Florida swamp…Miami. The 305 is a uniquely sleezy, but soulful city, an interesting place to come of age, to say the least. For a significant portion of my adolescence, you could say I was a raver. Remember those? Almost every weekend, and often several times in between, I’d head out with my semi-delinquent friends, pop some pills, and lock into the beats all night, straight through the following day.
This was the mid-to-late '90s. The rave scene was still mostly underground. Hell, they were still called “raves.” Like other great musically-driven sub-cultures and youth-movements that came before it, the rave scene seemed like something literally out of this world and ahead of its time. It was matched only by what hippies did at acid-parties in places like Haight-Ashbury, parties also referred to as “all night raves.” But unlike anything that has ever preceded them, modern raves were abstract and beyond words, mostly because everyone was on planet E and could hardly muster a coherent sentence.
I’ll try to put my experiences from those days into words now, because I think the time is right to look back. The '80s revival is winding down and the return of the '90s is upon us. A decade after being vilified to death by the authorities and eroded from the wear and tear of getting played out, rave culture is poised to return to the forefront of dance music and underground club scenes. Maybe this time around we capture a different magic. But the next generation should know what went down the first time around. And those who took part back in the day should remember what happened.
Humberto as a young raver.
Most of you reading this column from different parts of the country have your own regional rave stories. My friends in New York and in my new home of California think they had the biggest, most relevant scenes in the states, while people from Detroit and Chicago fight over being originators of techno and house music, which happened before my time. My own personal story coincides with the rise and fall of the edgiest, most intense American rave scene - The Florida rave scene, from Miami to Orlando, in my case, mostly Miami.
The Florida rave scene was chronicled by Rolling Stone
contributing editor Simon Reynolds in his seminal, rave anthology Generation Ecstasy
as “infamous for taking excessive hedonism to the point of near-death experiences and sometimes taking it all the way.” I can attest to the truth in that observation, as you’ll read below. Our scene was dark and mean and so was the way we partied. For the record, I’m not advocating what I did or what I saw, but it’s worth noting it all went down that way. I don’t want to sugar coat it. Much of the language and vernacular will reflect that time and that place I came of age in, so if you don’t always understand what I’m saying (especially the Cuban-American Spanglish terms) just use context clues and make a good guess. You’ll figure it out.
Reader discretion is advised, what I’m about to describe was not always pretty, but sometimes it was beautiful...especially in the beginning.
I started going to raves at a shockingly early age, around 14. That’s pretty freakin' young. If I see a 14-year-old kid out in club in the middle of the night I’d be like "where the hell are your parents?!” When you grow up in Miami you start partying early, and you figure out how to get around things like parents, curfews, and being underage. This is around 1995. Raves went on till way past dawn, which made it possible to actually wake up super early in the morning and go out to party. Over the course of the next few years, I’d venture to raves as often as I could.
My first years going to out raves, basically my freshman through senior year in high school, I didn’t exactly have the adult freedom to live it 24/7. In the beginning it was a mission just to go to a rave. If I wasn’t pretending to be sleeping over a friend’s crib, I’d tell my folks I was leaving real early in the mornings to “go surfing” even though I had no surfboard and never came back with a tan. If my friends were picking me up I had roll out of bed around 4AM and stand on the corner and wait for them. I had no cell phone and no beeper so when they said they were going to be there, they had to be there. They always were.
My folks would have never imagined I was venturing off to such strange places. It would have seemed so alien to them. The first time I went to a rave it sure as hell was alien to me. It was so alien, that raves would from that point on make me believe in actual aliens. There was even a time when I convinced a couple of my friends I was from another planet, but that’s another story. First I need to explain how it all began for me and for a lot of people I knew. It happened at the place that for all intents and purposes created the Florida rave scene - The Edge.
The Edge was located beside dark train tracks in an industrial section of downtown Ft. Lauderdale. At the time, it was a dark, decrepit stand-alone building with paint peeling off the walls. At night it looks more like a post-apocalyptic crack-house than a nightclub. I had seen Marilyn Manson perform a concert there, before they broke out. It was known as a goth/industrial/metal club most nights. But beginning in 1994 they dedicate Saturday nights to a “rave party” that starts at 2AM and on some weekends goes on till noon the next day. It is one of the first places you could go hear all kinds of electronic music, trance, techno, and towards the morning electro-funk, breaks, and Miami Bass. Because liquor isn’t served after 2AM the age requirement is 16 and over.
That first night, my first rave at The Edge, I’m a high school freshman and I’m staying over a friend’s. It’s the middle of the night and I’m stoned on his floor playing Street Fighter 2. He gets off the phone and tells me to put on my kicks ‘cause we are going to a “rave.” At the time, I’m an alter-na-teen. I had on faded corduroy jeans. I’m into music like Jane’s Addiction and gangsta rap about smoking chronic and drive-by’s. I know nothing of raves. And how the hell are we supposed to get in? We’re little kids! My friend figures since it’s 16 and over we shouldn’t have a problem faking. But just to be sure I get a sharpie and literally write a new birth date on my school ID to say I was 16. Then I paint every alternating finger nail black with the same Sharpie. I don’t why, I just did.
So we sneak out of my friend’s house while his parents sleep and jump into the ride of a high school senior we don’t know, all set up by a couple of our chick pals who convince the guy to pick our freshman asses up cause we’d spark him up to the funkete crips. It’s the middle of the night and I’m stuffed in the back of a small Honda hatchback, on my way 30 minutes north of my suburban Miami-Dade neighborhood to Ft. Lauderdale, a more whitebread version of the Cuban enclave I’m used to. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know this could get me into so much trouble and that is enough to get me excited.
When we roll into the parking lot at The Edge, I’m in a world I had never seen before, with people and styles that were unlike anything I’ve seen in any music video, movie, or magazine. It’s a blend of clubkids, B-boys, goths, and ghetto ass heathens, most of whom have the baggiest jeans I’d ever seen. “What the fuck is up with these jeans bro?” I ask myself. People are slinging pills and hits, and hitting whippets out of big cartoonish balloons, like it ain’t no thing. This is much more intense than the high school keggars I’d been crashing. I probably shouldn’t even be here.
We line up outside The Edge in mad anticipation. Heavy techno thumps boom from inside, shaking the foundation and expanding the janky walls with every beat. When get to the door they ask me for my I.D. I must have looked about 12 years old that night, as I hand some zoned-out freakshow my carefully re-crafted high school ID. He takes my seven bucks and in I go.
When I get inside I’m confronted with an esoteric truth - there are realms we can visit that function within a slightly different dimension then the world we know. And this is one of them. The first thing that runs through my mind is “Holy shit!” The whole place is all-out sensory overload. Neon beams and strobe lights dart through an otherwise dark and cavernous venue, momentarily bouncing off of a sea of silhouettes dancing in the dark, some waving glow sticks in those proverbial figure-eights, but I still can’t tell if the place is half empty or packed with people.
The Edge is other-worldly, creepy, hazy from the fog machines, blinding from the strobe lights, the bass from the speakers pound on your chest, and every corner is dark and mysterious. A balcony wraps the interior of the bottom and second floors, looking down on a subspace that is more a big, dirty, dried up pit than a dancefloor. The siderooms are lit by blacklight. The couches along the walls are stuffed with people, sitting intertwined like pretzels, making out. One guy sits on a stool with his jeans around his ankles and a pink haired chick rides him. Despite the public display they don’t attract much attention.
The sounds of whistles resonate throughout the place, weaving in cadence with the song I will forever have engrained in my sub-conscious, Union Jack’s “Lollipop Man.” The part with the sound of the siren takes me away. The only rational thought going through my head is if my parents knew where I was right now I’d be grounded for a really, really long time. But for some reason I still don’t have a worry in the world. Meanwhile, my friend’s reaction is, “We’re doing this every week!”
Most of these kids wear those aforementioned big ass jeans (most notably JNCO’s) and whatever thrift shop shirt they can find. Some of the chicks have those baggy jeans riding low, with the straps of their g-strings high on their hips, visible above their waists, which looked trashy and hot as hell. Others are much more animated. One guy has on an Uncle Sam suit. Some girls wore their hair like Princess Lea. Other girls are dressed like Rainbow Bright. A couple of guys are in homemade alien costumes, walking through the club like they’re lost in outer space. Some wave hi to me as I pass them by. Some people are on the floor massaging each other, with their eyes rolling into the back of their head. Some of those people are sucking pacifiers. Others are blowing Vicks Vapor Rub into their eyes. What the fuck is a matter with these people?
I’m told everyone is “rolling” on ecstasy. I had no idea what ecstasy is. I wouldn’t take ecstasy for more than a year after I came to my first rave. Yes, I waited till I was all of 16. My first night, I was just gonna blaze. My friend and I have a pair of phat jays rolled up and that would be enough for us. Except that when we find a corner to light them up the bouncer comes by and takes our jibbers away. But he doesn’t throw us out. He just walks off and smokes them himself. Bastard!
So basically, my first night at a rave I was sober as hell. And yet, it was the trippiest thing I’d ever experienced. I felt like I was peaking balls. There’s no other place and no other time that gave me that feeling. You might say it had something to do with the fact I was a teen, but if you were in your 20’s or even 30’s and you were at The Edge back in the day you felt the same way. It was that kind of moment in time.
The Edge had a popular patio. And that’s where everyone would just hang out in the morning. It all started with this kid from Miami, Manny Risco, who was the baddest dancer during The Edge days. He’d battle everybody. His moves were a sick combination of popping & locking and just weird fluid-but-machine-like flashes across the dancefloor. I remember the guy once jumping off the second floor onto the middle of a circle. What an entrance. One night he just took the party outside and started dancing to nothing, to silence. People would follow him outside. That’s when the club decided to put ambient tunes outside. When you were out in the patio, the temperate night air felt good on your stimulated skin. And you could hear yourself talk, even though it was mostly nonsense.
The patio at The Edge made an impression on me because it would be the first place I’d be confronted with sunshine. When you were inside the venue in the morning, some sunlight would peer through cracks or when the exit door opened. But outside you were bombarded by the searing sun, the bright and humid Florida mornings. I point this out because you had to see what a rave looked like in the brightness of South Florida sun after an all-nighter. When daylight hit a raver and illuminated their strung out expressions - their rolling eyes, their quivering lips, their lockjaws, the paleness and the breakouts, the dehydrated cheeks, the ravages of the night explicitly sprawled across their face - you knew that you and everyone else around you was zooted to high heaven.
Raves were the one place where you could walk around sweaty, disgusting, and in tatters and still look appropriate. After spending all night raving, most people’s enormous jeans would be muddy on the bottoms, especially if the rave had an outside area, like The Edge. Most people would end up looking like they literally crawled out of the gutter, including me. I always still managed to find my way into the arms of some chick who was grinding her teeth down to nothing.
As for the drugs I was on during those days (yeah I’m gonna talk about that almost incessantly throughout this series because it’s a major part of the story), for the most part I would drop acid at The Edge. I thought I wasn’t ready for E, like I said, it was a year before I’d try it. I also figured acid was like really strong pot, which I’d learn wasn’t the case. But I guess it was more a money issue. Stamps were like five bucks a piece, and ecstasy was like 25 bucks a bean back then. I could trip all night on pyramids, or sunshines or whatever was going around. The rest of my friends would mostly drop hits in the beginning too and I quickly found out that while I wasn’t the toughest kid on the block among them, I handled drugs pretty well. So under the influence of chemicals, I could make guys who were bigger and badder than I was lose their shit.
I would get one friend to go ask if another friend was okay because I’d say I saw him sitting in the corner crying. Low and behold, that friend would go over and ask the other guy, “Why are you crying?” To which the first would respond, “What the fuck are you talking about?” But since we would all be tripping out, someone who wasn’t crying all night might look like they were to anyone whom I embed the idea in. The guy who was never crying in the first place might even be convinced he’s been crying in the corner all along.
The conversations would always turn into a jumbled illogical mess. This would go on for some time. It would cause such major confusion I would actually cause friends of mine to wig out. Sometimes it would develop into a traumatic situation. People would question their sanity. All the while I’d stand to the side and laugh so hard my gut would bust.
Yes, I was an asshole on drugs but highly entertaining. You either had a blast tripping with me or I made you never want to drop anything again in your life. I would never have made the connection from those experiences to the fact I now do stand-up comedy, but looking back I guess the ability to not only recognize but semi-conduct the absurdity of a moment came from those days, because nothing was more absurd then The Edge on a Saturday night with my friends.
At The Edge, the music was a keynote. It was where I was first exposed to underground electronic music. Notable DJ’s who spun regularly at The Edge in the early days, were Orlando’s Icey and Rabbit in the Moon’s Monk, plus residents like Bruce Wilcox and Mike Sharpe who developed the Florida or Funky Breaks sound, building on electro-funk and breakbeats and fusing them with the trancy sounds playing at raves in other parts of the world. I found a great link on SoundCloud that has a collection of tracks made famous at The Edge, most of which is made up of amazing breakbeats
. For those of you who want to reminisce on old mixes check out Mami’s own Sandman-E’s amazing Edge mixes
That style of music brought a heavy dose of Miami kids into the fold. More than the white ravers and goth kids, the Miami set made dancing central as they followed guys like the aforementioned Manny Risco, combining the popping and locking of old school hip-hop dancing with weird rave motions. These hybrid raver-B-boys introduced circles and battling to the scene. Dancing made meeting chicks easy, cause you don’t talk much at raves. You could literally pick up a girl by dancing with, not even with her, but like battling her I guess. This would come into play later on when I was popping mad E, dancing and trying to scam every girl I met. But that would come after the Edge era, when I was just a little jit all I could do for the most part was watch.
Now I’m not a dancing kind of guy who loves to shake his patootie every time I go out. First of all, when I first started going to raves I had been mostly into hard alternative rock and heavy metal, so dancing for me was a mosh pit. But I did respect breakdancing bigtime. I was hooked on movies like Wild Style. At the time there were really only so many underground techno and trance records to play. Florida DJs would transition from trance to trip-hop, breaks, tracks that were heavily influenced by old school breaks, freestyle, and Miami bass. I don’t care what people say about house music, the breaks was the best music to dance to. The dancing at South Florida raves, beginning at The Edge, was mad trippy and ghetto and street and futuristic at the same time. It had attitude.
At its height, The Edge attracted major names from around the world like The Chemical Brothers, Sven Vath, Uberzone, Plastikman, Prodigy and breaks DJs from all over the country like Simply Jeff, while developing Florida’s homegrown talent like Rabbit In The Moon, Dynamix II, and all the Florida DJ’s, headlined by DJ Icy, and backed by guys like R-Fresh, George Acosta, Mike Sharpe and Stryke. And it spawned the rave scene in the FLA, no doubt about it. But The Edge ran its course relatively quickly, and in 1997 it was bought and transformed into a club called The Chili Pepper. In 1998 they canceled the Saturday rave night before re-instating it occasionally for a few-week runs here and there, but only letting it go till 5AM By the late '90s most rave parties were one-offs anyway, traveling events that took place here and there. Today it’s poshier rock club called Revolution Live. Recently they had a reunion party at the venue. And there’s a cool Facebook
page commemorating The Edge.
The Edge was also my introduction to mystical moments that defy explanation (at least when you’re mind is on fire). Weird stuff would always happen at The Edge, little things mostly, but major mindfucks none-the-less. Like one morning, my pal The Keeb and I were parched. And being punk-ass little jits, we couldn’t muster even one dollar between us to buy water. All we had was 75 cents between us, and water was a dollar (yeah, a dollar, this was old school). When The Keeb told me he needed a quarter, I just looked off into the impossibly dark and dirty dancefloor and immediately see a gleaming sparkle. I pointed, “Over there.” I didn’t really think it was a quarter. Sure enough, The Keeb went over, and in the middle of a mud puddle is a quarter. We were ecstatic. I know it’s a stupid little thing but we saw it as divine intervention. God wanted me and the Keeb to drink water! Moments like that used to happen all the time, so it seemed.
The Edge would change the lives of many kids in South Florida in the mid-'90s, including mine, and not necessarily for the better. In the beginning, it was a beautiful thing, our minds were opened to something boundless and seemingly spiritual, but towards the end of the roller coaster ride, a good part of an entire generation had found themselves in a very jaded, confusing period of their life. To say that the rave scene induced a collective hangover is an understatement. For some people things got ugly. Some didn’t even make it out alive.
I’ll never forget what it was like, being young, and putting so much energy into just having an experience like going to The Edge. If only my memories were clearer, but maybe it’s appropriate that it all seem like a dream to me.
As important as The Edge was in igniting the fire, it didn’t represent the end of the Florida rave scene, only the beginning. As crazy as The Edge seemed, it was not the heaviest interpretation of the Florida rave scene, and it didn’t cause the most damage. That would come in the form of a two-year spectacle that started as a weekly party on South Beach and rampaged throughout the entire state as the most notorious party Florida has ever seen. The weekly party I’m talking about was called Fever. It would take the Florida rave scene by storm, before crashing and burning and taking almost everyone down with it. When it took off, all innocence was lost, and things would never be the same again.
Next Chapter: Fever.