Between 1990 and 2001, the city's rave scene was one of the healthiest in the country and possibly the largest in the Midwest: A dynamic, reverent community that created a family out of people who knew only each other's first names. This was before the pacifiers and the phat pants, before glowsticks and dubstep. As a movement, St. Louis rave might technically have stopped when the new millennium started, but the evidence suggests that its effects never did.
"There aren't enough words for your blog," Alexis Tucci Hansen tells A to Z. "It was beautiful. When I was young in the scene, I thought it was the best because of the creativity. Everyone wore handmade clothes. It's gone through its evolutions, but it was always a family."
Alexis fell into St. Louis rave culture at age fifteen in a story that is shared by almost all those who were a part of the scene: It all began at a party. The city's rave influence spread through a span of clubs fronted by Fallout and continued through venues like Twist, Other World and Felix's. Later, the mass music experience percolated through dirty warehouses and street shows that covered entire city blocks. Tomorrow, it will find a final home, albeit almost ten years later, at Atomic Cowboy, in a show that reunites the founders and the followers in front of nineteen artists who created and explored the scene's foundation in the Midwest.
"It started off being about the music, and it ended up being about the people," says Angelo Dower, one of the event's founders. "The rave movement was the closest thing people our age could get to the hippie movement of the '60s. Once you met somebody, you knew them. You didn't even need to know their first names."
The event began as a formal reunion shortly after the movement's former followers reunited online through Facebook with a group started in February. It took only a month to solidify plans for the event once the idea was planted. The Atomic Cowboy event, titled We Are Family, is open to the public, but at its core it will function as a final exploration of what the music and the community meant to those who were a part of it in the '90s. "A lot of the kids in the scene came from broken homes," Dower says. "A lot of them were people who didn't really feel like they fit in. I don't want to make it sound like everyone in the group fit that category, because they didn't, but once we got in there, those rules didn't apply anymore. We belonged."
This included a huge amount of followers, among them travelers from Midwestern satellites such as Akron, Memphis, Cleveland, Chicago, Nashville and Indianapolis, people who spent weekends in clubs and on couches.
The idea for the reunion began with the movement's second tier, those who joined it only slightly after its founding. The performers on the bill include both the fundamental acts of the genre's heyday and those, like Tucci Hansen, who were influenced to create their own music later in life. Although the house music played at Atomic Cowboy will firmly reflect the trends of the time rather than the glitch and dubstep that have today replaced it, Alexis stands behind her belief that the results will be "killer."
"To the ones that matter, it's a get-together," says Tucci Hansen, today a 36-year-old who celebrated her 20-year anniversary with house music last May. "We're not trying to recreate or re-invent the past. The scene ended without us saying, "Hey, this is the end. In a way, it's closure."
Although there has been some criticism inside the ranks that the event is a nostalgic attempt to reclaim the music's heyday, both Dower and Alexis put that to rest. That is no longer an option, they say.
"We could never reinvent the scene the way it was. Now it's about money, and I hate that. We didn't have Coca-Cola sponsoring our events back then. We were in dirty, grimy warehouses. I don't know if the scene is like that today, but I'd bet $1 million that it's not."