You could see the generation gap written all over the fire marshal's face as he attempted to restore at least a semblance of order to the Operation: Get Down party last weekend on Washington Avenue. There was a look of bafflement in his eyes as he and his fellow firemen helped corral 3,500 partygoers up and down the stairs, and his expression was transparent: "What the hell is going on here? Who are these people? What is going to happen?" He was in charge of the situation but ultimately helpless if the crowd decided to move for themselves.
The marshal's questions -- What? Who? -- were valid, and if he's reading "Radar Station," here are the answers. Operation: Get Down, despite the somewhat embarrassing moniker, was, according to many, one of the biggest warehouse parties St. Louis has ever seen, pulling people from all over the Midwest and setting a new standard in the city. There were 3,500 in attendance, an amazing feat for the city; Boogie Knights and That Girl (the co-promoters of the event) were forced to turn away another 1,500 people at the door on orders from The Man. That fact is a testament to the city's ability to use its position smack-dab in the center of the country to throw monster parties. More important, though, was the way the overflow was treated by the organizers and the authorities. Both remained relatively cool-headed and collected despite being buried deep among so many bodies. "We wanted to let more people in," says That Girl's Alexis Tucci, "and the building could hold more, but due to the fact that the building only had one point of egress out of that top floor, we had to limit the number of people we could have in there to a minimum number."
Word is that the party teetered on the edge of turning into Operation: Shut Down for about three hours ("We came real close to getting the party shut down about a zillion times," says Tucci) as cops, understandably frenzied and worried about the safety of those inside, threatened closure. Luckily they came to their senses after becoming convinced that it's much better to have 3,500 people inside and dancing than to have those same people, plus 1,500 others, frustrated and out on the streets at 4 a.m. The ultimate praise goes to the 3,500 attendees: Faced with logjams and bottlenecks inside, the sweating, thirsty and full-bladdered took deep breaths, kept calm and remained in party -- not stampede -- mode.
Let's backtrack, though, and put the Oct. 20 party in context. The Boogie Knights have been on a roll with their parties for the past year; each has been bigger than the last, and the outfit has developed a reputation for throwing both reliable and safe events. Tucci has been a mainstay on the party scene since the early '90s and is known as someone who can get the job done, regardless of the hurdles in her way. She always manages to discover warehouse spaces that others overlook, and her imagination results in safe, cool parties that retain an underground vibe.
Adding to the buzz was the fact that the companies were able to secure the Moonshine Over America tour as the talent for the party. Moonshine Records is a cornerstone of electronic dance music, and the label's presence not only legitimized the event but helped draw carloads of fans interested in dancing to the sounds of, among others, British house DJ Carl Cox and American DJs Dieselboy, Charles Feelgood, Dara, D:Fuse and Cirrus. To simplify: St. Louis was ready for a huge party, and because of the efforts of a number of individuals, it got one. In fact, it got a great one, though not without shortcomings.
The promoters knew they had a party on their hands in the days leading up to Get Down. They sold more than 1,000 advance tickets, and on the night of the party, people started lining up at 7 p.m. The organizers' task was to find a venue that could hold that many people, passed the required inspections and looked cool to boot. As late as a week before the event, they still hadn't found that venue. One midtown venue fell through, and a seed of panic had begun to sprout by the time they secured 1832 Washington Ave.
By midnight, the line was five wide and two blocks long. Boogie Knight kingpin Shawn York raced along the line to help people, stopping occasionally to simultaneously relax and pump up the crowd.
Inside, the crowd was giddy, and -- unlike recent parties at which dancers have gotten in the way of the cuddle puddles instead of the other way around -- the huge spaces were filled with revelers. In one of those rare moments when a consensus takes hold, the suspicion that this party was going to be special was confirmed by those harboring the suspicion -- it was self-fulfilling prophecy, and the smiles and overall buzz inside seemed to make the long line outside worth it. Upstairs, Charles Feelgood's deep, funky house lit up the dance floor; downstairs, Dieselboy's drum & bass was frenetic, and two conga drummers in a corner played along. The third room was less crowded, but the music, spun by local talent, sounded as deep as the national DJs' (though the sound could have used a boost). By the time headliner Carl Cox started pumping out a fast tech-house set, the dance floor, probably 50 yards wide, was filled.
"We pulled it off," says Tucci, sounding frayed, a few days after the party, "and the problems that we faced -- for us to come ahead and for the party to not get shut down and to have made it happen was pretty amazing, because we were down to the wire."
There were logistic problems, though. Though most of the partygoers were up on the main floor, the only available water and bathrooms were on the ground floor, and you had to go down the only stairs and through a single door to get to them. With all the dancing and sweating going on upstairs, abundant water was essential. The problem? Once partygoers were downstairs -- where the second and third rooms were spinning drum & bass, hip-hop and techno -- the path leading back up was crammed with revelers. Some had to wait as long as an hour-and-a-half before being let back up, a situation that could have been easily prevented had there been a water stand upstairs. This was when the party was at its worst, and it was this reality that carved the look of panic on the fire marshal's face. But things had calmed down by 4 a.m. -- the climax of the party -- and inside, all was wondrous.
Outside the warehouse, though, a different brand of chaos was apparently ensuing -- streaking and acid ODs. Word has it some bad acid was floating around. The result: ambulances, fire trucks, chaos. The police reported five arrests outside, three for dealing LSD and pot and another two for possession. ("I would love to say something about that," says Tucci, "because the more negligent people are, the more chances they have of ruining a good time for everyone else. That created a huge scare for us.")
In the Oct. 24 Post-Dispatch, Jerry Berger reported, "A Washington Avenue rave party went horribly awry over the weekend, requiring the intervention of St. Louis police officers and the hospitalization of several of the participants," but the "horribly awry" is hyperbole. Considering the size of the crowd and the age of its participants -- anywhere from 18 to 40 -- the fact that five people were hospitalized doesn't seem that shocking; more people were probably hospitalized for alcohol poisoning at this summer's Strassenfest. Berger also mentioned the arrest outside of "a Loft District streaker" in his description of the get-down. But we all know the truth: It ain't a great party until at least one person gets naked.