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by Jennifer Gustafson
Photos by Wendy Huber

Jennifer GustafsonSince my introduction to the Atlanta scene over two years ago I have seen it go through many fluctuations and gradual changes as the new kids start to shape its development. At times I had wondered what the scene really meant to me. Recently I was forced to examine the importance of the scene in my life as it began to clash with my career. Fresh out of college, I began my first year of teaching high school only to discover that many of my students attended parties frequently. Word of my presence at parties spread from the students to my supervisor. She took me aside and strongly suggested that I prioritize and stop attending frivolous raves that could reflect upon my merit as a teacher and possibly set a poor example for the students. My decision to not give up the scene was based on a complete evaluation of its impact on my life, which has been considerable since the very beginning.

It all began....

A little over two years ago I met my current best friend. She was deep into the scene and I was intrigued by her passion for it — although I was not exactly sure what it was about. Before I ventured out to a party, she played various songs from different genres, introducing me to the vast arena of music in the dance culture. Still before my first party, I was schooled on the nature of the scene, its components, the "raver look" (if you will), and the raver attitude. I was enthralled, awed, and inspired. I fell head over heels in love with the scene and had not yet been to a party.

The idea of a small subculture in which the central purpose is to appreciate goodness, a community where the people love life and each other, celebrating themselves as individuals, was a phenomenon to me. My past encounters with attempting to be part of a group forced me to wonder, ironically, "Are these people too cool for me?" In spite of my anxiety, I was willing to take that chance because I really wanted to be a part of their culture, to experience its positivity. Before I met my best friend, I was a negative person. I did not like myself so I was unable to just relax and completely enjoy myself. My life was riddled with cynicism, sadness, and frustration. The scene intrigued me because it seemed to offer the very opposite of everything I'd been "into" previously.

Before all else — the music. I have always been very into music. I skipped casually through several musical environments, making pit stops at gothic music, industrial, etc...really, it seemed to be whatever music coincided with my soul at the time. Last stop before techno was industrial angst grunge bands that yelled, whined, and bitched at their lives and the world. I felt their anger and internalized it, adapting their misery to my own (on a smaller scale). Being introduced to HOUSE music was like opening a door to my soul that always existed, yet was never explored. Through the music alone, I was able to smile more, captivated by the depth and spirituality. Instead of encouraging sadness the music encouraged happiness. Once the perpetual beats had entranced me, I was sold.

At the risk of sounding hokey — I am so proud to be a raver. My best friend did not just introduce me to the scene — she shared it with me in its awesome entirety. She is a true raver at heart, and we all know who these people are. She was in love with it and her passion was contagious. She said it enabled her to shed her inhibitions and to feel good about herself — it changed her life.

As I attended more parties, I developed a style of my own and gained a self-confidence that was new to me — it was real. I became an individual. I cannot accurately explain with words the joy I had begun to feel. Wonderful, different people would approach me and tell me that I was beautiful or that I danced well, or just hug me. Were these people for real? Yes. That was the difference — the key. They were for real.

The rave scene changed my life. Slowly and most properly — being part of our scene changed me as a person. I loved myself for the first time, completely. I stopped being depressed because there was so much joy to be had, I just could not ignore it. A passion and adoration for the scene was deep inside me. Each party promised enticing individuals that brought their own energy and love in with them. I SOON discovered that it wasn't about the drugs, the stupid lines to get in, the occasional asshole that sneaks in, the crappy space, the shitty sound system, etc...or anything else that could go wrong. Those things do not matter — it's all worth it. It is about the music and love that brings all of us — our incredible diversity — together to embrace the goodness in life and each other — dancing our troubles away.

Our scene is a movement of wonderful, loving people towards a better future. I have met the greatest people that I have ever known at parties, truly exceptional people. Oh sure, lots of things in life still SUCK, but I have learned through my experiences to make the best of almost any situation. I am hopeful. I have hope for the future. My entire outlook on life has changed — I love so much now and I owe it to my involvement in the scene.

I do realize that I may sound like some crazed guru that knocks on doors and preaches our way of life like it is the only salvation from hell, because in many ways it was for me. My seemingly abundant praise of the culture is actually a springboard for the point that I have to make. I became a teacher because I love kids — truly. I had always wanted to work with kids. They need our guidance, love, and acceptance — especially now with all of the intense ordeals they are asked they deal with. Unfortunately, for me, I graduated and became a full-fledged high school teacher in the very midst of my soulful immersion into the scene, which was frustrating because, as you all know, ravers are seen as careless, immature hedonists to the unknowing conservative general population (all of the negative press, etc.).

So, I tried to be "an acceptable ADULT," to leave it all behind — concentrate on being just a teacher. With all my effort I conjured up valid reasons for leaving my beloved lifestyle behind. I tried to believe them. I tried to believe that they were just big parties with great music and that I could move on and be what was considered a normal adult. No luck. It was too late— my life had been altered by a powerful, positive force that I could not leave behind. It aggravated me to think that something so wonderful to me was considered dangerous and rowdy to my co-workers, students, and parents. I could not and still cannot give it up because I need it — it is nourishment for my soul.

I was so blessed to have a special person as my guide to reveal the real reason that we all gather each weekend and celebrate. IT'S ALL GOOD. How can something that has created so much love, awareness, acceptance, and positivity be given up or shrugged off as a phase or childish fad? I had finally gained a spirituality that derived from the nature of the scene that flourished and overflowed into all facets of my life. For me, being a raver is not a fad, it's my way of life. Being confronted by my supervisor ultimately renewed my dedication to seek out pleasure and continue in my misunderstood pursuit of what my body and soul need to be complete. A true raver is a wise person, one who has actual priorities, goals, and drive. We don't get lost in over-indulgence and reckless abandonment of reality. We possess intelligence, enlightenment, and understanding in our house, within our family.

Because I am experiencing an inevitable change in the scene that I loved, I was at first discouraged by the lack of awareness that the younger generation seemed to circulate. Then it became clear to me that a new generation brings a fresh attitude and atmosphere. Change is necessary — without it, what would become of the culture that is obviously meant to be shared? The reality of the situation is that many old school folks that I encounter these days seem bitter and unaccepting of change, worried that the "good old days are over..." which is unfortunate for them because there are plenty of good days to be had now. Savor the memories, but continue to make new memories. Parties have evolved but do not therefore lack in spirit and meaning. The new kids are looking for the same fulfilling experience that is intended — individual pursuit of the soul — that all of the old school crew looked for. Why should they be deprived of all our community has to offer? Everyone, young and old, should be invited to share in our joy.

My reasons for sharing my story is simply to make people aware of just how special and meaningful the scene can be for some individuals. Not everyone feels as passionate as me, I know. I want others to be able to experience the same happiness and relief that I did because it was so exciting. Just the other day, a young girl told me that she was clinically depressed; she has just started going to parties and she is happier than she has ever been. She went on to say that the rave culture changed her life for the better. She was amazed at how much she had gained in such a short time — like I was. It was refreshing to hear a teenager express such a mature perception of her experiences. She had such a clear, intelligent understanding of what she had found; she was also acutely aware of the potential danger that lies in not knowing one's personal limitations. At fifteen, this young girl is using the scene to enhance her life because of the fantastic, caring people she has met. They encouraged her to love the scene for the right reasons. This young girl is a prime example of the fact that many of the younger kids are searching for the same fulfillment as the old-schoolers.

What us nocturnal pleasure-seekers have is more than just self-indulgent, drug-induced, delusion. Our culture offers people an enlightened, intelligent way to live. We do not carelessly party our lives away like idiots — we join together as a unified family in defiance of hatred, ignorance, and intolerance. For some, we provide a loving family where a lost soul is not only embraced, but free to find true happiness within themselves. We all need that so much.

Thank you for reading this, even if you think that I am some sort of RAVER LUNATIC with a self-administered license to preach about what I feel is important. What makes me an expert? Nothing. I just want wonderful people to join us for the right reasons and use the scene for spiritual and personal growth, not just debauchery.

Jennifer Gustafson has been living in Atlanta for a year and currently teaches English at a local high school. She graduated from UGA with a bachelors degree after a three-year enlistment in the U.S. Army. This is her first published work, but she hopes to continue writing both as a hobby and eventually as a career. When she is not lounging around at home, Jennifer enjoys going out to eat, playing pool, and frequenting numerous night clubs to dance-dance-dance!

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