This Video of 90s Ravers Moshing in a New York City Park is Everything

For jaded millennials like me, vintage 90’s rave footage on Youtube offers a perfect wormhole. Clips of tracksuited Dutch skinheads at Thunderdome and zonked British teens at Fantazia rack up millions of views with captivating images of a wilder, more innocent world. I’ve watched hours and hours of these videos—they provoke bittersweet nostalgia for something I never experienced in the first place. Sure, raves still exist—check out our photo gallery from Detroit’s Movement Festival or VICE’s Locked Off documentary—but there’s a freaky danger to these 90’s parties that few contemporary events can match. They feel closer to myth than reality.

Watch enough of this footage and it starts blending together into an endless cavalcade of grinding teeth and huge pants. Still, sometimes I find clips that can still knock me over with utopian impossibility. Especially when they take place in broad daylight in downtown Manhattan before Giuliani-era gentrification. Take this clip, from a rave thrown by a group called Blackkat on May Day, 1999. Blackkat was a DIY arts organization started in 1996, which describes itself its “roots and influences” on its website as spanning the “LES squatter movement, NYC experimental warehouse events, nomadic sound system and circus crews, the Midwest r@ve scene, American punk culture, the Rainbow family, and community-based direct action groups.”

If that sounds like an impossibly vast spectrum, well, check the tapes. In the above video you can see how this rave—the first in a series of May Day parties which ran until 2008, when Blackkat’s founder moved to Poland—drew hundreds of revelers from every downtown scene to dance under the spring sky in Tompkins Square Park, which served as an inflection point for punks, metalheads, art school socialites, anarchist squatters, ravers, and every other category of freak.

Blackkat intentionally threw parties on May Day “as a way to align our goals and ideals with the history of the anarchist/labor movement in the US.” This radical slant is reflected in the livewire punk energy coursing through these clips. Below, watch Lenny Dee—founder of Brooklyn dance label Industrial Strength Records, a pioneering Brooklyn-based hardstyle and techno label—peer out from behind space-age Y2K sunglasses and twist the crowd into a mosh pit with his acidic hardcore grooves. It’s hard to overstate how out of place this would look at a modern party. You can’t really imagine hundreds of rowdy teenagers bouncing off each other at a Wythe Avenue megaclub. But in those days, moshing at raves was part of the scene—Industrial Strength even threw parties at CGBGs.

There’s something so quintessentially New York about the Blackkat party’s crossover between every type of creature in the downtown menagerie. This party has NYHC punks in hockey jerseys, breakdancers in parachute pants, ravers grinding their teeth in visors and kandi, metalheads with leather vests and Slayer tees, and blond bros in Nautica and Abercrombie & Fitch. A homeless man carrying his belongings kisses the hand of a girl in a sports bra. A guy in a “DOPE” t-shirt, a bead necklace, and a camo hat slamdances with a girl in oversize gray cargo shorts. “Make some noise!” roars Lenny Dee, and a sea of fists raise together.

The comments on old rave clips are always a treat—on the video above (Blackkat Jason BK spinning at Tompkins), a commenter named Kookamanga Walla points out old friends: a girl with pigtails and a water bottle is “Care Bear, makin’ sure everybody is hydrated,” while a black kid with pink hair and a spiked choker is “Dream…a dancer legend.” Someone asks after Dream’s whereabouts. Kookamanga responds, “Wife and kids, smashing life.”

This footage showcases a Manhattan that barely exists now—diverse, wild, coursing with energy. Sure, it’s not always healthy to wallow in nostalgia. But in today’s increasingly bland New York, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what exactly went away, and how it might be regained.

Lenny Dee plays Bossa Nova Civic Club on Thursday. Read more about BlackKat here .

Photos Of The Beautiful Freaks At America's Biggest Gabber Festival

Photos by Justin Cole Smith

Last month, I saw an event pop up in my Facebook feed called “Gabberfest 2016: America’s Hardest.” Slated for June 18-19, the three-year-old festival promised to help “fans of the sounds too extreme for any mainstream festival find their sanctuary during two days of pure chaos,” and a “hellish inferno under the Las Vegas sun.”

A couple of my Facebook friends had said they were attending, but I knew they weren’t actually going tothe flyer was pretty goofy and the event was way out in Vegas. Still, I became super curious about what a gabber festival in America would look like in 2016. Gabbera Netherlands-born subgenre of hardcore music marked by heavily distorted kickdrums, whiplash-inducing BPMs, and no-fucks-given aggressionwas mostly popular in Europe 10 or 20 years ago, corrupting an entire generation of Dutch children.

I imagined a few different scenarios, the most likely that the actual festival would be sparsely attended, mostly by weird, angry, bald white dudes. What I found in reality was a hyper-dedicated and tight-knit scene gabber heads leftover from the larger hardcore explosion in America decades ago that either got swallowed or abandoned by more accessible electronic music genres over time.

Watch our documentary on the Rotterdam Terror Corps, Holland’s Most Badass Hardcore Collective

These lovable freaks gathered in a dive bar called Hard Hat Lounge north of the strip. Many of them were also DJing at the festival, which was thrown by Las Vegas resident Brandon Ramirez AKA the “White Ape,” with the help of a San Bernadino-based production company Techno Belligerent. Their dedication to ball-bustingly hard electronic music is so unwavering that they were even willing to put up with the 108 degree weather to rage in the parking lot.

Even though Gabberfest was organized as a pre-party to the massive EDM festival Electric Daisy Carnival, where crossover hardcore act Lenny Dee and quite a few hardstyle DJs were playing, I didn’t talk to a single person at Gabberfest who was attending EDC as well.

Chatting with some of the folks present, I felt instantly welcomed into their community, and got the sense that everyone was very optimistic about the future of their micro-scene. Even the Satanists were super nice!

Deadly Buda

THUMP: How did you get into gabber?

I guess I got into it right when it started, more or less… I threw my first rave in 1991.

How do you feel listening to gabber? Whats the perfect setting for it?

That big distorted kick drum really stimulates the fight-or-flight response so it makes dancing like a thrill ridethat’s what I like about the gabber sound. You want a big system you can jam out to.

How do you feel about the American gabber scenedo feel like it’s a unified culture?

There are all these awesome producers in America who are basically getting no attention whatsoever. One of the great things about Gabberfest is we’re getting everyone to meet up and start cooperating to make the scene bigger and better. You are seeing the unification of the scene right here.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

Technically I think it makes it worseit makes it harder to dance. I think drugs hold back any music scene, but smaller music scenes have more people dedicated to the music.

What do you think it would take for gabber to become more popular? Would you want it to be?

I think you’re seeing it happen right now.

Steven AKA Metal Jesus

How did you get into gabber? What makes it special?

I was asking friends for the hardest, fastest music and Berzerker was a a band I was given. I started seeing tags like speedcore and terrorcore, so I just started to look that shit up and that’s how I got in the scene. My first party was Angerfist’s first party in the United States at Murder the Dancefloor in 2007. Now I’m at the point where I can go to a party alone and know three or four people there.

So you feel like there’s a unified scene?

Fuck yeah.

How do you feel listening to gabber?

Oh man, I could play gabber to wake me up, and play gabber to put me to sleep.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

I dance so hard and so long that if I do do drugs, it’s gonna fuck me over big time. So just water and caffeine and make sure I get some good protein and fruit through out the day. People can do whatever the fuck they want, but from what I have seen, not very many people do hard drugs.

Tell me about how you dress to a gabber rave?

Oh I have no clueI’ll wear whatever I’m comfortable in.

Brent AKA Counterterrorist

How did you get into gabber?

I got to see Delta9 at a New Year’s party about five years ago when I first got into gabber. I found more of it online and just really went with it.

How do you feel about the American gabber scene? Do feel like it’s a unified culture?

It used to be really big and I feel like it can be again if we coordinate.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

Thats an interesting question. I have to say it’s based on the person. It can go really well or really bad. Alcohol is a big thing with gabber. Where I’m from, mostly people would do a lot of acid and listen to breakcore and stuff. Drugs can enhance .

Tell me about your clothing or style.

HK: I’ve just always done whatever the fuck I want. I don’t like to do the whole super feminine style. Just whatever is comfortable.

Brandon AKA The White Ape

How did you get into gabber?

A lot of us we just stumbled onto the mixtapes, but back then, what really hooked me was the energy and the power of hardcore music at its peak. That was 20 years ago.

How come there aren’t more women in the scene?

We have a few strong women DJs, but we could always use more women.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

Drugs are everywhere. It’s an unavoidable evil, but in the hardcore scene I don’t think it’s as much as an overt problem as in other scenes.

Helbert AKA En3gy

How did you get into gabber?

I used to have a friend who would bring back tapes from the UK and Holland in the mid-90s and tell me, “you gotta listen to this stuff.”

How do you feel about the American gabber scene? Do feel like it’s a unified culture?

It’s had its ups and downs. Once we stick together, things will start to get there again.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

It makes no difference. I’m sober half the timeunless I’m drunk.

Tell me about your style.

I grew up in the hood, so for me, it’s just urban. I’m relaxed.

Gary and Donna

How did you get into gabber?

Gary: Being in the hard dance scene and hardstyle just eventually led to this.

Donna: Artists out of LA just started to bring it out more to Texas.

Do drugs make the gabber experience better or worse?

Gary: Drugs maybe just make it a little more fun. I could be sober or on anything.

Do you feel like women are properly represented in the gabber scene?

Donna: There needs to be more active women in the gabber scene. Women are scared to be more hardcore than the boys.

Tell me about what you’re wearing.

Gary: I’m gonna dress however the fuck I want. To be honest, we’re Satanists, and I just love anything dark and evil.

More photos from Gabberfest:

Adam Schwarz is a DJ based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.

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