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Life

Meet the 'Grayvers'

Aging ravers party like it's 1993.

By Carrie-May Siggins 29 Jul 2005 | TheTyee.ca

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During the day they work as computer programmers, liquor store cashiers, maybe even, like Mark Achbar, directing famous documentaries. They might have a kid or two. Perhaps they even volunteer for the school parents’ council.

But on the weekend (not every weekend – they have responsibilities now), they’ll dig out their old soccer shirts, Adidas pants and halters; maybe buy a few hits of ecstasy from a friend; and rave like it’s 1993.

They’re grayvers – graying ravers (not to be confused with gravers – goth ravers) and they’ll set you straight if you suggest that the live electronic music scene is dead.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that electronica is over. Just Google "techno" or "rave," and you’ll find a junkyard of abandoned sites, with emoticons still winking from the last update in 1998. After the city of Vancouver and rave promoters agreed on a set of policies that regulated "late night dance events" in 1999, raves became pricey and riddled with cops and paramedics. Each application for an event is now a bureaucratic ordeal and must be approved by the City, the police, the fire department, and the health department – meaning that most people don’t still have the rave feeling when they see the stack of forms.

‘Proper old school techno’

The events themselves have changed along with the paperwork. Brand-name DJs began earning $40,000 for a 50 minute gig. It became too expensive for most promoters to put on a party (a license sometimes cost as much as $10,000), and the events became dull for anyone over 20 or sober.

You’d think that would be the nail in the coffin. But despite all this, the live electronic music experience in Vancouver is alive and thriving. The rave scene is maturing with its partiers – and it’s the gravers that keep it all spinning.

Joanna Zoffman, 34, co-owns the Active Pass Records store and the Arbutus Records label. Zoffman, who sports a spiked pixie haircut, has been in the electronic music scene since she lived in Holland in the late 80s, back when the music - and the drugs - were first being discovered. She believes that the older generation, the grayvers, has reshaped rave culture partly in reaction to huge, commercial parties, and have taken it back to what it was 15 years ago.

"What’s happened now is that it’s gone back to that small kind of party thing," says Zoffman, "where you’ve got a space, a couple hundred people, some DJs, and some older people who come out. It’s more sociable."

Most of Zoffman’s business comes from special orders: requests for rare, often German music. For the “auteueur” -- someone for whom the joy of the music is in the details -- the live experience is a part of their connoisseurship. It’s less about a night of fist-pumping and candy-dancing and more about an appreciation of specialty music.

At these grayver events, "the DJ’s don’t play your typical kind of music. They don’t play straight-up house, or breaks," in other words, the stuff the kids are into. "They’re playing proper old school techno, which is very different market from your typical house crowd.”

Raving meets clubbing

And if that isn’t enough, grayvers also hit the club nights. Not to be confused with regular weekends at a club, which are generally avoided by the grayvers, techno nights are usually held just once a week at clubs around town and are frequented by regulars.

At club nights, DJs spin and stay active in the scene because they’re obsessed with the music, according to Farshad Abasi, 32. He’s a computer programmer by day who’s been spinning for ten years under the name DJ Abasi. On Wednesday nights he’s one of the DJs at the Lotus Lounge, known as the “hugs and drugs” club in town.

Abasi claims that, by taking it out of the expensive, all-ages, all-night venues and into the clubs, rave has actually become more elder-friendly. "By putting the rave into the club, you’re eliminating the under 19s," he says, "you’re not going to see glowsticks and candy." This makes it even more appealing for the grayver.

The regular club world and grayver world rarely meet, but at one recent Vancouver event, two worlds collided. “This is rare," said one grayver at a VIP club gathering. On one side, the room was a scattering of mostly white, jumper-wearing grayvers. On the other were the predominantly Persian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern club-goers, pecs and biceps stuffed into tight muscle-shirts. The dance floor was a veritable UN as both sides came together through the music -- although that might have simply been because everyone was on the same ecstasy.

"The clubs are ok, I guess," said Vincent, 28, a former raver, sitting in the club’s smoking room. "But it’s no fun if you can just show up." He is referring to the fact that until recently, most rave locations were announced the day of, on a hotline or through word of mouth, in order to keep it exclusive and cop-free.

"It’s lost its appeal for me," he continued, poking the ice cubes in his drink with a straw. "These nights are ok, but it’s not the same thing.”

"Typically when you go into a club with alcohol around," explains Abasi, "the spiritual types won’t be there. They’re not into the bar scene."

Vincent says his raving days are also in decline due to his age. “After a while life takes over. You have responsibilities.”

Old spirituals

Halfway down a dark alleyway, a knock on the door of a seemingly abandoned building is answered by three very friendly “Dungeons & Dragons” types. They lead this visitor up five flights of stairs to the top floor, a hallway, and a door marked "Anderson & Sons, Inc." Neither Anderson nor his sons seem to be around.

Instead there are about 200 people, dreadlocked and not, melting into the hall floor. No one seems to be under 25. Each is deep in conversation, and look up at us with big grins as we step over them towards the room reserved for dancing. It reminds me less of a rave and more of a Parisian salon or opium den, where getting wasted and having interesting conversations was the name of the game.

The dancing is meaningful, too -- no jumping up and down in a silly pogo-stick kind of way here. In the corner, two modern dancers are improvising, rolling in and around each other’s movements. There is a many-layered altar in front of the DJ booth, adorned with crystals, incense and little porcelain bowls. Most of the women on the dance floor are really feeling their movements. The DJ picks it up a bit, and people start smiling, something lifts and the room becomes lighter, a little more fun.

This is what Abasi means by "spiritual types," or “organics,” (rather than the clubbers, or the autuers) many of whom are older ravers who have come to identify in the culture a manifestation of their spirituality.

Mark Achbar, one of the directors of the documentary The Corporation, will testify to that. He’s an unabashed organic grayver.

"If it’s done right, and if it’s done with careful intention in the way it’s promoted, and to whom its promoted, I think these are actually deeply spiritual gatherings," says Achbar, his home piled with original tapes from his documentaries, including the award-winning NFB film Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.

‘Otherworldly’

Like Achbar’s films, raves (the good ones) are an expression of a set of values, such as collectivism and mutual respect -- values that are sometimes hard to find in a society propelled by consumption. Some parties are still places where, with a little help from MDMA, a utopia, an ideal social contract can be written and lived by, in only for a night. The first ever screening of The Corporation, “the world premiere,” was at a rave.

“I think there’s a politics implicit in the kind of community that’s being fostered and the values that are being expressed,” says Achbar. “It’s cooperative, it’s trying to be sustainable, it’s trying to be ecologically conscious.” But for Achbar, it’s mostly about the otherworldly experience. "Sometimes there’s just a confluence of the music, the people, my own state of being that results in a very profound and truly ecstatic kind of experience," he says. "And I think that’s true of a lot of people."

One thing Achbar likes about the scene is that being called a “grayver,” isn’t an ageist put-down. This is a place where "they even seem to value age," he says.

Carrie-May Siggins is on staff a The Tyee.

What’s the Tyee word of the week? It’s the word that defines a sub-culture. Each week this summer, the Tyee explores contemporary BC.

Have an idea for a word? Send it to editor@thetyee.ca with the subject “my word of the week.”  [Tyee]

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