By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Recently, there has been a slew of network television exposés pushing the notion of ravers as glowstick-waving, drug-addled teens gone mad, dancing till dawn, hopped up, and hip as hell. The reality of San Francisco's dance community is far different. Alongside the enthusiastic "candy raver" kids in baggy, baggy pants are many old-time electronic music danceaholics who have been around the scene for years and are intent on returning raves to the days before they became crass, commercial, and overcrowded. Friends and Family (FnF) is one such group of veterans -- a diverse crew that grew disenchanted with the increasing commercialism of raves and started its own scene. Even at a time when the city government is increasingly anti-rave, FnF is more popular and more successful than ever. How does the group do it? One word: community.
In the early 1990s, San Francisco raves moved from underground events to big business. Massive parties with thousands of people -- some so big that they offered amusement park rides -- proliferated in industrial locations on the fringes of the city. Eschewing secrecy for profits, promoters went public with advertising and fliers. As attendance increased exponentially, so did ticket prices.
Enter Ethan Miller and Bryce Ryan. In 1992, Miller and Ryan were hanging out on SF Raves (an early Internet chat list and bulletin board for the underground rave community), and sharing their growing dissatisfaction with promoter profitmongering and the high cost of party tickets.
In one revelatory e-mail exchange with Ryan, Miller "realized that here was the essential-yet-missing ingredient in much of our culture, indeed, modern society: a caring relationship between producer and consumer." So the duo hatched a plan: They would cobble together their own rave community, made up of artists, musicians, DJs, projectionists, and other interested individuals. By forming a core group of 30 people and having each of them invite five people, they could throw low-cost, high-fun dance parties.
"When it occurred to me to throw parties, it was with the full knowledge that, to do so, I would be engaging in a trusting and caring relationship with the people I cared about and hoped would come to my party, to our party, to this profound celebration of life," Miller says.
The first FnF rave (or "party," as they are now more commonly referred to within the FnF community) was held at the Blue Cube, a private residence in Noe Valley. The kitchen served as the ambient "chill room," while the garage, which was decorated with black lights and covered in garbage-bag-style black plastic, formed the "blue cube" dance room. DJs spun mostly techno and trance, as the event's organizers wanted to provide an alternative to the homogeneous brand of house music that was so prevalent on dance floors in the early '90s. That first party was now-longtime FnF member Tony Rotundo's first rave.
"I had never heard such techno music like it before, and had never been enveloped by such wonderful heat and sounds and people," Rotundo recalls. "There was positive energy dripping off the walls. ... I casually put the beer [I'd brought] in the corner and never thought about it again. ... From that point on I knew I would be involved in the rave scene."
Although the first party was a success, the second one got busted, and FnF moved to the Klub Komotion, a now-defunct San Francisco artists' collective. After a half-dozen parties attended by 300 to 500 people each, FnF outgrew Komotion and moved to a variety of locations, including a one-off at the Acme warehouse in San Francisco (also busted) and two parties at an Oakland location known as "the Truckyard."
"FnF has always had an emphasis on finding new and unique spaces to throw parties so that each party is different, each party is a new experience," Rotundo says. "Friends and Family doesn't throw parties in spaces where other parties happen all the time. We would rather wait six months to find a space that will make the party unique and special."
For Halloween 1996, the crew set up in another warehouse in Oakland for what is generally now considered the most renowned of all FnF parties. After a second attempt at that space got busted, Miller says, "Doing undergrounds [of 1,000 people or more] became nearly impossible." Because of a dearth of good spaces and the Bay Area's increasingly anti-rave attitude, the group now restricts itself to two or three parties a year.
Still, membership continues to grow. Eight years after the crew's inception, there are 130 people on the planners' e-mail list and over 350 on the announcement list. In addition to the lure of low-cost parties, attendees enjoy the crew's emphasis on local DJs and non-mainstream, hard electronic dance music. Past raves have featured such notable local DJs as Monty Luke and Forest Green (both featured in Groove, a film based on an FnF-style rave), recent Wammie nominee Joe Rice, Plateshifter, Amber, Tektrix, Stonie, and Miller himself. The DJs play a broad spectrum of music, including techno, tech-house, ambient, house, trance, drum 'n' bass, and a host of other electronic subgenres.
While other similarly minded low-cost crews -- many with FnF member crossover -- have sprung up in the wake of Friends and Family's decreased party pace, the FnF community is unique.