Discopolis: The Indianapolis rave scene 

I wasn’t around for the rave scene during its glory days in Indianapolis. So I’ll rely on two of Indy’s most well-known promoters and DJs, Chocolate the Freaky Afronaut and DJ Shiva, to help me chronicle the flowering and subsequent near-death of the scene.

Most people have some sort of understanding of what a rave is, whether from personal experience or propaganda-strewn hype on the local news. It’s an underground party, most often hosted at a non-traditional location (warehouse, barn, airport hangar and, later, more “legit” places like hotels, meeting halls, concert venues and roller rinks) that features almost exclusively electronic music. Drugs are often associated with raves, but most ravers, especially those that abstain from drugs but love the music and atmosphere, will tell you that’s not what it’s about.

What’s tricky about the rave scene is that it managed to break out without becoming mainstream. It was, according to Shiva, a totally new culture built outside of the corporate world. “It offered music, friendship, traveling and the opportunity to make it up as we went along,” Shiva tells me. “It gave us the power to do things the way we wanted to do it and to make music the way we wanted it done, instead of relying on the radio or music business to tell us what we wanted.”

And it was different from the sex- and alcohol-driven bar scene. “It was an experience.” Shiva says. I remember driving for four hours to go to a party, and getting butterflies in my stomach as we would pull up to the venue.”

The rave culture carried over to Indianapolis from bigger cities in the early 1990s, according to Chocolate, though he wasn’t involved until 1992. During his first year at Ball State, he went to his first rave at a warehouse marked by a big green frog near the Muncie Mall.

Chocolate soon decided to jump in the game, joining forces with his friend David (Teknomafia) to create the promotional group PiMP SCRiMP. Soon on the way were cleverly-titled events like “Crystal Myth,” “Tupperware” (promoted with see-through flyers) and “PiMP 4 a Day,” which featured Ani from Dee-Lite and was even telecast to another party in Philly.

Raves were popping up all over Indiana, with Wilhelm K’s legendary GETT parties, the infamous Tony Nink vs. Jason Salazar promoter wars and regular local events from Maxart/SiN and Beatnix. “Beatnix Erin’s events were especially unique because she always managed to blend other things with her raves, be it fashion or art,” Chocolate says.

Chocolate says that parties could barely pull 100-150 people from ’95-’97. Once potential attendees heard of a police crackdown, they were less likely to show up, despite the best attempts of promoters. Then, in ’97, things started to turn around, at least for Chocolate. He threw an event (“Bitches Up in My House”) featuring a drag queen hostess and a “virgin” venue that broke 300, followed by “Bitches Get the Smack Down,” which brought over 450. In ’99, a party called “Birthright” brought in 900 people. Things were on the ups.

It was around this time that promoters had the great idea to hire local law enforcement to do security. “Having the cops willing to work with us and not against us was heaven-sent in my eyes,” Chocolate admits. “It wasn’t about setting kids up to be busted, it was about having a safe place to party.”

No longer did dancers and performers fear getting busted by the cops, who, in a role reversal, were now there to ensure their safety.

Chocolate calls 1998-1999 “our own personal renaissance.” It was during those years that the Midwest scene began to flourish. Chocolate began to make his name, traveling as a DJ and promoter around the U.S. Shiva also began to find success. “It wasn’t until [promoters] Scarab and Teknomafia started hosting shows that Indy proved to be a city that could hold its own with the big boys [Detroit, Chicago, Cincy],” Chocolate says. n

This is the opening in a three-part series about Indianapolis rave culture. More next month about the good times for Chocolate, Shiva and DJs and fans across the Midwest.

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