These 10 Classic Rave Recordings Bring LA's 90s Underground Scene Back to Life

The founder of RaveTapes.com gives us a history lesson.

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Jun 6 2016, 12:21am

Photo by Michael Kosmal

This article originally appeared on THUMP US.

To many in today's generation of electronic music obsessives, the 1990s are revered in a smiley-faced haze. It was a time before pretension, when "community" was a tangible notion, when drugs were named after feelings and not people! In Los Angeles, Michael Kosmal was there for all of it, and he recorded many legendary performances on a portable cassette recorder.

Years later, Kosmal has taken on the public service of uploading these sets to Rave Tapes, an online archive that now functions as a historical document of the era. We got Michael to pick his 10 favorite sets from the 90s and list them all for our listening and educational pleasure. But first, some words from Mr. Rave Tapes himself. —Jemayel Khawaja

My first rave was Shiva's Erotic Banquet, an all-night affair held at La Casa near Downtown LA in the early part of the 90s. I was hooked from the first beat. I wasn't sure exactly what it all meant, but I knew it was for me. For the next several years I went raving almost every weekend: Technoflight at The Shrine, Armageddon at Castaic Lake, K-Rave at Knott's Berry Farm, and Double Hit Mickey's Electric Daisy Carnival—before it became part of Insomniac.

I felt that this growing culture was history in the making, and I was bothered by the fact that no one was recording these events. After befriending several promoters and DJs, I was allowed to haul my gear into venues and capture the live DJ sets on my DAT machine.

From then on, I made it my duty to record as many raves as possible. I truly feel that the resulting collection captured the spirit and soul of the era. I called the project RaveTapes.com, and now it provides a way for old school ravers to reminisce about the scene's early days.

The collection also serves as an historical archive for newer EDM fans who are interested in hearing what the music sounded like back in the day. So in celebration, in memory, in education, with love: The 10 recordings below are what I feel to be the best live Rave Tapes recordings from the 1990's LA rave scene.

10. Eric Davenport Live at Funky Blue Banana, 1994

Held at the "old jail" location near downtown LA, Funky Blue Banana represented the typical, small-scale raves that happened every weekend during the early 90's. In contrast to big-budget festivals of today, events like Funky Blue Banana offered ravers only a few simple features: a handful of lighting effects, a few select DJs, and a booming wall of speakers. As long as the party didn't get busted, we were happy! This live mix showcases Eric Davenport serving up a smooth blend of breakbeat and techno sprinkled with a selection of well-known underground anthems.

9. Sven Vath at Magic Wednesdays, 1996

During the 1990's, Magic Wednesdays was as close to a mid-week rave as one could get. Its promoters managed to bring in every big name that happened to be touring through Los Angeles on any given week. This mix is just one example. In this recording, world-renowned producer and DJ Sven Vath delivers two solid hours of industrial-strength techno. The perfect mixing and impeccable track selection reflect the expertise of a true rave maestro.

8. R.A.W. Live at Plantasia, NYE 1995

R.A.W.'s New Year's Eve performance at Plantasia introduced many West coast ravers to the nascent sub-genre of Jungle, which later evolved into Drum and Bass. At the time, big raves were dominated by techno, house, breaks, and trance. Thousands of ravers descended upon the National Orange Show fairgrounds to hear the likes of Moby, Carl Craig and Frankie Bones. By playing the prime slot just prior to Moby's live set, R.A.W. schooled those in attendance with an otherworldly set of frantic syncopations, reggae samples and pulsing sub-bass lines that defined the early jungle sound.

7. John Kelley Live at Moontribe, 1994

Every full moon, hundreds of ravers ventured deep into the desert to experience the phenomenon known as Moontribe. The scene was surreal. For 8-10 hours, the usual silence of the desert was obliterated by thundering trance beats, breaks and acid jazz. In this set, founding Moontribe DJ John Kelley takes dancers on a 97-minute exploration into acid breaks, trancy techno and classic underground anthems. During the first few minutes of the tape, you can hear the Moontribe crew setting up as I adjusted recording levels. I chose not to cut that portion because it nicely captured the initial chaos and excitement of the first record dropped at a desert Moontribe party.

6. DJ Tron Live at Stargate, 1995

Hailing from Chicago, the late, great DJ Tron was a pioneer in gabber, hardcore and speedcore. On September 16, 1996, Tron headlined Stargate, a rave held at a decommissioned steel mill on the city's outskirts. The mill had appeared in the final scene of the movie Terminator 2, at the moment when the human cyborg met its fate as it was lowered into a cauldron of molten steel. The dark, dirty and dangerous location provided a perfectly surreal environment to be assaulted by DJ Tron's onslaught of horror-inducing screams and rapid-fire bomb drops.

5. Dub Tribe, Live at Unlock The House, 1995

This is a magical live performance by Dub Tribe, the deep house gurus of the West Coast. Sunshine and Moonbeam sat on the floor, surrounded by their keyboards, drum machines and old school midi sequencers. They were encircled by hundreds of euphoric dancers jumping and crying out in pure ecstasy. The event took place at a venue known simply as 12th & Hope, which was nothing more than an unused commercial space in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles.

4. Thomas Michael Live at XING, 1996

In the annals of LA rave history, XING holds legendary status. Held on a rainy night under a massive tent on a paintball field in Lake Elsinore, California, XING exemplified the Southern California rave experience. This hypnotizing set by trance hero Thomas Michael was a peak moment of the night. Thanks to the audience mic used in the recording process, the whistle blowing and crowd cheers create a real sensation of being there.

3. DJ Trance Live at Global Gathering, 1996

Beloved LA local, DJ Trance (Jason Blakemore) is known for his funky, mid-tempo techno and house jams. In this recording, Trance mixes a flawless set of classic techno anthems at Global Gathering, a rave held at the San Bernardino Area, on May 25, 1996. Near the 42-minute mark there is a break in the mix due to a power failure, which only adds to its authenticity as such occurrences were common at one-off undergrounds and raves.

2. Doc Martin Live at Unlock The House, 1995

Doc Martin has been holding down LA's underground house music scene for more than 25 years. During the 1990's he appeared at countless raves and underground clubs, but the best place to witness the Doc Martin experience was at his own Unlock The House events. Early morning sets lasting 4 hours were not uncommon. The screams and shouts captured on this tape, recorded at 3:50 AM at The Bay Lofts in Los Angeles, attest to the energy Doc inspires at his clubs. Doc Martin continues the tradition today by hosting all-night underground events under the Sublevel California moniker.

1. DJ Dan Funky Live at Funky Tekno Tribe, 1995

This installment of Funky Tekno Tribe took place outside the Grand Olympic Auditorium near Downtown LA. The production was over-the-top, with full-grown palm trees framing the elevated DJ booth and psychedelic film loops illuminating the expansive wall behind the stage. In this surreal setting, DJ Dan delighted partygoers with 80 blissful minutes of funky breaks, jackin' house, and heart-pounding techno.

Michael Kosmal is the editor and curator of RaveTapes, an archive that has been collecting dance music sets in Los Angeles for over 20 years.