Last weekend, I reunited with hundreds of old-school heads to say goodbye to a rave that changed the rest of our lives.
Collage of old Fever flyers by Scott "Buster" Herman
Last Friday and Saturday nights in Baltimore, the city's legendary venue Paradox threw two farewell parties to Fever, a seminal rave that ran from 1992-2001 and turned the city into a thriving destination for club culture. I've been to reunion parties in the past and the vibe tends to be pretty tired—conversations run thin, the music is shamelessly nostalgic, and the anticipation of seeing old friends is almost always better than the actual face-to-face hang. But last weekend was different.
When news of Paradox's impending closure was announced in February, old-school organizers Sarah Origin and Scott Herman connected with Fever's founding creators, Scott Henry and Charles Feelgood, to present one last reunion party. The scene's original DJs were tapped to spin: LoveGrove, Chris Bulla, Baggadonuts, Bobble, Donny Burlin, Tzeech and of course, Henry and Feelgood—most of whom still call Baltimore home. Others who stuck close to the city during the 90s rounded out the bill, including Dubtribe, Ani, Onionz, Ryde and more. The party was initially scheduled for Saturday, but after tickets sold out in the first hour, a Friday night was added. A fervor spread across social media that I haven't seen in years as everyone who was once connected to the scene giddily anticipated the party. It was obvious something important was bubbling.
On Friday night, I made the train ride down from New York to Baltimore. After getting dinner with friends on Federal Hill, my buddy Jason and I took a car drive past a handful of old haunts, like the warehouse on Bayard Street where the Rise parties were thrown every Friday during the mid-to-late 90s, and a brownstone on Hollins Street that my ex-girlfriend and other club personalities lived in. As we drove around reminiscing and listening to tracks by a Oxblood that set a perfect backdrop for the pensive moment, I was compelled to message a few old friends from that era who are still "out there" in Baltimore, getting high and carrying on. Sadly, I never heard back.
Time felt suspended—we almost forgot that everything in front of us was a remnant of the past.
When we arrived at the party, I remembered what it felt like to be at a Baltimore rave for the first time since the late 90s. Positive, communal energy was palpable and a tension hung thick in the air that told me something meaningful was happening. Paradox's main room throbbed with golden era techno, while its beloved backroom bounced with a classic selection of breakbeats and house.
The outside courtyard was modeled after Cloudwatch parties—ambient affairs that LoveGrove and the Sonic Soul crew used to throw, often at a West Baltimore loft owned by promoter Lonnie Fisher and dubbed the "Raza warehouse." Lit from within by blue and purple lights, with a ceiling of suspended gauzy clouds, the courtyard sits alongside an active train track. And just like years back, freight trains regularly thundered past, punctuating the music with loud blasts from its horn. For the next five hours, we gave big hugs to old friends, talked to new ones, and hit both dancefloors with enthusiasm as the DJs played mixes of crowd favorites and deep cuts from that era. Time felt suspended, and for those moments, we almost forgot that everything in front of us was a remnant of the past.
Left to right: Bryan, Timmy and the author as young ravers in Baltimore (Photo courtesy of the author)
I was 15 when I first stepped foot in Paradox. My friend Bryan had just gotten his driver's license and we snuck out of our friend John's house in rural Maryland, heading to "a rave off Russell Street" that a kid named Justin who used to sell us acid told us about. Justin said he was buying sheets of acid at these raves, where practically every drug imaginable was available. He told us that music pounded out of warehouses, and that kids from New York, Philly, DC and Richmond all came. The whole thing sounded mythical.
It was fall and the night was chilly. We took acid about an hour earlier, and were just starting to trip, the edges of everything becoming slightly surreal. Paradox sits under an overpass, and we didn't know what we were looking for. All we had were Justin's vague directions to go by. Suddenly there it was: a cluster of kids in baggy blue jeans, bubble jackets, fur coats and caps. They looked so exotic as they stood in line to get in.
Walking toward Paradox, we had no idea that what we were about to experience would change the rest of our lives.
Deep bass kicks from inside the club caressed Bryan's Ford Escort while we slowed and gawked at the entrance. We were nervous as hell, but running on pure enthusiasm. We parked a few blocks past the club, hopped out of the car, and lit cigarettes. Walking along Ostend Street toward Paradox, we had no idea what to expect, nor did we ever think that what we were about to experience would change the rest of our lives.
Fever was the entrypoint for me and my friends into the underground dance music scene—as well as drugs like K, coke, crystal, ecstasy, MDE and PCP, either in the form of green or dippers. But there were other important nights too, like Rise, a dependable weekly rave, and Remedy, a party thrown by Jason Patrick and Cool Aaron in an old bank on alternating Thursdays. Rise and Remedy were dope and had a community that ran deep, but there was never any doubt that Fever was the main event.
Local heroes Henry and Feelgood were its resident DJs, while the bench of other regulars, like DJ Sun (RIP), DJ Who, Cornflake and Greg Sargent, was undeniably good. Fever also featured regular appearances by techno pioneers Frankie Bones, Josh Wink and Richie Hawtin, as well as the occasional play by international artists like Sven Vath and Paul Van Dyk. In many respects, Fever was ground zero for dance music in Baltimore, establishing itself for almost a decade as the area's marquee destination for top talent.
Fever and the other regular parties were punctuated by larger raves that went down at mostly illegal venues around the city, like the empty lot behind the Energy Plant, closed public parks, and more warehouses on the far east and west sides of town. To find them, you'd typically have to dial into a hotline day-of, where a recorded greeting would recite directions to a parking lot downtown. We'd arrive to find vans or school buses shuttling people out to the actual site. The vibe at these particular parties was always a little unpredictable. The production was sometimes pieced together as the events were designed to be torn down when the cops showed up, and they almost always did. But when the energy was high and the place was full of friends, these nights were electric.
And then there were the bigger, better-organized annual raves, usually hosted by promotion companies Ultraworld or Bassrush, that took place away from the city on campgrounds and concert spaces that sometimes saw as many as 12,000 people pass through their gates. Instead of a hotline, we bought paper tickets direct from Modern Music in Baltimore and Music Now in DC—record stores that were crucial hubs for the scene outside of the parties.
Apart from the music, it was the community that held those years together. Our little crew of county kids would meet at a park-and-ride in the northern end of Calvert and ride up together. We bumped mixtapes of DJ sets recorded and sold by a guy named Raymond from folding tables at the clubs. Our clothes were an unmistakably Baltimore b-boy collage of Liquid Sky caps, wide leg pants, Polo, Nautica or Hilfiger striped shirts, puffy jackets and vests, chain wallets and running shoes. Another integral piece of the scene were the drag and trans personalities. There were several girls ever present in the clubs who were magic—dazzling personalities who dusted those nights with an air of fantasy.
My most colorful memories, however, all map back to the afterparties—early sexual experiences with boys and girls, coked-out mornings that bristled with circular conversations, disorienting k-holes that seemed to last for days, impromptu DJs sets seen through a haze of Newport smoke. The de facto afterhours club we'd usually go to after Fever was Orpheus on Pratt Street, but by 10AM the next morning, you could end up literally anywhere—someone's apartment, someone's parent's place, somebody's bed. Sometimes, we didn't sleep all weekend.
By 10AM the next morning, you could end up literally anywhere—someone's apartment, someone's parent's place, somebody's bed.
For all of the rugged glamour the rave scene embodied, there was an inescapable darkness that permeated it. There were always lower-tier dealers getting robbed and crooked bouncers shaking down kids for cash and drugs. One night, a dealer named Mike got jumped by some kids that rival dealers paid to beat him up. His jaw shattered in the club, according to my friends who were there, and fear reverberated throughout the scene for months.
Plus, Baltimore has long struggled with a soaring heroin problem, and in the late nineties it had seeped into the clubs. Kids blew off high school and some of the girls started stripping at the bars on Baltimore Street. Overdoses and arrests became routine; long term addictions started their grip. By 2000, the scene started becoming more commercial and many of its core community moved on. Promoters continued throwing dance music events at Paradox, but Fever and many of the other original parties all shuttered around 2001.
Apart from an active Facebook group for old-school heads and the occasional reunion party, our memories from this era have been relegated to old photos and conversations among friends who were there. Yet, somehow, an electricity coursed through the final Fever parties last weekend that none of us expected to feel. It was like we had swung back to the party's peak, and the energy had come full circle. Jason and I left around 4AM while Feelgood stood behind the decks in the main room. Now in our late 30s and sober for almost 10 years, we were ready to head home. An hour later, when I was crawling into bed at my mom's place, I got a text from Jason: "My jacket smells like Fever... like Fever from the 90s."
Jeff Bratton is the owner of Cascine, and an old-school Baltimore rave devotee. Follow him on Twitter.