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Good Morning Starshine

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Spin Doctor: Revelers at Starscape 20:01 heard everything from drum 'n' bass to deep house to the newly popular down tempo.

By Phil Andrews | Posted 6/20/2001

Starscape 20:01

Starscape 20:01


My first indication that something was amiss with my directions to Underworld's annual Starscape electronic-music and art festival was a young kid leaning out of his car. "Hey, man, where's the party?" he asked. I frowned back, explaining that we were following him, having assumed that four kids in visors driving around in an industrial area could only be headed for Baltimore's biggest annual rave.

A massive, shapeless line rewarded the long walk from our parking spot. Just getting to the thorough security check recalled some of the worst Interstate 95 jams, as masses of would-be partyers jockeyed with one another for position and lobbied the sometimes-gruff security guards for entrance. By the time I got in, a few of the DJs had finished their sets, but nearly two dozen artists in four areas were still to come.

First I hit the drum 'n' bass area, a sizeable clearing in a semicircle of trees, lit by brilliant stage lighting. There, Dieselboy, a frequent Baltimore visitor from Philadelphia, shook the crowd with intense, sporadic beats, toeing the line between sped-up hip-hop and complete entropy. His partner for the night, MC Dub2, furthered the subgenre's connection to urban rhythms with improvised spitfire lyrics. Later, Randall and Storm would both deliver standout, punishing sets of frantic d 'n' b, baiting the crowd with well-placed pauses and enough build-ups to encourage even my tired legs to move.

At the main stage, extensive props and lighting by the Double Helix Collective set the scene for Christopher Lawrence, arguably Starscape's headliner. The Los Angeles-based trance DJ spun and smiled his way through a set of booty-shaking remixes, the bass-heavy sound system literally shaking the booties of about a thousand enthusiastic listeners. The usual crowd response near the two largest stages was varied--some hard-core revelers danced nonstop, while others formed circles and let a single dancer show his or her carefully practiced moves. A few crowded near the stage, hoping to discover the secret to their hero's mixing style. I tried all three approaches, but like most of the 5,000 attendees, I spent most of my time engaging in the fest's many distractions.

The rest of the grounds offered relief from the relentless fervor of the drum 'n' bass and main areas, as a variety of vendors sold fruit drinks and glowing accessories. Groups or couples walked along locked in embraces or sat in exhausted circles, massaging each other's tired calves. Near the water's edge, the InTheDream graffiti crew painted a giant, cheesy mock-up of a spray-paint can. Art from a number of urban- and pop-art-influenced artists affiliated with the event's art curator, Workhorse, filled the walls of a makeshift gallery on a pier. Further out on the pier, overlooking the water and the nearby industrial park, a cadre of DJs experimented with deconstructed beats and manipulated sound.

The revelers ran the gamut from the hopelessly wasted to the completely clean, the extremes nicely summed up by two T-shirts I spotted. One, a takeoff of the Rolling Rock logo, just read rolling; the other, a simple pre-emptive answer to the inevitable rave question, proclaimed i'm not rolling. A visible police presence and tight security kept the drugs minimized and certainly out of sight. Noticeably absent was the most common festival drug, the bane of promoters and boon to rowdiness everywhere, alcohol.

As the hours ticked by, more burnt-out dancers gravitated toward the down-tempo area, where the groove was a little more freeform and a lot more relaxed. Popular in Washington and now encroaching on the Baltimore scene, down tempo's jazz-influenced rhythms and lounge-y attitude have replaced the old "chill out" areas as the default third room at clubs and events. The U.K. duo A Man Called Adam exemplified the genre by mixing disco and jazz with house sensibilities for a smaller, more intimate crowd grooving freely or sitting on the water's edge under the shadow of the Key Bridge.

Seeing the sky lighten is usually a bad sign for a night out, but at Starscape it merely set the stage for Ultraworld coordinator/promoter Lonnie Fisher to deliver a tight, vigorous set from the d 'n' b stage to a still sizeable, receptive crowd while his organizing partner, LoveGrove, spun down the night at the down-tempo area with bouncy, soothing deep house. Here I spent the last hour of night and the first moments of morning, fighting a slight chill and the lull of exhaustion, watching the sky brighten and then erupt in red brilliance. It signaled the end for me, but as the people dancing in the main area to Halo Varga and two Starscape after-party events demonstrated, some people just don't know when to stop. Lucky for us, Fisher is one of those people.

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