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Harangue the DJ

Starscape, July 24-25, Fort Armistead Park

Frank Klein
One Nation Under a Snooze: A Starscape dancer feels the beat.

By Tom Breihan | Posted 7/28/2004

The DJs responsible for the indie-rock hipster nights Taxidermy Lodge were offered a spot at Starscape, the enormous annual outdoor rave at Fort Armistead Park. And nobody noticed. The Taxidermy Lodge area was one of five at Starscape, and it was the furthest from the eventís center, tucked away at the end of the park overlooking the Chesapeake Bay and the Key Bridge. A few straggling ravers made their way to the area, and the DJs did everything they could to get the small crowd dancing, pulling out all their guaranteed floor-fillersófrom Dizzee Rascal to Joan Jett to the Rapture. A few people lackadaisically twirled glow sticks, but everyone else sat staring at the water and barely noticed the DJs frantically trying to get their attention.

Starscape is not hipster country. Raves are not cool. Ten years ago, the idea of an enormous outdoor rave felt fresh and daring. Now, itís something more like a tradition. Most of the music played at Starscape this year probably wouldnít have sounded out of place at the first Starscape six years ago. Electronic dance music, the type that makes thousands of people reach up simultaneously, no longer carries with it the shock of the new.

The sprawling Starscape grounds donít look all that different from the shantytown of vendors that clogs the parking lot outside RFK Stadium every year at the HFStival. Everywhere you look booths sell things: glow sticks, jewelry, beer. When people arenít dancing, they can go get a plate of fries, look at the art in the G-Spot gallery tent, or get a massage. The bearded guy in the legalize marijuana T-shirt manning the Libertarian Party booth looks lonely and bored.

The most vibrant and energetic area at the event is the drum íní bass area. Drum íní bass still sounds amazing coming from a huge sound system: Bass bombs explode, snares rush in every direction, and anonymous MCs frantically ride the beats. DJ Rap, from Southampton, England, turns in a blistering set around 2 a.m., layering unrelenting track on unrelenting track and leaving the crowd breathless.

Starscapeís largest area, the cavernous house tent, never approaches that level of energy. Progressive house DJs such as Chicagoís Bad Boy Bill keep the crowd-pleasing buildups coming with almost metronomic regularity, but the music carries little sense of tension and release, peak and valley. Thereís something rote and forced about the monochromatic sameness of the music coming out of this tent. When people dance, they seem to be showing off for their friends instead of being moved by the music. At any given moment, half the crowd looks to be standing still, nodding their heads, and waiting for a transcendent moment that never comes.

Early in the night, the smaller hip-hop area has a similar vibe; people gather in circles to watch a few break dancers do their thing to a never-ending string of mid-í90s New York tracks. But as the night progresses, the area feels more and more inclusive. Eventually, people stop watching the B-boys and start dancing themselves. By 3:30 a.m., itís a full-on party, and the rain starts coming down. Miamiís DJ Craze, a three-time World DMC DJ champion who had put on a furious set earlier in the drum íní bass area, segues effortlessly from KRS-One and A Tribe Called Quest to Jadakiss and Ludacris as guys in raincoats rush around onstage trying to keep the turntables dry. The crowd gets wet but keeps dancing.

By 4 a.m., though, the light drizzle becomes a heavy shower, and people scramble for shelter. Many intrepid dancers brave the rain and get soaked in the hip-hop and drum íní bass areas. Many more pack into the house tent until itís jammed with people shivering to stay warm, too cold and wet to dance. And many leave. Once the rain starts pouring, the event loses much of its luster. The idea of staying to watch the sunrise over the bay becomes less and less attractive. After all, Starscape isnít a religious event. Itís just a big, fun gathering, a place to dance in a field with your friends. When it stops being fun, you leave. Thereíll be another one next year.

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