Promoters give raves a makeover
STEVENS POINT – Matt Ebel and Ethan Koerten think raves have gotten a bad rap.
“There’s so much negative stigma. There’s so much negative experience,” Ebel said of the gatherings built around electronic music.
Ebel and Koerten, both of Stevens Point, are working to change the rave image with a series of parties they promote at Mission Coffee House in downtown Stevens Point.
DJs spin vinyl records featuring a variety of electronic music. Partygoers must empty their pockets, remove their hats and let security guards pat them down and search purses before they’re allowed to enter.
Drugs and drug paraphernalia are confiscated and often destroyed, Ebel said.
“What it comes down to is providing a safe place for people to come and have fun and providing good music for them,” Koerten said.
The image of raves that police and the general public have is in stark contrast to the music-oriented parties Ebel and Koerten describe. There’s so much bad press associated with the word rave, they say they don’t even use the word to describe their gatherings.
Organizers canceled a Wood County rave after sheriff’s deputies made it clear they were taking a hard line against the possibility that illegal activities might arise. Police in Racine have also cracked down, issuing 445 tickets at a party there.
In Congress and in several states, lawmakers are considering plans to extend “crack house statutes” to raves. Such laws allow authorities to close or even raze buildings found to harbor drug users.
Typically touted as alcohol-free events, raves often attract teens whose parents think the parties are all right because they’re advertised as dances and are held at places that don’t serve alcohol, said Sgt. Mike Retzki of the Stevens Point Police Department.
Raves’ reputation took a hit locally in early September when Stevens Point police and other members of a multijurisdictional task force cracked down on a party above Skipps’ Bowling Center. That raid resulted in 17 arrests for various drug violations.
Among the participants were teens 15 years old and younger, Retzki said.
“They’re not a growing problem (in central Wisconsin), but they’ve shown themselves in the last two or three years,” Retzki said.
Law enforcement authorities say raves and Ecstasy, the so-called “hug drug,” go hand in hand. Stevens Point police found Ecstasy, marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms and various prescription medications at the rave raided in September, Retzki said.
Koerten and Ebel acknowledge police have reason to be skeptical of parties advertised as raves.
“The police have a right to be suspicious, but they don’t have a right to jump to conclusions,” Ebel said.
True raves, police said, are underground events. Locations often are kept secret until the day of the party to keep law enforcement agencies off guard. Rave participants rely on drugs such as Ecstasy to give them a sense of happiness. The drugs add to the sense of peace, love, unity and respect, or PLUR, Retzki said.
“That’s the underlying theme of almost every rave,” he said.
Koerten and Ebel counter that true raves are all about the music.
“The last thing I want is for someone to come to one of our parties and to have something happen so they have to be hospitalized,” Koerten said. “We’re trying to focus more on the music and the DJs.”
So far, it seems they’re meeting with success.
Capt. Linda Daubert of the Stevens Point Police Department said there haven’t been problems with raves held at the Mission Coffee House. Food manager Kimber Seis said there’s no need to worry that the raves will turn ugly.
“We don’t worry at all because we know how well Matt and Ethan run their parties,” Seis said. “They’ve got tight security. It’s a very safe, very clean, fun type of event. People picture these huge warehouse parties where 90 percent of the people are on drugs, and that’s not the way it is in Stevens Point.”
Retzki said members of the task force, which includes a dozen police agencies throughout central Wisconsin, want to keep it that way. The goal, he said, is to deal with problem raves quickly and effectively.
“We want to make it too inconvenient to have it here,” he said.