The Perfect Storm: New York Techno In The Early 90s

From Red Bull Academy:

It was 1989 and Frankie Bones was looking forward to his first trip to England. Karma Productions, a crew in London that threw gigantic warehouse and outdoor parties dubbed ‘raves’, had offered the 23 year-old Brooklyn DJ a slot in the lineup for their July party, Energy Part 2. These things had gotten some media attention, both in the English music press (which had declared 1988 a ‘Summer of Love’ and were on their way to doing the same for ’89) and the broadsheets (thousands of kids dancing to faceless machine beats in fields: what?). But in America they were still a distant rumour.

Born Frank Mitchell deep in Brooklyn, Bones began by making freestyle and soon unleashed a flurry of house tracks under a variety of pseudonyms. The most successful was 1989’s “Just As Long As I’ve Got You”, credited to Looney Tunes, a collaboration with onetime rival roller-rink DJ Lenny Dee – born Leonard Didesiderio in Sheepshead Bay. “Just As Long” fit the hopeful vibe of England’s cresting rave scene.

“We were used to selling 3,000 to 5,000 units on our own,” says Bones. “Suddenly we were moving 10,000 units, and more than half were going to Europe. London was very interested in us.” Bones arrived in London anticipating 5,000 people. En route to the locale, someone handed him a pill. “I didn’t know what ecstasy was,” he told the rave zine Massive in 1995. “[We were] stuck in a traffic jam on a little country road with just two lanes and cars for miles.” As he came up on E, he heard one of his songs playing in another car, followed by another of his songs, playing in another car: “I pretty much lost my mind.” Ditto when the crowd turned out to be closer to 25,000: “That was probably my enlightenment.”

Bones’s 1989 “Call It Techno” was a mission statement: “It started in Detroit/But I’m out to exploit/The way I hear it.” Bones was ready to spread the word to music-loving outer-borough kids like him. He gave away promo mixtapes at south Brooklyn’s premier cruising spot, beneath the elevated train on 86th Street. Frankie handed out cassettes at spotlights to kids in passing cars with his younger brother Adam.

“He would make a speech at the beginning,” says Adam Mitchell, better known as Adam X (and, more recently, Traversable Wormhole). He imitates his brother’s cod-English accent: “Hello party people! I just came back from England! And I just experienced this thing, the rave!” Adam watched as his brother’s salesmanship paid off: “[We’d wait] 30 minutes and they’d be on the rebound. You’d start hearing LFO coming out of the car: ‘Cool. Got one.’”

On April 21, 1990, Bones opened Groove Records on Avenue U. “Other shops in New York were selling techno,” says Adam, “but they didn’t push it as a movement. My brother wanted to make a scene around it.” Soon after, Adam began working the counter, his brother returned from another trip to England. (“We were going back and forth, two weeks there, two here,” Bones recalls. “No recovery time, just a lot of non-stop flights and parties.”) This time, Frankie had some pills to share. Ten people gathered at the Avenue U store. “We pulled the gates down and turned the system up,” says Adam. “In an hour I was like, ‘Whooaa.’” So were the others. “The people in the group told their friends, I told my friends, and it spread like wildfire, the whole idea of it.”

Pretty soon, Adam says, “We were doing 50 people in a gutted-out apartment on Coney Island Avenue. It happened so quick. By ’91, we were doing generator parties in the junkyards down by Foster Avenue, by the freight tracks, with 400 people showing up.” Bones began to call his parties Storm Raves. “By winter of ’92, Staten Island: 1,500 people,” Adam says. “By [autumn] ’92, we’re doing 5,000 people on Maspeth Avenue. That’s how fast it grew.”

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