Tommie Sunshine: The Night I Fell in Love With Dance Music
The night I fell in love with dance music wouldn’t have been the first night I heard dance music, but it would’ve been a specific party that I remember very well in Chicago, called “Gatorave”—the flyer was a spoof on the Gatorade bottle. I remember that night getting dressed up to go out; I used to wear these size-52 overalls from a place called Farm & Fleet, and I used to keep a Muppet in the front pocket that had a squeaking nose—I brought that thing with me everywhere.
“This was different; this was family, and I knew I was in for something really special that night.”
On the way out of Naperville, which is where I lived at the time (it’s about 45 minutes southwest of Chicago), I would always stop at this one truck stop on the way out of town to pick up “mini thins”—which were basically ephedrine. They sold it at truck stops. So, I grabbed them on the way out of town and headed for this party.
Now, we didn’t know at the time where it was, or what part of Chicago it was going to be in. This is back in the days when there’d be a map point; you’d have to call a number to find the party. It was a pretty complicated process, but by the time we got all the information, we ended up at this elementary school on the West Side of Chicago—the party was in the basement of this school. This was the summer of 1992, and what you have to understand is that in the summer of 1992, the West Side of Chicago was serious gang territory: Latin Kings, Maniac Latin Disciples, lots of other rival gangs. It’s not some place that a white kid from the southwest suburbs had any business being in.
I remember walking into this party, and the first person I met was a guy named Bob Smiley. This guy used to dance with an inflatable tube of toothpaste that was about four feet tall. This is the guy that sold me my first $5 nitrous balloon. If you could imagine what the music was like in this place—I mean, this is a full-on ‘92 rave here—just blistering, banging, proper techno, mostly from the UK.
Now, this party was very—very—bizarre. There were plastic trash cans full of punch, and that punch was made with god knows what! There was no way I was going to drink that—which is funny, because I had no problem dropping LSD, but I didn’t want to drink the punch. I also met Phil Free Art that night, which was this kid from Chicago who drew this zine; it was all-original artwork. He was also a graffiti kid.
“Now, this party was very—very—bizarre. There were plastic trash cans full of punch, and that punch was made with god knows what! There was no way I was going to drink that.”
So, I’m standing there looking around the room, and I was like, okay: There are all these people, and they had all these strong personalities, and they’re all like me. I got along with these people on a level that I had not gotten along with my high school friends; I had not gotten along with anyone else who lived in my town. This was different, this was family, and I knew I was in for something really special that night.
The DJ that they flew in for this party was a guy called the Music Maker. He was from the UK, and there was a moment that night that’s as clear to me today in 2016 as it was in 1992 as it was happening: The Music Maker dropped “O’ Fortuna” by Apotheosis. This was a record we had not heard before, and the drama and the pomp and circumstance of that record—when it dropped, we all went so crazy. Right as it got to the peak of the record, somebody turned all the lights off in the basement of this elementary school on the South Side of Chicago. There was one guy with a coal miner hat, and that light was the only light in this room, other than the little bit of light that was coming off the turntables. I just remember looking around with what little light was in that room, high on LSD, being in this environment for the first time, and really feeling that I belonged there.
That night was my first psychedelic experience at a rave, and it was beyond glorious. In that moment, I felt no different than a kid in the jazz age in the ‘20s, or a kid from the beat generation in the ‘50s, or a hippie in the ‘60s. I knew I had found it; I knew I had tapped into that undefinable subculture that’s been around since the beginning of time and is exactly the same today for a kid who hears that one record, and it totally blows their mind. That night in Chicago at Gatorave with the Music Maker and “O’ Fortuna”—that was the night I fell in love with dance music, and I’ll never forget it.
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