Richard “Humpty” Vission
2001 has not been a good year for the Los Angeles rave scene. The summer’s biggest event, JuJu Beats, was cancelled; over Labor Day weekend, Nocturnal Wonderland’s success was marred by two deaths and a trio of event-related traffic fatalities. And just this past month, a new mega-event called the We the People Freedom Festival flopped, with just a fraction of the expected attendance. In the wake of all this, it was with some trepidation that I cruised down to the L.A. Sports Arena to take in Monster Massive, which in terms of attendance has emerged as the biggest annual dance music event in southern California. Not only had the scene been suffering of late, but Monster Massive itself didn’t exactly have a clean track record — last year, thanks to some ticket bootleggers, the event had been over-attended, which meant it took me over three hours to get inside, past mobs of line-jumpers and a woefully inadequate gate staff. Perhaps in response to last year’s fiasco, promoters Go Ventures were featuring a far more modest line-up this year, with only two real “superstar” DJs on the bill, Derrick Carter and Junior Sanchez. The rest of the line-up was solid but not terribly exciting, especially for the event’s price tag, which was a whopping $35 pre-sale and $50 at the door. Initially things did not look good. When I arrived around 8:30pm there were still very few party kids in attendance, even though the doors had opened at 5:30pm. There was virtually no line outside — not that anyone was complaining about that — and inside the three dance areas were all sparsely populated. It was a beautiful, cool evening in downtown Los Angeles, so naturally the bulk of attendees were congregated around the event’s one outdoor area, although Thomas Michael’s slashing set of damn-the-torpedoes hypertrance probably helped lure the kids outside, too. Those who weren’t quite ready to dance their asses off could wander into one of two vendor areas on either side of the outdoor stage, where they could spend still more money on such ever-popular raver accessories as glowsticks, photon lights, pocket massagers and furry backpacks. No pacifiers were for sale, however — those familiar icons of the rave community were banned from Monster Massive, having now been officially classified as drug paraphenalia because of their popularity among jaw-clenching Ecstacy users. Back inside, Chicago’s Mark Grant was in the main area laying down a lovely set of groovy, jazzy house, but he was receiving scant attention for it from the small, mostly underaged crowd — maybe it was because his music was too sophisticated for younger tastes, or maybe it was because the Sports Arena’s booming acoustics were making mincemeat of his tracks’ multilayered horn lines and vocal harmonies. Later DJs in the main area fared better, particularly Felix da Housecat, who started off his set with some nice, minimal techno before ramping things up into more bumping tech house beats. (I should mention the main area was dubbed the “House of Horror” — all performance areas had Halloween-themed names and decorative touches, like mannequin monsters bookending the DJ stages and, appropriately enough, a graveyard adjoining the “Devil’s Dungeon” hardcore area.) The evening’s highlights both came in the “Tomb of Doom” outdoor area, where DJs Richard “Humpty” Vission and Angel Alanis both played smokin’ sets that were happily extended when another DJ failed to show up. Richard Humpty has long had a fiercely loyal following among fans of hard house, and it was easy to see why at Monster Massive — for over an hour he rocked the decks with a nicely paced set of hard, high-energy beats mixed with plenty of funky flourishes and a few trancey, hands-in-the-air breakdowns. After Humpty triumphantly left the stage, Chicago’s Angel Alanis took things even higher, shredding his way through an amazing set of hard house, techno and a few funky breaks that he paced like a sonic roller coaster ride, tweaking track after track into ever higher trebly builds that then plunged back down into bone-shuddering, bass heavy beats. It was one of the most intense peak-hour sets I’ve ever heard. Other Monster Massive highlights came courtesy of Ron D. Core and Omar Santana, who tore up a small but enthusiastic crowd with back-to-back sets of punishing hardcore, and the incomparable DJ Colette, yet another gifted Chicago DJ, who was regrettably assigned to spin in the event’s deserted VIP lounge. Aptly titled the “Phantom Chamber”, the lounge stayed vacant for most of Colette’s characteristically smooth house set. I’d say the headliners were a disappointment, but frankly I’ve never been a big fan of Junior Sanchez or Derrick Carter to begin with, and at Monster Massive they did nothing to change my opinion of them. Even allowing for the lousy acoustics, Junior’s and Derrick’s sets were lifeless, by-the-numbers arena house, with simple, repetitive grooves and nary a build, breakdown, or discernible melody in sight. A scattered few were shaking their booties on the dance floor, but most were standing around looking bored or sprawled on the floor in cuddle puddles. Admittedly I didn’t stick around for either DJ’s full set, but I wandered back and forth through the arena on several occasions and never once felt anything approaching the energy in the outdoor and hardcore areas. In the end, Monster Massive represented both the best and worst of what you’ll find on the rave scene these days. On the one hand, a few hard-working, risk-taking DJs, most notably Richard Humpty and Angel Alanis, rewarded the dance floor faithful with wild, satisfying rides; on the other hand, the headliners turned in uninspired, watered-down sets, and the work of some rising stars like Mark Grant and Colette was virtually ignored thanks to poor programming choices on the part of the promoters. On the one hand, there were quite a few fun costumes and happy vibes making the rounds; on the other hand, the serious ravers were clearly outnumbered by bored-looking kids, who had obviously come not for the music, but because some friend or another had assured them that raves were cool, and possibly easy places to score drugs or pick up girls. (Actually, as far as I could tell, Monster Massive was neither — the vast majority of the attendees appeared to be there as couples or in small coed groups, and I never once saw anyone selling drugs, which would make sense considering the extremely tight security.) On the one hand, the venue was amply large for the event’s estimated 20,000 attendees; on the other hand, the dance areas and DJ line-ups fostered a few serious crowd flow problems, particularly at the bottleneck between the outdoor area and the main arena, which at one point had to be blocked off entirely, trapping several thousand of us outside for about twenty minutes. And finally, my biggest criticism: where was the trance? Monster Massive featured a few good local trance spinners early in the evening, like Thomas Michael, but beyond that, tranceheads didn’t have much to listen to. Maybe Go Ventures has bought into the anti-trance backlash that’s swept through the dance community over the last couple of years, but I think for any massive event not to have at least one solid trance headliner is unforgiveable. Overall, Monster Massive was an entertaining event, but it did nothing to buck the trend toward big raves drawing ever younger, less-informed crowds, and coaxing fewer inspired performances out of their marquee names. About the best that can be said for Monster Massive is that finally, after a year of setbacks, the L.A. rave scene finally had a big event go off according to plan. But for true fans of electronic music, this event fell well short of both its hype and its ticket price.