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Future Fest surfaces with a bevy of international talent

An underground phenomenon that began in the mid-1980s in England, raves eventually spread to the United States a decade later as renegade parties in obscure locations chosen to deflect cops and out-of-the-loop party crashers. In the new millennium the phenomenon is known, in Atlanta DJ Gnosis's words, as the "stadium rave" — huge, aggressively promoted events with corporate sponsorship, concession stands, national and often international lineups of DJs, even moonwalks.

Local coffee shops and record stores are flush with glossy, slick flyers advertising raves around the Southeast often targeted at suburban kids looking for an escape from Dunwoody McMansions and soccer servitude. In the past several years, a cycle of films (Groove, Human Traffic, Go) have also popularized the rave ethos, suggesting the inevitable trickle down of everything subcultural to mainstream entertainment.

Though there are proto-ravers who undoubtedly ring their hands at an underground scene gone squaresville, the popularization of rave culture does have some benefits. For one thing, better acts.

At the upcoming Future Fest 2000, a mega rave slated for Aug. 19, the DJ lineup is, in Gnosis's estimation, "an impressive, all-star lineup ... the godfathers of techno." Featured acts in techno's subgenres at Future Fest include: drum and bass legends Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Stacey Pullen, Kevin Saunderson, Technical Itch & Decoder with MC Jr. Blind; progressive trance/house DJs Skylab 2000 and Electric Skychurch; and house/hard house/techhouse gurus Junior Sanchez and DJ Skribble, as well as a host of local talent.

"What we're doing is bringing a diverse lineup so everyone has something to listen to," says Future Fest co-organizer and Charisma Productions rep Darren Hart.

According to Gnosis, who spins drum and bass and reggae at the MJQ Concourse, DJs are the new rock stars, flown in from music hot spots like London, Detroit, New York and Los Angeles, to unlikely venues like College Park's Henderson Arena (site of the second annual Future Fest, which last year drew a crowd of 8,000). What draws upwards of 30 internationally-known DJs to Atlanta? "Money," laughs co-sponsor, Future Foundation's Brendon Lee, who will bring at least 10 DJs to Atlanta in the $15,000-$20,000 price range. At the first Future Fest in 1999, Lee says "we didn't have hardly any international talent. This year we have at least 30 acts that are internationally known, six acts from the UK."

Located on a desolate back road divided by a railroad track (pick a side, both look like the wrong one), the Henderson's marquee touts upcoming wrestling matches, family reunions and horseback riding lessons. In the midst of Ford pick-up territory, the Henderson is an incongruous setting for the army of kiddie ravers who will invade its cowpoke environs for Future Fest, waving glow sticks, nursing pacifiers and wearing pants big enough to shelter a Third World family. In the center of the Henderson rodeo pit is a wrestling platform, attesting to the mixed-use possibilities of the Henderson, which will find new world philosophers of the raver's creed, PLUR (Peace.Love.Unity. Respect.). A techno Lollapalooza, or a hipper version of the high-school carnival, the all-ages Future Fest will offer four stages boasting a continuous run of DJs, as well as massages, a graffiti art contest, face painters, laser light shows and for the more back-to-basic raver, camping, with tents available for sale at the arena.

The task of mounting Future Fest has fallen to a gaggle of twentysomethings who testify to the baby-faced ranks of the Atlanta rave scene. Even co-promoter and graffiti art contest organizer Jewels, of Jewels Productions, hesitates to give her age for fear of expulsion from the crib. "Most people when they look at me think I'm in my low to mid-20s," she admits. Charisma, headed by 23-year-old Hart and his 24-year-old girlfriend, Jennifer Horton, and Future Foundation, headed by local DJs Lee (23) and Jeff Darron (22) are responsible for booking the lineup of DJs and MCs.

Hart, who also DJs as D-Funk, will play a drum-and-bass set at Future Fest and hopes to see 10,000 ravers at the 15,000 capacity Henderson. Hart first started on the rave scene seven years ago and has watched an underground movement come above ground. "A lot of the people, like Moby for instance, are starting to play 99X and be on MTV. These are people that we went and saw for five bucks six or seven years ago."

But rather than lament the mainstreaming of techno, Hart ultimately sees it as a boon. "I'm glad it has gone this way. It's the only way you can progress and become bigger and become safer."

For Jewels, who's been on the electronica scene since the '70s, "it's all just a cycle. I've seen all the phases with dance culture in the last 20 years do this sort of thing: it goes underground, then it comes back to the clubs, then it goes underground when parties start getting shut down."

Future Fest takes place Aug. 19. Doors open at 3 p.m. The Henderson Arena, 4380 Stacks Road, College Park. For information, call 770-516-6143 or go to www.futurefest.net.

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