Following the money to the freak zone

It’s the crack of noon on Oct. 31, ridiculously early in the morning to be boarding an Amtrak train for Seattle. I’m running on only two hours of sleep, but I’m too pumped to mind because the train will be taking me to Freak Night, the seventh-annual installment of one of the biggest electronic music events in the Northwest. The weekend promises a lot more sleep deprivation on the horizon, but at this point I couldn’t care less. Five thousand to 10,000 people will be raging all night to the sounds of superstar DJs like Paul Van Dyk, LTJ Bukem, Mistress Barbara and local hero Donald Glaude, and many more. It’s being put on by USC, one of the few Northwest production companies with deep enough pockets to get this kind of lineup together in one night.

I was planning to catch up on my sleep on the train, but these plans go out the window once I discover that you can actually order mixed drinks on Amtrak. I always assumed this kind of service was limited to airplane flights, but apparently not. It would certainly make a welcome addition to other forms of ground transportation like the Greyhound or, say, the MAX. The three hours go by in no time, even though the only forms of entertainment are looking out the window or watching “Legally Blonde 2” without sound on the overhead screens.

We take the underground bus from the train station to our hotel room at the other end of downtown Seattle. Always the instant-gratification junkie, I wish there was some way I could afford to live in a bigger, more active city like Seattle. I’m too old to get myself adopted, but maybe I could still find myself a Seattle sugar mama.

At 10 p.m. or so, we head down to the venue, the main indoor hall of Seahawks Stadium. We begin our first dealings with the always-surly stadium staff when we park the car and don’t have money out fast enough, and then again when we’re in line trying to pick up our will-call tickets. Last year’s event was held next door in the Expo Center, and one of the only sour notes of that night was having to deal with these bastages, who are used to dealing with football fans and make no effort to hide their condescension for the type of people who show up for techno events.

It’s worth the trouble to get inside, though. The main hall of the stadium makes a much better venue than the Ex Center did last year because it’s not quite so big and sprawling and doesn’t have the gaping empty spaces between stages that last year’s event did. In the main room, Mistress Barbara is on the decks playing hard banging techno through a sound system that feels like it could blow your clothes off if you stood close enough. Many of the people inside look like they’ve already experienced just that. It is a Halloween party after all, and a lot of the female partygoers seem to be going with a less-is-more theme as very lightly dressed angels, Catholic schoolgirls, Playboy bunnies, etc. Some people got considerably more elaborate, though. There’s a $2003 prize to be awarded for best costume, which explains the spacemen on stilts, the snake girl in the portable cage, the Saturday Night Live ambiguously gay duo and assorted other weirdness.

The music keeps getting better and better all night. Donald Glaude plays an hour and a half of can’t-not-dance-to-it house, and then DJ Magazine’s No. 2 DJ in the world, Paul Van Dyk, comes on to close things out. At some point halfway through the night, I discover the beer garden – highly unusual at this type of party, but that’s one side benefit of using a pro football stadium for a party. Of course, that also means pro football stadium prices. After one $6.75 Bud Light, I give up and head back into the all-ages area and the $2.75 bottles of water. For some reason – I’ve never run into this at a party before – they won’t actually they give you the bottle, they pour it out into a cup for you. Apparently a water bottle is the Seahawks Stadium equivalent of box-cutters on a plane – you could put somebody’s eye out with it. This leaves the option of either holding onto the cup and trying to dance conservatively enough not to spill any water, or setting it on the ground and hoping nobody kicks it halfway across the floor. Needless to say, the floor is pretty slippery by the end of the night. The dilated-pupil people who always make up a large percentage of the crowd seem to have a hard time maintaining our, uh, I mean, their balance.

When the end does come, at 4 a.m., the lights come on and the warm ‘n’ friendly security personnel start unceremoniously herding everybody out the door like a bunch of sheep. There’s a football game to set up for the next day. People waiting to meet up with their friends and even people who are trying to retrieve their coats from the coat check are prodded and cajoled toward the exits. If there was an event to set up for following a football game, it’s pretty safe to say that they wouldn’t be strong-arming Seahawks fans out the door like this, but they definitely don’t mind doing it to the Damn Dirty Ravers. Miraculously, I manage to track down my ride outside, so I don’t have to walk clear to the other end of Seattle to get back to the hotel.

Overall, it was a mindblowing (in a good way) weekend, in spite of the inevitable side effects of what a big business these parties have become. A few years ago, one-off warehouse parties were the norm, even when a big name like Oakenfold or Bad Boy Bill was the headliner. Recently, though, there has been so much government scrutiny on electronic events that anything on a large scale is likely to be held in an established venue with in-house security and a substantial police presence. There used to be a huge variety of constantly changing venues in Portland, for instance, but now most everything seems to be held at either the Crystal Ballroom, the B Complex or the 13th Floor/Cool School, depending on whether the acts playing are big names or local talent. And that’s if the promoters want to risk the headache of trying to throw an all-ages event. Twenty-one-and-older shows are a lot more controllable because, demographically speaking, an older crowd will be more likely to just be drinking. All-ages parties tend to see the kids who attend heading any number of directions from sober.

So now that the party/club game has become so mainstream, it’s only a matter of time before some other scene pops up for the true freaks who like their fun to be unregulated and unrestrained. Maybe it’s already out there somewhere, just waiting to pop up on “60 Minutes” and make all the parents and legislators who were so afraid of their kids growing up to be ravers reach a level of righteous indignation they never imagined before.