One of the best parts about a rave is its anonymity. It’s a sacred space without status symbols. It’s you, the music, and other ravers. The only expectation is that you treat others with love and respect, and hopefully enjoy the music. Safe to say you’ve probably wondered who’s dancing next to you. What’s their name? What do they do? Meet Elena part-time raver and full-time personal consultant.
Talk to us about what you do when you’re not on the dance floor. What does your life look like outside of the rave?
I started my own consulting business, Red Kimono Design, Inc. in June based on a 15-year career marketing for architects, engineers and interior designers. In the past two years, I’ve learned how to design Squarespace websites on my own, so that’s what I spend most of my days doing now. My main clients are local DJs and therapists/counselors.
I’m also an artist, which is my true love. Art is a solo endeavor for me, so I take the opportunity to create and reflect on all the things in life. Been cranking out commissions, pieces for sale, and having art shows regularly since 2018. It’s a lot easier to find time for it now that I kissed corporate culture bye-bye.
How old were you when you first heard about electronic music?
Honestly, I can’t remember. I would listen to old school Chicago DJs’ mixes on the radio from maybe around the time I started taking piano lessons which was first grade, to and from my teacher’s house. I had no idea what I was hearing, just that I liked it. I’ve always loved Depeche Mode which was a great gateway into it I think. I checked out “Catching up with Depeche Mode” on vinyl from the library when I was about seven. So yeah, pretty early on.
“There’s honestly no better thing on this earth for connecting with yourself and finding common ground with others.”
Elena on why she keeps coming back to the dancefloor
Was there a strong house and techno scene where you grew up? If not, how did you stumble upon this community?
Luckily yes. Hell yes. I grew up in Park Ridge, a suburb bordering Chicago. My family owned an apartment building in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood so I was in the city a lot growing up.
Chicago in the mid-’90s was an insane time for underground parties. I remember going to Gramaphone and Untitled in high school and on visits home from college to get gear and flyers. We’d call the flyer hotline, meet at a checkpoint, get on a bedazzled school bus to the scariest places you could find and rave out at four-room massive warehouses with broken windows. It was incredible.
When I was 16 (in 1996) a girl from my school took me to my first rave. It was called Gentle and in a horse paddock in Wisconsin. They brought in a dance floor, crazy sounds, and lights, and everyone was trying to play with the horses during the show. It was loud AF! The music hooked me immediately. The sun came up and we were all covered in dirt and celebrated it happily. I knew right then I had to see more.
What drew you to electronic music?
When Nine Inch Nails’ “Pretty Hate Machine” came out I bought the tape because I liked the cover art. NIN formed the groundwork for my love of early industrial, much of which came from Chicago. I got into EBM and IDM from there, always gravitating to the dancier tracks and remixes. When I first heard early techno in the late ’90s (Chicago was dominated by house so that’s my first love) I was pulled deep in.
I lived in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) from 2000-2006 and started throwing my own shows with 2 other friends at Galapagos Art Space (now located in Detroit), forming the Art + Science collective which lasted past my time there. Getting deeper into the promotion side of things was appealing to me. I had the ability to curate and present what originally got me involved in the first place combined with new subgenres and talent.
“Find your own way and live true to yourself.”
Elena on what she learned from being in the scene
For you, what is it about the dancefloor that keeps you coming back?
Above all, the feeling of losing and finding myself simultaneously to music that moves my heart. There’s honestly no better thing on this earth for connecting with yourself and finding common ground with others. But a close second are the many dear friendships I’ve made along the way. I’m very lucky.
Do you usually go to shows solo or with friends? If you go with friends, would you ever go solo?
I do both. I started going with friends but it took till I was about 35 to go stand on my own out there. It meant having no backup which as a woman can be downright frightening in a club or rave atmosphere, regardless of how amazing the promoter may be at providing a safe space. The strength I gained living in Brooklyn fueled the desire to experience it all just for me. In the process, I met some of the most amazing people. We would sense who was out there alone and gravitate toward each other, providing safety and connection for each other.
Now, even if I leave my house alone for the night, I always run into people I can trust and enjoy the moment with. I met some of my closest friends at a rave or on the Smartbar dance floor.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from the rave scene?
Find your own way and live true to yourself. Listen to what you want and don’t feel pressure to do otherwise. Go where you want and experience what brings you happiness. All the joys of life can be found in music. I don’t even watch TV or movies, they affect my psyche too deeply. Music surrounds me 24/7. I’m so grateful to the Chicago, Syracuse/Upstate NY and New York City rave scenes for this.
Do you have a stand-out dancefloor moment? (Was it an artist who gave an amazing set? A shared moment with a stranger? Did music have some healing effect? Did you go on a non-stop dance marathon? etc)
There are two moments forever burned in my mind, both from recent years.
In 2017 I went to Mutek (Montreal) with my best friend and her husband. We got tickets to the main show which had Surgeon and Lady Starlight (B2B live set) headlining. I remember standing at the front on the fence with them, looked around and said, I’m content. This music puts drive and love in my soul. I was with the best people in my life and realized I needed absolutely nothing else. Pure contentment. It was the best show at a mainstream venue (Metropolis) I’ve ever witnessed. Aurora Halal also crushed.
About five years ago I was lucky enough to get involved with Format FM throwing undergrounds. We’ve hosted the largest as well as up-and-coming acts from that time. Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of dining, chatting and dancing with from then left me with beautiful memories. We pulled together some shows that looked like they weren’t happening just hours before doors opened that turned out to bring hundreds of dancers and amazing feedback.
In 2019 we co-hosted the first OBSERVE in Chicago with Obscure at an old boathouse. The production was epic. Anyone who attended knew it was something special, teleported from the 90s rave days to the future. I cried from sheer joy, knowing all my hard work and love of the music manifested something so tangible and incredible, shared with over 1000 people. I knew it was the best underground I’d ever attended, let alone helped make happen. Special times.
The next OBSERVE showcase happened on 12/4 at Metro, a venue I’ve been seeing shows at since I was 14. I bowed out of promoting in December 2019 to preserve my physical and mental health, so this time I’m just gonna dance and enjoy.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Just be true to what your heart tells you to do. Don’t let fear get in the way. If that means being a bedroom DJ, a speaker hugger, a wallflower, whatever – do it for you. And have music going at all times. Make the soundtrack to your own life through honorable words and actions. The results are unmatched happiness and self-love. I have the music and all those involved to thank for helping me get here.
Thanks for the chance to share my thoughts! Hugs from Chicago.