I granted an interview to the folks over at DJCN (DJ Club Network) for their new blog. The blog covers all kinds of club listings and club oriented news. They also run a weekly DJ booth column where they interview DJ's from around the world. I think I was one of their first interviews to get published.
The first three-day rave in the US with over 6,000 people in attendance.
Mark Phinney and I threw a party in the early nineties. The Woopy Ball.
There have been other massive parties that were incredibly powerful and special to many in the scene including myself. They certainly had a longer staying power. Respect to The Gathering, Wicked, Sharon, Come Unity, Toon Town and many others which inspired me and countless others and will be easily more widely remembered.However, the Woopy Ball holds a quirky, anomalistic place I’d like to think in Bay Area Rave lore. This is its story (as I remember it).
How It Started
The story of the Woopy Ball starts at the Office Depot in East Oakland. I was the Business Services Manager during the day and a raver by night. It was the Fall of 1991 and I had already thrown a couple of small underground parties and DJed a little within the burgeoning early Bay Area Rave scene when one afternoon Mark Phinney walked into Office Depot to do some copying and we struck up a conversation about the Rave scene.
Mark Phinney owned and operated Paradigm Studios, a music rehearsal venue up the street. 9029 San Leandro Street in Oakland to be specific, a really bad part of town, near the Oakland Coliseum. However loads of bands had their studios on this sprawling campus including hardcore legends, D.R.I.. “4 Acres of Non-Descript Warehouses” is how it is described on the flyer. The place was magic even before the Woopy Ball. A creative oasis (or wasteland depending on your view) amongst the harshness of a neighborhood in decline.
Mark was a visionary and became one of my mentors, changing my life forever. The name of his studios, “Paradigm” says it all. His sensibilities fit nicely into the still infant but growing rave scene in the Bay Area. When we met everything just fell into place, it was only one conversation and we were already planning one of the largest underground parties the Bay Area had seen to that point.
The name “The Woopy Ball” came from an afternoon of brainstorming.We wanted a name that implied the insane epic-ness we were planning and it was a suggestion by a “found object” artist dude living at the studios who knew of a thrift store that no longer existed in the Midwest that went by the name Woopy Ball. There it was, we had our name. Within hours after that Mark and I had designed the first version of the flyer.
Above is the "Tentative Proof". Printing "Not For Distribution" on the early version of the flyer and then distributing it at every club and rave over the course of two weekends really seemed to work. People thought of and still think of this flyer as a collector's item. I printed the two color design using copiers at this crazy copy shop in Berkley. They had a machine filled with red ink and I had line up the artwork by hand, four flyers to a page. It all actually worked really well.
Above is the back of the first proof of the flyer, complete with lipstick!
A party like this had never been attempted and so much of the success was the amazing venue itself. This could not have happened anywhere else.We planned for months and I brought everyone I knew in the scene to participate in one way or another. We also had an enormous budget to work with. Promoters never talk about money. We spent $26,000 throwing this party. We made back $22,000 and it was completely worth it.
Timing was the most critical ingredient for the Woopy Ball’s success. It was a moment of critical mass when all of a sudden a ton of new enthusiastic people discovered the underground Rave scene and word of our party reached most of them. For many of the Woopy Ball’s attendees this was their first underground rave. There were loads of people out seven nights a week handing out flyers. The flyers were everywhere for at least a couple of months. We would not have had such a major success without our enthusiastic promoters, but somehow the word got deeper into the Bay Area community than just the club going community. So many different types of people came out to this, which is another reason it was so magical. Nothing had ever gone down like this.
Mark handled the finances and donated the venue. I didn’t have that kind of money or that kind of property. He was also a master at delegating. He brought together an amazing workforce of quirky crazies to put in their time for the cause, including the security force used by The Grateful Dead. A lot of the workers from clean up to running the ticket and money collection to running electricity and decorating were all musicians and artists who lived or had studios at Paradigm. Mark also never narrowed the scope of the party, which I have to give him a ton of credit for. Whatever we could think of we did.
I was the connection to the underground rave scene. Already a DJ and an enthusiastic participant in all things House and Techno for some time, I booked the DJ’s, handled the promotion and kept overall quality control over all the music and vibe and production value for the party.
The front of the flyers came in purple and pink.
There were four slightly different back designs shown above. Click on a flyer to see it larger.
The space had as much to offer to the event as any of the participants, DJs or organizers. The space itself contributed it’s own vibe to the overall event. There were three major structures/warehouses at Paradigm and we used them all. The main building housed the majority of rehearsal studios as well as a large lounge. In the back of the front/main building was a large open warehousish space which is where the first large dance room was. It featured Techno all night long, both nights. Named it the Technodrome. The bar, serving booze ALL NIGHT and DAY LONG was in the rundown lounge with worn carpet and dirty walls, smelling like incense. In a back corner of the building, down a hall, in one of the larger studios was the Reggae Room where DJ’s Spliff Skankin and Robert Rankin along with The Humble Lion and other guests never stopped bumping records the entire weekend. The Reggae and Dub heads never left their little piece of paradise all weekend long, 24 hours a day. Admission to the Woopy Ball was really cheap, I think it was like $12 per night or $20 for the whole weekend! We were crazy!
Rick Preston Spinning in the "Technodrome"! Rick is still around spinning multiple times a week in the Bay Area.
The back warehouse is where DJ’s played Deep House. It was a cool space with multi-level platforms on either side of the dancefloor. The building was a rickety old wooden building, with big sliding doors in the front with a small door cut out of the lower right for a smaller entrance.
It was actually in this back warehouse that we had one of the only moments of stress throughout the entire weekend. About 30 minutes before the doors to the party were to open a crazy flash rainstorm hit and dumped about an inch of rain. No sign of bad weather before or after. The back warehouse was flooded! It was a dangerous situation with all the power cords and sound equipment. However several of us picked up broom and mops and went to town, finishing the clean-up moments before the doors opened and the party started. Crisis averted and we never saw another drop of rain the entire weekend.
The largest warehouse was the ambient room and the most effort was put into this space. Donovan, local visual jockey and other cats projected tripped out visuals and folks hung all kinds of neon string throughout the roof, making a big, black-lit web above your head. Every couch and chair at Paradigm was moved to this space for everyone to chill out on. It was because of this space people could endure the entire weekend. Go chill out or take a nap to recharge and then go at it again. DJ’s played spaced out ambient music. This warehouse stayed open and kept going the entire weekend. People brought sleeping bags!
DJ EFX stayed all weekend and absolutely did an incredible job in the back warehouse spinning the deeper side of house music. I specifically remember him at one point playing records backwards with his fingers and mixing that way! The man is a legend!
We collaborated with different artists and like types to create some cool installations throughout the party. From sculptures in different spaces, to hung art to booths with performance art and other oddities. We even had a rudimentary internet set-up in each room. We had it set-up so people could chat between rooms and overseas to England, to another party happening in London. I also think New York was in the mix. Crazy!
I remember seeing the Blue Men there from when they were just getting started. It was a couple of them in head to toe blue makeup walking up to people and staring at them and not talking. There was also this guy who set up a booth where he had people throw pies at him. It cost nothing. He brought his own pies. Problem was though that he wore a skimpy outfit and it was in the wee hours of the early morning that we realized this guy was a complete perv and was freaking out partygoers. Deal was he only allowed women to throw pies and when they did he would gain an erection. We had to ask him to leave. Bizarre, over the top and eccentric outfits were found in every direction. Ravers were a colorful folk.
People came from all over, from every corner of the Bay Area from Santa Cruz to Marin and even down from Sacramento and up from LA. There were even people who flew out from New York and Miami. I still don’t know how the word got out that far. Amazing though, remember this is a time way before Facebook. For god’s sake I used a pager back then.
The two main dance areas went off both nights for hours and hours but somewhere around 8am both dance areas closed down for a bit for a breather and as everyone exited the dark, vaulted ceiling warehouses into the sun there was this 70 something year old black man sitting on a small stage with a small amp playing slide guitar and singing the blues. This is in the middle of the common space outdoors in the middle of the complex, between warehouses in front of all these hundreds of ravers filing out of the warehouses after a night feverish dancing. I don’t know where he came from. One of my most profound memories, everyone just sat down and listened.
After a very successful Friday night many left for the day, but SF singing duo Enrique treated the many that stayed to a free breakfast and show. A goofy, Broadway on acid singing act with songs about shopping malls and other zaniness. The first time I witnessed someone wearing knee high, platform converse high-tops. We served little milk cartons, like the kind you get in grade school and bagels and dyed green hardboiled eggs in keeping with the vague Dr. Suess references. Ren and Stimpy had also just come out and we showed all their cartoons after the Enrique show. The hundreds of people that stayed were blown away.
The rest of Saturday was band after band and by the late afternoon both dance rooms had started up again. It was Saturday night that things went up a whole other level with even more people in attendance. The place got so packed but there were never any hassles. At one point the cops did show up but Mark Phinney took them on a tour of the party telling them that this was Grace Slick’s Bay Area Music Awards party. They bought it and, amazingly, left us alone.
Memories of Saturday Night are foggy at best. I never slept and barely ate the entire weekend but I did no drugs of any kind. I remember dancing a bunch and just constantly going from room to room making sure everything was cool.
I do remember a moment when Moonpup, (a DJ not on the roster originally) was absolutely killing it going between the chorus of “Everybody’s Free” and “Shut The Fuck Up Bitch, You Can’t Sing”. Back and forth, back and forth. Rad! Everybody seems to remember Moonpup from the Woopy Ball. The guy just showed up with his records from LA, assuming there would be a chance for him to drop records. He was right and became one of the heroes of the party. After that he moved to San Francisco and spent many years as a DJ in town. It all started, including our friendship at the Woopy Ball. All of the DJ’s were outstanding! Many have become big names today as DJ’s including Spun, Rick Preston, EFX, RaSoul, Ernie Munson, Julius Papp, DJ Ghost among others.
The following is a review of the Woopy Ball from a fanzine, “FREE” that covered the rave scene from back in those days. It came out about a month after the Woopy ball.
Above are the front back covers for "FREE".
Woopy Ball Memory’s
I have reached out to those DJ’s and participants I am still in contact with to write up a little something about the Woopy Ball. This is what I have received so far. If you have a memory please email it to me at email@example.com or leave a comment below.
"THE WOOPY BALL WAS AN EVENT THAT LAUNCHED ME INTO FAR-REACHING, AWE-INSPIRING AND INTENSELY CREATIVE LIFESTYLE. MY MUSIC, MY DJING AND MY OVERALL WAY OF LOOKING AT THE WORLD CHANGED TO A HIGHER STATE. I MISS THOSE DAYS. FOR ME THEY WERE PURE AND FULL AND CREATIVENESS. THE DJ SET THAT ROCKED MY WORLD WAS MOONPUP´S; HOMEBOY HAD ME IN A TRANCE FOR REALS...I WILL ALWAYS CHERISH THE WOOPY BALL AND EVERYBODY INVOLVED IN IT."
“I can’t remember if it was my third rave, or the third time I took ecstasy, or maybe I’m just focusing on the number three because that’s how many days long the Woopy Ball was. But regardless of specifics, I remember quite a bit more of the Woopy Ball then most other raves I went to in the early ‘90s. This may have something to do with the fact that it was early in my raving career—and thus before the metamorphosis into drug monster—but also with the fact that it was a pretty special event.
I couldn’t tell you which DJs I saw or when. Like I said, I hadn’t been to too many other raves by this point. A few Toon Towns at the Townsend is all I can remember. I knew a few of the bigger names on the San Francisco DJ scene, like Jeno, but just the fact that it was a “rave” at all made it a destination. And the Woopy Ball, my friends and I all enthused over when we first got hold of the fliers one night at a Toon Town, was a rave scheduled to last for three days. And I was there all three days.
I remember snippets, flashes:
Dancing in a warehouse (but it was all warehouses there), while a DJ played “Psychotropic” by Hypnosis. We all cheered, even though we had already heard the song three times—and it was only the first night. Definitely the song of the weekend.
Trying to sleep in my car in the parking lot the next afternoon, after having been up all night, completely sober. I think I managed about 30 minutes. I just wasn’t tired. The loud reggae didn’t help either.
Inexplicably, a girl I had a crush on in kindergarten was there, and I talked with her in the outside courtyard area in the afternoon.
Did I ever even eat? I don’t remember. I certainly never left the warehouse complex.
Talking with someone named “Love,” an American with a fake accent who claimed to be one of the promoters, and Noah, another organizer. I later heard that Love got arrested for stealing a car, and Noah later became one of my best friends.
Saturday night we all met up again, my friends with whom I was attending UC Santa Cruz. I was determined to take a pill that night and did, and although it wasn’t as good as I was expecting (my first “bunk” pill) I still had fun. I met a girl from San Jose and danced all night with her.
Later that night we lay on the couches in the chill out area, which I can’t find on the flier now—the “Revolving Utopia Room”? The “Rapture Hall”? The KLF’s “Chill Out” album played endlessly while a sober friend joked about getting a touch of the mage from the thrift store sofas.
Around 4 am I finally crashed, having slept only about 2 hours out of 48, so we all piled into my 1970 Buick Skylark, bench seats front and back, and my friends promptly fell asleep. I was able to keep it together to get us all the way back to Santa Cruz.
Looking back now, the Woopy Ball was a one-of-a-kind event, one obviously born out of love and a desire to have a good time rather than make a quick buck. Knowing Noah like I do now, this is obvious, but at the time all I had to go on was the vibe, and it was lovely. Soon the scene would degenerate into suburban gangsters macking on e-tard girls at ever-bigger but somehow not better parties, with the focus shifting from the music to the drugs. But for this weekend in March 1992, it was still about the music, the people, and the party.”
“I did remember: buying a fimo mushroom from vax at 5am and buying my first tapes from mark metz : Feel The Love and Inside The MInd... And getting bunk e from Joel aka Love... LOL
It was my second party and my friend Mark Ritch never cared for the rave scene cuz it had this mentality that is the answer to everything but he really loved your party. It was all new to me but I just remember we had a real good time. I remember hanging with Donovan and Jason on the rafters and I was stoked by the energy of the party and everyone was really kind... In the morning and having a bagel with cream cheese.. I think Jason was sleeping but Donovan was always hardcore."
“I've seen the Woopy Ball flyer all over the world, I've even seen it here on Guam. I'm still friends with the DJ that has the flyer, he claims that he was there too.
I had never been to a party like this. I'd been to raves and House parties, but this party, no not party, Historical event literally ruined any and every rave party to follow as nothing could even come close the Woopy Ball in Downtown Oakland in 1992!!!
By far the single Greatest Rave in the history of the world, Nothing could have prepared anyone for what went down during these three days!!!!”
“My band Tasti Box played there... It was a crazy night, the energy of the crowd was reaching critical mass. I was playing keyboards and punching a blow up earth beach ball back into the crowd after it had floated around the sea of people... one of my favorite parties ever.”
“Wow, the Woopy Ball was my first party and it is no lie at all to say that it changed the course of my life, immensely, and for the better. I met people that night who are still friends today.
I spent the next two or so years up to my eyeballs in the rave scene, loving every second of it. It was definitely one of the greatest parts of my life and I will never forget it, and I know it wouldn't have turned out the same way if it weren't for The Woopy Ball. So, thanks.”
We did try a sequel to the Woopy Ball called Woopy’s Playground. We were going to have it in this sprawling paintball battlefield in this giant warehouse but then we realized all the paintball splatters on the walls were not only still wet but were flammable. We then went on to plan B.
Plan B was to rent out the largest indoor space in San Francisco, The Concourse. To be fair we only used half the space but it was still fricking huge! This was a major production with all kinds of weird stuff to do and see. This is pre-amusement rides at raves but we did create this crazy checkered board room with walls, floors and ceiling painted in black and white checkerboards. We then set up strobe lights in the corners. It was trippy to be inside to say the least.
There were a few major problems with this party. First our ticket system sucked and a ton of people got in free. Second, the sound guy brought a tiny little system down which immediately blew. Thankfully EFX came through with his peeps to rush over a giant sound system. This at like 10 or 11pm after the party started. We ended up with a couple thousand attendees, and it ended up a good party but nothing like the original Woopy Ball.
The other main issue was that the first of the cooperate type, 3rd generation raves decided to throw a big party called “Cool World” next door at the second largest venue in SF, the Galleria. Literally next door, on the same damn block. It was really pretty lame as the promoters behind the other party removed our flyers from different spots in the weeks before the night and the night of the party, trashed talked our party at every turn, even having people outside our front doors trying to pull people out of line and get them to go to their party next door. Totally lame but defiantly a sign of things to come for the scene.
I do remember a pretty awesome and very large visuals display by Donovan.After it was all over I also remember puking. It was daylight.
Here's a little bonus. Track of the weekend by many accounts.
made it into the LA Times two Fridays ago on July 17, 2009. I'm the bald fool on the
dancefloor looking at what the DJ is playing. This is the shot that
went with the printed article. The other pictures appear online only on the LA Times Website found here.
I'm DJing the August 30th, 2009 edition. Save the date! Do Over!!!!
Click on the article below to get a bigger view that is easier to read.
This is an article from an issue of Jointz Magazine about my 80's Night at The Scotland Yard Pub. Jointz Magazine was for years the printed voice for the underground dance and DJ culture in LA. It was also the definitive source for nightclub and party listings.
This is a scan of the original article; please click on the image to make it larger so the text is easier to read.
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