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The Inner Wild Child

September 08, 2000|GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The fashion sensibility of the rave world dances to two distinct beats: urban utilitarian or fantasy-land fabulous. When about 40,000 electronic dance fans descended on dusty Indio last weekend for perhaps the largest rave in U.S. history, the utilitarian crowd far outnumbered its more fanciful brethren. But it was the latter--in Dr. Seuss, "Alice in Wonderland" or "Barbarella" ensembles--that gave the event its dose of singular surrealism.

"The crowd is better than any special effects we can bring in," said Pasquale Rotella, one of the promoters of the all-night dance at the desert city's 78-acre Empire Polo Field. "Glitter makeup and angel wings and the 'Cat in the Hat' hats. That's what makes the whole thing special."

Gossamer wings (the type worn by little ballerinas, or homemade sets made of sheer material stretched on pipe-cleaner frames) have become a staple accessory for young female ravers. Other symbols of childhood--lunch boxes and tiny backpacks, pacifiers, superhero shirts, etc.--are popular totems for a scene that exults in youth energy, loves pop culture references and feels, perhaps, that its members have been forced to grow up too fast.

Most of the ravers who trekked to Indio were teens (although the event seemed to draw more older fans than raves staged in the region just a year ago) and most hailed from Southern California. But a good number also came via tour buses from the Bay Area, Arizona, Utah and beyond.

The whole rave scene is burgeoning--which may suggest it's a good time to invest in companies that produce glow-in-the-dark items. Glow sticks, glow necklaces, glow bracelets--anything that emitted that subdued green or pink chemical light was de rigueur beneath the laser lights that strafed the night sky while DJs played trance and house music.

The majority of young fans wore the baggy or informal styles of hip-hop. Accents of choice included dyed hair, body piercings and tattoos, but some people threw themselves into the rave spirit even more fully. One young raver wore a shiny bikini, face paint, furry leggings that seemed vaguely Viking-like, and a homemade fringe of red yarn streaming down from her biceps (fastened in place with electrical tape). As the desert night cooled and winds pushed across the expanse of the polo field, her outfit seemed less practical by the minute. How to stay warm? "Well," said the young woman, before drifting off into the night, "you just got to keep dancing."

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