Fever: It Was Beautiful. At Least In The Beginning…Before Things Got Out Of Hand

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The word fever means, “an abnormally high body temperature, usually accompanied by shivering, and in severe instances, delirium; A state of nervous excitement or agitation.” But back in the day, Fever was also a fitting name for a legendary rave that defined the mean style and brash attitude of South Florida’s underground dance culture.

Fever: It Was Beautiful. At Least In The Beginning…Before Things Got Out Of Hand

Fever was an institution. It changed everything from the way people danced to the drugs they did. They used to say that for every hour you spent at Fever, you took a week off of your life. For many, the trade-off was worth it.

Today, the mere mention of Fever sparks recollections of decadence, excess and even insanity. Some of the stories are so over the top they are considered urban myths. But these things actually happened. For better and sometimes worse, the guys known as Fever Crew delivered what they advertised on their flyers: Revolution.

What A Difference A Scene Makes

Fever blasted off in February of 1995 at Warsaw, a then landmark gay club on Collins Avenue. Today a Jerry’s Deli stands in its place, but in the mid-‘90s it happened to be the only club on South Beach willing to let a rave party go till noon the next day.

It was beautiful. At least in the beginning it was. Before things got out of hand. -Carlos Perez, co-founder of Fever

Every Friday night outside Warsaw, a colorful crowd would run down the block, often blocking other clubs’ doors and the traffic along the avenue. The people in the crowd had plenty of piercings and dyed hair. They wore thrift-shop tops and big, baggy JNCO jeans. Some chicks looked like space age porn stars and other girls dressed down in the same funky t-shirts many of the guys wore. You could tell this scene was different.

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After getting through the door you’d walk into a wall of bass. Pulsating beats and aggressive rhythms would envelop you. Glittery confetti snowed down from the ceiling. The first thing that came into view once you got past the mist from the smoke machine was a staircase stuffed with people. Some of them lying down and massaging each other right there, on the floor or against the wall. They’d inhale Vicks, or hit whippits. It was clear most, if not all, were rolling on ecstasy. People were in a collective trance. It was all so new.

“It was beautiful. At least in the beginning it was. Before things got out of hand,” Carlos Perez, co-founder of Fever, says.

Carlos was the brain behind Fever. Raised in a tight knit Cuban-American family out in the suburbs of Southwest Miami-Dade, Carlos was a straight-A student who attended Catholic School. He was business savvy. Before masterminding Fever, he started his own company with his father called GTC Media, which owns CLUBFLYERS. His day work helped leverage night work at various clubs, nights he’d promote with his friend Johnny Dominguez.

Johnny was raised in the working class neighborhood of Little Havana by a single mom and his grandparents. He didn't know his father, who was killed in a New York bar fight when he was too young to remember. He was a former local baseball standout drafted by the Florida Marlins, but derailed from the minors because of injuries.

What Johnny lost on the field of play, he compensated for on the street. He was like a pit bull. He even had a pit tattooed on his calf, a portrait of his real life dog “Sid.” Known for his hard demeanor, Johnny could also be equally charming. He was the life of the party. But whether you liked him or not, you respected him. Or else he might look at you and say some cryptic shit like, “See this guy? He’s fuuucked.” And sure enough you would be.

All of a sudden it was cool for the chicks to make out with chicks, for people to come out of the closet. It was cool for people to give each other massages and be more sexual in front of others.

Together, Carlos and Johnny promoted nights for some of  the hottest clubs in South Beach at the time, including Les Bains, Prince’s Glam Slam (now Mansion) and Chris Paciello’s Risk. These earlier parties were far from raves. They had dress codes and bottle service. “Preppie parties,” as Carlos calls them.

It wasn’t till after they started hitting the landmark weekly rave held at The Edge in Ft. Lauderdale, and subsequently barred by its security who felt the “Miami guys” were trying to take over, that they expanded into the rave scene. “We wanted Friday nights to leave everyone too raveled to go to The Edge on Saturdays when they had their rave night,” Carlos recalls.

When Fever finally kicked off, it was the opening of Pandora’s Box. The hype was instantaneous, the cult following immediate. Kids drove down from as far north as Atlanta to experience the hype. Others would spray paint “Fever Crew” on the sidewalks of South Beach. It became a rite of passage to go, a weekly mass for the enlightened. Even major artists like Deee-Lite and Prince were dropping in to see what the buzz was about. If you weren’t at Fever, you were nowhere that mattered.

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“It took everybody by storm. Everything changed. I didn't experience the ‘60s, but the raves were the closest I'd ever get. All of a sudden it was cool for the chicks to make out with chicks, for people to come out of the closet. It was cool for people to give each other massages and be more sexual in front of others,” Carlos explains.

“We brought this whole rave culture to Miami kids. The Latin kids thought it was a gay thing before we packaged it as something new and underground. Tough guys came to roll on ecstasy. Corporate lawyers came, this guy just out of jail next to another who's never seen one. Girls would come because they could be liberated. Once they walked through the club walls into Fever there were no parents. No morality. No conscious, just craziness.”

In 1995, you could not pass a record store in Miami-Dade or Broward County without noticing Fever’s unforgettable campaign of trippy postcards and stickers that read: “Can’t Stop Fever.”

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Those flyers were also among the first in South Florida to regularly feature “super star” DJs. Fever also helped break out a lot of Miami talent over its run, including resident DJ Dr. Psychosis, George Acosta, Stryke, and Oscar G to name a few. Fever was more than just a place to party. It was ground zero for some of the freshest electronic music in the world.

“Our third week was during Winter Music Conference, 1995. We had Westbam, founder of Love Parade and Mayday events, Juan Atkins the Godfather of techno, Josh Wink, Super DJ Dmitri, Frankie Bones, LunaSoul, Armand Van Helden, DJ Pierre, Three of Rabbit in the Moon. And they all played for virtually nothing because at the time the music wasn't commercial,” Carlos recalls. “We’d pay headliners 500 bucks. I couldn't even get them a hotel room today for 500 bucks. But back then they just wanted to play at Fever. This was when it was still about the music, not about the money.”

Like a lot of early raves, Fever featured a cross-section of underground music throughout the night, from house to trance and later some jungle. But the party’s signature contribution to the musical side of rave culture was branding electro and the breaks. Bouncy, breakbeat, bass-driven sounds like those featured on Cotton Club’s “Nu Jack” and DJ Icey’s “The Feeling” that struck a chord with the locals who grew up on Miami bass and freestyle.

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The breaks had a uniquely delinquent quality. It was rougher around the edges than traditional four-on-the-floor (straight beat) dance music, less lollipop, more b-boy. It was a better fit for the pop and lock maneuvers of the dominant dancers at Fever.

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When resident DJ Dr. Psychosis would come out in the doctor’s robe and stethoscope, and drop the breaks. The whole place would go off.

“At the height of it, we were the most underground thing in Florida. No one had done what we had done. I can tell you it was crazy because I was one of the only sober people there. And it looked crazy to me,” Dr. Psychosis, founder of DJBackline.com, recalls.
The sound of Fever became the inspiration for one of the biggest rave hits of the ‘90s, Planet Soul’s “Set U Free.” The track peaked at #3 on Billboard Hot 100 dance music chart. But when the hallmark dance label Strictly Rhythm released the single, it was the B-side “Fever Mix” that blew up on local radio and in clubs around the world.

The shout-out on a hit track established Fever Crew’s influence on the global scene. Planet Soul’s DJ/producer George Acosta even released a follow-up tribute track called “Fever Express.” That record also broke the radio barrier and got local airplay. But true to their underground principles, once “Set U Free” and “Fever Express” dropped on the radio those records were banned from Fever.

Rage On For Days | The Bad Boys Of Rave

The bigger Fever got, the crazier things got behind the scenes. The guys who made up Fever Crew were every bit as notorious as the party they put on. Carlos and Johnny were regularly off the chain. They partied harder than most of Fever’s constituents. But if you had to pick someone aside from Carlos and Johnny to be the unofficial mascot of the scene, it had to be Melvin Alvarez.

Melvin

Best described as a Cuban version of Tupac Shakur, Melvin was intense and introspective. The kind of guy you laughed with and not at. In a lot of ways he was even more intimidating than Johnny. He had “Fever Crew” tattooed on his knuckles. During the party he’d steal cash from the club’s register. Then he’d go out to the alley where he’d buy clothes off of the homeless, because it was “good karma,” which he could definitely use.

People say they partied, but nobody partied like we partied. We were always trying to top ourselves.

One memorable morning Melvin ran through a wall in his own apartment into his neighbor’s living room trying to run from the cops. They had showed up at his crib in response to a “hostage situation.” These kinds of situations were common occurrences at the after-parties that went down in the apartment Johnny and Melvin shared, parties that would rage on for days.

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More than anything else Melvin is known for eating half a sheet of acid on a dare. For those who don’t know, that’s about 50 hits of LSD at the same time. That night he found himself stomping on top of a cop car outside Warsaw. He was decked out in combat boots, a diaper, and a Viking hat and swinging a real Japanese sword. To this day nobody knows where he got the sword. As bystanders yelled for police, he’d say “Shhhh! I’m in disguise!” The cops came around. He took off running. Nobody saw Melvin for like a month after that.

“People say they partied, but nobody partied like we partied,” Melvin says. “We were always trying to top ourselves.”

It wasn’t long before Fever started to feel like a madhouse. Keoki found out for himself when he dropped in to spin an impromptu guest set. He ended up being physically tossed off the turntables by Johnny and Melvin when he played a “cheesy” set. Adding insult to injury, Johnny held onto his record case for ransom. Keoki’s manager had to negotiate for them. By now, Fever had definitely developed a rep as the bad boys of rave.

In early 1996, Fever was ready to take the next step and tour throughout the state of Florida. They started with a series of events in various cities throughout the state. Every city they went to, the party was slammed. Once Fever expanded statewide, they caught the attention of legendary promoter Dave Mirsky. Together, they planned a mega-rave near Orlando. The mega-rave was a sequel to a previous Mirsky production Cosmos, and was to be called Cosmos II presented by Fever. It was much bigger than anything Fever Crew had ever done. But nobody thought they were getting in over their heads.

“We had so much hype going we had to throw a big festival rave. This was ‘96, way before festivals like Ultra, so ‘big’ raves like Hyperspace and Endo Meka were pulling in like 5,000-10,000 heads, which we thought we could do easy. The capacity at Kissimmee Civic Center, so they told us, was 10,000. We sold 5,000 tickets presale. Then we kept 5,000 tickets to be sold at the door at a higher price. So what do we do? Rather than let all the pre-sale ticket holders in first, we let in one in from each line. But before we get everyone inside the fire marshal shuts us down.”

When the Sheriff’s department stopped the event for being over capacity, over a thousand people with pre-paid tickets were left outside. When they couldn’t get in, a riot broke out. Kids broke into the civic center by smashing through windows. The police arrived in a formation on horseback and armored in riot gear. Over 100 arrests were made.

They put us in their newspaper like we were terrorists. They tried to make us look like a gang. They called us ‘leaders of a rave culture that revolves around drugs that is invading our youth.’

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The following day, Fever Crew was vilified in a local newspaper as a “rave mafia from Miami.” They were made out as poster boys for everything wrong with kids today. Even worse, they had to refund all the tickets sold via Ticketmaster. To top it off, they were barred from throwing any more events in Orange County and several surrounding counties in Central Florida.

“They put us in their newspaper like we were terrorists. They tried to make us look like a gang. They called us ‘leaders of a rave culture that revolves around drugs that is invading our youth,’” Carlos says. “They said ‘you guys aren’t doing anything up here ever again. Go back to Miami.’ And that’s where the whole negative stigma got tagged on us.”

Cosmos II didn’t deter them from going big yet again. A few months later Fever produced yet another mega-rave at the West Palm Beach Fairgrounds called The Never Ending Story. It ended much the same as Cosmos II. This time around, security hadn’t been paid and let thousands of kids overrun the turnstiles. It ended up being a free for all.

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Meanwhile, Fever’s two head promoters, Carlos and Johnny, each bailed on the party for different reasons. Johnny pulled his disappearing act when some sleazy-looking guys in suits came around asking for whatever he owed them. Carlos ran off because he was bad tripping on copious amounts of mushrooms.

“I went back to the hotel, and kicked out DJ Kelly Reverb out of his room two hours before he was supposed to spin, and then sat by the window listening to the rave go down in flames over a walkie-talkie,” Carlos recalls.

By the summer of ‘96, everything had unraveled. Miami Beach Police started demanding they hire twice as many off-duty cops to work their parties. Managers for DJs were afraid to book their talent. The events became disorganized messes. It didn’t help that almost everyone involved in Fever Crew was fucked up 24/7.

“If we would have been doing less drugs and paying more attention to the business maybe things could have been different. But se no fue el tren [the train left us],” Carlos explains.

After a roller-coaster two-week binge following the Never Ending Story that had him driving back and forth from Miami to Orlando trying to set up another mega-rave on borrowed money and a head full of drugs, Carlos finally lost it. His family was forced to Baker Act him. That means his family and doctors signed off on a court order committing him to a mental facility against his will for being a danger to himself or others. It was the last resort to save his life.

I found it ironic that the doctors just wanted me to replace the drugs I was doing, which I thought were mind-expanding, with their anti-depressant drugs.

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So on one day Carlos was the king of the rave scene, and the next day he was admitted to in-patient care at a Miami-Dade County mental health facility. For the first few days he was strapped to a gurney in a straight jacket and force-fed a cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs by a team of psychiatrists. It was all in the name of weaning him off of psychedelic drugs that, according to them, had made Carlos crazy.

“My family committed me. It was tough to take. But they needed to. It had been enough. I was going out of my mind. I needed an out,” Carlos recalls. “But I found it ironic that the doctors just wanted me to replace the drugs I was doing, which I thought were mind-expanding, with their anti-depressant drugs.”

After being released, Carlos was done with Fever, with raves and with drugs. He had very little choice. With Carlos out, Johnny attempted to continue Fever on his own. But under Johnny, Fever took a different turn. He stopped worrying about bookings, decorations, music, or the crowd. The vibe changed. All of a sudden…Fever got ghetto.

It was 1998 and the rest of the scene was getting jaded too. Everyone was on a collective comedown. The pills were increasingly cut with too much speed and other nasty shit. The euphoric buzz was gone. People started to overdose. People got shady. People got jacked. It went from Peace, Love, Unity and Respect to a hard, tense vibe.

Left to his own devices, Johnny descended on a downward spiral. By night he was a legitimate club promoter, but by day he was getting deep into the streets. There were too many dipshit drug dealers passing under his nose with a big, fat target on their head. He couldn’t resist. He’d either get fronted and not pay it back, or he’d set up some elaborate scam to get at someone’s stash. At first he’d try to hide his schemes from his friends, but then he just stopped giving a shit. He got brazen and careless.

Johnny racked up a rap sheet with things like assault and battery, larceny and robbery. He began to embrace the moniker “Johnny the Jacker.” He’d brag about “stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, us.”

It was obvious Johnny made enemies in the last couple of years of his life. He got caught up in the streets way over his head. As for how he died, I can say he was probably fighting for his life till his last breath.

The End Of Something Special

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Johnny Dominguez

(2nd from left)

It all caught up with Johnny one humid night in July of 1999. Tragically, but not surprisingly, he was killed. They discovered his body in an alley behind a strip club in Coral Gables. He had a hole in his skull. At first they thought it was a gunshot wound. But his autopsy showed he died of “cerebral blunt trauma.”

Miami Police Dept. Detective Confesor Dominguez won’t say much about the case since it’s still open. But he offered a statement several years ago.

“It was obvious Johnny made enemies in the last couple of years of his life. He got caught up in the streets way over his head. As for how he died, I can say he was probably fighting for his life till his last breath.”

“Johnny always told me he’d be dead by the time he was 30. And I’d always be like ‘why are you bad tripping bro?! We’re gonna be kings by the time you’re 30,’” Carlos says. “He died at 29.”

I just hope that this time people are a little more careful, that the young kids pay attention. Don’t learn the hard way…

Fever: It Was Beautiful. At Least In The Beginning…Before Things Got Out Of Hand

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Johnny Dominguez

After Johnny died, things were never the same. The rise and fall of Fever went hand in hand with the rise and fall of the South Florida rave scene. But by no means were things over. By the late ‘90s, the Florida rave scene had become world-renowned. Countless offspring promoters tried to pick up where Fever left off. If you were a raver, the parties and drug choices were as abundant as ever. But the increasing exposure led to a backlash in the mainstream media, as news story after news story attempted to blow the lid off of the dangers in rave culture. The uproar even led to legislation.

One of the legacies left by Fever and the excessiveness of the rave scene around the country was the passing of The Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act, commonly known as the RAVE Act. While its purpose was to limit raves by increasing the liability of promoters, the result was merely a shift from independent, underground parties to major clubs and events organized by big businesses that could afford a good lawyer.

By 2000 the word “rave” was considered a bad word, but the scene was booming bigger than ever. Ultra Music Festival was born the year before on the sands of South Beach, against the backdrop of an ever-expanding Winter Music Conference. Club Space launched as the country’s premiere afterhours dance club. The biggest DJs in the world made regular pilgrimages to the Magic City. Miami was on the map, big time. It seemed like the beginning of something major. But it was actually more like the last scene in Casino where they blow up the old casinos to make way for the corporate monstrosities. It was the end of something special.

“Everything goes full circle. Once the radio plays a track and then announces you win seven hundred bucks if you're the seventh caller, it’s over. But that's why I think it’s coming back, because it can be underground again,” Carlos says.

“I just hope that this time people are a little more careful, that the young kids pay attention. Don’t learn the hard way. When I was all fucked up I used to tell people ‘I’m not bad tripping, I’m good tripping!’ But it’s all bad tripping when you’re on drugs like that. I hope the kids today can look at what happened to Fever Crew, and learn from our mistakes. We made plenty.”

It’s true. But they made history too.