How Electronic Music Conquered America

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How Electronic Music Conquered America

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All Photos: Michael Tullberg

Michael Tullberg is laughing. The longtime L.A. rave photojournalist is practically bouncing in his chair as he watches grainy footage of himself from nearly twenty years before on a dusty VHS cassette. “God, I looked like I was eighteen years old!” he exclaims, his head shaking in wonder and a touch of disbelief. He’s right: the man/boy on the screen looks like he almost could have almost walked straight out of a 1990s Disney teen show, even though he was deep into his twenties at the time. The present-day Tullberg then begins unconsciously nodding his head as the younger version of himself explains to the cameraman why he’s been inspired to go out and photograph underground parties night after night:

“I love to shoot the dancers because dance is one of the oldest and most primal forms of self-expression that has ever existed. And when someone is completely immersed in that dance state, they connect with that inner self, that inner creativity. It’s a direct tap into it, when you get to the point where it’s no longer a matter of conscious thought. And when that happens, that’s when the pure creativity comes out. Those little moments of that are what I try to capture, because I find them intensely beautiful and raw, and sometimes strange, and most of the time, wonderful.”

Insightful words, and one can see that philosophy clearly throughout the pages of “DANCEFLOOR THUNDERSTORM: Land Of The Free, Home Of The Rave," Tullberg’s new upcoming photo book about the glory days of the American rave scene. The book is his spectacular visual accounting of the time period when raves exploded across the country in the 1990s and 2000s, and propelled electronic music into the limelight. While shooting for classic dance mags such as URB, BPM, Mixer, Insider and Lotus, Tullberg captured the incredible vibe of the rave scene like no other. The results are clearly evident as he excitedly shows them off to this reporter in his Echo Park pad, while talking about the new IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign to finance the printing of “DANCEFLOOR THUNDERSTORM”.

How Electronic Music Conquered America

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Ravers And DJ In Unity

The artists represented inside read like an All-Star team of rave pioneers: Paul Oakenfold, Richie Hawtin, Moby, Carl Cox, Fatboy Slim, Massive Attack, the Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Roni Size, Mark Farina, Doc Martin…they’re all there, and more. Many more. From his privileged position at the center of the American raving culture in Los Angeles, Tullberg not only presided over the early days of festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, Nocturnal Wonderland and Audiotistic, but also unforgettable parties in the mountains, the beaches, the warehouses and the deserts of Southern California. If there was a great party, he was gonna be there, camera shutters blazing.

However, Tullberg’s work went far beyond simply documenting the existence of the rave scene. “Anybody can document something,” he comments today, “I wanted to show the world the incredible atmosphere that was being created at raves. I wanted to illustrate visually what the celebration of existence through dance really meant. I wanted to create art that matched the art being created spontaneously in the room between the DJ and the dancers.” And to his credit, “DANCEFLOOR THUNDERSTORM” is filled with great art, with energy surging, crackling and exploding all over the pages.

How Electronic Music Conquered America

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Richie Hawtin: The Bald Phase

Color streaks and bleeds in great swirls just as it did on the dance floor, matching and enhancing the original joyful vitality with a buzz and life of its own. Tullberg’s photography doesn’t just take you back to those wonderful rave days and nights—at its best, it immerses you in them, strikingly reminiscent of how Impressionist painters like Monet and Van Gogh fully immersed their audiences in brilliant washes and strokes of pigment. Using combinations of mostly self-taught camera techniques, Tullberg nearly singlehandedly created the modern archetype for rave photography, which is still being emulated by budding shooters today.

However, as much as the rave community embraced Tullberg and his photographs, the mainstream book publishing world did not…or the work of any other electronic music photographer, for that matter. Undeterred, Tullberg has decided instead to self-publish “DANCEFLOOR THUNDERSTORM”, and turn to the book’s target audience—the original rave trailblazers—to help finance the book’s initial print run. “It really is funny how the struggle to get this made reflects the struggle that the rave scene went through to gain credibility in the music world back in the day. I suppose it shows just how reluctant the mainstream normally is to being open to new ideas and new directions. And that at the end of the day, it’s a movement’s loyal supporters that make things move successfully forward.”

THE JOURNEY

The road to getting “DANCEFLOOR THUNDERSTORM” completed has been a long one for Tullberg. According to him, the idea for the book first came about around 2004, “but I had no knowledge whatsoever about the publishing business, and seeing as how the media still had no great love for electronic music at the time, I put the thing on the back burner.” Years later, when it became apparent that none of Tullberg’s old magazine colleagues were putting out any material about the rave scene or electronic music in general, he decided to step forward.

How Electronic Music Conquered America

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Electric Daisy Carnival

“The scene was in a sort of limbo at the time, and to me, there appeared to be a real chance that many of the stories about the important events in the development of the scene were in danger of being forgotten and lost. The mainstream media had done its utmost to belittle and marginalize electronic music in America, so as someone who had been at the middle of it all, I felt a real sense of responsibility to show what American raving was really like. Not the negatively slanted, one-sided coverage that so dominated the news reports of the day. I thought it was just as deserving of celebration as jazz, rock and roll and hip-hop were…and obviously I wasn’t alone.”

Doing the research for “DANCEFLOOR THUNDERSTORM” was easy, as Tullberg, like so many old-school ravers, had amassed a treasure trove of rave memorabilia over the years. It was this collection, along with Tullberg’s library of his own classic rave magazine articles, live reviews and notes, which served as the majority of the book’s source material. Then there were the photographs—over 100,000 images in countless volumes of negatives and slides. Going through this massive film collection was “a mixture of joy and a nightmare”, according to Tullberg. “There were so many fantastic pictures from so many great nights, and that turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. There was no shortage of great material, which made the editing down of those images downright painful at times. I couldn’t believe sometimes the photos that were being left out in the end.”

Simultaneously, Tullberg was also producing and then editing down vast amounts of text, including new interviews with DJs like Sandra Collins and Christopher Lawrence. The artists provided a valuable sense of context, says Tullberg, “as their points of view were just as important as my own. As DJs, they have a unique perspective that would have been impossible for me to deliver myself.” With all the text elements in place, Tullberg began looking for a publisher to put the book out. He was in for a rude awakening.

How Electronic Music Conquered America

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Carl Cox In The Zone

Even while being well informed about the regular difficulties in getting a first volume published, Tullberg was surprised by the intense resistance to the notion of an electronic music book, even from publishers who specialized in works about pop culture, music or photography. Over the course of a year, “DANCEFLOOR THUNDERSTORM” was turned down by nearly twenty-five different publishers.

“It was ridiculous,” he groans today, his eyes rolling skyward. “I knew early on that traditionally, few publishers want to take that chance and be the first to put out a book on a new, untested subject. I got that. What I didn’t expect was how utterly clueless some of these guys actually were about pop culture. For half of them, the concept just went shooting—whissh!—right over their heads. The other half was divided into two camps: those who knew what the rave scene was and didn’t want to touch it, and those who knew but didn’t know what to do with it.”

How Electronic Music Conquered America

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John Digweed Locked In

“I remember one of the last rejection letters I got…it was very nicely written, almost apologetic. The jist was, ‘we love your photos, we love the subject matter, but we don’t know how to market this.’ And my jaw just dropped at that…and that’s when I began to realize that I was probably gonna have to do this myself.” Finally convinced to take the plunge, Tullberg formed 5150 Publishing, his own independent imprint, to put out material that the publishers he approached would not.

THE CAMPAIGN

Now at last, the book is completed, and Tullberg is poised to launch his IndieGogo campaign, with a target goal of $10,000.00. The campaign already includes endorsements from artists like the Crystal Method’s Ken Jordan, Christopher Lawrence, and rave legend Frankie Bones. Those wishing to donate to the campaign—and the Magnetic staff highly recommends that you do—can reserve their own copy of “DANCEFLOOR THUNDERSTORM” before it becomes available to the public. Considering that only 3,000 copies will be made in this limited First Edition run, that’s a pretty good idea.

There are other rewards for donors as well, including large prints of photos from inside the book, and Skype photo seminars with Tullberg himself, where you can learn his tricks of the trade and become a top EDM shooter too. When the campaign commences at IndieGogo, a donation page will be generated there for fans to go to contribute; in the meantime, the next best place is the book’s own web site, www.dancefloorthunderstorm.com. The site contains great photos and out-takes that didn’t make the final cut, and will serve as the main ordering platform for the book upon its release (don’t bother looking for it an Amazon or Barnes & Noble, you won’t find it there).

Upon successful conclusion of the campaign, the book is slated to come out later this year. But of course, without fan support that won’t happen. So, if you’re either a veteran on the original rave scene, or you’re an EDM fan who wants to see just how this whole thing came about, this is the book for you. It’s no stretch to say that there really isn’t any other book like this out there, for nobody else has captured the essence of this critical period of American music history like Michael Tullberg. If you want to explain to anyone just what the rave underground vibe was when it blew up across the country, just point to “DANCEFLOOR THUNDERSTORM” and say, “This is what it was like.” It’s the real thing, the genuine article, and it deserves to live on the shelves of electronic music fans everywhere.

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