What's fueling this hot moment for Texas' rave explosion?
Howdy cocaine cowboys and ketamine kowgirls!
As ya’ll know, I’ve been searching for new rave frontiers beyond the current nightlife industrial complex, scurrying from Berlin’s techno playgrounds to Singapore’s secretive stoner speakeasies while wondering WHERE THE FUCK IS THE NEW UNDERGROUND?!
Following an instinct to escape Establishment Nightlife for unknown hinterlands, I sniffed the wind like an armadillo looking for new holes to bury into, and followed a scent trail to Texas—a hot-blooded dystopia where untempered wildness unfolds under vast, blood-red skies.
This is a beautiful and sometimes brutal land where America’s extremes collide: some nights I snuck behind broken fences to find guerilla raves thriving in fleshed-out bunkers; other nights, haunted women at rodeo bars told me stories of forced pregnancies and vigilantes suing doctors to collect $10,000 abortion bounties.
“Texas is the obsession,” said Steinbeck, and now I know why.
The Miami-based DJ and party princess Ultrathem hooked me with a rave review: “Come to Austin,” they said, after swooping into the Texas capital during South By Southwest. “This city by far has one of the most authentic rave scenes—it’s an organic, MSG-free homegrown thing,” they continued. “I’ve gone to a rave in a baseball field, in a Long John Silver’s, on a fucking bridge… The way they operate over there is TRUE AMERICAN RAVING. It’s gorgeous!”
A DJ playing a renegade rave in a Long John Silver’s fast food restaurant (Photo via party crew 1222)
Texas might be better known for fingerpickin’ live music, but its dance scene has been carrying since the 80s, when disco hotspot Starck Club became one of the first places where ecstasy was taken as a party drug (back when it was still legal!)—a phenomenon that arguably kicked off the concept of “raving.” Electro is also rich in the soil of Dallas, where the genre took over radio airwaves and vintage roller-rinks in the 90s. The spaciousness of Texas’ landscape seeps into its music. “You can hear that in a lot of electro artists from Dallas,” noted local producer Cygnus. “Sounds that inspire images of wide spaces and a kind of emptiness show up a lot.”
These days, party crews like Bitches Play Music (BPM), Freq System, 1222, House of Kenzo, Touching Infinite, as well as the venue Club Eternal have become the next wave of Texas’ underground rave scene. I wanted to understand why many of these raves are renegades—ie. guerilla parties that pop up in abandoned or unused spaces—so I hit up some local heads, and eventually linked up with Freq System, a collective responsible for some of the most ambitious parties since the pandemic. (It was the first time this crew has agreed to talk to press, and due to their privacy concerns, we’ve agreed to stash our interview behind the paywall below.)
“I think a shift has come about since the pandemic,” said Rabit, founder of the label Halycon Veil that—along with San Antonio collective House of Kenzo—helped put Texas on the global raving map in the 2010s. “The established places that we came up playing—Walters Downtown, Richs, The Dive—have all closed, and the scene has shifted out of Houston towards Austin, Dallas, and the border town McAllen,” Rabit explained. “There’s definitely something political behind these events taking place illegally.”
Rabit’s “No Ceiling” (Feat Embaci) off his upcoming album What Dreams May Come (out out Nov 25)
Because they operate without permits and often involve breaking-and-entering permitted spaces, renegades are a hell of a lot more risky than parties at clubs or DIY venues—but when these raves hit, the raw energy of their anarchic spirit feels like pure freedom. “There’s more guerilla events happening,” agreed New-York-via-Texas producer Der Kindestod, “Which tells me the scene is taking matters into their own hands. With that sort of autonomy, you get so much freedom—and you can really feel it in the music. There’s so much initiative required to make space for yourself.”
On my first night in Texas, I galloped over to Austin where the renegade collective Freq System was taking over an abandoned chicken refrigeration factory for a two-day rager. The spot was a few blocks from a smattering of bougie bars and bustling restaurants, yet somehow hidden in plain sight—tucked behind train tracks, with the entrance guarded nonchalantly by two kids smoking cigarettes. It was barely midnight, but a steady stream of cyberpunky ravers were pouring through the gates, past an entrance table selling T-shirts that declared in bold print: TEXAS TECHNO!
Freq System’s most recent rave spot (Photo by Dé Randle)
The gargantuan, graffiti-covered warehouse was one of those iconic rave spots you’ll never forget—an eerie industrial bunker straight out of an apocalyptic fever dream. While renegades are usually ramshackle DIY affairs with busted lollipop speakers, I was immediately impressed by how this one had the aesthetics of a slick Boiler Room production—without the bullshit surveillance. A bonkers lighting rig sprayed fractals across the room, as flashing neon beams in the hallway portal pointed deeper into its maze-like bowels.
After a blistering set of jungle and drum and bass by the opening DJ Intimacy Simulator came another relentless hour of driving techno by the second act. The excitement in the air was electric. The words of Texas icon LEDEF rang in my head: “People aren’t spoiled by the over-saturation of good parties, so it isn’t lost on the children.” (“Wait, what is the difference between Molly and Ecstasy?” I overheard one baby raver ask their friends as I walked out the door into the pearly full moon glow.)
I stopped by another renegade later that night, busting into a warehouse on a desolate stretch by the highway to the razor-edged chicano-techno of Monterrey-based DJ Regal86. The vortextual vibe here giving queer anarchy—as I walked into the pitch-black dancefloor, Bobby Bearz, a House of Kenzo vogue dancer who hosted the night, was climbing the speakers and duckwalking across the concrete floors while screaming “OPEN CARRY!!!” (The most Texan rallying cry I’ve ever heard lol)
Later, Bearz told me that the local rave scene is currently peaking thanks to more locals sticking around to build the local ecosystem, rather than fleeing to other states to chase greener pastures.
“I want everyone to come here,” they said, sipping champagne. “Texas is literally the boom, the buzz, the wave, the mood, the wig, the spiral, the peak, the tea right now.”
Below is the debut interview with Freq System, a renegade rave crew based out of Austin run by Plum and Jast. Due to their concerns around privacy and the illicit nature of their operations, we’ve agreed to keep identifying details out, and stash the interview behind a paywall.
Several days after this interview, Freq System’s custom soundsystem, which they talk about below, was stolen out of their storage—a devastating incident that has put their continued existence into question. Any helpful information can be sent their way via DM or through texting them at 512-548-3004.
Freq System merch, with their original warehouse location to the left