Friday, March 10, 2006


Raver Madness, a shockingly true tale... (Part One)

And Disco Inferno... a story of youthful folley and misadventure at the hands of the zippies

"Your commands shall be obeyed,"said the leader; and then, with a great deal of chattering and noise the Winged Monkeys flew away to the place where Dorathy and her friends were walking." L Frank Baum, Wizard of Oz.

IN THE aftermath of the much vaunted "Zippy *Pronoia Tour to US", in which 15 club kids from London, were taken on a publicity tour to America, Cubensis, aka John Bagby the magic mushroom-advocate and self-proclaimed communications director began relating a wild story. In particular a tale about one fateful night at the Crash Palace on Divisidero Street in San Francisco during July 1994, and a moment that signaled the break-up between various factions of rave culture vying for attention. The publicity tour started by Wired Magazine to promote its new online news service, would continue in the absence of Fraser Clark the man responsible for a particular brand of "technoshamanism" and who had ostensibly coined the term "zippy".

(* The sneaking suspicion that others are conspiring behind your back to help you. And you them.)

The legendary one night event called "Zen Inspired Performance Publishing" (ZIPP) achieved mythic status on his website. Cubensis, in his own words says: "This event originally began as an idea of Mark Heley's (publisher of Clublife Magazine - SF). It was to be the launch of the Zippy Times USA, created in a live, interactive, creative environment. Unfortunately, this was the same week the Zippy Pronoia Tour split with its spokesman Fraser Clark. Seeing as Fraser was the original editor of the UK Zippy Times, we thought it inappropriate to create a "Zippy Times".

Annoying for some, I was to become part of Clarks "lifelong, unending mega sci-fi novel," -- and later, de facto "editor of the Zippy Times USA" . But to put this nut in a monkeyhouse -- I was never party to, nor a part of that stylish ZIPP party -- neither the "Zen Inspired Performance Event" nor the much touted "Omega Rave". However I came to know Clark intimately and followed him for much of the period subsequent to the split. This is a tale about youthful folly and my own misadventure if you can call it that.

Briefly, ZIPP was not the only such event, in which performance art and publishing became intertwined with zippiness and human destiny. However what is significant here is the fact that Fraser Clark, the "Columbus of Rave Culture", and the leading figurehead for the Zippies as far as the media were concerned, was obviously "not there", the result of a "split" between two factions of "zippies" which was to impact on my life for years to come.

While this parallel universe was unfolding, and a lot of counter-cultural hocus pocus was busy being organised in and around San Francisco, I "joined the tour" and in the ensuing confusion left people wondering whether or not there was actually one tour or many? Undoubtedly there are bound to be several different versions of the same theme of Zen Inspired Pronoia or whatever, each with its own team of zippies, yippies, psychodippies.

One Pronoia tour itinerary I downloaded from the net is mysteriously dated "03-April-97" -- perhaps there was a repeat performance? As I write this monograph of sorts, there is precious little, in the way of fact -- no way of knowing for sure, whether or not anything actually happened during 1994. Could we all be victims of an elaborate hoax? I raised this issue with Jules Marshall who had written the initial story in collaboration with John Battelle, executive editor of Wired, and his response was to write a background piece, giving more substance to what had really been an over-hyped "confab".

"Could you play up the tour a bit more" Battelle had requested.

The result was a record smashing cover story by Marshall, syndicated around the world, including appearances in Polish Playboy and Paris Elle. Batelle's cyberdelic passion "play" had taken on a life of its own, promoting Wired's new target market as the Zippies struggled to hold onto their own interests and swam in a semiotic maelstrom that is still being contested to this day.

As an obviously smarting retort from Wired suggested recently: "In May 1994 Wired Magazine [had] "announced that a confab of techno-pagans at the Grand Canyon in August would spark a cultural wildfire that could change America forever. It was the next Woodstock, the inauguration of a millennial culture."

The same magazine then went on to dismiss Marshall's cover story as "one of the most heinous examples of a non-event accorded disproportionate attention. In fact there is some question as to whether the people involved were simply circulating a hoax, with the deliberate aid of Jules Marshall, its author."

"A cynic might view the scene as a willful media hoax. To Clark and his loopy posse of Zippies (or Zen Inspired Pagan Professionals) it's yet another symptom of "pronoia" -- the sneaking suspicion that others are conspiring behind your back to help you." Sarah Ferguson, High Times, Feb 1995.

Presumably, as one of the contributors to this hoax, how did I end up becoming party to an open conspiracy, a global intrigue or confab as Wired would have it? How did I end up typesetting the same "Zippy Times" that would probably have also been part of the "Zen Inspired Publishing" night sponsored by Mark Heley, and why had Clark decided to seek my help, in renaming his publication "The Megatripolitan"? I don't claim to know all the answers, but what I presume to tell here, is a semblance of the truth and at least my half of the story.


It is mid-morning in October 1994. I'm living in a unfurnished room with my de facto girlfriend at the time Rehane X**, opposite the "projects" in the Lower Haight district of San Francisco. Fraser is on the telephone: You see David, there's this Orb of History, and we all dive into it, and we will wonder one day why we never did this before..."

"Gosh, that sounds like incredible fun, come over." I reply, "let's do it."

When the "caramel maned" rapster arrives at my rented room in an unfurnished apartment and inexplicably insists on paying me for my rudimentary services. I don't pretend to kick up a fuss or strike a big movie deal, because I need what little money there is, even a fiver would do, besides the man is flashing a clipping from Newsweek, which describes him fending off a couple of rangers in Arizona's Kaibab National Forest. The rangers offer him "a list of reasons why amplification and lighting equipment are prohibited on national forest land." and Newsweek describes the plot "Behind the rangers backs, a white truck carrying two dozen speaker cabinets and 24 000 watts of power bumps its way up a closed seven-mile road -- sans headlights." Heady stuff.

With the polite "approval" of the establishment, Clark has committed some kind of an eco-crime and it all seems so normal, in spite of warnings that: "The confluence of subcultures gave the remote area the aura of a 21st century tribalism, a dash of Mad Max mixed with a Robert Bly retreat in the midst of a hippie love-in." I ignore the advice from my cute facto de girlfriend, who tells me to "flee, before the hippies get to you."

And so I eventually extricate some kind of a commitment from Clark "Not to worry," says Clark, "I'll pay you for the flyers" he promises. "Zippies are not just hippies, I tell my brown-eyed factotum. "They also have a lot of professional people helping out, you know, like Internet experts and sound engineers and this could lead to bigger things."

I would soon learn to my detriment, the difference between making a sane career choice and "a paradigm jump off the Grand Canyon. I ended up joining a bunch of amateurs stumbling along on some kind of a peyote laden joy-ride, not real professionals hacking the system for all it was worth.

In fact Jules Marshall seems to acknowledge this when he agreed with me "to be honest...there was an element of hacking wired," but obviously not enough. This was a "bone fide youth trend" and people wanted to get in on the action. Steering clear of these users who had wizened up to the wizards tactics would become a full-time obsession for Clark, who quite frankly, should have retreated back to Britain as soon as the press got wind of a looming legal battle over ownership of his club -- Megatripolis -- and the subculture he had created behind it -- Zippie.

However even the "fact" that Columbus had discovered rave culture not "invented" it, would fall into question, like so many things that start off being solid and then disappear in a shower of sparks, fire and brimstone. More on the "who created Zippie dispute, later.

To get back to my story, I was stuck and didn't have any money, flat broke in a foreign country, when Clark suddenly called, and that's probably why I jumped at the opportunity. I trusted Clark and he saw me as his lap-top toting secretary or so it seemed. Making a couple of dollars doing some flyers and a newsletter was about as far as my "financial" ambition over this zippy phenomenon extended. It was no big deal, I was just a writer who had happened to be at Megatripolis UK the previous summer. Clark had actually even invited me then to join him in his conspiracy "to tour America". But as luck would have, it all sounded too much like a proposal you make when you're a bit stoned, not something as serious and illicit as hacking Wired Magazine and hauling equipment through the Kaibab national forest, so I politely declined.

It was August or September 1993 and I had made my way to Britain from my own country, South Africa, had then bumped into one of Clark's "Megatripolitans" on the tube, a modern merry prankster who had handed me a flyer for the club night You have to "experience", a night with the "Zippies" hadn't I heard about them? "The future perfect state every Thursday at Heaven." In fact Clark and I had already been corresponding for a while via his "Encyclopaedia Psychedelica International" or Epi for short. Nothing particularly unusual, for the editor of a small counter-culture zine in South Africa, isolated from the rest of the world by sanctions and a cultural boycott.

I had edited Kagenna, a small fanzine, from 1989-1993. The only way of keeping in touch with the outside world had been to write letters and trade magazines, one of them being Epi. As RU Sirius can probably testify, I had been writing letters to a number of west coast publications like Mondo 2000 and had even had letters published under various pseudonyms like Ted Head. So you can say all my "sneaking suspicions of positivity" were confirmed by finding a copy of Clark's next venture, the ^evolution in a bookstore in West London, with a small contribution from a South African "buddhist queen" called Samten, a regular contributor to Kagenna, the magazine I was now hawking around the globe.

So I end-up on the tube, going to one of the Megatripolis parties, basically a great big technoclub with a nice ambient lounge and good vibe. Mixmaster Morris on the decks, couple of kids taking acid, probably for the first time, and of course, a dancing granny and a small inner circle surrounding Uncle Fraser, who seemed like a warm old man who wanted nothing more than for everyone to have a good time. It was all rather innocent, until he took me aside and mentioned offhand that he was going to America, and "won't I join him, I can introduce you to people, you know -- like Tim Leary".

I laughed it all off as some kind of a practical joke, and left for Camden with one of the many rabble-rousers on the night-bus. If anything, Clark's offer only confirmed my own plan to go to San Francisco, do a tour of West Coast Counter-Culture, and basically meet people like "Tim Leary" on my own steam. Leary, as far as I was concerned, was making a drug-free come-back with virtual reality and his new stance on pushing computers instead of psychedelics had intrigued me enough to actually publish an article by him on the "new wave" of cyberpunk peaking in the 1990s.

I bought a cheap six month return ticket to California, (which later turned out to have a one-way code) and hopped aboard a United Airways flight to San Francisco, not expecting that it would take a while longer than I expected to get back home.

After interviewing people like RU Sirius in an Indian Restaurant in Berkeley, I headed for LA, to meet some extropians, and hang with them for a while. This is how I got to meet Tim Leary on my own steam. While this was all happening "according to plan" I suddenly got caught-up in an earthquake, lost my return airticket to the scalpers and spent a good few extra months simply eking out a living and trying to survive. Then suddenly the "Here come the Zippies" cover appeared. "Cool!" I thought, "They've actually gone and done it." I myopically contemplated jumping aboard a bus right there and then, heading for Flagstaff right away to join the tribe, but this plan was quickly dropped as being impractical, besides, I had no money.

Nevertheless I enthusiastically followed events as they unfolded in the papers and on the internet. The alt.zippies topic on usenet was one of the most popular topics and hundreds of postings mere made, but compared to what was happening back home in South Africa where a country had just been liberated, this was kids stuff, "let them have a good time," it thought, "maybe I'll go to a rave". Some of the extropians on the West Coast were dismissive. "Youth nazis" they said. "They're good guys, what's the problem?" I responded.

By the time I got back to San Francisco, Megatripolis West was about to be launched. I spotted a flyer in a clothing store and simply pitched-up. It was October 1. "Free Festival at the Trocadero" "Opening night speaker -- John Perry Barlow (Grateful Dead/Cyberologist/Founder of Electronic Frontier Foundation) talking about "The trouble with You Kids today." "Your participation is invited in our opening ceremony with Aum dancer and the Kiwi Theatre." "Everybody is a star" and so on. I join the crowd outside and Clark is welcoming a long line, a veritable queue of guests. Practically everybody in San Francisco.
"There's a familiar face," says the "lord of the new techno shamanarchy" (according to the New York Times), greeting me.

(Note: **Rehane X = Rehane Abrahams, an actress and performance artist from Cape Town, South Africa.)
Continued in Part Two.
[Extracted from "The Flying Saucers Apprentice (or How I was outsourced by Fraser Clark and the Zippies and got Zip from the UFO) by David Robert Lewis, copyleft 2006, some rights reserved, please request permission to reprint from the author]


izzit the ultimate planet-wide conspiracy to save the planet?

izzit a 3rd ear rave hiphopera, the HAIR of the Rave Generation?

or izzit the first mass scientific experiment in Time Travel?


megatripolis@forever launches online in the very very near future.

fraser clark, November 1, 2007.
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