Operating an Illegal Dancehall

The day you decide to dip your toe into the rave promotion waters is also the day you need to come to grips with chaos. Whether it’s mildly annoying hotel rate increases or the entire show bottoming out when your venue tells you to get fucked, you better be ready. You plan, you plan again, you plan for your alternative plan, and you try to find people competent enough to carry on if you get hit by a bus or some Asian gang opens fire on your front door.

Thanks to the budding local media frenzy, Dallas city authorities were gradually becoming aware of the growing trend of raves and the connotations the word carried with it. Yep, drug use was a problem, but where isn’t it a problem? People liked to get fucked up. Obviously, people can’t be allowed to enjoy themselves without legislation, so local municipalities started to step in to remedy that shit. With the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) assistance, the City of Dallas began updating and enforcing old, inane ordinances designed to limit late night public gatherings in the interest of public safety (kinda like Footloose with less Kevin Bacon). These ordinances were often found under the city’s Dance Hall permitting rules. With the aforementioned media hype and the DEA alarm bells ratcheting up the blather, it made local authorities believe that ANY event with electronic music was a drug-infested wasteland of phat pants and glitter.

Take a look at the ABC news affiliate report from November of 2000. Foreshadowing at 5:50.

Now anyone that knows anything about dance music knows drum & bass and jungle shows in the States weren’t anything like the video above…it was, generally, the antithesis of that trope. More militant than candy. But because the music didn’t have words and a DJ played the tunes it was all lumped together.

For a few years, Konflict -aka Kemal and Rob Data- were the biggest thing in drum & bass. Thanks in large part to their monster hit Messiah. A tune so large that it was rumored to have caused a bidding war, Suge Knight-like threats of violence, and potential lawsuits before finding a home on Renegade Hardware. We were able to get the only Texas date for their “Messiah Tour” in December of 2000 and that was a huge coup for us…unfortunately chaos has a way of kicking you in the dick.
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The first omen came when we lost our primary venue due to a date conflict only after the booking was confirmed. When we couldn’t come to an arrangement with the original site, we had to scramble to a secondary location called the Nu-Line Warehouse – an unfinished, two-room warehouse space in a semi-industrial part of Dallas with no liquor license and dubious ownership. We felt reasonably good about the change since the warehouse had hosted quite a few events for months without any issues. They also had contacts within the Dallas Police Department and were able to secure off-duty officers as added security. Finally, the building was larger than our original venue and we felt like Konflict could fill the added space easily.

The day of the show, things went swimmingly. Kemal and Rob arrived without any issues, but were exhausted from playing the previous night and just wanted to sleep. Since we didn’t need to entertain them it gave us time to get the venue setup. We brought in extra sound and were able to ease into the evening rather than our typical mad scramble.

At 10:30, the building was filling up rapidly (almost too quickly, in retrospect) and we’d made more than enough cash to pay out everyone early. I decided it was time to go get Rob and Kemal, so I prepped to leave. I have a vague recollection of our door person telling me there was too much cash in the drawer and since I was already on my way out, and against my better judgment, I figured I’d pay Rob and Kemal early too. I stuffed the cash into a couple of envelopes, put those in a bank deposit bag, and tried to look casual heading to the car.

Carrying that much cash around Dallas is an awful-fucking-idea. On the scale of awful ideas, it ranks up there with drinking a twelve pack of beer on the roof of a three-story house in the rain. Car-jacking was still a pretty common thing in those days and all it’d take is someone mildly observant with a little motivation to be a few thousand dollars richer. Then there were the police. (Try explaining to a cop why you have thousands in cash, in small bills, in your possession and see how that works out for you.) I was overwhelmed with anxiety driving around with this money. It was so bad that even though I was incredibly hungry, I wouldn’t get out of the car or idle somewhere in a drive-thru because I was too afraid to be stationary for long.

When I got to the hotel I pulled the envelopes for Rob and Kemal, stuffed each in a pocket, and sat there wondering what to do with the rest. I remember having a lengthy conversation with myself about what to do with this money…stuff it under the seat? Put it in the trunk under the spare tire? Stuff it down my pants and hobble awkwardly to the rooms?

I don’t even remember what I did, but I don’t recall having a limp.

When I got to the room, both Rob or Kemal were still asleep and nowhere near ready. They asked that I come back in an hour and refused to the take the cash (dicks!). With no other choice, back to the venue I went with loads of anxiety-inducing twenties.

As I pulled up to the venue, the internal dialog kicked in again. What am I going to do with this money? I decided rather quickly that I could just stuff it under the seat and if a car thief REALLY wanted my 1995 Acura Integra, well… Anyway, as I was stuffing it under the seat some ravers walked by me and I convinced myself that they’d seen me shove this cash under the seat. Focused on them, I pocketed the cash again…which turned out to be an awful mistake.

Pockets bulging with the accursed bills, I moseyed inside to check on things….within minutes all hell had broken loose.

I’ll try to set the scene…I’d just checked with Todd and Adrian, who was mid-set, and the sound was loud and crisp. We were about 3/4ths full and people were going bananas already. I think I checked on Chris and Bill too, and the next thing I know we were confronted by an incredible commotion. Suddenly every exit, window, and even a few new holes in the walls were filled with armed Dallas Police in full, black tactical gear. Body armor, facemasks, and semi-automatic weapons drawn for war. There were constant, and very confusing, shouts of “DON’T MOVE” and “GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!” over the dying sounds of drum & bass. Guns were pointed in people’s faces and, based upon some sort of predetermined order, everyone was made to line up against the wall or thrown on the ground for searches.
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Photo courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

I’m told that IDing everyone, searching everyone, and the subsequent determination to release or arrest took a long time, with most people sitting on the floor patiently waiting their turn. However from my perspective this all happened in an instant. They seemed to have a pretty good idea of who they wanted to detain which later lead us to speculate that police were in the building before the raid attempting drug buys.

Eventually I either volunteered, or someone told them, that it was our show. Of the five of us in Covert Ops, only Bill and I were detained for any length of time. My pockets were checked, the cash was seized and I was marched to a waiting car by several officers. As I was lead to the car, Bill was already waiting in it, which seemed odd to me. Then again this whole fucking thing was just odd. (And I wish I could say this was the first time I’d been in the back of a cruiser, but it wasn’t.)

I wasn’t concerned because I hadn’t really done anything wrong (ha!). As we were sitting in the car I remember asking Bill what the fuck all this was about and both of us were wondering when we’d get out of this shitty remake of Bad Boys. I wanted Martin Lawrence to pop out and fuck up some Ini Kamoze lyrics, but it wasn’t gonna happen.

The same questions kept churning in my mind. Why do you need 50+ officers with weapons drawn for this party? We weren’t outliers in a small town with nothing else going on…hell, there was a much larger party going on just a few miles down the road that was allowing anyone under 18 AND would more closely resemble the alarmist news report I posted earlier. It was almost like someone called the goon squad to report a live meth smoking donkey show just to get us shut down.

I’m guessing that DPD suspected that the venue was a drug den and when it wasn’t, they got more than a little upset. They had to have something to show for this whole deal even if it was just a petty charge. I’m sure the cops were very disappointed that I was clean and not finding much else to pin on me, they seemed to talk outside of the car for a long time. Finally they took us out, made us count the money from my pockets ($4,401) twice, notated it on a seizure form, told Bill to take a hike, cuffed me, and told me I was under arrest for “Operating an Illegal Dancehall”…

That’s right…after all that dramatic, guns drawn bullshit for some dancing 20-somethings, they charged me with a violation of Dallas City Code – Volume 1 – Chapter 14 – Class E Dance Hall Permit statute…specifically section 14-14(a):

(a) Any person who violates any provision of this chapter, except Section 14-2.1 and 14-3.1, upon conviction, is punishable by a fine of not less than $200 or more than $500. Any person who violates Section 14-2.1 or 14-3.1 of this chapter, upon conviction, is punishable by a fine of not less than $200 or more than $2,000.

I was taken to jail and had $4,401 in cash seized for the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

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In hindsight, I now know their raid was a response to the media and federal government pressure to come down on “raves” and they hoped to nab a promoter with marked money. That would’ve indicated that I had some hand in drug buys or sales. Sorry dudes, but all the cash came from people coming into the venue, none of it changed hands inside. It must’ve been a real boner killer for the police to only net a half-dozen kids with minor amounts of recreational drugs and my dance hall permit violation.

I like to think that this whole thing showed them they’d wasted a lot of time and effort. However I’d be taking too much credit. For what it’s worth, they did seem to give up the incredibly dangerous in-show raids. But that just meant that their new tactic was to threaten/cajole venue owners BEFORE events even happened…a process which was detailed in THIS Dallas Observer article from 2001.

I spent about 16 hours in Lew Sterrett Justice Center (what a fucking name) freezing my ass off. I remember standing in line at the phone and the guy in front of me was in for his fifth DUI and he was out within the hour. I, on the other hand, got moved “upstairs” and shared a cell with a guy picked up for armed robbery and a dude that had bowel trouble and no shame.

Meanwhile the rest of the guys in Covert Ops were at Bill’s house alternately raging over the injustice of the whole thing and scheming up ideas for breaking me out. Oh, and finding cash to pay Konflict too. Unbeknownst to me, and complicating my situation, the police were adjusting my status from “held on suspicion” to “arrested” as if they couldn’t decide what to do. That in turn was affecting my bail status.

Strangely, once I was in jail I never saw another cop again. Guards yes, cops no. They never questioned me about any drugs, where the $4401 came from (the door, duh!), or why I was carrying it around. If they were so damn sure I was dealing then why not try to grill me about it or get me to flip someone? I’ve had other friends get drilled for way less.

When I was finally taken down to see a judge sometime on Sunday, the bailiff read my charge and the whole room laughed, including the judge. The judge actually asked me what I was even doing there and how long I’d been there…When I told him I’d been there since just after midnight on Saturday, he released me “immediately” and I walked out three hours later.

But the charge still stood.

It wasn’t until 11 months later that my case was heard in front of another judge and dismissed. My lawyer immediately asked for the seized $4,401 back and was told by the prosecutor handling the case that if I pursued the money, they’d file the charge again and add additional charges (for what?!). Alternatively I could try to get the arresting officer to sign a release for the money…if I could find him. Since I was already out about $2,000 in legal fees and in the hole for the $4,401 I opted not to push my luck with the prosecutor. I took my dismissal judgement and got the fuck out of Dodge.

I spent the next six months trying to track down the arresting officer using the only legible information on the seizure form, a badge number, but failed. Hell, I even tried just getting someone to admit that I’d been arrested and that the seizure form showed they had my money. IF an officer answered the phone, they’d typically just hang up when I asked about having my funds returned or if they were chatty they’d try to talk me out of pursuing it further. None of them would give me a name to go with a badge number. To this day the City of Dallas still has our $4,401 sitting in some account collecting a reasonable amount of interest.

During the time I was fighting with Dallas over the money, we kept doing our shows every few months, but Konflict was no longer Konflict. Their disillusionment with the drum & bass culture in the UK was festering during the Messiah tour and it reached a breaking point soon after. The Konflict name was deprecated and Rob Data disappeared. Kemal began touring and releasing tracks as himself.

We got another shot at bringing Kemal back a year later and we grabbed it with both hands. This time there’d be no chaos and we had our venue ultra super secured months and months in advance with a much nicer, fully licensed bar named Trees.

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Below is the audio from Kemal’s set that night. It turned out to be an incredible show with a packed, up-for-it crowd. After the final tune of the night we gave a collective middle finger to the City of Dallas for trying to keep this sound away. They failed and we prevailed.

I still listen to this set and crack a smile at the absurdity of the whole thing. We lost $4,401 and I lost a night of my life, but it turned out to be a valuable lesson in dealing with reactionary city government and law enforcement…not to mention an interesting dinner party story.

3 Comments

  1. I have a good photo or two of the police on their tac gear pinning down a guy in the warehouse.. I should send them to you to add to the story….

    Like

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