The bass rumbles out of the speakers shaking one's chest. Strobe lights illuminate the sweaty bodies moving frenetically to the beat. "Animaniacs" backpacks and triple extra large pants can be spotted from across the 'Sco. No one can deny that the house scene has flourished at Oberlin over the last several years.
The center, of course, is the music - and the center of the music is the DJ. Taking two records with different beats, the house DJ mixes the songs together until the divisions between one record and another fall apart as a whole new sound emerges. As any dancer will tell you the best DJs can make an ordinary night something incredible. Why dance? "It gets tension out of your body," insists Melissa Walker, a junior you're likely to find at any Oberlin gathering featuring house.
After the music - even before it for some people - the one thing most identified with house is drug use. Acid and E (ecstasy) are the drugs of choice but marijuana, speed and coke all find their place with house devotees. Kim Serrano, a TIMARA major who graduated last year and still lives in Oberlin (and who has released some ambient music recordings), sees house gatherings as, "a place and a time where they can do those things without having to fear people being reproachful about it."
Not everyone is into drugs, of course, but many people make that assumption. The message house lovers want to send out is that people shouldn't make any assumption about the scene. "They think [the music is] going to be too hardcore," says Jon Bercovitch, one of the DJs, "or they think it only works with drugs or they think the whole scene is played."
House lovers have a wide ranging dress code that is all their own. Borrowing from elements as diverse as kids' attire and urban street clothing their fashion is first and foremost a matter of comfort. Big and breathable is the key here; dancing for hours just isn't fun when your clothes inhibit you. Just about anything goes but the look definitely favors brightly colored fabrics and interesting patterns.
The music, drugs and fashion are not the whole story though. House provides a home for many people at Oberlin, a place where they are comfortable. Groups of people united by the house bond live together. It becomes more than just the music. It becomes a way of life. For the current seniors it started way back when they were first-years. According to Garic Schoen, Bercovitch's partner on the turntables, "We all got united under this tent of house music. It was an incredible bond; we had just crazy parties."
According to some, however, the Oberlin scene has become more divided - reflecting the growing diversity of dance music in general. Talk to any fan and you're likely to hear their preference of Detroit or West Coast, house or techno. You'll also hear an endless list of the founders and intricate differences between the styles. This is clearly a music that inspires a cult-like following even if that following is fragmenting.
Things are not all bleak here at Oberlin. "I saw more little freshmen rave chics than I've ever seen before," marvels Serrano, "I've seen it go through generations. There were some people here when I was a sophomore who were seniors then who passed it on to people who were going to be here… then they've inspired several freshmen and sophomores in the last months who are picking it up and becoming DJs at the 'Sco." Maybe the drugs, fashion and the music are here to stay.
Around the House: (From top to bottom) Dancers at the 'Sco; Jon Bercovitch deep in a mix; Sarah Kupperberg and Melissa Walker prepare for a night of dancing; Kim Serrano poses with some of her equipment. (photo by Alex Warnow)
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 16; March 1, 1996
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