Dance dance revolution 

An oral history of how the Chemical Brothers, all-night raves, and a massive club scene made Orlando's EDM scene legendary

On July 4, 1993, there was a gigantic rave at the downtown Orlando club, the Edge. This wasn’t unusual in the slightest, as the Edge was one of several downtown nightclubs that regularly hosted huge crowds at electronic dance nights. But this landmark event signaled that, although this was the beginning of something big globally, it was already in full swing here. U.K. headliners the Dust Brothers, then known only in cloistered dance music circles, were making their U.S. debut. That act would eventually become the Chemical Brothers.

The 1990s was formative in the electronic dance music awakening of America, and that fire-catching cultural momentum would vault Orlando to the vanguard of it all. As one of the premier global epicenters of the rave big bang, the city found itself on equal footing with not just New York or Los Angeles but also with the trailblazing U.K. scene (English breaks DJ-producer Nick Newton named his 1996 record Orlando), even siring its own sound (Florida breaks).

Back in the city’s O.G. days, the house music scene was a legitimately underground thing and not the province of bros. It was a freak and renegade scene filled with new reality. It was all about music, drugs and the fellowship that stemmed from the mounting velocity of a burgeoning counterculture. But it was also incredibly popular, with weekly club nights at venues like the Edge, the Beacham, and Firestone (see sidebar, The Places) drawing thousands of kids who – quite literally – danced the night away, often emerging from the day-glo darkness into the morning sun as late as 9 a.m. But responding to the growing drug problem, the city passed an anti-rave ordinance, a crackdown that eviscerated a major subculture in mid-stride. This is the story – told by those who were there – not just of a pivotal night in Orlando’s electronic music culture, but also of a music culture that was itself pivotal.

The People

Dave Cannalte started DJ’ing in Orlando in 1987 at a club called Park Avenue for an alternative dance night called “SPIT.” He later became the head music programmer for Disney’s Pleasure Island (most notably DJ’ing at the video club Cage and the massive dance club Mannequins). Along with Kimball Collins, he was co-resident of AAHZ nights at the Beacham. By the mid-’90s, Cannalte had established himself internationally as one of the top progressive house DJs and continues to DJ around the world, as well as maintaining daily operations of Promo Only, a DJ
music service.

Robby Clark began DJ’ing in town in 1987 and has had extensive stints at Visage, the Parliament House, the Edge and Firestone. He also maintained a 20-year residency at Southern Nights and has DJ’ed sets across the U.S., Canada and Europe. From 1990 to 2000, he and his sister, Terri Clark, owned and operated Underground Record Source, which is widely considered to be one of the most important dance-music record stores in Orlando history.

Kimball Collins is one of the most defining names in the EDM story of Orlando and, by extension, the U.S. Collins wasn’t just there when it first happened, his work specifically ushered the movement from seed to blossom. From the alternative/new wave roots of his residencies at SPIT (Park Ave) and Beach Club, he went all in on EDM in the late ’80s with his residency at the Beacham (AAHZ, Pure Energy, Egypt).

Michael Donaldson aka Q-Burns Abstract Message was a member of local band Tick Tick Tock and owner of downtown record store Bad Mood Records in the early ’90s. He started DJ’ing in the mid-’90s as Q-Burns Abstract Message and co-founded the Eighth Dimension Records label in 1994. Currently, he can be seen DJ’ing local club nights at venues or huge clubs from South America to Siberia.

Sandy Fite aka DJ Sandy was known for his rock & roll flamboyance and always preceded by “The One, the Only.” The Tallahassee transplant rose as one of the more charismatic figures of the ’90s breaks scene as a resident DJ at the Edge and later at the Club at Firestone.

Chris Fortier began DJ’ing house parties in 1990, which eventually led to regularly being featured at Orlando club nights, a residency at Kimball Collins’ and Dave Cannalte’s AAHZ nights at the Beacham, as well as a two-year run with his own weekly night at the Village. In 1994, he started one of Orlando’s first homegrown labels, Fade, and he later launched the legendary Orlando-based Balance Record Pool. Fortier is still an active DJ and producer, having held residencies at New York’s Twilo and London’s the Cross while remixing dozens of artists ranging from Tiesto to Sarah McLachlan.

Chris Milo aka DJ Three was one of the leading Florida names of the ’90s. Three was an oft-featured DJ at major regional raves and a resident of legendary Gainesville club Simon’s and was involved with Hallucination Recordings. He continues his label work through Hallucination Limited, an offshoot of Hallucination Recordings, and has done remixes for Rabbit in the Moon, Sasha and U.N.K.L.E. Now residing in New York, he’s held residencies at Twilo, Cielo, Love and BLK Market Membership.

Eddie Pappa aka DJ Icey was, unquestionably, the leading figure in the famous Florida breaks genre, as the Edge’s cornerstone resident and one of the most well-known, prolific and credentialed DJs in Orlando history. He founded the breaks-dedicated Zone Records and has released Billboard-charting records. Besides a still-busy touring schedule, he has produced a weekly satellite radio show for Sirius, Clear Channel HD Radio and iHeartRadio.

Mark Snyder aka Remark started out as a “light jockey” and DJ at Visage when he was 17. In 1991, he started a dance music radio show on WPRK (91.5 FM), which was a mainstay in the Orlando club scene through early 2000. He worked at Underground Record Source in the mid-’90s, and DJ’ed throughout Orlando with residencies at Ultraviolet, Renaissance, Cairo and Icon.

Cliff Tangredi aka Cliff T started DJ’ing in 1990 and was a resident at the Edge from 1992 to 1996 alongside DJ Icey. He has performed nationwide, as well as in Peru and Colombia, sharing stages with Tiesto, BT, Seb Fontaine, Sasha and Digweed. He’s currently a resident at
Sky Sixty.

Eli Tobias has been a downtown scene fixture since the late ’80s, working at defining Orlando clubs like the Edge, the Club at Firestone, Kit Kat Club, Go Lounge, Yab Yum, Renaissance and Cyberzone. Tobias’ scene involvement eventually culminated in the opening of his own bar, Thee Grotto, in 2002, where he continues to keep the golden-era flame.

Peter Wohelski was a DJ and alternative music director at Tampa community radio station WMNF (88.5 FM) from 1986 to 1991. He lived in London from 1991 to 1992, returned to Tampa and started Trip Magazeen, frequenting raves and parties in Tampa and Orlando. From 1995 to 1998, he was director of A&R for Astralwerks Records (Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Future Sound of London and many more). Currently, he’s a label manager for Beatport, based in Denver, Colo.

These are the major pioneers, and below is their story. For a longer, more detailed version, visit orlandoweekly.com.

A Scene Develops

FORTIER: AAHZ started it all, really. It was the hub of the boom [from] ’88 and ’89 to 1992 [and when it] re-opened in ’93. We heard about a club in Orlando that played all house music and was open all night to morning. This was AAHZ. From first entering, I was hooked and started digging more into the music and collecting records. I moved to Orlando and was still going to AAHZ religiously each Saturday night. As I got more into buying records and making tapes, the tapes started circulating around and that put my name and tapes in people’s hands. [AAHZ] stood alone, really, until the Edge opened [in] 1992.

CLIFF T: Back then, it was just underground dance music. Techno, house, whatever you want to call it. Most people didn’t even have an idea of what to call it, but they loved it. People came together for the music at clubs through the mixtapes that were copied over and over because there was no way to hear this music other than to go out. I didn’t get into DJ’ing clubs until about ’92 to ’93, but when I finally did, I knew it would change my life forever. It’s all I wanted to do.

WOHELSKI: Sonically, Orlando was hugely influenced by the U.K. hardcore, Italian piano house and Miami bass sounds – big, progressive piano samples, sped-up breakbeats, car stereo-driven low-end theory like bass, freestyle and electro. Alternatively, in Tampa, there was a tougher edge because of the scene’s early industrial influences – proper Detroit techno and Chicago acid house, rougher proto drum & bass breakbeats, and later German trance on labels like Harthouse and EyeQ, all of which influenced the likes of the Hallucination/Rabbit in the Moon crew. There were a lot of miles put on the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando by clubbers back then.

COLLINS: Promoters like Stace Bass were also pivotal to the establishment of the electronic music scene by using their passion and commitment to create some unforgettable events, which included some incredible DJs and live performers including, but not limited to, Sasha, John Digweed, Tony Depart, Cosmic Baby, Young American Primitive, Joe T Vannelli and Frankie Bones, to name a few.

FORTIER: The Edge was the other Orlando big room after AAHZ. [It] opened in 1992 with Icey at the helm. This is where Icey crafted his sound and helped launch the breaks genre.

DJ ICEY: I worked at the Edge from opening in March 1992 to [closing] in June 1996, [during] which time I threw large raves at the venue three to four times a year, with our biggest always being the Memorial Day and Labor Day Sunday parties.

DJ SANDY: I started DJ’ing around Tallahassee, but heard of the scene in Orlando. I had to see it. I went to the Edge – God bless the Edge – and my life changed forever. What people do not realize is the Edge was built as an alternative club, and it was the shit. All about rock, amazing shows. DJ Icey had the chance to do some dance parties [there], and they blew up.

DJ ICEY: Before Pearl Jam blew up, they played [the Edge]. Their album was out, but radio had not picked up “Alive” yet. Geoff Gordon from Cellar Door concerts dragged me out to the back shed to see them play one night. There were 20 people back there.

REMARK: AAHZ, the Edge and Firestone were the most important, influential clubs in the scene. AAHZ because that’s where it all began, the Edge because of their massive parties, and Firestone for really putting Orlando on the map with dance music and bringing in literally every renowned DJ from around the world.

CLIFF T: They broke all the rules of what clubs were supposed to be at the time.

Q-BURNS: Phat N’ Jazzy should get a bit of credit. I’d definitely be doing a different style of music if it wasn’t for how I haunted that club night, listening to what BMF was spinning.

The Scene Blossoms

FORTIER: By 1992, things had settled. There was the start of an “industry” forming. There were a ton of people and businesses built around the music. Record stores, clothing stores, clubs, bars, people making tapes, making T-shirts, magazines and more.

DJ ICEY: The rave events I threw at the Edge were very successful for their time; however, part of the success was that we attracted people from the whole state, especially on those bank holiday weekend shows. We had Edge venues in Ft. Lauderdale and Jacksonville during various years between 1992 and 1996, so it was easy to cross-promote. Everyone we ever booked in Orlando stayed at the Travelodge downtown, as it was close to the venue and no one ever complained; the Brits all used to rave about it back then.

FORTIER: We got more connected to the other parts of the world doing what we were doing, and we really felt part of something much bigger. These connections shined light on Orlando.

The Scene Explodes

CLIFF T: It went from being almost a little bit of a secret to this awesome scene that [got] clubbers to Orlando to party all night long. Back then, the clubs stayed open as long as they wanted, so the scene exploded artistically. It was pretty magical.

Q-BURNS: [There were] loads of independent white labels coming out of Orlando at the time, and many were selling loads, and not just in Orlando. We were inspired to start Eighth Dimension Records and put out our own 12-inch by an artist going by Atmosphere (an ex-member of Tick Tick Tock, actually) who sounded a bit like Orbital. We pressed like 500, which we thought was a lot, and then the distributor asked for 1,500. We were a new label, and the artist was new … I think they wanted more because we were
from Orlando.

CANNALTE: Suddenly there were dozens of late-night choices … The weekend [radio] mix-shows were pretty much playing serious club music instead of the rotations they had been playing. With all that going on, what once had been strictly about the music started becoming more and more about the parties and the drugs, so I think [the scene] lost some of the original innocence.

Q-BURNS: I think the tourism thing worked in Orlando’s favor, as visitors would spread the word about what was happening here. That made our scene seem pretty important, and it grew by feeding off of that. The infamous Rolling Stone article certainly was fuel to the fire. I would go to record stores in cities on the west coast and you’d see a divider card designating a section as “Orlando Breaks.”

CLARK: Orlando was the leader of it all and brought international EDM to the States … [it was] like Seattle was for the indie bands in the early ’90s.

CLIFF T: So many DJs that went on to become legends – like Sasha and John Digweed – always seemed to be here in the early days. Trance, progressive,
house and breakbeat had the biggest impact here. Orlando ate up those sounds. The beauty of being open until 8 or 9 a.m. was crucial for the scene to grow throughout the ’90s.

Q-BURNS: I love that British people love Orlando, so some notable people visited in the ’90s and hung out. I met a vacationing Howie B (before he went on to work with Björk and Brian Eno) in my shop, and we hung out for a few days, and I talked him into DJ’ing the backroom of Phat N’ Jazzy with my records unannounced. Rob Playford, who ran the influential jungle label Moving Shadow and produced Goldie’s seminal Timeless album, popped by and he ended up hanging out with me in my young studio, giving production advice. Icey [brought] Afrika Bambaataa into my shop before an Edge party to ask if I had any jungle records that he could play at 33 RPM because “that shit’s funky when you slow it down.” That was cool.

DJ SANDY: Orlando was massive … who would have ever known? London, New York … those were the spots. Then O-town shows up.

The Dust Brothers at the Edge

CLIFF T: DJ Icey booked them at the Edge.

CANNALTE: All the shows at the Edge were impactful back then: To his credit, Icey did an awesome job of bringing people to Orlando that had made their mark – musically – here.

DJ ICEY: The Dust Brothers’ first single, “Song to the Siren,” was a huge staple for me as a DJ and most other DJs in Orlando. I actually called the number on their white label record, and Tom Rowlands answered the phone (to my surprise!). I told him we were interested in flying them in to do a show in Orlando. We provided them with five days hotel (Travelodge), two meals a day, and we arranged Disney visits.

The day of the event, we had a proper sound check set up, and we discovered they did not bring power converters but brought loads of equipment. We called Radio Shack five minutes before they were due to close, and luckily, the two guys that were working were coming to the show that night and agreed to stay open until we got there to buy seven power converters for their equipment.

DJ SANDY: They came in unlike any other electronic group ... playing massive! Little did we know what kind of superband they would become ... bow down, Skrillex and David Guetta.

DJ ICEY: The Brothers were playing a very live show and had an extensive stage setup of analog gear. We had them set up on the stage in the Shed in the back of the Edge (we could put 1,000 people back there and another 500 outside to stage left). Almost all of the DJs who were booked for that event were in the Shed to see the show, and it was a mind-bending, spine-tingling, absolutely ridiculous performance. I was standing on the side of the stage with Bruce Wilcox, who DJ’ed for us at the Edge Ft. Lauderdale, and after the first song, we looked at each other and realized we were witnessing something very special.

DJ SANDY: It was one of those nights where the vibe was perfect … so were the drugs.

WOHELSKI: It showed that with the right talent and the right promotion, the scene would come together for a big party, and it made promoters step up their game to deliver an even bigger, better, larger experience. What it did internationally and nationally was solidify the Orlando and Central Florida scenes as a hotbed of electronic dance music in America. What the band thought was a promoter’s whim turned into 5,000 kids going bonkers to the soon-to-be Chemical Brothers’ first U.S. show. From there, word filtered back to the U.K. press that there was something special going on here in Central Florida and in the U.S.

FORTIER: At the time, and probably for years later, it is and was just another show. When they came, they were just guys from Manchester who had made a bunch of tracks that were big in our clubs here. They weren’t the superstars they would eventually become many years later as the Chemical Brothers. Before this particular show, we’d already had Sasha and John Digweed at AAHZ. At Marz, we had a lot of other bands like the Chems with a very similar sound, as well as future local stars Rabbit in the Moon. And Brassy’s had Moby and a little band called Cybersonic that included a young Richie Hawtin. I think what we can look back on now about all this, including the Chemical Brothers gig was that we, as a scene, were really on it, forward-thinking and a leading light in the electronic scene.

Q-BURNS: It was a big deal. I remember people being generally psyched about it, more so than I recall for any electronic music act. I sold dozens and dozens of their records in my shop … I couldn’t keep them in stock for a couple months leading up to the show and for the life of the store afterward.

REMARK: That show kicked off the scene en masse. It was that show where the promoters, clubs and club-goers realized there was something magical happening and that those kinds of shows could draw thousands.

DJ ICEY: The show was a huge success, and their performance became legendary. The Brothers had told me that their show in Orlando, which really was their first proper live show, gave them the feeling that they were onto something big and the confidence that they’d be able to take it to the next level.

WOHELSKI: When Dig Your Own Hole went gold, because of his early support of the band, I made sure Icey got a gold record award. He deserves tons of credit; without him taking a chance, I’d never have seen and signed what became one of the biggest acts in the genre.

The Crackdown

CLIFF T: City officials still didn’t get what was happening until Rolling Stone did an article about the late-night scene. Many people said it was Disney that thought it was bad publicity for family-friendly Orlando and forced the city to do something. Ironically, it was a time when acts like the Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Moby and Fatboy Slim were breaking the mainstream.

CANNALTE: To me, there was never one single club or promoter or scenario that caused what would become the Florida rave law to go into effect. One overdose or death was bad enough, but because the numbers of people going to these events and clubs had grown so much, it was only a matter of time until things got out of hand. People started getting careless, clubs didn’t enforce their policies enough, and truly, it was just the fact that it had gotten to be so big, there wasn’t much they really could do.

REMARK: I think, ultimately, the Orlando officials perceived that this “negative” scene was ruining the image of Orlando.

CLARK: Official folks just didn’t get it!

DJ SANDY: [Glenda Hood] was our mayor and a hardcore Republican. People were leaving clubs at 9 a.m. right down the road from the Catholic church when people were going to service … oh, she was pissed. She definitely was all about stopping the movement.

TOBIAS: The anti-rave bill was the death blow to our scene. Funny, how it happened right when Downtown Disney was opening. Funny, how it was about the same time that the Navy base was sold. Glenda Hood was our worst mayor ever, with Buddy “Liar” being a super-close second. Their personal agenda and their country club cronies had no business with what was happening while they were tucked away in their fancy beds. The daytime is for day people and the nighttime is for night people, period.

Q-BURNS: The scene had gotten so out of control, and many of the clubs were not exactly discouraging the behavior, so the “crackdown” was no surprise. I knew something was going to go down when kids started to stumble into my store during the day completely out of their heads just to shop and listen to records. It was a bit unnerving for an open-minded person like me, so I couldn’t even imagine how someone in local government was going to react.

WOHELSKI: I think the scene in Central Florida and Orlando, specifically, had been existing under the radar in a bubble for a long, long time. By the summer of ’93, drugs were quite present and some clubbers’ personal behaviors began to get a little “messy” and irresponsible. While that happens with any sort of alternative culture – not just dance music – city and state officials can let a lot of things slide as long as a scene is policing itself and keeping things as discreet as possible. But when you’ve got people overindulging and even overdosing at the same clubs and parties consistently, creating what could be perceived as a potential nuisance or public safety liability, it’s going to get on the powers-that-be’s radar real quick.

FORTIER: Closing clubs down early sent shockwaves through clubs and promoters and the clubs just did fewer events. I think if the clubs would have kept doing events, but closed them early, at 3 a.m., things could have kept going relatively strong.

The Aftermath

TOBIAS: At a fateful Wednesday staff meeting, John Locke [owner of the Edge] sat us all down and told us that we were going country, and that everyone still had a job there ... except me, of course. That turned out to be OK, because the following day, DJ Sandy and I went to Firestone like we did every Thursday, and the moment we walked in the door, management took us upstairs and hired us on the spot.

FORTIER: As our scene grew, the industry grew and opportunities opened for us, such as gigs in other cities, spending more time out of Orlando than in Orlando. I think that the so-called “third wave” or next wave of upcoming DJs did not have the same philosophy. I think there started to be more distractions within, and with that, I think, a bit of decay over time.

Q-BURNS: It only takes a few fearless, motivated people doing big things to create a scene. I feel that too many of those in Orlando either left town or got discouraged and stopped after the “crackdown.”

DJ SANDY: It’s heartbreaking watching something you and others built get destroyed by greed. The scene is back now, and I hope the promoters read this and take note: Don’t kill what you work so hard to produce [just] for money.
Orlando’s Lasting Influence on EDM

WOHELSKI: In today’s resurgence of EDM, it’s great to see a next generation of ravers take the foundations that we built and make them their own. Not only did a lot of great DJs and producers come out of this scene to be recognized internationally, but quite a few industry heavy-hitters including myself and Paul Morris [head of booking agency AM Only, started in Gainesville in 1995 and currently books clients including Skrillex, Boys Noize, AraabMuzik, Disclosure, Bauer, Sasha and many more] have left our marks on the dance music business as we know it today.

CLIFF T: [EDM is] so big now because of the previous generation setting the groundwork, just as the previous generation did with disco and early electronic acts like Kraftwerk, New Order and Depeche Mode.

Q-BURNS: I think people talk about Florida as a whole in the ’90s electronic scene more than Orlando gets pinpointed. Orlando indeed was an epicenter, but it seems to me much of the memory of that, in terms of national awareness, has been washed away.

DJ THREE: Orlando was a game-changer on so many levels. So many records that were shelved at an A&R desk – like the Hardfloor remix of “Blue Monday” – ended up getting pressed because of Florida dance floor moments (with credit to Sasha’s power as well).

CANNALTE: I’d like to think that, hopefully, one day people will also realize that, back at the tail end of the ’80s and blazing into the ’90s, there was this little movement of dance music that happened here that was mirroring what was going on over in Europe and around the world – something that eventually caught on nationally, but for a brief time, it could only be found here in Orlando.

CLIFF T: Electronic music doesn’t let you live in the past. A whole new generation is creating their legacy now.

DJ SANDY: To the new kids: Don’t fuck it up.

The Places

AAHZ: Unanimously cited as the mother of the movement, this seminal dance night at the Beacham Theater cultivated the late-night dance soil in the early ’80s that made the massive ’90s explosion possible. With an emphasis on the then-nascent European acid house sound, AAHZ vaulted the international DJ careers of residents Kimball Collins, Dave Cannalte and Chris Fortier. It also debuted stars like Sasha, Digweed, Cosmic Baby and Dave Seaman in Florida
before closing in 1992.

The Edge: Located at 100 W. Livingston Street (currently home to H2O Church) and open from early 1992 to the summer of 1996, the Edge started life as an alternative rock club, hosting early-career shows by the likes of Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Blur and many others. Thanks to the efforts of DJ Icey, these rock shows were complemented by after-hours dance nights, which would often kick off around midnight and go until the very early morning. Due to its large capacity, the Edge also hosted enormous raves on holiday weekends that would often draw thousands of attendees.

Club Firestone: Located at 578 N. Orange Ave., the club now known as Firestone Live opened in 1993 and went on to carry the big prime-time torch lit by the Edge with budget and flair, further cementing Orlando’s party credentials and earning national recognition by the likes of Rolling Stone and Billboard. Occasionally hosting concerts, the club’s heart and identity has always centered on dance music and continues to bring in DJs and acts of international profile.

Beach Club: Located at 70 N. Orange Ave., this pioneering downtown club was an early and formative residency for cornerstone AAHZ DJ Kimball Collins, and would go on to become Orlando’s longest-running alternative dance club under subsequent names Barbarella and now Independent Bar.

The Abyss: As the Edge and Club Firestone hit critical mass, this gritty Orange Ave. club opened in the early ’90s and became a more underground alternative to the other flagship clubs’ size and gloss. Focusing on breaks, bass and electro, it launched the careers of resident DJs Stylus and D-Xtreme and presaged a vibe that a procession of smaller clubs would emulate.

Marz: This beachside house-music party was a notable scene force that became a traveling household name, consistently drawing crowds at different venues and even becoming a large club of its own in Cocoa Beach for a short time in the early ’90s.

Simon’s: One of the most storied underground house clubs of the early- to mid-’90s, the intimate, members-only Gainesville club was famous for its drug-happy all-nighters helmed by top-flight national and international DJs.

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