Dance-happy Caffeine Tour has its perks

Since the beginning of time (or at least the parts that are important), caffeine has been the fuel of choice for many a procrastinating student's all-night study session. Since 1991, Caffeine has also been the juice of choice for ravers' all-night dance workouts.

The New York City-based Caffeine organization ( may never affect the world as deeply as sacred, energy-giving coffee. But that hasn't curtailed the company's efforts to conquer techno music and marketing. In addition to releasing such CDs as 1998's "Micro-mixed Caffeine" compilation -- and a full array of shiny, drawstring pants -- its stalwarts have been producing the annual Caffeine Tour for five years running.

The impressively produced tour is well known in underground circles for its continuing commitment to bring both new and old techno talent to cities that don't often receive visits from top-flight artists. This year is no exception: The 2000 tour features DJs Micro, Frankie Bones, Dave Trance and John Debo.

And to think that it all grew out of some Long Island, N.Y., kids' simple desire to throw a party. But tour promoter and Caffeine co-founder Kevin Kraft had an edge: His father owned a nightclub. In 1991, Kraft and his friends -- Micro and Alex That -- talked his dad into housing a techno-dance night. The undertaking soon took off, and the Long Island scene was on the map. The over-the-top reception came as a shock to Kraft. "We didn't know where it would go," he says, "but it became so big, `community leaders` had it shut down."

Perhaps the dissenters were up in arms because the drug-associated scene was taking place out in the suburbs, not the city. Or maybe they didn't like the beat. In any case, "It just led us to go further with the label, T-shirts and pants," Kraft says of the closure.

The popular Caffeine clothing line came about when Kraft's friend That was delayed from studying fashion design in Italy by the outbreak of the Gulf War. Instead, he and Kraft teamed up to make dance fans a bit more style conscious. The artist "put his life into the name brand," Kraft says, so that now "Caffeine is three things: music, dance, fashion."

Sponsored this year by Skechers, BPM Culture Magazine and Hot Topic, The Caffeine Tour has grown "bigger and bigger" every year, says Trance, a Caffeine signee and second-year tour participant. (For the record, 1999's tour drew over 60,000 pairs of happy feet.) And while Trance describes his material as the typical "4/4 stuff, pumping for the crowd," he promises that all Caffeine Tour DJs stand out in their willingness to take chances. "No one goes out and does and hour and a half of the same thing."

Trance has been riding the techno train for a decade, ever since his current tourmate, Frankie Bones, exposed the one-time Wall Street employee to the joys of DJing. In fact, Bones inspired a number of Trance's friends to give spinning a shot. But "I was the one guy with a salary," Trance says, "so they made me buy the turntables."

The veteran has been around long enough to remember the earlier, less legal days of the scene. And even though Trance enjoys his current legitimate status, he sometimes misses the renegade era. Those were the days when Trance might drive over a bridge during the day with his mom on regular business, only to return late at night with his friends to party under that bridge.

Kraft credits the tour's strength and popularity to the faithful disciples who help organize and promote the events. In keeping with the renegade spirit, they pay little heed to the backlash against dance clubs that's been felt in many cities, including Orlando.

Talk of widespread acceptance by a "larger underground" (the mainstream?) raises the specter of dreaded sellout, but Kraft shrugs off any such predictions.

"A scene that's about peace, love and respect ... I don't think it's bad if it becomes commercial," he argues. "I think that's good for the entire country."

Good, one assumes, to the last drop.

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