"What initially began as a college tradition has transformed into a world-renowned live concert, featuring spectacular DJs, soaring aerial acts, stilt-walkers, contortion acts, fire shows, and cannons to deliver the famous "Paint Blast," along with many other unforgettable live performances."
That's part of the "About" section of the Dayglow website, which also boasts simultaneous, multi-city parties as far away as Poland, where young people dance and get paint literally sprayed on them. It feels like a larger part of this new tribe of teens who want to experience something beyond the aural, who want something that actually leaves a mark. Like paint. Or foam. Or slime.
Now, I understand "paint party" is just a safe way to get around the word "rave," but I also have to lament the word rave, because it no longer exists in a field or warehouse where you call a sketchy phone number and find someone to drive you. They're no longer happening in isolation, which is a good thing in this decade of even scarier drug combos and looser security.
The last time I went to a legitimate rave, circa 1997, a SWAT team busted into the Miami warehouse where it was happening, complete with night vision goggles. Not what you want to see when you're peaking. Now, you just have to go on Facebook to find out where one is, and festivals like Hard Summer Tour and Electric Daisy Carnival bring the not-so-underground culture to the masses.
I approached the Saturday night event, 15 years older, as scientific research, an important anthropological journey down the river and into the Heart of Darkness that is dayglow suburban hordes wearing neon sunglasses and LMFAO shirts. As someone who went to college in Florida, that the concept for Dayglow originated on a college campus there is not surprising. What was once no doubt a frat/sorority event has become a national party/hazing ritual born out of some deep pockets and smart placement in college cities and spring break hubs.
As a friend and I walked into QuikTrip Park around 11.pm., in the very unlikely rave locale of Grand Prairie, gangs of kids in all white were already sporting their tribal marks: blue, pink, yellow, green. Many of the guys were shirtless, or wore the increasingly popular "Party With Sluts" shirt; the girls wore angel wings and tutus, the default costume of events like this, and a bit limited in scope, in my opinion. Every so often, a rogue paint bomber would zip through the crowd, spraying anyone within reach.
The harshly-lit ladies room was an especially vibrant place, every sink occupied by girls covered head to toe in paint. I ask one in a bikini top, trying, in vain, to clean her face over a clogged sink full of pink water, what it is about this event. "It's my people," she says, eying my black clothing warily. "All my friends are here."
"'Also, prom's next month, and then graduation," her friend pipes up. "So this is, like, one last party with them."
Part of me wants to throw a blanket over these girls and shepherd them away from this scene, like in a Lifetime movie. Another part remembers how, at that age, we're so desperate to fit in somewhere. We switch scenes so often at that awkward crossroads between adolescence and adulthood. These kids -- and many of them were just kids -- seemed to enjoy being part of this be-different-but-the-same tribe. There were also a lot of kids just lying on the ground, in the throes of some chemical dream, and when I do see a random police officer or security guard, they've been paint-bombed.
As we venture farther toward the stage, one guy asks why we don't have any paint on us yet, and I know what's coming. "How old are you ladies?" He puts his arms around us. "28? 31?" I want to tell him to just get it over with, but then realize that choice of words in this environment is the wrong one.
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"No old people here!" he suddenly screams, before dousing us both with globs of green paint. I'm officially too old for this rave. After that -- after we also had the mark -- everyone left us alone. I suppose the paint is the equalizer in this strange, fascinating, fucked-up, neon millennial version of Lord of the Flies.
Then, as DJ Axwell of Swedish House Mafia came on stage, pieces of confetti were blasted over the crowd, and lasers shot out from the top of the stage. He inquired as to whether Dallas was going to go "hard in the paint," and the crowd concurred that yes, it was.
As with much of modern electronic DJ music, there's anticipation in the buildup, then waiting for the drop. As much as certain aspects of the event concerned me and made me question whether feminism still has a pulse with this younger generation, there was something exciting about that collective eruption of high school and college angst at full blast. Every so often, I felt more drops of something cold and wet on me, but I just kept my eyes forward and tried not to wonder.
As I washed the paint from my body later that night, I did wonder whether going to Dayglow had been an exercise in humiliation or if, in my anthropological quest, I had gleaned something about this subculture. I remember the old rave adage of P.L.U.R.: Peace, love, unity, respect. I'm not sure that necessarily applies to this wave. I didn't feel any of those things, but I'm also not a teenager looking for a tribe anymore.