Still raves under San Diego freeways

The original story was published in the print edition of the San Diego Reader in August of 2023.

On August 13, ravers took to the TikTok platform to post about a recent underground rave in town. An underground rave is an illegal electronic dance music (EDM) party. While the location on the video posts was undisclosed, the partygoers, who looked as if they were in their teens and 20s, accessed the rave via a long graffiti ladened tunnel.

Last month two underground raves made the news in San Diego. One female reportedly overdosed; a man, who appeared much older than the other ravers, was busted with a knife; and lastly, an illegal yet full-blown electronic dance music party lasted throughout the night, even when the police department knew.

The first underground party on July 16 was so loud an Antonio, on Instagram, working the night shift, heard the EDM bass by the Riverwalk Golf Club in Mission Valley. “I was wondering why I heard loud music on patrol,” he said. “I was on Hotel Circle and just by the golf course. That’s crazy.” An underground rave was already in full effect about two miles west of Antonio. The rave was underneath a Morena Boulevard bridge, just east walking distance of the I-5 and Mission Bay.

619newsmedia posted a video online of five paramedics carrying out an unidentified female raver who “overdosed.” The first responders carried her out in a patient mover, which resembles a stretched-out blanket with handles. It was used to move her body to the ambulance, as the rocky surrounding terrain and brush to access the rave underneath the bridge made it difficult to maneuver a traditional wheeled stretcher to the party site. The illegal party had about “200” attendees, estimated 619newsmedia. The girl was transported to a nearby hospital for “drug-related symptoms.”

That early Sunday morning, the partygoers were then asked to leave the area — all except an older man wearing a “CALI” design embroidered baseball cap. “When firefighters and police arrived to find the victim, a man (with the CALI hat) was seen in the area with a knife,” reads the caption underneath the video clip. “Officers called for backup, and air support was requested… The man with the knife was taken into custody, questioned, and released.”

Two weeks after, another underground rave popped off in a canyon underneath the 805 freeway in Sorrento Valley by Carroll Canyon Road, west of Mira Mesa. The illegal rave included a DJ up on stage, a truss system with a light show, and everything was reportedly “powered by a generator … on Caltrans property,” reported CBS 8 News. And because the rave’s location was off the beaten path, deep in the brush and “down in a ravine, a canyon area that we cannot safely access,” reportedly said the police in a radio transmission, the rave proceeded as planned until the early Sunday morning. “So, unless we (SDPD) get any 911 calls out here with any emergency assistance, we’ll be clearing from here.” A few hours later, a CBS 8 News reporter hiked to the then clandestine rave location; it was raver free and cleaned up with “no trash left behind.”

“Yea, I’m one of the kids,” said a raver on Instagram. “I had so much fun last night — the same way you go to clubs and party, same thing, just underground. Fuck off.”

I, too, attended underground raves in San Diego, but as a teen in the 90s. In those times, we’d receive codes on our pagers, then meet with different people around town, sometimes at the illegal street races by Sorrento Valley. The secret codes, note passing, rendezvous with randoms, on top of paper fliers that had hotline phone numbers we’d call from telephone booths — were done in hopes the police wouldn’t catch wind of the rave. Part of the allure of being a raver was the experience of getting to the rave before it got raided.

Then by around 2004, the Mi Gente, Friendster and Myspace then-new social media platforms became popular to promote raves and network with many people. By now, cell phones were affordable and popular, but most phones in those times didn’t have internet capabilities.

“Back then, if you were in the scene, it was word of mouth to get into the raves,” said Jesus “Jesusdapnk” Diaz in a recent interview with me. Diaz — a local EDM music producer and resident DJ at Bang Bang, a popular EDM club downtown — began attending raves as a teen in 2008. Around this time, when Myspace was the platform to push events as it was musician-friendly, Facebook was also picking up. “Now it’s easier for people to know about the raves because of social media.” Diaz continued. Then internet-capable phones packed with apps and video filming and streaming capabilities became the norm. Underground raves like the ones mentioned above are popping up on TikTok.

Diaz, now 31, continued, “The underground events are still popping up in sewers or underneath bridges and warehouses. It’s pretty insane! In fact, those people, I can’t mention any names, the same promoters from the 1990s, still book me for [underground and legit] raves today. And they promote the old school way.” On top of the old-school methods mentioned above, the promoters nowadays drop locations of their raves on the Stories section of IG and Facebook an hour or so before the party begins. “These guys do it for the love and admiration for the music and not about the money,” Diaz added, “it keeps the true rave scene alive.”

(Note that a rave may also be legal, depending on how and where the event is held. Some promoters and partygoers call EDM festivals raves because they are legit and open to the public if they can purchase tickets, although folks still sneak in drugs. While partying all night is not illegal, activities associated with raves are — as underage folks raving after curfew, illicit drug use, and trespassing onto private property. The phrase “underground rave” notates an illegal rave.)

And regarding the treasure hunt aspect of getting to an underground rave as the three recent ones mentioned above — Generation Z is just as attracted, if not more, to the allure of attending an underground rave as we Generation X-ers were in the 1990s.

“The drug use at the underground raves is still the same,” Diaz added. “E” (for ecstasy) is the primary choice of drugs, and many people nowadays are micro-dosing with shrooms and acid, and a lot of people smoke weed. But, unlike back in the day, you can’t really see anybody that’s super f—d up.” But what about the girl at the July 16 rave? “When you have to go way out of your way to attend the rave, you have to be careful and not get super f—-d up,” Diaz advised. The treks to some of these underground raves are nearly a mile long and on rugged terrain. For some newbie ravers, it might be overwhelming to hike back to their vehicles after a long night of dancing. “But that (people passing out) happens even at the legal Las Vegas events. Also, nowadays, ravers must be extra careful with those pills because now they can be laced [with fentanyl].”