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Michaelangelo Matos

Michaelangelo Matos writes for NPR, Spin, Rolling Stone, Village Voice, The Guardian, The Daily, and eMusic. He is working on a history of American rave in the ’90s. He lives in Brooklyn.

 

Abstract:

"A Trip to MARS-FM: The Story of L.A.'s Rave Radio Station, 1991-92"

From late 1991 until July 1992, Southern California’s airwaves heralded the future. Utilizing a synchronized signal at 103.1 FM in Los Angeles (KDLD) and Orange County (KDLE), Mars-FM, America’s first all-techno radio station, could only have come from one city.

L.A. radio through the ’80s was basically run by KROQ, so it’s no surprise that MARS-FM was headed up by a pair of KROQ vets, Swedish Egil and Freddy Snakeskin. The signal American “modern rock” station, KROQ’s playlist was heavy on synth-based British acts such as New Order, making the instrumental synth music emerging from the rave scene a natural leap. (Not to mention that many of the more popular rave tracks were English as well.) Los Angeles was also American rave’s undisputed capital in the early ’90s: the biggest parties, the wildest scene, the largest number of out-of-the-way warehouses—unimpeded by by cops and chock full of drugs—in which to throw events.

MARS-FM’s time was brief, but it helped spur the record biz to action—notably Rick Rubin, who, inspired by the station, began the ill-fated WHTE LBLS, a sub-label of his American, at the end of 1992—broke at least one small hit (L.A. Style’s “James Brown Is Dead,” which peaked at #99 on Billboard’s Hot 100), and helped catapult the rave scene into the national spotlight.

I plan to tell the story of MARS-FM in detail. I’ll speak with people from the station and the L.A. rave scene about its day-to-day life, its larger function in the rave scene, and its backstage history, and summarize it impact, immediately and in the long range.