NEW YORK Ten thousand people descended on a Manhattan park for the 6th Element, an all-day dance-music party Saturday, and the worst damage done was by the hot sun scorching skin.
DJ sets by former Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell and hip-hop pioneers Kool DJ Herc and Afrika Bambaataa and a live performance by Rabbit in the Moon topped the day's diverse bill.
From 2 p.m. until the event's midnight close, DJs spun hour-long sets from two outdoor stages and two tents, spaced along the six-block-long site, which was set up like a city street.
Dancing was a risky proposition in the 90-degree daytime heat, but as the sun sank into the haze, attendees abandoned their shady spots. The crowd, which ranged from teenagers to people in their 30s, more closely resembled a racially diverse dance-club floor than a homogenous rock concert.
Matt E. Silver, the event's organizer, said city officials needed considerable convincing before surrendering a section of a public park for a dance event. "A lot of hoops, a lot of fences to jump over," he said. "But this is the biggest place I could do in New York City, and this is my back yard. Doing a place that could ultimately hold 25,000 people that's where the culture's going and that's where I'm going."
Not Lollapalooza Or Woodstock
Dancers could choose from trance, drum & bass or house, emanating from stages and tents wrapped in colored fabrics, with tapestries and streamers flapping in the breeze. A "chill out" zone was filled with relaxation tents, areas for yoga and a small stage.
Liquid Todd, host of the syndicated electronic-music radio show "Solid State," said the last time he played Randall's Island was during a Lollapalooza show that reintroduced the site as an outdoor venue back in the mid-'90s.
"It's a peaceful crowd," he said. "These are not troublemakers. It's not like Woodstock. Everybody's here to have a good time. There's no worries. Everybody's very chill, friendly. It's a different atmosphere than a rock show."
The closest 6th Element came to a rock show was the nighttime mainstage set by Orlando, Fla., duo Rabbit in the Moon. Over a pounding techno beat, performance artist Bunny (born Steve McClure) entertained the crowd with frequent costume changes, switching from an astronaut's suit to a samurai getup to a green apelike ensemble. (He later treated the crowd to a demonstration of what a sander can do to a metal face mask.)
Farrell, who founded Lollapalooza, returned to the island as a midafternoon DJ spinning trance in the "chill out" area. He didn't say a word during his hour-long set, but with smiles and hand movements he connected with the large crowd that grew as word spread he was performing.
The Good Vibe In Effect
Jennifer Livonati, 18, from upper Manhattan, said she prefers going to unlicensed raves where "anything goes" but added that last year she "saw a guy get his throat slit" at an event held under the George Washington Bridge. "This [6th Element] is organized with crime fighters and everything," she said.
There was even a booth at the event for testing the quality and safety of the drug ecstasy, a practice whose popularity is growing at dance events around the country.
Kool DJ Herc, who is credited as the first DJ to rap over records, spun a set of old-school hip-hop and funk classics in the drum & bass tent. Herc said organizers were wise to leave rap-rock performers off the bill, because it made for a more peaceful event.
"If it was a black lineup of rap, this would have been kind of nervous," Herc said. "But this is a different element right here: The '6th Element,' it's love. Ain't a lot of wildness here, it's been smooth."
Bambaataa, the electro-funk pioneer who fused the sounds of German electronic music with rap in the early '80s, spun an early set on the main stage, treating the crowd to the "Afro Whites" remix of his classic Planet Rock. He said he remembers coming to the island for a Parliament/Funkadelic and Chaka Khan concert in the '70s, as well as a rally for Minister Louis Farrakhan before that.
"Everything's cool," Bambaataa said. "It's good to see people out here together, acting like human beings. Nobody's worried about racism and nobody's worried by hate, especially in [New York Mayor] 'Giuliani time.' I'm surprised they let them have it over here."
Joe Harper, 17, from Pelham, N.Y., said he loved the idea of outdoor raves officially blessed by the police and parks department. The reputations for violence and drugs, he said, are undeserved. "In the news I hear about raves being affiliated with drugs and stuff, but they're really not," he said. "They're all about music. It's letting people be together and have fun."