In the early ’90s, rave and techno culture from Europe and the West Coast began making its wily presence known in the Midwest. Deafening electronic music and all-night dance parties were the hallmarks of this underground scene, traits certainly at odds with Middle America’s image as a living, breathing Chevy truck commercial. Soon, the Midwest found itself home to an especially vibrant rave/techno community, with the Milwaukee scene in particular complementing—and sometimes even rivaling—larger cities like Chicago and Minneapolis.
In the middle of it all was Milwaukee’s Massive Magazine, an audacious and often irreverent publication that assumed the role of both chronicler and instigator of the Midwestern rave scene. Born of humble beginnings as a one-page zine in the small town of Mayville, Massive ran for six years, featured early interviews with the likes of The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, and gave the scene a positive public face it otherwise would have lacked. Its final issue—published in March 1999—boasted a circulation of 50,000. The A.V. Club caught up withMassive creator Matt Massive to discuss the murky origins of the magazine, the early ’90s rave scene, Pantera vs. candy ravers, and why heroin addicts make lousy employees.
The A.V. Club: What was the original impetus behind creating a magazine?
Matt Massive: Well, the precursor to Massive was a zine called Ministry Of Truth. The first “issue” of MOT was a one-sided, xeroxed sheet of paper handed out to students at Mayville High School where I was a junior. What prompted its creation was my being wrongfully expelled from school. [Laughs.] I realized that I needed to get my side of the story out, so I went down to a Ben Franklin and churned out 25 copies.
AVC: How did that mutate into Massive?
MM: Over the next few years, I built up quite a collection of rave zines from around the country. I thought it would be cool to compile a number of them into one “massive” zine and hand it out at a Halloween party thrown by Drop Bass. It all went over very well; Kurt [Eckes, co-founder of Drop Bass Network] was planning to throw the first of his annual New Year’s parties and decided to call it “Massive.” We finished a second issue in time for that party, though this time we actually had it printed as opposed to ripping off Kinko’s again. [Laughs.] We easily covered the cost of printing 5,000 issues with advertising collected from Milwaukee businesses, many of which had just opened, like Fuel Cafe and Sky High. To this day, I respect them and others for sticking their necks out for us.
AVC: For a lot of people, raves and ravers conjure up images of glow sticks and giant pants. What was the scene actually like during those early days?
MM: Early raves in Milwaukee attracted people from all different scenes. Things hadn’t really gelled, and as such, there were no “ravers” yet. People came because it was something different. Even diehard, attitude-addled punks tolerated the music because it was an exciting new thing. I was running into a lot of the same people I saw out at clubs and concerts, and the raves became a sort of ultra cross-pollination zone.
AVC: It did seem that Massive always had a more punk or “metal” attitude.
MM: That was the nature of the scene back then. So many Milwaukee ravers came from punk and hard music backgrounds. I know Kurt was big on KISS. I was a diehard Pantera fan. We all refused to adopt the silly candy rave crap and do something that was closer to who we really were. In the magazine, this meant that intense guitar-oriented music would be reviewed alongside a trance album. I know this turned some people off, but it boosted our authenticity because people were getting some personality out of Massive.
AVC: The magazine’s motto was “The underground is massive.” Fittingly, your circulation eventually reached 50,000. To what do you attribute that success?
MM: We quickly found there was a demand for what we were doing. There were no other Midwestern and freely-distributed publications doing the techno/rave thing, and we were always running out of the increasing number of magazines we published. We also were building quite a distribution network. This expanded even more after the introduction of Massive clothing, as stores could absorb the cost of having the magazines shipped to them by selling our T-shirts. Later, we expanded the catalog to music distribution as well.
AVC: The final issue of Massive was published in March of 1999. Why the decision to stop?
MM: After spending the prime years of my teens and early 20s selling advertising and working 16 hours a day, I was getting tired and bored. I sold half the magazine to an investor in 2000 and started to focus more on merchandise. The vending operation was great because we were making a lot of money and I was doing a lot of traveling; the downside was that we brought in a crew of people to work for us that ended up being a bunch of heroin addicts. They just brought a bad vibe and told the most absurd tales of why their numbers weren’t adding up. Eventually, the vending operation was shut down, acting like a bug bomb to clear out the roaches. After that, I decided to go back to college. I thought of it as a sort of witness protection program after the strange life I had led beforehand. [Laughs.] Occasionally on campus I’d run into other veterans of the scene and feel like Steve Martin in My Blue Heaven.