DJ Little John has been throwing parties for 15 years and shows no signs of stopping
If there is one indisputable fact about electronic music, it’s that it makes people dance. This is so true, in fact, that if you were to go to an electronica show and not dance, something might be wrong with you.
It was this inescapable, lawless dancing that first drew John Edmonds to the electro scene in 1995 (which is, by his account, “early for some, late for others”). Edmonds, now better known around Santa Cruz by his DJ name Little John, was a Deadhead following music around the country, camping out and embracing a lifestyle of freedom—the ultimate expression of which was dancing at music festivals and concerts. Electronic music had a lot more bass and a lot less guitar, but it engendered the same liberated dancing—something he experienced in full force that year on his first trip to Burning Man (which he’s only missed two years since).
“When you hit your best, most awesome dance moments you have a sense of personal freedom, but also community,” says Edmonds. “It’s part of human tradition that dates back to the very beginning.”
Edmonds settled in Santa Cruz around that time, where he attended the underground parties that occasionally cropped up to cater to the electronic scene. A guitarist with a college degree in music, Edmonds was compelled to turn his passion for this new, transformative music into a service to the community. “As a Deadhead, I’d fallen in love with dancing and found freedom in that,” he says. “Then I found it with electronic music, and I felt that I had something to offer.” He was intent on facilitating that dance-induced freedom for others.
Edmonds had yet to spin a record himself, but decided to provide a space for the local party community to enjoy DJs of the day like Tom L-G (who still plays around town) and DJ Wool. The latter headlined Edmond’s first party at the Brookdale Lodge in 1995, where, not knowing what to expect, Edmonds watched as more than 500 people showed up to his inaugural event—effectively kicking off his career as a budding party thrower.
Wasting no time, he dubbed his effort Raindance Presents (it was an El Niño year, so the moniker was a nod to the gods) and got to work organizing the Freaker’s Ball, a Halloween extravaganza that would become a signature Raindance event and annual Santa Cruz tradition. Over the following years, he established a handful of other Raindance standbys, like the Chinese New Year party in February and the Raindance Campout in June (this year’s is June 4-6 at the Cutter Scout Reservation in the Santa Cruz Mountains), all while keeping the underground scene thriving with full moon parties and other clandestine ragers. Thanks to Raindance Presents, Santa Cruz Burners finally had a full calendar of local events to keep the fire going throughout the year.
“The ’90s were big for us—some of our biggest events were in the ’90s,” Edmonds says, reminiscing about the days of a booming underground. Raindance events have stayed mostly above ground in recent years, but are still forging fresh territory. “We’re in a renaissance period,” he says. “A lot of the music has evolved and hit this new apex, which means that new things are about to be born.”
From trance in the early days to house, new school breaks to trip hop, dubstep to glitch, Edmonds has always chased the newest sounds and, for the past 15 years, tried to keep Raindance at the cusp of musical evolution. But, as in the spirit of Burning Man, Raindance parties are about far more than music—they are a space for every kind of artistic and personal expression.
”The music is what brings us all together and keeps us there and keeps it so exciting, but there are so many different forms of creative expression,” he says. “I personally like to provide space for creative people to be able to express themselves through music, dance, painting, stilt walking—whatever your creative passion is, bring it, do it, throw it in the mix.”
In addition to any variety of live art, interactive installations, massage, food and sacred altars for people to enjoy, partygoers are encouraged to dress in costume, bring toys (think hula hoops, fire poi and stilts), and just plain let loose. While all of the above—which may appear “strange” to more mainstream crowds—is the norm at these festivities, Edmonds aims for anyone and everyone to feel comfortable in the Raindance atmosphere. “I hope to create a safe container for people to explore, feel free to dance and express themselves,” he says. “It’s not about shutting people out.”
He also hosts a monthly shakedown at the Cypress Lounge in downtown Santa Cruz, where he’s booked notable acts such as Bluetech, Beats Antique and DJ Cheb i Sabbah, and he is working on using his knack for gathering large groups of people to put on more charities and benefits. In the midst of launching Raindance in the ’90s, Edmonds began DJing under the alias Little John, becoming an on-stage entertainer in his own right. Today he splits his time between running Raindance (with the help of “the Raindance family”) and his DJ career, which will hit a new high this year with a planned string of releases. But no matter where his DJing takes him, Edmonds remains forever loyal to the groovers and shakers in Santa Cruz—the scene that, through a serendipitous symbiotic relationship, was both cultivated by his commitment to organizing events and enabled his unique career. Edmonds has made a life of making sure other people have a good time (“a truly unique and uplifting experience—if I’ve done my job,” he says), and he is at his personal happiest when orchestrating.
“I feel most alive when I’m getting ready for a big event, getting the sound ready, building props, talking to everybody,” he says. “To me it’s like, if you’re a painter, you have your canvas, you have your paints, you have an idea of what you want to paint, and that’s your thing. For me, it’s like a three dimensional, living, breathing painting that I set up, and create this whole interactive art space of music, sound, artists.”
Smiling, he adds, “There is a lot of random beauty that happens within that.”
Top photo, GET FREAKY: Little John poses with members of the Raindance family, (from left to right) Kimchi, Laurel, Ginger and Alia, at the Freaker’s Ball, Raindance’s annual Halloween party.