About That Supposed Rash of Project X–Themed Parties

There’s that moment at a crazy party when things threaten to get really out of control. Somebody knocks over the stereo, or gets too drunk and starts a fight, maybe drugs of a dubious origin enter the scene. Everyone theoretically wants the spark of danger — knowing that a topple into complete chaos might be imminent — but it’s not always really as cool as it sounds. It can just be awful, as in the case of the Project X-inspired “spring break rave” in a Houston mansion that resulted in a fatal shooting as cops tried to break it up. (The gunman was not a cop, but a partygoer who shot somebody in the back of the head and then fired into the crowd before escaping on foot.) Whether this will end, or just encourage, the supposed trend of teens throwing Project X-themed parties in abandoned and foreclosed houses remains to be seen. Unlike warehouse events or punk house shows, the purpose of a Project X party isn’t music or collectivism. It’s pure nihilism and indulgence. Which is not to knock nihilism, indulgence, or teenagers. It’s just to say that none of those things are as glamorous as they tend to be portrayed in movies or magazines. Parties that look like the craziest, most raucous shit of all time in pictures are often very boring in real life. (This kind of goes for people, too.) That’s the dirty secret of party photography. What looks like the most fun ever in a photograph might actually be “fun,” the forced appearance of pretending to enjoy something you know you are supposed to enjoy.

When one goes to a party that seems like a “movie party,” but one doesn’t know anybody there, it can actually be totally alienating. Particularly if you come to the realization that everyone else at the party does, in fact, know each other, because they are much younger than you. An account from a 22-year-old eyewitness of the Houston debacle was mostly notable for how horrified he was that the party was made up mostly of high schoolers. Reading the description of “trash cans full of spiked punch” and foam-flooded hallways, I could practically taste the lukewarm Natty Ice, feel the sweaty laser fog, and smell the New Year’s Eve-style desperation to have the BEST TIME EVER. The desire to merge with the moment competes with the awareness that you are trying to do just that. A little critical distance can ruin even the chillest buzz. Questions about the nature of socialization and conformity can easily supplant the euphoric Y.O.L.O. rush that partying is supposed to provide. This is not to say that an overcrowded party will always turn violent, because obviously most of them don’t. But who knows what would have happened at Woodstock ’99 if it hadn’t been 100 degrees and there had been enough toilets and water? Maybe everyone would have just enjoyed a nice Limp Bizkit performance and gone home.

Filed Under: Modern American Life, Project X

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert