In a continuation of our Movements that shaped us series, Megan Farrimond takes a look at the 1990s rave movement and the culture surrounding what the government calls “the succession of repetitive beats”.
When acid house hit the UK, it changed the way dance music was consumed. Taking the amateur DJ to the streets, warehouses, and newly formed clubs, a new scene took over the nation. The late 80s brought a wave of regeneration, a youth culture peering out of over a decade of Conservative Britain, bringing the sounds of Detroit and the Balearics to the centre stage. From Shoom in London to the Sanctuary in Milton Keynes and all the way to Ayr Pavilion, the sounds of the rave scene adapted and shifted from each city as it made its way into the 90s, creating a sense of collectivism across the UK.
Ecstasy was the driving force for the concept of many raves – a feeling of togetherness which hadn’t been reciprocated under any mass use of any other drug in the UK. This network of people brought this connection about, from Glasgow to Coventry, the feeling that you were all there for the same reasons was enough. The private individual disappeared when the power of the collective took over; rave culture brought about the biggest mass mobilisation since the miner’s strike. In the BBC documentary Everybody In The Place, Jeremy Deller explains how post-war Britain, where you had an agreement with the state, was ending. This collective mentality brought about the dissolution of the individual which was so heavily prioritised in Thatcher’s Conservative Britain in the 80s. A large-scale collective era was always likely to happen after an alienating world of consumerism and the youth used their freedom of assembly to their advantage, immersing themselves in the weekend where fantasy overtook the monotony of the 9 to 5. The universal level of togetherness is maybe something that can only exist in this world.
The feeling of rave culture emanates through Mark Leckey’s film, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, which I believe is essential viewing to really understand the network that surrounded rave culture. From football casuals embracing each other, to the style they introduced to the scene and the memories of the days of daze. Parts of the video were sampled in Jamie XX’s All Under One Roof Raving, a display of transcendence through decades as the single repeats the line “Fila, Head, Kappa, Ellesse, Sergio Tacchini, Burberry, Diadora”, labels that are synonymous with the style of the time and that we have seen reinstated in streetwear today. This one-upmanship that usually existed in the previous football rivalries was completely disregarded when it came to the music and culture of the late 80s and early 90s.
Rave also brings a longing for a reincarnation of a paranoia-free era before social media. It becomes harder to detach when there is the watchful eye of an amateur videographer making sure not a second is missed. There is the worry that this is something that cannot be reversed due to our advancements in technology. The industrialisation and technological age will always find its way back, it is just a problem of adapting and finding our way to this carefree state. Just as Manchester’s famous Hacienda went from a warehouse to one of the biggest clubs in the world, and now to a block of flats, makes me question whether this era was just a flash in time – can we ever find our way back there?
These warehouses and disused buildings were important in the establishment of the rave scene as the youth could gather, regardless of class or image. Towns in northern England, such as Blackpool and Blackburn, were dancing on the ruins of Britain’s industrial past, making way for a new hopeful era of collectivism. In Deller’s documentary, he talks of this as a death ritual as society moved from an industrial to service economy.
Dance music, especially acid house, played a massive role in Glasgow’s history too, with a similar experience to industrial northern England. Growing from The Garrion Hotel in Motherwell in 1989 to Slam in the Park in 1990 (a night of 808 State and John DaSilva of the Hacienda), the Hacienda sound of Manchester crossed the border and travelled up the west coast of Scotland, stopping at one of the biggest street raves, West Coast Jam. Held at Ayr Pavilion (later known as Hangar 13), West Coast Jam launched Scotland onto the rave scene as flocks of people travelled north to experience a new wave of house music.
As the spotlight was on unlicensed events and the unnerving popularity of them by older generations, it became clear that they were not fit for their purpose. A combination of overheating issues, lack of drinking water, and the rise in ecstasy use led to bad press and government intervention. Of course, mass youth mobilisation of any kind never goes untouched by those above and, in 1994, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill was brought in. The law brought about the ban of unlicensed gatherings “at which amplified music is played… wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”. This was the first of its kind to mention a specific type of music in law, symbolising a time of suppression of the power when uniting as one.
As drug-related deaths brought media attention to clubs such as Hangar 13, owners brought in spy cameras and undercover security and, as a result, it was clear that this era, now under the watchful eye of the camera, was drawing to a close. As we learn to adapt to life under the lens, we have to find a new way to connect in a world where everything seems to divide us, especially online. There’s comfort in the power of collectivism through music, this will always be there, and we often surprise ourselves with our ability to adapt.
Top rave tracks:
Something Good by Utah Saints
Good Life by Inner City
Airport ’89 by Wood Allen
Pacific 202 by 808 State
The Bouncer by Kicks Like A Mule