The origins of British rave culture lie in the so-called ‘Second Summer of Love’ in the late 1980s. The deep basslines and fluid synths of Chicago acid house music had crossed the pond, ushering in the era of the rave, as drug-fuelled hedonism dominated youth subcultures surrounding electronic music. Inspired by the thriving Balearic dance scene and fuelled by the mass arrival of the club drug ecstasy to the United Kingdom, a new generation of revelers descended not only to nightclubs but illegal raves at warehouses and car parks across the country.
While iconic, licensed nights at clubs like the Hacienda in Manchester thrived, spontaneous illegal parties in disused buildings became synonymous with rave culture throughout the 1990s. Violence was rare, as ravers embraced the artificial sense of empathy caused by recreational ecstasy use. Empty buildings were filled with huge sound systems, as DJs blared house music to thousands of ravers until the early hours of the morning. Suddenly the euphoric, chaos of the Ibiza party scene could be transported to an abandoned warehouse somewhere off the M25 as electronic dance music and rave culture exploded into the public consciousness.
‘Violence was rare, as ravers embraced the artificial sense of empathy caused by recreational ecstasy use‘
In 1994 the rave scene had become so widespread that the infamous – and strangely worded – Section 63 of the Criminal Justice Act was passed into law. Police were granted the power to shut down music events that contained the “emission of a succession of repetitive beats”, sparking mass protests by ravers and anarchist groups. By the mid-1990s, the pioneering dance music of the early rave scene had begun to be incorporated into mainstream popular music. Once firmly entrenched within an underground scene, spread by word of mouth, electronic music started to become commercially successful and widely listened too. Heavy hitters like The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy released dance records that infiltrated the charts and house music started to receive serious radio airtime.
Club promoters up and down the country capitalised on the excitement surrounding an innovative British electronic music scene. As house music became more and more fashionable, tickets to electronic nights rose to extortionate levels, pricing out the same youth subculture that popularised the genre through illegal raves and niche club nights. By the noughties, the excitement surrounding transgressive, underground electronic dance music had all but evaporated, as house music filled high-street nightclubs across the country. British DJs and EDM producers like Calvin Harris and Carl Cox have become global superstars, headlining festivals and racking up hundreds of millions of plays across music streaming services. This permeation of electronic music into the mainstream has seen dance music scene been thoroughly detached from the underground roots of rave culture and the ‘Second Summer of Love.’ In less than twenty years the electronic dance music scene had undergone radical change, trading the intimacy of illegal raves to sell-out global tours.
However, last year saw a significant resurgence in the number of illegal raves reported to the authorities. In 2016 the number of illegal raves in London close to doubled when compared to the previous year. 133 unlicensed raves were flagged up by the Metropolitan Police in the capital city alone. What’s more, Rave’s renaissance does not appear to be concentrated in London alone. In September 2017, a sixteen-hour standoff occurred between police and ravers at an illegal techno night in a former B&Q warehouse in Bristol. Just a month later, three men were charged with vandalism after £30,000 worth of damage was caused at a rave attended by over 500 people in a warehouse complex in Maidstone, Kent.
This mass increase in the number of illegal raves comes has been linked to the stagnation of urban nightlife across the country. In 2016, the forced closure of one of Britain’s most famous nightclubs fabric in Farringdon, London following a series of drug related fatalities brought ‘rave’ culture back into the public spotlight. While fabric was handed its licence back after five months, agreeing to carry out stringent security checks that most airports would be proud of and implementing new over-19s door policy, its reopening can be considered somewhat of an anomaly.
Staggeringly, half of London’s clubs closed in the period between 2005-2015. Widespread gentrification across central London has brought about sweeping socioeconomic change, significantly increasing the price of rent in the capital. The ever-rising rent prices have rendered the maintenance of internationally renowned clubs economically unfeasible, forcing club owners to raise ticket prices in order to keep their doors open. A standard ticket to fabric’s weekly Saturday night house and electro event will set you back over £20 on the door, a significant sum of money when compared to an illegal rave where similar genres of music will be played free of charge. In addition to ever inflating ticket prices, the cost of alcohol at licenced venues continues to rise. With the national average price of a pint of beer currently standing at £3.60, and the fact that in metropolitan areas such as London a pint can set you back in excess of £5, it’s hardly shocking that the country’s urban youth are returning to inexpensive, unregulated hedonism of late twentieth century rave culture. The escape once provided by the country’s once vibrant club scene has now become economically unviable for today’s metropolitan youth.
While the price of alcohol continues to rise in clubs and pubs the availability and consumption of club drugs such as MDMA has massively risen over the last few years. The amphetamine ecstasy became synonymous with the 1990s rave scene, where the psychoactive drug fuelled all night raves. According to the 2016 European Drugs report conducted by the EU, the United Kingdom had the second highest consumption of MDMA in Europe, after the Netherlands, with 3.5% of British ‘young adults’ estimated to have taken MDMA in the last year. The report also indicated that the average purity of ecstasy pills had more than doubled since the 1990s, at around 125mg per pill. The anonymity and availability of recreational drugs through the internet using crypto currency has also been linked to a rise in the amount of Britons taking MDMA. Given the cultural and historical closeness of the relationship between the rave scene and recreational drugs it is no surprise that the resent resurgence in illegal raves comes at a time where more Brits are consuming MDMA than at any other time in the last decade.
Perhaps vital to the increase in illegal, unlicensed raves is the impact widespread infrastructural and housing developments in Britain’s urban spaces have had in significantly decreasing the variety of the nightlife in cities across the United Kingdom. A host of clubs across London including the iconic live music venue and LGBT club Astoria in Soho, were sacrificed in favour of the Crossrail transport development. Just last month one of Manchester’s premier licenced rave clubs, Antwerp Mansion, was issued with a closure notice by Manchester council after refusing to change its closing time, sparking an online petition which has received over 17,000 signatures to date. Even Exeter’s newest nightclub, Fever and Boutique, was threatened with having its licence revoked following persistent noise complaints late last year. The closure of clubs in particular that provide marginal or alternative music genres such as jungle and drum and bass, can be directly linked to the rise in the number of illegal raves in the years as punters are left to chose between cheap, uninspiring identikit chain nightclubs in town centres, and unlicensed illegal raves.
The recent resurgence of rave culture and illegal parties is perhaps unsurprising given the sorry state of the British club scene and the unrelenting rising expense of nights out. Inspired by the infamous rave subculture of the 1990s and fuelled by the same recreational drugs as their raver predecessors, Britain’s revellers are once again returning to warehouses across the country pumping electronic music and raving away the night.bookmark me