It was a long time coming but we finally made it. It was dawn now, a fog fell upon the disused airfield at Enstone, Oxfordshire. My best friend skipped out of the car milliseconds after it parked in the thick, dew-filled meadow. I looked over to him. “This is the one I was on about!” he yelped, and wasted no time waiting for me to react, but dived straight into the eye of the sound system, where, due to the fog, an incalculable number of ravers were dancing like madmen on a day out of the funny farm.
Throughout the journey he had been consistently bashing on about this track which sampled the early eighties public information cartoon, Charley Says. And it had been a long journey, from the Green Dragon in Marlborough, blagging a lift from a random old school friend, who was adamant he’d not succumb to the trend, to the tip-off point, Enborne near Newbury. Only to find other cars of confused ravers, some conjecturing we needed to head up the A34 to Oxfordshire. Our driver, now aggravated by us, stamped his foot and announced it was the end of road for him.
The second section of the journey then, saw us thrown out on the M4 junction, and thumbs prepared, three of us danced a pledge for a lift from the multitude of beaten up cars and vans beeping horns and waving from windows over-enthusiastically.
Eventually picked up, we now found ourselves at Pear Tree services, where police closed us in, threating to search every vehicle attempting to leave. But with the garage under siege and cars queuing up as far as the eye could see, from every junction, the police knew they were outnumbered, and eventually gave up, allowing passage down the A44 to Enstone. Until we were left to go about our business, a temporary mock-up rave had developed at the service station, as crowds gathered on the embankment, dancing and blowing horns to a fusion of a thousand plus naff car stereos; it was 3am, eternal.
If it all sounds implausible by today’s standard weekend, note that this was spring 1991, and we had become fully-fledged illegal ravers, living for the weekend. A time when the breakbeat sound was in its infancy, when corny rave tunes were welcomed; the hardcore posse blew whistles at taking themselves seriously. I nodded my approval, recalling the Charley Says cartoons, and smirking at its humorously converted connotation, if only for a brief second, before headlonging feet, and maybe juddering jawbone first, into the party.
Forward wind like an Easygroove spin a year, we’re attired in blankets in the carpark of Golddiggers in Chippenham, the band who’d created the Charley Says tune fully known to us now. They’d just played a blinding set of bonkers breakbeat and cheesy rave, full of reggae breaks and nonsensical samples. At a time when the burgeoning youth culture was vacant of a sovereign, as rock n roll had Elvis and reggae had Bob Marely, it was a question of how much an artist was willing to sell-out to claim the crown. Perhaps egotistically, The Shamen were among the nominated, targeting shamelessly at the pop charts. But the raver knew this was futile, rave was a faceless folk music, an epoch of anonymity, and if there had to be a king of rave, it would be the ones constantly pushing new boundaries. If there was ever a need to debate this, while it did, the Prodigy remained quiet and reserved.
A Glastonbury Festival, don’t ask me what year, time just an illusion now, but I remember after this quiet period, the Prodigy burst on stage at a time when dance culture was incarcerated to a blanket stall or concealed hippy sub-festival the raver took all weekend to locate. Expecting to dance to cheesy rave, a blessing being the hardcore had split into happy hardcore and drum n bass, and we’d retired to the somewhat mature house/garage scene, I stood aghast at what I heard.
Promoting “The Music for the Jilted Generation,” The Prodigy took, not only the festival to new limits, but what dance music could be. I recall scratching my head, trying to decide if I liked it. Keith Flint bounded around the stage with a duo of green spikey Mohicans on either side of his head, a kind of Johnny Rotten of our era. The once dancer of the group, now bellowed out grinding vocals. It was punk-rock, not post-punk, but raw, energetic viciousness, yet retained rave, in some small way.
Many cite the following album, The Fat of the Land as their magnum opus, yet it only progressed the ethos of The Jilted Generation to the next stage, and gave the sound prestige in NME followers and the mass media. In a world aware of the Jilted Generation’s influence, which bought us outfits who fused indie back into rave; The Chemical Brothers, Monkey Mafia and Fatboy Slim, it became acceptable to both sides of the indie/rave divide, a non-man’s land not intruded since the Happy Mondays and Stone Roses.
If Liam Howlett was the brains behind the group, Keith Flint was the showman, and for the reasons stated above, I’ve felt the sad news of his suicide today harder than that of the passing of Bowie, of Michael Jackson or James Brown, because though it may’ve been one foggy morning on Enstone Airfield in 1991, the memory is crisp in my mind, the first time we heard the kings of rave.
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