In view of recent illegal raves in Wigan and Bristol, I’ve a theoretical question which is twisting my melon, making me contemplate my past, my attitude at the time weighed against my moral judgement of adulthood.
My art college gave me an ultimatum, return at the end of the summer break having redone three pieces, and on their merit my application for the second year of the course will be based. My young life hinged on this challenge. But what was on my mind as I walked out of the meeting? I’ll tell you, it was, where this weekend’s party would be.
It was the summer of 1991, the peak(y blinder) of my rave honeymoon, partying was not a treat, it was a necessity, a way of life. If we had this pandemic, and consequent lockdown restrictions, would it have stopped me from going raving? That’s the conundrum sliding a wedge between the hypocrisy of my matured moral standards if I fancied following sheep and bleating on social media about youth attending recent events, and my own prerogative and carefree attitude during that era. I quiver at deciding if I should therefore blame today’s youth for their ignorance toward these modern boundaries, be they for safety or a judicious excuse for control.
And if I did throw caution to the wind, as I suspect the most likely, would it be possible to adhere to social distancing measures, given our brand of intoxication caused the type of enhanced euphoria one simply had to share? Effusive embraces were routine, sharing of accessories from hand-to-hand and mouth-to-mouth commonly accepted, hugging random strangers all part of the joyous moment.
Of course, it’s hindsight, and our generation should thank our lucky stars we didn’t have something along these lines to prevent us. Still, unresolved, I called to help opinions of members of a Facebook group, “DOCU: FREE PARTY ERA 1990-1994 – WERE YOU THERE?” Taking as red by its very title, affiliates were indeed there, when rave culture was at its peak in the UK, and by their want to join the group, might just be capable of recalling at least fragments of it!
In contradiction to my rampant hugging observation, one member figured social distancing was possible at a rave, provided there were no marquees. “Because free festivals and outdoor free raves never had singular big stages,” they pointed out, “there was always plenty of space.”
The overall consensus was, 79% said yes, they do think they would have still attended raves in spite of the pandemic, against 14% saying no, and 7% unsure. I requested thoughts rather than stats, and thus where grey areas and interesting points occur. I stated shouting “fuck yeah!” wasn’t really supplying constructive assessment, but many, I guess, are still partying too hard! Palpable comments flooded in, such as “I’d have given no fucks and partied on regardless,” “I’d have dropped everything an jumped in a motor if was going to Bristol party on Saturday but I’m sitting here feeling gutted, reading reports on news of what I’ve missed; I’m 56 by the way!” and “I wouldn’t of given a flying fuck,” which balanced against frankness I secretly wanted to hear, like, “to be honest, in 1991 I don’t think anything would have stopped me going out.”
Some thoughtful estimations came with a twist or satirical stab, like “but hey, send ya kids to school, that’s fine!” and “I’ve seen three covid deaths; all had underline health issues. With that in mind I would’ve stayed at home until it was safe, however, it seems there are a few laws that pushed through that are total designed to stop the dance. If these total draconian laws aren’t removed after covid then I will be at the base of Nelson’s Column with 40k ready to fucking roll and dance, as this total gets my wick!” And therein lies a common accord, bringing the restrictions, or punishments into question, rather than prevention of spreading a virus. “Do I blame the kids? No. Do I think less of them for raving? No. Do I worry about them spreading covid? Yes. Do I think covid is a real issue? Yes. Do I think that the Tories are using it to their full advantage? Yes.”
By the early nineties’ businesses sought profit from legal raves, be clubs or outdoor events, but rave rose from the ashes of the free festival scene, its fundamental roots was illegal, many faced persecution from the law and anger towards authorities are imbedded eternally. It’s fathomable to question the motives of lockdowns. “As it was right in the middle of the Criminal justice act and freedom to party marches,” one said, “I’d likely have been full blown cospirytard and thought it all to be another way for the cops and government to stop us having a good time, would have gone anyway, stuck my fingers up and hoped it was fake, or that the amount of chemicals in my system killed Covid before it killed me!”
“They are not anti-rave laws,” one protested, “they are anti-people rules, temporary measures, as none of them have passed through a white paper in parliament so cannot be ratified by the Lords, ergo, NOT A LAW!”
Others calmly suggested similar, without the need of caps-lock. “Seems to me they were brought in to stop raves, but had the benefit of also stopping other social gatherings with >6 people. Nothing the Tories do is ‘the will of the people’ – they just get on with shafting us whether we like it or not.” Adding, “my comment was only trying to express what a minefield this topic is, and that it is okay to have what might appear to be contradictory views because the whole thing is a mess.” I know, that’s why I’m raising it; always spoiling for a rumble! But let’s not forget here, no one is condoning the actions of the modern kids raving through a pandemic, merely pondering what they themselves might have done under the circumstances.
And there were moments of conformed clarity, “lives are at risk here – the kids going to lockdown raves might not get any symptoms, but they could easily pass it on to somebody else who dies or suffers long-term damage. Kids will be kids and their thoughts are probably not with the greater good. I even understand that they just want to hang out with their mates and have a good time… but I still worry about what will come of their actions, and part of me thinks they could just hold off having 700-strong raves in warehouses for a little while.”
And others in denial, “I would’ve carried on going to free parties regardless of some non-existent virus!” Or completely oblivious, “I was tripping so much I doubt I’d have noticed, just presumed it was Sunday or bank holiday for 3 months!”
Some brilliantly imbalanced professionally considered thoughts with fond reminiscences, “we were the lucky generation. Would I have partied back then with Covid? Most certainly. I feel sorry for my teenage daughter and generation who aren’t able to know what freedom to party was all about. Hell, they can’t even have normal rights if passage anymore. We need to be careful, as there will be a generation growing up scared to go out into the world. It’s happening already. Working in mental health, I’m seeing already what could happen to a whole generation if this carries on for too long. My fear is, it will.”
And “after being locked indoors for months, young people are going stir crazy and I don’t blame them. At 22 I didn’t need to shield anyone and really only thought of my needs. My 50-year-old self however is sensible and won’t even go to the pub.”
So, the general mood was either, “I would like to think my younger self would be wise enough to not do raves in a pandemic, but I doubt I would have been. So, can neither applaud them or condemn them,” or “I would go, but I have never been very responsible.” With the added notion, “it’s very difficult for me to say whether that might have changed if someone I knew or loved died of the virus.”
Yet punters aside, there’s no party if there’s no one to organise it. Perhaps irresponsibly, the ten grand fine dissuaded organisers, rather than spreading a virus. “Fines might have made me think twice about trying to put anything on,” one suggested. Back then, least post-Criminal Justice Act, police had powers to confiscate the PA, hence their point. “Losing your rig is one thing, getting stung for ten grand, is quite another.” Though another pointed out inflation, “a 10k fine in 2020 would’ve probably been about 2k in 1990 so the risk would’ve been different.”
Specifically, a shareware notion was given, “at RTS, Stop the City, CJB, police asked ‘who owns the rig?” The crowd reply they all do. A ten grand fine could be met if everyone put a percentage in. “Fight them at their own game…. with smarty pants on.”
Whereas an owner of a sound system professed more consideration, “as to whether I would have run a rave this year – no. I’ve chosen not to go to any events this year, although I think Bath and Branwen were ‘acceptable’ – they were outside of the main lockdown periods, they were outside, so ventilated, and people were able to social distance. I don’t think that Halloween or NYE indoor parties are a good idea, and in fact are pretty irresponsible in the current times and situation. But as was said, to lambast them could be hypocritical. We were all young once, and our irresponsibility levels probably exceeded what we like to think they would be looking back with our rose tints on.”
Another who begun their party outside Perth in the mid-seventies, proudly still going, “basically if there’s a party going on, we’re in the van, rig loaded,” still offered caution. “Now we’re in a whole different kettle of sardines. I know of too many deaths of this pandemic, so I ain’t partying anywhere indoors and, deffo keeping my distance if I do go anywhere, and wearing a mask. So those that went to the party at Yate, it’s only your loved ones you’re gonna hurt.”
In conclusion, maturity develops responsibly, we didn’t allow time for it in youth. Yet, there’s a notion these regulations are implemented deceitfully and with a tyrannical agenda. The point of suspending events and pubs who’ve gone to great lengths to ensure safety, when schools and universities remain open, despite the improved technology of providing online tuition, feels draconian to many, and consequently a backlash is a nature course.
There’s two ways of reacting to a pandemic. The archetypal social order of medieval Europe completely disintegrated during the Black Death. People felt death was inevitable, but had a unique way of handling it. Some desperately sought refuge, others braved the disease, laughed in its face, and partied. They cossetted themselves in the finer aspects of life, alcohol, music and, of course, disorderly parties, causing a flourishing new era of music and art, like the virelai, ballade, and rondeau.
One member of the group pointed out, “no one stopped partying during the 2000/2001 flu epidemic in the UK. The virus was ‘only’ killing old people and the medically vulnerable. Most people didn’t know it was happening. 22,000 people died in a very short period in the UK.” They also believed there was a pandemic going on during Woodstock Festival. Though this proved to be a slightly ambiguous urban myth by Reuters factchecker, who states, “Woodstock took place months after the first season of the Hong Kong flu had ended in the United States. Although there was to be a second wave in the U.S. the following winter, it is misleading to say it happened in the middle of a pandemic.”
What is clear though, no generation can be blamed for irresponsibly in youth, and the need to party is naturally paramount. Whether or not it is correct to do so under these conditions is debatable, but while you are, for many, the show must go on. Question is, can you blame them, if you once liked to blow your whistle and wave your hands in the air, like, I dunno, you just didn’t care?