A branch of a classy supermarket chain seems an unlikely place to start a story of one’s first rave experience. It was a shop which, on a later occasion, my mate and I decided to walk ten miles back to, to thank them for such a lovely pizza. Overlooking the fact, it was the extra topping of liberty caps we added ourselves which sparked the idea, and, in turn caused us to only make it a hundred yards out of the village before we collapsed in a hysterical heap. Just as well, given I worked there at the time.
Oh, for the time, I’m slipping down my rose-tinted specs again, but, while I’m grateful to those reading this who lived it, I’d rather those too young would too, who they need to understand the era leading up to it, to know why we did what we did……
A protest at end of term school disco, 1988. Teachers, thought they were “hip” enough to do the “in” thing, hiring a standard DJ to deliver the latest pop sounds. One year away from leaving the institution we saw ourselves as mature. Obviously not, but sufficient to warrant a plain and simple fact; the pop chart was not aimed at us.
A decade old now and electronica has become timeworn and abused by the Hit Factory and Stock Aitken Waterman. The formula was simple, derived from sixties bubble-gum pop, and aimed an even younger audience. An assembly line of drum machine synthpop churned out uninspiring samey trash, a monotonous drone promoting pop stardom to Australian soap opera actors, failing have-been musicians convinced by a fat cheque and dreadful teenage dreamboats. They punished the last part of the decade; they commercialised the once experimental epoch. It should have been a crime.
We all sat in protest on the dancefloor, booing, as the DJ spun, I Owe You Nothing by latest teen-pop sensation Bros, two brothers from Camberley with Pet Shop Boys manager Tom Watkins, stupid belt buckles and leather vests donning crucifixes, which seeing as what they did for pop, was actually quite apt. The only person left dancing was a good friend of mine, who took the ingenuity to bring a Sony Walkman, and he skanked out of time, through the protesters in his own little world, lip-syncing the words to Buffalo Solider.
For me, even my love of hip hop worn thin. While it still had a nostalgic place in my heart, as it spread out from the Bronx it seemed to be whitewashed, typecast far from the original ethos. Yes, Grandmaster Melle Mel rapped conscious lyrics on The Message, but that was the exception to the rule. Now, seemed every rapper had a chip on their shoulder, something to criticise, a plastic attitude and some serious bling. It was either this, or sell yourself like a cheap tart; take MC Miker G & DJ Sven rapping over Madonna’s Holiday as red for why hip hop lost its way.
A far cry from the untroubled origins of hip-hop, where the idea was to throw your cares away for the duration and party. A notion closer to the new impending wave of electronic music, fresh from the underground.
In any case, at 14 I’d moved to Marlborough, where breakdance seemingly hadn’t the same impact as it had on my Essex town. Prior to starting school there, my mother suggested my brother and I attend a concert on the common, as promoted on GWR Radio, surprisingly. It may’ve been a tactic to encourage us to blend into our new home. What actually happened freaked me out. If I considered I’d descended time, back to the seventies, before this day, I certainly did now. I believe the band playing to have been popular local rock band, Read’m and Weep.
Looking back now, they were excellent, but through my trendy suburban Essex eyes I was shocked at the sight of scruffy rock kids perched on car bonnets, uniformed in black, smoking, drinking from bottles before me. I felt like the character Sam Emerson, the younger brother in the movie The Lost Boys, when they go to the beach fair. If one of these “weirdos” glimmered fangs at me, I was legging it.
In fairness, being bored with the direction of hip-hop, and annoyed with commercial pop, I had a sweeping overview of rock, as soft metal took the charts by storm. And as I emersed fuller into the cultural differences of my environment. I began to find it was the only musical avenue worthy of attention, and had to backtrack my knowledge to the classics. But as I was taking in Led Zeppelin, Hendrix and The Doors, in order to make friends at school, they became accepting of a new wave of electronic music called “house,” as it was, it had a commercial side, but looming was the psychedelic underground roots, sub-labelled “acid house.” We kind of met in the middle.
I find it amusing child-friendly raves have become a popular attraction recently. Organisers such Raver Tots and Big Fish, Little Fish attained a gap in the market with new parents who thought the stork has ended their raving days.
Ingeniously they create a pay-rave/soft play centre crossover, largely based on the hardcore era of the mid-nineties, as that’s the generation with easily persuaded toddlers. Way to go to push your diehard habits onto your saucepan and lids, but indulge now, as it doesn’t last! If you asked my daughter ten years ago what her favourite music is, she’d reply “reggae,” an obvious spoon-fed response. Now she’s engulfed by current pop, and you have to let them find their own path, their own thing. Pushy parenting backfires.
But that’s not the reason it amuses me, neither is the fact since the dawn of rave participants never take themselves too seriously. Yes, it’s “cheesy” by their own definition. Yes, there’s a childlike euphoria involved with raving too. Sucking of lollies, cuddling complete strangers, and dancing like a lunatic to a breakbeat sample of the Sesame Street theme. But it’s a notion the flipside, the “indie” kids could never fathom, in all their depressing reality-driven gloom; rave was never to be taken too seriously. It was quintessentially an escapism.
No, the reason it amuses me is thus, at the time rave was not the place to take a toddler and few did, save for perhaps the travelling folk who, for them, the sites were their home. Rave was illegal, primarily, until big businesses saw the opportunity to make a fast buck. Rave was daring, criminal and that’s what, unashamedly, made it exciting. In fact, the spread of the trend grew from a scare story, a tabloid attempt to frighten parents into believing every teenager, including theirs, was off their rockers in a dangerous derelict warehouse somewhere around the London orbital. Truth is, my friends and I hadn’t a clue about it, until now.
In fact, in 1988, just before some doughnut invited a lucky journalist to an acid house party, the scene was tiny, a secret association only a select few Ibiza diehards knew about. The desire to recreate their hedonistic holiday in the Balearics in London gained little attention, until one day the newspapers splashed it across their front pages. Needless to say, it backfired, now every teenager in the country wanted in on the deal. Including me.
As ever, the Sun was the main culprit, Gary Bushell pasting a light-hearted angle, often satirical and tongue-in-cheek but definitely in favour of the exploding trend, in order to sell their “acid house t-shirt.” Soon as sales dropped, they turned nasty on the surge they had a hand in prompting. It’s almost as if they deliberately blossomed a teenage rebellious phenomenon in order to flip it over and create hysteria, to sell papers; who knew they could be so callous?!
But it was too late. D-Mob sounded it out; We Call It Acieeed. Prior tunes to hit the charts never wrote it directly on the wall. It was always just about “house” music, pumping up the volume, or jackin’ your body. One could differentiate, draw a definite line between run-of-the-mill “house,” hence being commercial, or the evil, drug suggested “acid house.” At least to our adolescent mind. Truth is, it was all the same.
Yet meanwhile we were still convinced electronic music was sold out to commercialisation, therefore we’d rewound back to the space rock of psychedelic sixties and seventies. Unlike my peers though, I retained small penchant for the original hip hop, and swept house with the same brush. It was short lived, but I liked house for all the silly samples of Bomb the Bass’ Beat Dis. It was as if electro had turned full circle, and divided from the cliche of fierce rap styled US hip hop, particularly now the west coast had as much clout as the east.
It’s also worth noting, although we took its source as American, British acts like Coldcut were now producing house. As the media hysteria became old news and mellowed, by 1990, the average joe blogs could be forgiven for assuming it had all been a flash in the pan. Little did even we know the trend was growing, and since graduating from pupil to student, felt we had moral responsibility to check it out for ourselves.
Perhaps not just our age, but also rural Wiltshire was hardly cutting edge when it came to trends. So, two years on and the words on our lips were “acid house,” despite the term had metamorphosed into “rave.”
With local Tory backhanding secret social clubs’ slaps on the back, our school opened its doors and poured children into the only supermarket in town, where the branch manager welcomed weekend staff, he could offer £2.20 an hour to. I succumbed for want of my own pocket money. Surprisingly, it was there where my adventure into rave begun.
Yet it was there, working my Saturday job, allowing us the newfound financial freedom to maturely decide where best to invest our earning, which happened to be getting wasted. A friend, a year or so senior, dropped the killer bombshell, to which I hide my excitement and pretended to know all about. “You going to the acid house party tonight, up the common?” he inquired.
Well, my feet didn’t touch the floor before arriving at the opposite side of the warehouse below the store, where my buddy priced up tins of soup. Shocking to think barcodes were still some way off, and one would have to be like Clint Eastwood with a pricing gun. But nevertheless, he stopped as I told him the news, and his face lit up with excitement, and a slight evil grin.
1991 beckons next week, as I relive my rave honeymoon, be there!
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