Twas the night before my life done gone flipped upside down. It may not have been the colossal party the rest of the country were having, but Marlborough was, and always will be, lost in its own little world. Numerous attendees at the aforementioned Read’m and Weep rock concert on the common, just three years earlier, I’d suspect now joined us in marching up to the same common after the pubs called last orders, this time heading for an “acid house party.” Others, who failed to register or accept the change of era continued on their rocky road. No harm done.
With a fire at one end, and an older comrade who rigged a speaker to his Beetle at the other, blasting out whatever music he had which could be deemed as close to acid house as possible, it was a Marlborough-fashioned interpretation of an acid house party, and in rural backwaters you learned to make do.
The morning after undoubtedly the strangest of my life, for some reason everything I’d ever thought had been turned on its head. For the remainder of 1990 we continued with archetypical house parties, where gullible parents went away, but by the spring of 1991 we invited ourselves onto traveller sites, the first being the Belthane festival on Hungerford Common. And while it opened my eyes to see so many living on the road, they seemed unconcerned of our presence and were, on the whole, welcoming. If the urban raver story starts in clubland, note rural ravers didn’t have that luxury, least not without a vehicle.
Indeed, we had a small nightclub in town, but like many it favoured appeasing the old-hat drinking culture. If club owners were aware of rave clubs, they weren’t prepared to make the switch, fearing it’d only diminish their drink sales. At the time the closet place to head for was Swindon, where Extos held legendary nights at Hardings. By the time we’d scrouge a lift and arrived, the club was full, and we’d stand outside in blankets, waiting for a tip off to the party.
So, for a while, best my mate and I could hope for, was to loiter outside the pub, as going in would empty the wallet we needed to escape our town. As newfound ravers leapt in cars and soared off, one of us dared to ask, “alright mate, going to the party?” in hope of scrouging a ride. At art college I had a reliable source, two Oxfordshire individuals into the scene, with bob haircuts and a VW Beetle, one phone call would reveal a clue where to head, if only someone would give us a lift!
The Oxfordshire buddies listened to what we called, “bleep.” For many years I considered it, like ska, a description of the sound, but sources online class it as genre. Rave, or hardcore were the sweeping generalisations, and in 1990 little had been done to separate it into subgenres. There was mellowed vibes type rave, hardcore, house and garage, sure, but at the time it cured into one immense, chaotic noise. Subgenres would derive much later, as the scene exploded and separated. It was however, of small significance UK artists now created their own sound, aside acid-house styled bleep, German techno, which was stiff and structured but lacking soul, and the trancey Goa House, breakbeat house was looming on the horizon.
Here’s a thing; I argue with myself if we could even call all this a “youth culture,” rather class it a movement. Youth cultures of yore had a definitive uniform, musically and fashionably. Rave was a melting pot, electronics seeped its way into all genres, and new arrivals descended onto it from all walks. If the Northern Soul clubbers say it was them who inspired it, they’re not wrong. Neither are the travellers, punks and skins, new romantics, Rastas, or trendy eighties kids. What were once separate identities, rarely seen together, now flocked to the same party, danced and celebrated together, without fussing or fighting, save a mite of banter. This was the chief reason why I class this era as the most wonderful show of unification the nation had seen since the second world war, and I’m honoured to have been a part of. But I’m uncertain if it matched the definition of regulated youth culture, as previous mods, rockers, punks and skins did.
The music reflected this, a melting pot of inspirations, whatever angle you came at rave from, you added your portion into the mix. The upcoming trend derived from Britain’s ties with reggae through the Windrush generation, and the surging dancehall flavours we deemed “ragga.” Fused with the archaic hip-hop concept of breaking the beat, ragga and breakbeat house surged over bleep, and fast became the mainstay. X-L Recordings, Moving Shadow, Urban Shakedown and many other labels headed this change.
But here is the second thing; we were the throwaway generation, jilted, plastic population, and didn’t care for who created the music. There was no interest in holding a torch for particular bands or labels, unless you were master of ceremonies, the DJ. Leaving the choice to one person, it existed as a DJ culture, and they’d soon become the stars of the show. If it was genre-bending, we relied on their faith to perpetrate a certain style; when Sasha got on the decks it would be “fluffy,” whereas as when Easygroove did, it would be “hardcore,” with the upcoming breakbeat twist. That’s all we knew, and rightly cared about.
What swept at us as a trend became a way of life; we lived for the weekend, vaguely remembering to attend college or jobs in the week. Every weekend an ever-growing number roamed the roads at night, invading unsuspecting service stations, joining to convoys with a lead car who we hoped had an inkling where the party was. Bristol moved east, London moved west, meeting in the Shires, where police would be outnumbered and, rather prevent a riot, would grudgingly allow us free movement. Naturally there were times when they got flustered, upon service stations appropriations, for example, but suspect many appreciated the overtime, and left us to enjoy the ride.
At the Gloucestershire one fondly recalled as “the one with the haystacks,” someone drew my attention to the police standing on a ridge overlooking the site. To our amusement, and seemingly theirs too, they were imitating our dance moves, and you know what they say about imitation, sincerest form of flattery!
Despite the ruminates of bad blood with travellers, from the Beanfields and free festival movement of the previous decade, they tended to only throw their weight at them. Attempts to move them on, before ravers flocked to their sites turned hostile. Though if, as my friend and I did once at Pitton near Salisbury, ravers arrived early, they’d witness the true horrors of life on the road, as eviction resembled a massacre rather than a battle. There are shocking things I could tell, of which I’ve witnessed, effectively ethnic cleansing, destruction of a way of life, and homes. It was not the vision of Britain I pre-held, naïvely, reason enough for us to continue to rebel, when all we really wanted to do was party. Opps, some pig knocked off my rose-tinted specs.
Sorry to pop the bubble of happy daze, but there were downsides. Aside the growing harassment from authorities, which would see rave’s demise in the end, there was also comedowns, maintaining motivation for everyday life, failed attempts to find the party, else the event raided and broken up too early. The latter became greater with every weekend, as the sensation blossomed.
You see, we adopted a pyramid-selling technique, only wanted to spread word of our newfound love. Kids we hadn’t seen since leaving school would wander into the pub, they were looking for something, they didn’t know what, but we did. We had the answer, the escapism, and we welcomed them with open arms, took them under our wings and looked after them during their first rave experience. Then, the following week they’d shed their old identity, and we’d see them fully assimilated, like Star Trek’s Borgg, through the foggy morning, wearing a puffa jacket, round pink shades and diamond-cut trilby, giving it, “alright? I’m mullered mate, wot you done?!”
Thus, we all played a part in promoting the scene, until it got too big for the authorities to leave alone. Some weekends when we didn’t go party, somehow rave crept in. I ventured back to Essex to see old friends, and they’d have similar stories, of Raindance and other events there. One weekend we attended my mate’s brother’s wedding in Liverpool, only to find in the basement where the reception was held, a steaming club-rave. The sound attracted us, and we unbolted a fire escape to both gate-crash, and discover likeminded raves were happening nationwide. Meanwhile, his mum wondered where we’d got to, and wandered in to find us amidst a pumping party. Upon her return she’d been shocked, but happily reported the scene as “loads of kids, just dancing, having fun, no one fighting, no one drunk, and one gave me a hug!”
If a little old lady who accidently stumbled into a rave could see it for all its upsides and worth, why couldn’t the police and government? Why did it ever have to end? Because at the time we couldn’t envision that finale, we assumed it would go on forever.
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