Castlemorton Wasn’t the Best Rave Ever!

Featured Image ©Alan Lodge Photography

Okay, I confess, that’s a clickbait title, forced to make you shout, pantomime style, “oh yes it was!” On this, the thirtieth anniversary of The Castlemorton Free Festival I’m predicting vast quantities of media coverage, hailing its significance in the counterculture of the nineties, and indeed it was the largest illegal gathering in the UK, comparable with the Stonehenge Free Festivals a decade prior.….

And indeed, due to the knickers of a local Tory councillor getting in a twist, it heralded an act of law to prevent so much as four pixies gathering and listening to “repetitive beats,” a desperate last stand from fraying Thatcherism.

But arriving on the scene Friday, dusk had already befallen and we hadn’t a clue just how much it had blossomed. From its epicentre it seemed like just another, typical weekend for us, and in personal reflection, it was not my most memorable rave at all.

In the late eighties acid house was a secret, an exclusive collective no more than a couple of thousand strong. Pyramid promoting, predominately via word-of-mouth, but also by media overexposure, had created a monster; a burgeoning culture trend, an apolitical rebellion whose only ethos was carefree dance. But authorities could neither control it nor let it be. No one made any money from it, that infuriated them, so government made it political, the aftermath of Castlemorton was their Empire Strikes Back.

What was more important to me this weekend thirty years ago, was I finally passed my driving test; a catalyst to seeking raves easier than our only previous methods of blagging lifts or hitchhiking, both of which had unpredictable results. Devastating irony was this particular weekend would be the last of the great raves!

I had my Ford Escort, which I hadn’t fully paid my mum for, so it was legally still hers, and we headed off to Malvern in it; no motorway lesson nor taking-it-steady-on-local-roads starter kits for me!

This legendary party line phone message the Beeb published this week I never heard. On this occasion the usual method of a reliable source phone call was not needed; HTV broadcasted a bulletin about it, they made it too easy for us!

The common was positively buzzing, as more sound systems bolted on and revellers flocked to explode the population to city status. Just how many attended is the query for great debate, safety in numbers was our philosophy, but when we staggered up the hillside at sunrise, our rural chillout zone, the penny dropped.

I recall duly and rather dully contemplating, “they’re never going to live this one down, they’ll never let us get away with it,” it didn’t take Nostradamus, as this sprawling linear development metropolis of o’ bangers and hippy buses expanded like a Sim City game along across a single country track.

Yet the first evening proved unsuccessful in purchasing “rave necessities,” we were ripped off with duff “red & blacks,” soon to be aptly dubbed, “Dennis the Menaces.”

Financially this put us in deficit, and while the upside wasn’t so up, the downside seemed to be equally as prominent, as if the upside had of happened. Supply and demand reduced the potency, these were changing times. But we did it to ourselves, our own worst enemy in so effectively promoting this new way of life. Such was the effect of ecstasy, coming complete with an uncontrollable desire to share the experience, as standard. In this much, that is why we had come to this final kaboom; Castlemorton was the rave to end raves in the UK, least on the same scale.

Second downer for me was when a friend of a friend was badly injured, hanging off the side of a bus which was being pursued by police. The deep graze on her leg needed medical attention, a clean dressing, but the only car available was sporty without adequate room on the backseats. I was in no fit state to drive, so in a flash of unnerving planning, a friend had whisked away to an accident & emergency ward, in my car. We were stranded here for inestimable period. The sun was blazing with little shade, I couldn’t contemplate straying too far, eager to see my little red car returned safely.

I needn’t have worried, but understandably I did, I was a naïve 18-year-old, laughable now that I considered myself grownup. Feelings of doubt haunt the intoxicated teenage mind, but to give this story a happy ending, the car returned with injured passenger in fine fettle, and I was rewarded a gift for my assistance, the pick-me-up I sorely needed. So, because my friends didn’t receive a similar package, I had no choice but to temporarily abandon them, and head to the DIY tent for a dose of their celebrated trancey house grooves.

And for that moment it was an amazing experience, yet I’d argue no more than previous raves, like Lechlade the previous weekend, and so, so many others. Every time it just got bigger, but not necessarily better, Castlemorton was the breaking point, and for this, it deserves to be the one historically recorded and remembered. Though in turn we should use the anniversary of it to reminisce on the era as a whole, and the “happy daze” of our youth.

Rave continued regardless of the Criminal Justice Bill, albeit it took a shot in the leg, dispersing the scene into localised events, or, more agreeable to society, the great pay raves. But the most important factor of the importance of Castlemorton was the international media exposure, and the new ruling forcing sound systems to exile into Europe, for this only caused Britain’s enthusiastic tenet and attitude toward rave to go global.

In turn its effects on musical progression, the aesthetics of festival design, fashion, politics, and resurgence of counterculture are undeniably prominent today, and for those who attended this particular eruption, they’ll always make some fucking noise about Castlemorton; a raver’s Mecca; deservedly.


Trending…..

Song of the Week: Sienna Wileman

Okay, I admit it, our Song of the Day feature was too optimistic, and failing every day to post a tune meant it fell by…

On The Wayside with Viduals

Akin to Ghostbuster’s nemesis Slimer when he appears over the hotdog stand, I was squatting a spacious windowsill at Wiltshire Music Centre with an Evie’s…

Old Wharf Café to Become Meeting Room

The Kennet & Avon Trust today revealed plans to convert the old café on Devizes Wharf, Couch Lane, into a meeting facility; how exciting! It…

Delicate, Like A Psychedelicat

What is a psychedelicat, a tin of magic mushroom flavoured Felix?! His picture on the tin certainly displays some suspiciously dilated pupils, but this exaggeration…

Thirty Years a Raver, Part 4; “Get off of the Railway Track!”

I’ve parked the van on the opening of a farm track, to have a sandwich and scan the area. I’m looking for a quarry which runs alongside the train track. A few years ago, I was a delivery driver, and though I didn’t know the roads, I’d recognise village names with fond memories. On this occasion I’ve turned off through the sleepy Oxfordshire village of Cassington; my memory of it was not so sleepy.

Those reading this too young or not into the south west free party movement of the nineties might wonder why, while those who were will know exactly why, and no doubt will be screaming a delighted, “yes mate, red and blacks!” Later to be referred to as Dennis the Menaces, without concern to what Beano publishers DC Thompson may’ve made of it all.

The distant resonance of an MC echoed through the valley, alas only in my head. “Get off the railway track,” he warned, “that is a live railway track!” A memory abetted by a rave tape capturing the irreplaceable moment, one of thousands I carelessly released into a skip many moons ago, foolish to the notion they’d be sought after.

On rave tapes, we’d either have a “master” or a recorded, taped from Christ knows how many cassettes down the line. Often inaudible by today’s standards, but recorded live at various events, they chartered the era. Endless weekday hours spent cutting up flyers to use as covers, doubles of those already pasted on my bedroom wall. In 1990 I had obtained a few, in the space of a year the wall was covered with them, overlapping to hide the roached edges.

Akin to the accumulation of flyers, my rave tape collection increased like wildfire. From popping into Swindon’s Homeboyz Records, which at the time occupied a loft space in a head shop on Fleet Street, to ask for “the kind of tunes I’ve been hearing at the raves,” in which I was sold two, recorded from Coventry’s Eclipse; Frank De Wulf, and the second, Sasha and Top Buzz, to the point where an entire collapsing shelf was bursting with alphabetically arranged cassette boxes, with the wrong tapes in each. Ah, weekday timewasting activities; we lived for the weekend.

Another delivery driving time, after a few visits to Great Tew, I found the private airfield at Enstone. I recalled arriving there in 1991, one misty morning after a lengthy standoff at Peartree services outside Oxford. These were customary; convoys from every direction flooded in, police would surround them, rumours would circulate they were to search every vehicle moving out, meanwhile the bottleneck swelled, car stereos melded into one colossal clamour as kids danced on the embankments, blowing horns and whistles, undaunted to the likelihood of a tipoff, lawlessness supervened, petrol and spearmint chewing gum went mysteriously missing, and police finally acknowledged they were outnumbered, and allowed free passage out of there.

For the journey my mate spoke of nothing other this track he’d heard. “You remember the don’t talk to strangers’ advert with the boy and his cat, Charlie, went, like, Charlie says……” Yeah, I did, but hadn’t heard the song. Coincidently the DJ spun it as we arrived, and he wasted no time, leaping from the car prior to stopping, yelling “this is it!” and running off headlong into the fog.

I myself got lost in that fog sometime later, asked a friendly crusty if I could climb on his van to see if I could find my friends. The view of synchronised trilby hats and bobbed hair dipping into the low-level mist enticed me to dance, to which he seemed completely content with, as I stomped on top of his van. But as others, noting my joy, decided to do similar, I climbed off, persuading them not to follow my bad example, it was this guy’s home from home.

Charlie did say that, but with these carefree strangers, it didn’t seem to matter, hence the irony in the Prodigy’s song. Everyone had the smile of the Cheshire Cat, everyone would lend you a chewing gum in exchange for a rizla, and right in the moment, that was all that mattered. It was short-lived, a few years of complete bonkers, but it had a profound effect on society. Football fans returned from clubbing the night before, far too intoxicated with love drugs to cause the trouble the sport had become associated with. Football chants were adapted from “you’re going home in a fucking ambulance,” to “you’re going home in a fluffy ambience.”

In a clubland where once, to accidently knock over someone’s pint, or look at their girlfriend for longer than a millisecond, would likely evoke a fight. Now, the clubber sighed, “I know you didn’t mean to spill it, no worries mate,” to which the reply would be “sorry, I’ll get you another.” One clubber said, “is that your girlfriend pal? She’s gorgeous,” and that’d be seen as a compliment, perhaps understandably backed by an informal warning, but it certainly wouldn’t end in a drunken scrap.

Such was the scene expanding, a legendary party at the end of the summer of 91, somewhere near Banbury, extended into a nearby field, with a narrow track joining to two. A continuous stream of pedestrians sauntered to-and-fro, until a BMW hurtled through the wanders. A lone hippy cursed the driver, pleading he slowed down. The car came to a screeching halt and backed up. All four doors opened and some rather mean-looking urbanites, full of sovereign rings and bling stepped out to confront the scrawny fellow. Towering over him, the driver and his passengers asked him to repeat what he said; it was a setting akin to a violent scene of a gangster movie, and the expectant crowd held their breath. The crusty replied he had asked them to slow down, because someone could get hurt. The rude boys considered this, got back into the BMW and drove on, at a snail’s pace all the way to the end, carefully stopping for pedestrians.

An incident I’ll reiterate as an example to how genuinely passive and diplomatic raves were. We policed ourselves, troublemakers were dealt with, often in a medieval fashion. Yet troublemakers were few, unlike nightclubs you had to make reasonable effort to find a party, so most were aligned to the concept we were there for that and only that, to party. So too, if you overstayed a party till its conclusion, you willingly picked up and bin liner and helped clean the area, (okay, there was always a chance of finding some money or hashish, I’ll give you!)

The country suddenly seemed at peace, least it did to us, and the authorities had a problem with this.

There was a frustrated lost terrier, scrambling around in the dark, barking, scared without its owner; it was the Conservative Party. John Major walked into this, and knew if he was to overthrow the shadow of Thatcher, he’d need to take drastic change to society.

Me, my mates? We didn’t give a fuck. Other than the annoyance of the odd rave being broken up, when the police got the itch, we had no political opinion, we had no concern over much at all. Because, we knew there was a happy place, somewhere we could go, freely, and we were in the moment of building our own society, shaped as we wished, policed as we required, but as many adolescent dreams, we thought we knew it all.


Trending…..

The Bradford Roots Music Festival Returns

I know, it’s hardly festival weather, but this one is all inside! Inside the glorious Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford-on-Avon that is, on Saturday 21st…

Full-Tone Festival Announce 2023 Line-up

The Full-Tone Orchestra have released details of the 2023 line-up for their annual extravaganza, The Full-Tone Festival on Devizes Green, August bank holiday. It’s all…

Thirty Years a Raver; Part 1: Planet Rock & Tooth Extractions!

New short series of articles exploring rave culture thirty years on, from a personal perspective….

In the early eighties my nan and grandad stood at the head of the hall, preparing from requests they adlib a speech for their surprise anniversary party. My grandad did the standard honours, thanking everyone for coming, excusing any clumsiness with his words by suggesting, “we’re still at ten thousand feet with the surprise.” At this point my nan’s sister interrupted with astute cockney humour; “bit like your wedding night, eh, Carrie?!”

“No,” my Nan causally retorted, “there were bombs on our wedding night!”

It’s a sentiment which will live with me forever, how anyone can pass off bombs during their wedding, in jest. Most people nowadays get irate if rains on their special day. Because, whenever my grandparents spoke of the war and living in the east-end during the blitz, it was a joyous transcript, never revealing horrors we know happened. I ponder my own memories of youth, wonder if it’s the same rose-tinted specs, or if the era really was as utterly fantastic as my memory of it is.

And in this much, there’s a thing; nothing we did was particularly new-fangled. Tribally, ancient folk gathered to celebrate and hypnotically dance to drum beats, and the occurrence never trended or waivered. Though it maybe debatable, I think, with the introduction of computer technology in music, designer chemicals and enough chewing gum to keep Wrigley’s in business, we partied harder, faster and longer than any previous youth culture did, and probably ever will in the future!

We made party a way of life. We did not think politically until they came for us. Our only concerns were where the next party would be and if we’d have enough cash for some petrol and necessities. Our only motivation was the joyous unification of a tribal-like movement, or in other words, a fuck-off legendary party. Our only philosophies were how beautiful said unification was, and how we could promote it to the world. Yet, unbeknown at the time, the latter was most likely our downfall. No one makes some fucking noise anymore.

Often referred to as “you remember, the one with the haystacks!”

I do recall the fabled week of the second bank holiday of May 1992, how we gathered at a common in Malvern. I also recollect wandering up a hillside on the first morning, observing how large the event had grown, and I remember thinking to myself, nice as it was, they were never going to let us live this one down, they were going to have to attempt to put a stop to it, politically.

So, I’m drafting a series of articles exploring the time, from a personal interpretation, hoping to conclude, it’s a bit of both; rose-tinted specs, and the most explosive period of counter-culture hedonism ever. Individual because events and accounts vary vastly from person-to-person; how, where and why they “got into,” the sybaritic nineties trend of rave. Lots of memoirs I do read or see, like the most successful, Justin Kerrigan’s 1999 film Human Traffic, are set in an urban environment. Unlike these, we spent our youth in the Wiltshire countryside, and this I feel is a major contributing factor which differs our story from most, especially prior to passing my driving test!  Thumbs out, “you going to the party, mate?”

I’m doing it now because of the significance of the anniversary. Thirty years ago, I class my “personal summer of love.” It was 1991, I was eighteen, standing in an unidentified field somewhere in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, gyrating like a robot through the morning mist, eyes large as saucers, and a jawbone tremor you could break a walnut with. Imagine, not alone, but with countless likeminded others. In fact, I’d lost my mates an uncalculatable time ago, which mattered not one iota. How did I get here? Why did I go there? Where the bloody hell was I anyway? To reflect back with any hope of clarity is not only to understand the epoch and the time, but the mindset, and for this we need to go back further, much further.

I put my pre-initiation to becoming a “raver,” into two significant recollections. The first was in the spring of 1984, in my Dad’s Ford Cortina, heading for the Asda at the Chelmer Village outside Chelmsford. Growing up in Essex had one advantage to my friends in the west country, we had pirate radio, and I mean pirates. Anchored off the East Anglia coast were the legendary Radio Caroline, where BBC Radio headhunted many DJs, but who appeased their fanbase by continuing playing sixties and seventies songs, and its sister, the short-lived Laser 558, which toppled Caroline’s listeners by using American DJs which played a continuous mix of contemporary tunes.

Hard to imagine at the time we considered having a cassette deck in a car radio as something only for the gods. In fact, I went to edit that last sentence to call it a car stereo, but reflecting back it wasn’t even stereo, just the one speaker below the dashboard! Reason why my brother and I would screech requests from the backseats for my Dad to turn it up. On this occasion we were particularly demanding, as there was a song, I’d never heard the like of ever before. Sure, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte’s I Feel Love was timeworn, and we existed amidst the dawn of new romantic, the electronic eighties pop in Britain was governed by the experimental post-punks. They either got with the program or fell into obscurity, whinging about how Adam Ant sold out.

Nope, I hadn’t a Scooby-Doo what a Roland TR-808 was, but I knew what I liked. I wasn’t aware of Factory Records, but I knew what Blue Monday was, and I knew liking Duran Duran might make me more attractive to the opposite sex. But this American song was wildly different, it was like ultramodern sonic funk, it was Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force. I figured aside the Dr Who theme, this was the sound of the future, this was space-age, flying cars type stuff. And for the best part, I was right. Little did I know I’d be standing in a cold west country field seven years later, gnashing my teeth to electronic beats which made this sound old-hat.

I went out and loaded myself with American electro and early hip hop, discovering Grandmaster Melle Mel, Hashim, Newcleus et all, and we nagged Dad for a video recorder. My parents couldn’t see the point to recording TV, or hiring a VHS cassette, but the latter soon become a family weekend activity. We hired National Lampoons Vacation the first weekend, but prior to that, my brother rented the movie Beat Street, and everything, the Bronx culture, the graffiti, the breakdancing, the rapping, all fell into place.  

Before I knew what was what, we were breaking in the school playground to commercialised versions, Break Machine’s Street Dance, Ollie & Jerry’s Breakin’… There’s No Stopping Us and Hey, you The Rock Steady Crew. Well, I say breakdancing, but that was a showy skilful fad for flexible kids. As a shy, cumbersome one, surrounded by puppy-fat I ticked none of those boxes and made do with “body popping.” This was far simpler, just had to join hands with the kids in the circle either side of you and do a kind of connected wave. That will impress the fairer sex, we must have figured, least I don’t know why else we did it, but we did, and less said about it the better.

Just like our school playground….. or maybe not!

The second significant recollection as a pre-cursor to becoming a “raver,” was a trip to the dentist. I needed my four remaining milk teeth extracted. For this, unlike today where you stay awake, numbed but perceptible to the dentist tensioning a foot to the side of the chair while he wrenches into your gum full force, they put me to sleep using gas. The nurse held my hand and told me to count to ten, I remember feeling uneasy as the gas took effect, it felt strange, it was the first time I was high; destined to be a “raver,” I’ll leave it up to your imagination if it was the last!

Do come again next Sunday, for the second part; might actually get on to the party stuff by then!


Trending….

Ten Top Tips for Driving in Devizes

Having trouble driving in Devizes? We’re not surprised, it’s got the infrastructure designed by a six-year-old given some Lego road plates. There are rules, on…

Devizine Review of 2022!

Featured Image by Simon Folkard Photography Happy New Year from Wiltshire’s wackiest what’s-on website. It’s that time again when I waffle on endlessly in hope…

Opinion: The End and Reawakening of Rave

Intoxication levelling nicely, some friends and I trekked up the hillside and looked down at the sight below. Well aware it had become fairly large, as was the illegal rave scene in the summer of 1992, we hadn’t fathomed just how large. Overwhelmed by the unexpected magnitude, I sighed, doubting this would ever be allowed again. Still, we had no idea then, we were part of an historic moment; didn’t really care or wish to be.

Ravers were apolitical, we only wanted to celebrate life, dance harder than any generation prior, and masticate lots on chewing gum. Yeah, it was anarchy, but it was a passive anarchy, there was order and morals amidst the chaos. It was more movement than youth culture, as we only did what ancients have always done, but embracing technology to do it, and while previous youth cultures had a set uniform and rules, rave was a melting pot of expression which anyone and everyone would succumb to, regardless of their previous cultures, age, gender, race or religion. It was, basically, too radical for the conventional government.

When I eventually made it home after the festival of Castlemorton Common in the Malvern Hills, the first thing I did was check my parent’s newspaper, and smiled to myself at a job well done; then I slept for three days. Lechlade on the Beltane weekend may have made the front page of the broadsheets, now this had similar clout with the tabloids; still didn’t fear it would be the final nail in the coffin. An estimated forty-thousand revellers flocked here; government were eager to act. A change in the law was conceived the following week, and would take a couple of short years to implement; a final stand from a crumbling, desperate Conservative substitute of Thatcherism. Many of the sound systems jumped ship and took off to Europe, and although this spread the culture worldwide, those left in Blighty were forced into smaller, localised events, large scale paid raves and the clubs.

Nowadays I sigh, all I have is diminishing memories and fantastical fables like a quibbling old wino. Unbelievable to youth today, we took no photographs at the time; to bring out a camera at an illegal rave in the early nineties would’ve been frowned upon. But, I’m okay with that, never the diehard, content that it is now just a treasured part of my youth. As with every trend, they usually return, two decades normally, when the influence of parent’s stories inspires their youth. When 2010 hit, then, I was prepared to venture to the loft in search of my white gloves and whistle, just, you know, for nostalgic reasons and to hark to youngers about how we used to do it, Uncle Albert style. I don’t think I could stomach a full-on sess, the convoys, dancing all night to banging techno, probably just give me a banging headache.

The thing is, I doubt the rave scene ever completely ended, that intransigents still party and press rarely jump on it. I attended one over a decade ago in Savernake Forest, but it didn’t have the same vibe. Pushed further underground, the gabba-techno, the attitude of ravers reflected a much harsher vibe, of punk, of pure anarchy. Regrettably, the happy vibe which once reigned had passed, due to the outlawing of the culture and the spread of harder drugs. I winced at a report in the Independent which spoke of “a rave just like the old days,” when it continued to suggest ravers heard of the event via Twitter.

It was always just tremoring in the mountain. For rave is akin to the monkey-god, Sun Wukong, trapped under the mountain, awaiting release. How do I feel about three thousand youths gathering at a disused RAF airfield on Charmy Down near Bath? I feel the nature of Monkey is irrepressible! It is inevitable, if, for whatever reasons, even a worldwide pandemic, if you curb freedom you will get a backlash. Yes, it’s horribly ignoring social distancing, but so are the idiots fighting outside every Spoons in the country, and even if I’ve not attended for the longest, even if the original ethos is waning, I believe the media desire to exemplify an illegal rave without revenue for big business, negatively. I’m firmly convinced, from experience, that in the eye of the storm, any modern equivalent of what we once did would never be as vehement or disparaging as a brawl in a Wetherspoons.

So are the shoppers, the traditionalists protesting against the wearing of masks, so are the pensioners in care homes, the children in the parks, so is everyone heading for the beach every weekend. Let’s not fool ourselves, millions of us are now ignoring, rebelling from the lockdown restrictions, we only need to stop to contemplate it all, and give self-policing on social media a break. Our once happy lockdown bought about peace and tranquillity, now is causing frustration and a rebellious nature, a bit like the downfall of raves. What then, could be more apt? Instead of scorning at them, attempting to stop them, perhaps the government and police forces should suck it up, accept its inevitably and work on methods to stage relative social distancing measures for them.

What do I think of the media exposing the return of rave? You know, when the Ibiza die-hards recreated acid house in UK cities I was just a delinquent, with an appetite for exploration and in need of escapism. We were looking for something, we didn’t know what. The original acid house crew was little over a thousand, recruitment was by introduction, and some doughnut invited a tabloid journalist. “Look at what your teenagers are doing!” it over-exaggerated. If it wasn’t for the media hype we’d have never known. So, you go on, reporters, and what you think is a scare story will backfire into intrigue before your very Facebook site, and youth will look to attending, and the scene will flourish again like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Then, as a mass, they will look rewards, to how it once was, and how as a group consciousness and rising movement, it had morals and it had principles. We cleared up after ourselves, you may be surprised to note, we looked after each other. You will free a new love generation, and in an era such as this, god knows we need it.

Watch violent crime diminish, watch teenage depression wane, watch a generation free from the restraints of its former oppression, as it once did. See a rising generation thinking for itself, throwing away this baby-boomer selfishness and regain a likeminded consciousness. Wrigleys will be back in business too!


Adverts & Stuff!

My Top 30 Dance Albums of the Nineties: Part 1

When I was sauntering through early morning mist, wearing the half-demented-smirk-half-gurn of a madman on a day out of the funny farm, a dreadlocked ragamuffin lounging at the wheel-arch of his van, perpetually waving one hand from fist to flat palm, appeared like magic through the haze. He greeted me with a wide smile, asked me how it was going. Between concentrating on my breathing, I told him it was going very well, save I’d mislaid my “posse.”

 
I complemented him for his wheels, a high-sided second-hand post office van, as I circled it for further investigation. I found at the rear a ladder and asked if I may climb it, in order to get my bearings. He nodded his approval and so I scaled.

 
On top of the van I could see above the low lying mist to the beautiful sunrise, below it the hats and scraggly ponytails of ravers bobbing like buoys on a temperate ocean. Overcome with the desire to dance, I shouted down, “can I have a little dance up here?!” and again the crusty was only too kind to permit my request.

 
I was at a disused airfield near Enstone in Oxfordshire, dancing adolescent cares away on top of a total stranger’s van. Other grounded ravers, pointed and joined the dance, until one of the congregation visible attempted to climb the ladder. The owner stood and I suspected he wouldn’t wish for this to become a trend, so I took the opportunity to decend before the girl could reach the top, stating we shouldn’t all clamber on the guy’s home. She agreed and we gathered in a circle, dancing, smiling and trading chewing gum for water.

cas11.jpg
Free Party, 1991, Cassington Nr Oxford

In today’s age you’d be forgiven for suggesting I made this up, but really, this is just another insignificant happening from 1991, when rave was in its infancy and everyone partied together in peace, illegally. I guess you’d have to have been there to understand, but we danced, we danced harder, faster and a heck of a lot longer than any previous generation.

 
We danced in fields, in warehouses, on boats, beaches, service station carparks, and even the occasional nightclub. So much so, if you had to label the decade under one united musical genre, “dance” would be most apt. Dancing wasn’t compulsory, more essential; you’d only chew your bottom lip off if you didn’t boogie.

 
Musically it was pioneering, the first not to lend itself to individual artists and bands, rather a DJ culture where a mesh of tastes merged into melting pot. An era when a child could gather a TV cartoon sample, slam a breakbeat loop over it and make a record twenty-thousand tranced nutters would dance all night to. Almost punk in nature, skill caved into creative urge, like rock it experimented until it developed into a million branches, but like folk music, it was the united music of a people, an epoch.

easygroove
Easygroove on the ones and twos

Despite not having a “king,” as reggae had Marley and rock had Elvis, though many tried, the concentration of record sales, and creating albums thwarted; a “white label” more sought than a picture disc.

 
The hit factories exhausted albums in the previous decade, now compilations of hits, rather than the “concept album” of the seventies. As the underground surged into mainstream, and everyman and his dog took up white gloves, plastic horns and whistles to join a burgeoning revolution, albums battled “rave tapes,” to find a home again.

 
Despite this, albums did quite rightly resurface, many influencing the next decade. This then is my definitive top thirty dance albums of the nineties, let the arguments commence. I complied this list from fond but fragile memories, rather than online researched, so it was personal. Feel free to comment with ones I missed, which in your judgement needed to appear.

 
But why, I hear you cry, why now; you crazy old sausage?

 
I theorise trends return in blocks of twenty years, whence the youth inspire their offspring. Think about it, since pop music begun, in the 1950s, when it was supposed to be wild, rock n roll, there was more jazz than the 1930s. The 1960s we accept as the time of mods, merging into flower power, great experiments in music abound, but listen to the charts back then, full of crooners akin to the 1940s.

 
Ah, but when rock came of age in the 1970s, it stretched to new avenues, glam and punk. Yeah but no but, the 1970s was also jammed with teddy boys; caricatured rock n rollers from the 1950’s with bands like Matchbox, Darts and Showaddywaddy for crying out loud!

 
The 1980s, again a golden age of musical experimentation, with electronics. But hear the charts, note classic soul from the sixties blessed by adverts for jeans, and rock n roll merged into one excruciating “megamix” by a cartoon rabbit who should’ve been shot at birth and boiled in a stew.

 
So through all eras we seem to hark back twenty years, the nineties may have been my age of dance, but as the hardcore chilled into clubs, house and garage tunes lent themselves to the disco of the seventies, and indie kids revitalised seventies rock, well, they were just indie kids and ravers were having too much fun to pick them up on their radar. The noughties, if they were naughty at all, rather a cultureless of bombardment of naff, so-called R&B; cliché musical technology found solace in the sounds of electronic eighties, and the fashion matched too.

 
So, by my reckoning, before this decade is through we’re due a flashback to the rave scene, and with the Tory government treating working class like vermin, it’s not so hard to foresee something major slapping them in the face with a Vic’s Vapour-rub smeared dust-mask and blowing a whistle in their ears; least I cross my fingers and hope.

 

30- Monkey Mafia – Shoot the Boss (Heavenly Records 1998)

Monkey_Mafia_-_Shoot_the_Boss.jpg
If you thought Damon Albarn was pushing limits with The Gorillaz at the turn of the millennium, or if you thought Death in Vegas made blended cutthroat techno, Jon Carter’s Monkey Mafia outdated and outstripped them both. This is funk, punk-reggae, ragga and sparse beats fused into a frenzy of techno. It’s a dark, nasty and rambunctious clatter which wobbles the mind. It now lives on my CD rack dusty, too scared to dip into again.

 

29- Black Star Liner – Bengali Bantam Youth Experience! (Warner Music – 1999)

blackstarliner.jpg
If you missed this one, it’s never too late; it’s timeless. Imagine Massive Attack making an album for Indian restaurants, fuse it with haunting epic movie themes and you’re partly the way to the dub/Bhaṅgṛā sublime crossover experience of the Black Star Liner. This is so gorgeous I couldn’t swallow it, not even with mango chutney. Savour tracks like Swimmer on the tip of your tongue, as the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

 

28- Moby – Play (Mute – 1999)

Moby_play.jpg

Play signifies an end to the most mental decade ever, the fact advertisers, TV producers and filmmakers flocked to acquire every track meant the masses were taking heed of what we knew ten years previous, electronic was music’s destiny. Moby, mild-mannered for an American (he didn’t write a book about his dick,) and modest of his creative output, had been known to us since the word, or track “Go,” something we never thought he’d surpass; if I only could’ve heard “Porcelain,” in 1991.

 

27- Morcheeba – Who Can You Trust? (Indochina 1996)

morchheba.jpg
A hefty night’s clubbing saw us washed up on Brighton beach. My mate hopped over to the little chill-out café to ask what the tune was that they were playing; been a Morcheeba fan since. Breezy trip-hop, sublime vocals, it mellows the soul. There seemed to be a plethora of similar styled artists arise to chart after Big Calm, their second album; Dido for instance, M People et-al, while Morcheeba remained in the underground, like an old raver’s secret.

 

26- Jamiroquai – Emergency on Planet Earth (Columbia 1993)

jamiroquia.jpg

With the Criminal Justice Act taking hold, the free rave scene lay wounded, and I was open to new avenues. Imagine today, recording stuff off the radio to cassette! I was recording the SoundCity on Radio 1 in 1993 when I heard something awesome, something which bent my conceptions of dance and blistered it with unadulterated retrospective funk. I imagined the vocals were supplied via a large afro-Caribbean lady, visualise my surprise when I saw a skinny honky smaller than his hat, the super-cool Jay K. By the following year I’d seen him perform at Glastonbury, bought a gaudy cap and submerged myself in acid jazz. My peers didn’t favour this move as much as I; popularity of the genre remained exclusive. While Jamiroquai made it through to mainstream, groups like Corduroy, JTQ and Children of Judah went on to produce a few too many albums of similar formula and the movement was short lived. Still, this debut album was earthy-jazz with a conscious and a didgeridoo, and never surpassed by Jay-K.

 

25 – Photex – Modus Operandi – (EMI 1997)

photex.jpg

Well-worn by 97, drum n bass for me had seen better days. But where Goldie and LTJ Bukem’s pioneering albums wasn’t without their flaws, Modus, with peerless Photek drums colluded with the superior jazzy atmospherics of a thriller movie, and melded dystopian synth arrangements, to make it quite simply, perfection. It was a drum n bass awakening for rural techno-heads too, who so far had considered the genre too urban for their tastes. I recall listening to it on the way our first rain-drenched Glastonbury, prior years being clement; it felt apt as we took shelter wherever we could, and wrapped our feet in plastic bags before our putting boots back on.

24 – The Orb – UF Orb – (Mercury Records 1992)

The_Orb-U.F.Orb_(album_cover).jpg
Glastonbury, 1992, maybe, scampering like crafty felons through a maze of tents in the dark, deciphering guide-ropes from hallucinogenic wavy lines and somehow magically avoiding tripping, over the guide ropes I mean. There was a noise, it was not music, it was waves, a soundscape dangling in the air; The Orb were on stage some distance away. Ambient house has no place today, face it, but at the time it wowed. It broke all the rules, hardly strokes of melody, more drifts of resonances and echoes of bass. It was the sort of music to either be awake or asleep to, or drift between them blissfully. While the KLF pioneered this from an ice cream van, the mysterious Orb championed it and their second album UF-Orb was the masterpiece of its genre. There were tracks forty minutes long, which would take twenty five of those minutes before a beat came in. Imagine having to cut Blue Room to three minutes for Top of the Pops!

 

23 – Deee-Lite World Clique – (Elektra Records 1990)

Deee-Lite_-_World_Clique_album_cover.png

I bought this on cassette, why you cry, when you had vinyl? Convenience is the simple answer. Witness the confused expression on a millennium kid’s face when you show him a “tape,” but it was the digital download of the era, you could share easier than vinyl. Plus, the American funky sounds of Deee-Lite, which would accompany me on bus journeys to art college, would’ve been viewed as second place during the early “hardcore,” section of the dance revolution. Who’d have imagined in only a few years, DJs like Sasha would take the helm and garage and funky house would be at the forefront. But as we matured it did, for us; the hardcore split into “jungle” and “happy hardcore,” as younger, fresher faces adopted it.

 
So back in 1990, Deee-Lite was a refreshing break, it was psychedelic enough to satisfy, and Lady Miss Kier had legs which went on forever, should you be lucky enough to climb those platform shoes to the beanstalks of tie-dye leggings. I think, however, the timing wasn’t quite there, and in the UK they never made it far past “Groove is in the Heart.” That said, it’s still a floor-filler today.

 

22 – Daft Punk – Homework – (Parlophone 1997)

Daftpunk-homework.jpg

Unsure why on earth anyone would call an album this, the last thing you want to be thinking about when partying full force, but that’s the French for you. Also unusual for a video to attract me to a song, but when I saw that guy with the dog’s head, wandering the streets considered obnoxious for not turning down the volume on his beatbox, well, I rode right into that enormous plodding bassline and figured here was something solid and timeless. I was right, for though my journey into French house was short-lived, Étienne de Crécy’s Super Discount and Air’s Moon Safari coming close to inclusion on this list, Daft Punk are still strong today and still pushing the boundaries of the genre.

 

21- Rebel MC – Black Meaning Good (Desire 1991)

rebelmc.jpg

Over the oceans, and apparently, over the seas, you know when we come it’s just reality. This “jungle” antecedent wasn’t originally on my list, but when it suddenly sprang to mind I wondered how I could’ve missed it out. I replaced The Ragga Twins’ Reggae Owes Me Money album for it, because in reality, it surely worked the other way around for both the Ragga Twins and Rebel MC; they owed reggae money.

 

Rebel MC though gave credit, even cameos to his reggae influences, and while he may have been aiming for commercial success in the 1980s, when he fired back with Black Meaning Good, he had a powerful message of which hadn’t been tackled from this angle in hip hop previously.

 
“No,’ some say, ‘that’s not the way, Chat like that, your tracks won’t get played, Stick to the formula ya had before, Fame and money and a whole lot more’, Cha! Wheel out ah dat, seh dat can’t be, I gotta true-speak intelligently, Maybe for that I might sacrifice sales, but I’ll put more weight on the justice scales.”

 
Plus he done it in a breakbeat style which whipped ravers into a frenzy; sounds a bit dated now, but a pioneering album the drum n bass scene wouldn’t be the same without; nuff said.

 

20 – Eat Static – Implant (Planet Dog 1995)

eatstatic.jpg

Frome’s space-rock the Ozric Tentacles were always a popular band, but once the crusty techno scene took hold, their new outfit was sublime trance, and was the West Country answer to Orbital and Underworld. Oh, attire me with glowsticks and take me back to The Berkely Suite of Longleat, when the whole Universe was compressed into a much smaller Tribal Gathering and despite stern thumps protruding, the crowd were amalgamated, approachable, and hardcore.

 
This third album from Eat Static was, for me, their pinnacle, but although times were a changin’ in 1995, clubland getting wise, it couldn’t replace getting down and dirty in a forest where police helicopter search lights scanning through trees were treated as visual effects far beyond a nightclub’s glitter ball!

 

Oh, I’m going to have to leave it there for now, and return next week with 19-11; anyone got any Veras?

Advertisements

saddlebackstove1suitedbootedwithcredit300dpi[3515]

devizinead1newlogowellbeingoutwest 18 bootsy remixsummerfunonfarmcharitybbq

%d bloggers like this: