Before Spin Magazine asked me to write a big article for them on rave culture in the mid-90s, there were few people less interested in — and more doubtful about — that scene than me. An indie rock aficionado and lifelong non-dancer for whom the words dance and music in combination immediately brought back memories of the dreaded disco era, I thought I was a strange choice for such an article.
In fact, Spin probably assigned the gig to me thinking they’d get a snarky dressing down of rave, a culture they had shown little interest in covering at that point. I accepted the assignment on the condition that I could write the piece in collaboration with my future best friend Joel Westendorf, whom I’d recently met and who was heavily involved in the scene at the time.
This article was eventually published in a heavily chopped and edited form under the handed down title of ‘A Raver Runs Through It.’ Together Joel and I set off to investigate raves in the US, where rave culture was peaking, and in England where rave had developed much earlier and was already on the wane. I quickly realized my preconceptions about rave had been way off. Not only were the raves I attended among the most physically ambitious, artistically rich, new, and complex music related events I’d attended in ages, but the interest among the people organizing these events in experimental aesthetics, radical politics and philosophy was really impressive. The techno, which I’d found so monotonous and without soul, became industrious and imaginative the rave context. Discarding my prejudices, I could see that in its own way, electronic dance music was as key to the imaginative nature of raves as psychedelic music and punk rock had been to their respective contexts.
The simultaneous structuring and destructuring effect it had on the actions and mindsets of the attendees was far more fluid and fascinating than I could have imagined. Plus, in their own innocent, uptopian fashions, most of the people I met who were throwing raves and organizing their lives inside the scene that raves had spawned were very serious about trying to revise society’s faults through a form of positive if critical thinking, as serious in their quest to alter the future as punks had been via their more nihilistic leanings and actions. Instead of Emma Goldman and the Situationists, the rave aficionados looked to drug and technology fixated thinkers like Terrence McKenna and Timothy Leary for the wisdom to move the world forward.
At the time, the drugs were clean and pleasureable enough to make the huge ambitions of the whole rave cultural enterprise feel realistic, and the secretive and illegal nature of the rave experience helped make it very attractive to people looking for a new way to change culture and tell it to fuck off in the same gesture. Of course, worsening drugs, increasing media coverage, and growing police attention caused this early, pure version of rave to rather quickly stall out and devolve into what it basically is today: a prosaic, superficial, club-oriented form of time killing entertainment that’s no better or worse than any other way that people choose to spend their nights out. But I miss all that beauty and promise, and want to try to memorialize the mark it left on me today with a basic history for those who need it and some souvenirs.
‘What could arguably be called raves existed in the early 1980s in the Ecstasy-fueled club scene in clubs like NRG, in Houston, and in the drug-free, all-ages scene in Detroit at venues like The Music Institute. However, it was not until the mid to late 1980s that a wave of psychedelic and other electronic dance music, most notably acid house and techno, emerged and caught on in the clubs, warehouses and free-parties around London and later Manchester. These early raves were called the Acid House Summers. They were mainstream events that attracted thousands of people (up to 25,000 instead of the 4,000 that came to earlier warehouse parties) to come, dance and take ecstasy.
UK: Energy Summer Rave, UK
1988: the first ‘Sunrise’ rave, UK
‘From the Acid House scene of the late 80s, the scene transformed from predominantly a London- based phenomenon to a UK-wide mainstream underground youth movement. Organizations such as Fantazia, Universe, Raindance & Amnesia House were by 1991/92 holding massive legal raves in fields and warehouses around the country. The height was achieved in 1992 with Fantazia party called One Step Beyond, which was an all-nighter attracting 25,000 people. Other notable events included Obsession and Universe’s Tribal Gathering in 1993.
1989: ‘Chandal’ Acid House rave, UK
1993: Carl Cox live at Amnesia rave, Detroit
‘The early rave scene flourished underground in some Canadian and U.S. cities such as Montreal, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and as word of the budding scene spread, raves quickly caught on in other cities such as San Diego and New York City. Mainstream America, upon learning of the rave phenomenon through relentless and relentless negative media attention in the late 1990s, responded with hostility. Politicians spoke out against raves and began to fine anyone who held an illegal party as well as administer punishments of up to six months in prison. This, along with ecstasy becoming scarce and polluted when it was available, ended the early US raves.
A short documentary on the San Francisco rave scene
The 1990s warehouse party scene in and around the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle
‘In the UK, the rave scene was slowly changing by the early 90s, with local councils waking up to how to prevent organisations gaining licenses by massively increasing the fees, so the days of legal one-off parties were numbered. The scene was also beginning to fragment into many different styles of dance music making large parties more expensive to set up and more difficult to promote. The happy old skool style was replaced by the darker jungle (later renamed drum n bass) and the faster happy hardcore. The illegal free party scene also reached its zenith for that time when, after a particularly large festival, when many individual sound systems such as Bedlam, Circus Warp, DIY, and Spiral Tribe set up near Castlemorton Common, in May 1992 the government acted.
1992: BBC documentary from 1992 house music Old Rave Party
1992: Rave party, Belgium
‘Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the definition of music played at a rave was given as:”music” includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” Sections 63, 64 & 65 of the Act targeted electronic dance music played at raves. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act empowered police to stop a rave in the open air when a hundred or more people are attending, or where two or more are making preparations for a rave. Section 65 allows any uniformed constable who believes a person is on their way to a rave within a five-mile radius to stop them and direct them away from the area; noncompliant citizens may be subject to a maximum fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (£1 000).
Peter Jennings – Ecstasy Rising Documentary
1993: amnesia house old skool rave
‘The Act was ostensibly introduced because of the noise and disruption caused by all night parties to nearby residents, and to protect the countryside. It has also been claimed that it was introduced to kill a popular youth movement that was taking many drinkers out of town centres drinking on taxable alcohol and into fields to take untaxed drugs and drink free water.
Early 90s: Police bust Orbital rave, UK
1997: Rave party, UK
‘In the early 2000s, illegal parties still existed, albeit on smaller scales, and the number of sanctioned events seemed to be on the rise. The few constants in the scene include amplified electronic dance music, a vibrant social network built on the ethos of the acronym PLUR, “Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect”, percussive music and freeform dancing often accompanied by the use of “club drugs” such as ecstasy, methamphetamine, speed and ketamine, also known as “special K.” However, increased cocaine usage, preponderance of adulterated ecstasy tablets and organized criminal activity has been detrimental to UK-based rave culture, although free parties are now on the rise again. Still, according to some long-time observers, rave music and its subculture began to stagnate by the end of the 1990s. The period of grassroots innovation and explosive growth and evolution was over; the flurry of passionate activity and the sense of international community were fading.
2004: Darkraver at Ghost Town rave, US
2005: 3 dancing raver boys, Holland
‘By the early 2000s, the terms “rave” and “raver” had fallen out of favor among many people in the electronic dance music community, particularly in Europe. Many Europeans returned to identifying themselves as “clubbers” rather than ravers. It became unfashionable among many electronic dance music aficionados to describe a party as a “rave,” perhaps because the term had become overused and corrupted. Some communities preferred the term “festival,” while others simply referred to “parties.” True raves, such as “Mayday,” continued to occur for a time in Central Europe, with less constrictive laws allowing raves to continue in some countries long after the death of rave in the United Kingdom. Moreover, traditional rave paraphernalia, such as facemasks, pacifiers, and glowsticks ceased to be popular. Underground sound systems started organising large free parties and called them teknivals.
2006: Teknival Rave Free Activists
2009: Tokyo Rave in Shibuya, Japan
‘In the northeastern United States, during the mid-2000s, the popularity of Goa (or psy-trance) increased tremendously. With the warehouse party scene, the trend is also restarting; cities such as San Francisco have seen a resurgence of warehouse parties since 2003, due in part to Burning Man theme camp fundraiser parties. This contrary belief in the early 2000s was that 2002 would mark the end of the rave (known as party scene at the time), and the scene was over. Raves still continue in hot spots around the U.S. even today, although they might be called “parties” to avoid the negative spin. Examples of this hot spot phenomenon are New Orleans, LA, and the west coast of the United States. The mid-late 2000s is being marked as the renaissance of the underground electronic culture.’
p.s. Hey. ** David, 10 pounds … mmm … rain check. I’ve only been as far south in Mexico as the Baja, which is ridiculous since I grew upon LA, but there you go. Nice poem. I like the bell ringing ending. Hope your Monday suits. ** Dominik, Hi, D!!!! I did see the whole movie. I don’t remember why. Thank you for the respect, but you should also include some pity, ha ha. I’m happy you enjoy your new duties as that imaginary city’s imaginary mayor. I love them all, truth be told. I’ve been to some of them in the past. I guess the one I’d make a beeline to is Prism because it’s legendary and I’ve never managed to catch it on an open night. I did especially love that Jovan line, so I’m more than thrilled to receive its day-old love, thank you. I guess love should throw you a giant SCAB-themed rave given the blog’s current circumstances, so I’ll give you that plus a 24 hour supply of pure, old school, uncut Ecstasy, G. ** L@rst, Big up, Larry. I got back to your email, so now I’m counting the days, or, well, probably weeks knowing the French postal system. Thanks! I’m gonna see the VU doc as soon as it opens here, whenever that is. Make it even spookier! I would have gravitated to your doorstep from the sound of it, but, okay, I was a weird kid. ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks for the raucously soundtracked weekend, Play Therapy dude. That was a wonderfully intense one. I’ve been to The Haunt at Hellizondo, and it lives up to its facade’s promise, which is actually kind of rare. Oh, wow, about the booze paucity. Let me know if you need me to ship some over to you, if that’s even possible? ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Everyone, Mr. Ehrenstein recommends this documentary about Michel Foucault. ** Bill, Hey. American ingenuity! One of those generalisations that has its coinage in a degree of truth. ** Steve Erickson, Oh, fun. Everyone, If you want to hear Steve’s favorite music of the past month there’s a Spotify playlist that will scratch that itch. I don’t know when the Velvets doc opens here. I should check. Very soon, I would imagine. Eli Roth did an annual haunted house for two or three years, but it was in Las Vegas. I never went, only because I’ve never been in Vegas at Halloween. He did a haunted house at Universal Studios in Hollywood one year. I did it. From what I can recall, it was okay, but it didn’t really stand out from the rest especially. ** Right. This is a very old, formerly dead post from my killed blog, so old that I actually wrote some text in it, which I stopped doing eons ago, but I do still miss late 80s/early 90s raves even now. See you tomorrow.