Raves, or free parties, are associated in the common subconscious to drugs, violence and anarchy. Thatcherism, and the neoliberalism and conservative ideologies that followed were the major drives behind the repression against rave parties and its participants (free party people and other travelling communities), an oppression that started in the 1990s and has never ceased. These communities ended up being demonised by the state and the media, and this bad reputation leaked unto the reputation of rave parties themselves.
In order to engrain the popularity of free parties, Britain created the Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 (section 63, article 1). According to section 63 (1), a rave is defined as “ a gathering on land in the open air of 20 or more persons (whether trespassers or not) at which amplified music is played during the night (with or without intermissions) … ‘Music’ includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”
If laws like these originally failed to stop youth culture’s enthusiasm and organizers became more and more secretive in with the location of their parties, often outsmarting the police, this constant cat and mouse game eventually came to an end and the state ultimately won. Their victory is seen through the emerging popularity of club culture in the past two decades. Techno, especially dance, was then commercialized in clubs and was seen as another means to gain profit. This means that the freedom and disinhibition that was an integral part of rave culture and its music were taken away by being put into said clubs, where the patriarchal nightlife culture reigns. A crucial aspect of this “clubification” is profit and all that it implies: maintenance fees, salaries, wages, and most importantly, rent. Clubs are still popular more than two decades after the 1994 act; however, a sudden increase in popularity of free-parties and grassroot venues has been noted these past two years, and this is due to COVID and the rising cost of living in the UK.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 93 per cent of adults in Great Britain reported an increase in their cost of living in August-September 2022. Rent prices went up as well. This means prices for alcohol and tickets events rose up, as club owners had to keep up with rising prices, making going out a very expensive hobby. Additionally, COVID made it so that music venues, especially clubs, concerts and festivals were more often than not closed these past two years, making access to live music and good sound systems scarce.
Because of that, youth started considering free parties again. Although often illegal, free parties became a place where one could enjoy music and socializing with people who share common interests and musical tastes in a time where it was not often possible to do so because of lockdown rules. Another very attractive feature that they offer is the price: no one has to pay to attend a rave. Only personal preoccupations are to be considered: transportation to the event, food, drinks, and, if staying the night, a tent. To organize a rave is a lot of work, but it does not involve the need to book a venue, hiring bouncers and bartenders as most of the time, it is all voluntary. Different collectives will organize them, promoting underground DJs while using their own sounds system. More importantly, as they are set in open spaces, there is so need to pay rent.
The police’s response has expectedly not been appropriate: for instance, in June 2021, a collective organized a free-party in a forest about an hour and a half away from Paris. Even though it had been declared to the municipality and authorities and there was no situation of illegality, the police stormed the event and confiscated all the sound system material, which ended up being sold at a police auction about a month after.
Grassroot music venues (or GMVs) are venues where local artists can come and perform to communities of music appreciators. They are businesses ran by music experts and the main driving force behind GMVs is music in itself, not profit. GMVs are becoming more and more popular as they are cheap, accessible and are locally run. The music that plays is often subversive and alternative. They will associate with collectives and independent music labels, like Edinburgh’s GRDN.
With youth not having access to venues the same way their predecessors have, and in a time of economic crises and high-costs of living, going-out culture has morphed into cheaper, more underground alternatives. Although clubs still reign as the nightlife’s champions, people are now considering different options. The police and the state still employ harsh tactics of discrimination against such events, as they do not bring in any profit and are seen as a breeding-ground for drug consumption and illegal activity (the hypocrisy is noted, as spiking, for instance, happens more in clubs than free-parties).
Image “Ewhaian Rave Party“ by arcticpenguin is licensed under CC BY 2.0.