Posted by: martinworster | May 8, 2012


As an impressionable 16 year old the memories are still very vivid. I am talking about one night in the summer of 1989 spent in a field somewhere near Ipswich at a massive Energy rave. Nigh on a quarter of a century ago now. Ouch. It was the Second Summer of Love and parties with attendances in the tens of thousands were happening very weekend. The Government was getting worried. Could this be start of one nation under a groove (and the influence of ecstacy)? I guess in many ways – and I know this sounds dramatic and sickly – for me it was a life changing experience. 

In typical M25 Orbital rave fashion the whereabouts of the event were not published till the last minute to avoid the police getting wind and shutting it down. You’d find out about the event on pirate radio – with the numbers of the promoters mobile (80s brick sized ones) phones or pagers. We didn’t actually get to the event till 4am in the morning. Once critical mass had set in, in the form of thousands of up for it ravers arriving, it would be very difficult for the police to stop the event taking place.

The term ‘rave’ also needs some discussion. Current useage conjures up images of fluro teenagers with dummies and glowsticks dancing to high octane synthy hard house. Quite different from the late 80s definition. Then, it could also be called a warehouse party and acid house party. A rave then just meant party. To rave it up. When you say rave now it creates all the wrong connotations.

Disclaimer here – I realise that there’s a real trend for nostalgia and retromania and in some ways I am hesitant to constantly look back. But I will. There’s such a thirst for it. Older ravers spend their life on YouTube looking at footage or hunting down and commenting on tunes. I am very guilty of this. Looking over my shoulder, re-living my youth. And the comments sections are excellent reading. I was there! Is that you in the crowd? Remember this tune? OMG everything was so much better back then, wasn’t it? The collective memory replaced – or reinforced – by grainy internet video and rave anthem tune uploads. But there’s a reason for all this nostalgia. They were fucking great times! It’s also easy to sound like a jaded hippy as I – dinosaur like from my pedestal – survey the current music and youth cultural scenes. It doesn’t look like there’s too much exciting going on? I could be wrong, there might be legions of teenagers having the times of their lives and life changing experiences. 

That’s the thing about being young. The feelings when you experience something for the first time – first love, first sex, first spliff, first wank, first time you heard a particular song, first…blah blah – are quite powerful. Then you spend the rest of your life – like a junkie endlessly trying to replicate the initial high of a first fix – trying to recapture that first emotion. In many ways it’s a futile mission as you probably never will. That’s why middle aged men will often remain old punks, rockers, mods, Northern Soulster, ravers etc as if cryogenically frozen for ever in that first time and feeling. 

I have many vivid memories of the night – and following day. Being a wet-behind-the-ears 16 year old I didn’t realise that drugs played such a pivotal role in the evenings activities and subsequent scene. I remember being quite shocked at the state of some of the punters. Eye’s rolling into the back of their skulls as they ran their fingers through dripping wet, sweaty hair. Gurning like, err, Northerners in a gurning comp, fidgety and almost anxious looking. I remember a girl lying on the grass as her equally fried friends tried to coax her out of a bad trip. These people are enjoying themselves? It didn’t look like it to me. Later on, via some empirical research, I quickly learnt they were.

I remember the massive sound system. I remember a 40 foot articulated lorry that carried the turbo speaker rack. I remember a black guy in some form of silver leotard dancing on the back of the lorry in front of the bass bin. I bet he’s got tinnitus now. With the spacey, dubby, bleepy Chicago house that was pumping and his dance style it looked like he’d been beamed from another planet. A direct link to the future. His eyes were wide as saucers as he moved left to right, pulling shapes with his hands and staring out at the crowd and conducting the dancers. What is this shit? I’d only ever before seen drunken dancing to ‘Come On Eileen’ in attempt to ultimately stick your tounge down some piece of crumpets throat. This shit is on a totally different level. In many ways – in my opinion – it was more rebellious than punk for ripping all that had happened before and creating a new paradigm. We don’t need blokes with guitars – we want repetitive beats, basslines and synth sounds.

I don’t know what the attendance figures were. 20 – 40,000 people? It was a massive field with a large hanger to the side. Packed. A sea of people spilling out onto the surrounding fields, all jacking rhythmically. Looking at rave footage now, it’s amazing how dated the dancing looks. The stationary running man – an 80s motif if ever there was one – was popular. Stacking shelves. Packing boxes. Standing motionless with a bottle of poppers glued to your nose. I remember – and this is how out of tune I was at the time – I’d came up with some formation dances with my crew (mentioning no names). Musically of course it’s hard to remember all the more underground tunes that would have been played. The absolute anthem was Rythim is Rythim’s Strings Of Life. It definitely was musically more mixed up so you’d hear Chicago house, techno, hip house, maybe even hip hop, Balearic stuff, early Euro house, synth pop. Not like now where it’s often one niche genre all night long (*it was so much better in the old days*).

It also started my decades long fascination with DJing. One person was in total control of the atmosphere and the course the night would take. What power. As the drug experience was so potent then and the marriage between the music and the music so perfectly symbiotic, the DJ was subsequently worshipped. The DJ controlled the universe here. God is a DJ. He – or she – was in total control and that’s got to be quite a buzz. DJs on the circuit then included Carl Cox, Fabio, Trevor Fung, Evil Eddie Richards. Many still plying their trade now.

These parties in the late eighties set the course for youth culture for the next twenty years. The dancefloor was democratized so people of different age, race and social class were all thrown together. Previously clubbing had been an elitist game of who you knew and if you wore the right clothes. It also had other sociological effects. The 80s blight of football hooliganism declined to become almost non existent. Football hooligans discovered ecstacy and realised it was more fun to dance and hug than fight each other. The high penetration of drug taking amongst a large swathe of the population also changed peoples attitudes to drugs, becoming overall more liberal and tolerant.

The scene also paved the way for the dance music explosion that was to ride through the UK from them until now – and that still carries on unabated. At the time – due to the narrower pool of music (and producers of music) to draw from – various styles of music were played in one night. Then in the 90s it splintered into all the subgenres and scenes – jungle, drum and bass, hard house, tech house, progressive house, deep house, funky house, UK garage, 2 step, Big Beat, ambient and it perhaps it’s mid-90s nadir – handbag house. Arguably, these scenes would further fragment and branch out into deeper sub categories. So with drum and bass you’d get liquid drum and bass, bassline, ambient, intelligent etc. 

I would say – informed opinion here – that out of all the post World War II UK youth cultural movements this scene had the most pervasive influence on society and culture. The main reason being the numbers of people participating up and down the county. It might not have had the same high profile and dramatic impact as punk in terms of clothing and it’s ripping up of everything that went before. But in many ways it went deeper than that. I’m glad I was there. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: