The Cable nightclub in London Bridge and the Vibe bar in Brick Lane – raving institutions both – were forcibly shut down within a year or so of each other and now the authorities put the squeeze on Fabric, conditioning its license on getting sniffer dogs.
No surprise then that people are flocking back to illegal raves!
Illegal raves are a part of British culture that’s gained mythical status around the world. Starting with the second summer of love and ecstasy all the way through to 2014, illegal raves are a staple of the Kingdom’s otherwise heavily-regulated nightlife. In a country where most pubs shut at midnight and you need a council license to put on a block barbecue on a Sunday, illegal raves are the result of a unspoken agreement between the cops and the more hardcore punters, acknowledging “some people need to let their hair down properly” – with seriously powerful drugs, seriously powerful music and bouncers that are there to actually keep security instead of spoil the fun. And no curfew.
When I took my girlfriend to her first illegal rave (in Hackney Wick) the bouncer stopped her at the door to search her bag. She told him she had no drugs, to which he replied – ‘I don’t give a monkey about your drugs, but you have to drink that bottle of cider outside. There’s no glass allowed.’
In February I had unprecedented, all-in access to a crew that puts on illegal raves in East London and I spent every weekend with them over a couple months, looking at how it works and going to their parties. One night Frantzesco, a Guardian photographer joined me to get some snaps, and he expressed surprise at how “overground” it all seemed. The doormen even gave us wristbands, like at licensed parties. “Was it really illegal? What makes it illegal?” he asked. The editors asked the same thing just before the story ran, to make sure we had our bearings right. It wasn’t immediately obvious. The loud music, the squatted building, the semi-residential area, the drugs, the laughing gas, the lack of toilets, the booze, the lack of any official license at all, I explained.