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.
That turned out to be about the last time something like this was possible in the capital, because in June a teenager died in Croydon at an illegal rave due apparently to ketamine poisoning.
Barely does a month pass without gratuitous articles appearing in the Evening Standard – that sweetheart organ of the property developer and obscure foreign investor, which incidentally shares a heritage with the Daily Mail – calling for a state crackdown on illegal raves as if they’re not banned already.
Political pressure was such that I have reason to believe that in August the police made a sly attempt at getting to my sources from the article through a baiting email that sounded too good to be true:
“I run a property development company.
We own a building in Fulham which will be vacant from 7th September for a few months before we level the site completely. If possible, I would like to make it available for an underground rave(s).
Would you be able to forward my details on to ‘Oscar’ and ‘Nick’ and ask if this is something they would be interested in taking on as a challenge?
They may contact me direct at any of the numbers below.
The word around the underground is that the police knew about the 2000+ Royal Mail building bash and let it go on on the usual silent understanding that the organisers would keep it safe. Usually not many children are let in and those who slip through are watched closely, but this time someone got greedy and allowed many of them to come, resulting in death, rioting and chaos.
The cops are now unsympathetic to ‘people who need to let their hair down properly’ for the foreseeable future.
Here’s the story as it ran in the Guardian G2 supplement on Thursday April 17th 2014, with a mention on the front page too.
And for all the hypersensitive ravers who read it and moaned about misrepresentation, the story is about a revival. It doesn’t say that raves ever disappeared completely.
They probably never will as long as the MAN tightly controls nightlife. Look closely around the Internet and around the squatter scene if you know anyone, and you’ll still be able to find a good illegal London rave, just not on the scale talked about in the Guardian article.
For a while at least. See you by the stacks!
The G2 double-page spread:
NB: a version of this text first appeared on http://harrycathead.tumblr.com, my former blog