CASTLEMORTON COMMON May 12th 1992
And of course there was Castlemorton. Breathtaking in it's sheer size and bravado, looking back on it, it is clear to see that this monster, week long rave attended by 25,000 people marked not only the peak but also the death of free rave culture. While watching us helplessly and largely furiously, England would now take serious steps to ensure that that these ultimately harmless parties could never happen again, at least on any reasonable scale. The eventual introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill gave police new powers to prevent and break up any form of outside beat-based gathering.
From this point on, rave would go overground. There was no where else to go. Sure, pockets still thrive here and there, but a once gloriously anticorporate culture became swallowed up in clubland. Muddy fields and hastily erected marquees were replaced by steel and chrome, and thirty pound entrance fees. Trainers and baggy jeans did not make it past the bouncers. Terra techno turned into slinky house. Shiny clubs, shiny drugs, shiny people, and shiny music. It did not feel bad anymore. It had become respectable.
Getting to Castlemorton was easy. It was advertised on the TV. Arriving home from work on Saturday, I turned on the news to see an excited local broadcaster relaying information about a huge gathering of 'ravers' and 'hippies' on Castlemorton Common, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at the foot of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. They had mysteriously arrived overnight, many different groups co-ordinating beautifully and thwarting any attempts by the police to break up the large convoy of trucks, vans and old buses they were understandably becoming increasingly suspicious of.
I hopped it to 227 and picked up the few who had not already gone. For the first time I set off for a rave before the sun had even set. With such exact directions it was an easy drive through the Cotswolds, and we gradually became part of a convoy of cars full of ravers with the same destination. As night fell we began to leave the lights of the towns and villages behind us as we followed the road high up on to the vast common. Darkness now shrouded the rolling hills and only suggested at the space and beauty around us.
Then suddenly we were there. Cars were everywhere, parked randomly and haphazardly on either side of the road, which led directly through the middle of the gathering. We ditched my car and followed the general movement of people away from their vehicles and towards the distant throb of beats and bass.
It was soon clear that most of the traveling sound systems were there, each with their own individual party set up. At the center of it all, and the ringleaders behind the entire event, was, of course, Spiral Tribe. And that was where we were heading.
We continued walking down the road along which stalls and vendors had sprung up, selling all kinds of rave paraphernalia; bottled water, Vicks sticks, bongs, rizlas, whistles, glo sticks, mix tapes etc. Drugs of all kinds were openly available. People were hanging out, shopping, chatting, coming up on a pill, sharing a spliff. It kind of felt like being in some kind of bizarre town center, in a world where ravers had taken over. And always, in the background, the boom boom of the sound systems, reminding us why we were there.
After passing several large marquees each with their own rave in full swing, we arrived at Spiral Tribe's own party. Their motley collection of vehicles were arranged in a large circle. This provided an amphitheatre into which their DJ's pumped hard tribal techno. As always the focal point was a huge black and white spiral hanging from the side of one of their lorries, right next to the one sided van which housed the decks. Maggie and I put up the tent we had been carrying she was intending to stay a few days just to one side of the main circle. We scored some mushrooms and swallowed them down with a few sips of water.
While we were hanging out, waiting for the mushies to kick in, Mitch turned up with recommendations for good E's. There were some shit hot Tangerine Dreams about he confided, if you could find them. Before long I had sniffed them out and had two in my belly. My own private party was beginning.
Fortuitously, the E's turned out to be two of the sweetest ever. My memories of the night are little more than drifting around in a blissful haze, I'm not even sure if I danced. But that's not the point, I was off my head at Castlemorton and that's what counts.
As dawn began to break I lapped up a wrap of speed, I was so used to doing this now I barely even needed water to help it down. The sky became a little clearer and I started to recognize people everywhere - no one was missing this one. All of the heads from Witney were there. Being my home town this caused much handshaking and mutual jibbering affection. The whole of the Oxford Massive had made it, along with all my new friends from all over the place, who I had met through these weekly parties. There were several people I hadn't seen for years, including of course a few spanners who had just come to check out the show after seeing it on the news. None the less, I was immensely pleased to see everyone, and greeted them all with much enthusiasm.
Night slipped back into day and in the sunshine the enormity of the carnival we were part of became clear. Tents, cars and people stretched out in all directions, creating a multi coloured splash in the languid countryside. There were several mini travelers villages, complete with dogs, fires and scruffy kids who appeared quite at home amidst all the madness. And spaced throughout this were the raves themselves, each with their own sound and their own vibe.
Framing this were the Malvern Hills rising majestically through the morning mist.
Many ravers began to sit in loose groups, spark up a few spliffs and just take it all in. We knew right then that this was something special. This would never happen again.
At some point I met up with Georgia, who dragged me away from the Sprirals to the DiY tent where she had spent most of the night with her mates. The large dance area was now quite empty, the floor littered with empty Evian bottles, roaches and butt ends. A bit later on I spotted Easygroove sitting in the back of an open van with some mates. By now we clearly recognized each other, and we nodded hello, like we always did. I even bumped into my sister. Half of England seemed to be there that weekend.
The party continued on for several days, but I had to be back for work on Monday. So late on Sunday afternoon I left many happy people behind and headed home.