CHOBHAM COMMON April 26th 1992
Craig, Russ and Jamie were this weeks passengers in my trusty VW Polo, which was a dirty white with a smiley acid face painted on either side. We were followed by Diz, Amanda, Maggie and Sarah, an Oxford Uni student who looked like a tall Betty Boop. The party was just outside London in Surrey. We parked in what seemed like a suburban street, no doubt the residents would wake up and wonder why their road was a mass of illegally parked cars. We walked for quite a while to get to the rave which was set on an unkempt, sprawling piece of common ground that looked like it had once been cleared for development and had eventually grassed itself over. Although we had only recently left streets and houses behind it appeared pretty remote.
It was a Spiral Tribe collaboration, their sound system with Circus Warp's trademark blue and red striped marquee, and Rough Crew's DJ's. The rest of their vans and trucks were parked nearby and formed a temporary mini village. The drugs of the day were fantasies, tiny round brown balls, no bigger than a ball bearing. I think I ended up doing 2. Speed had fuelled the drive up, and helped get the fantasies working.
I don't remember it being dark so we must have hit the party at around dawn. The crowd was small but up for it as ever, being led onwards and upwards by the pulsating music.
At the big, legal events you got the big, hands in the air classic rave tracks. Every other track you recognised from one mix tape or another. At parties like this the music was always unpredictable, underground and unrelenting in it's hardcore attitude. Often the big name DJ's would come and spin at these raves, relishing the opportunity to play cool weird shit the teenyboppers at Fantazia wouldn't get. Nearly every week I saw a funky dreaded black dude in shades behind the decks. Turns out he was Easygroove, playing for free after finishing his mega bucks set at the latest licensed party.
The fantasies produced a weird high, like E but less euphoric and made the world become even more confusing and bizarre than it usually did. Word later was that they were full of ketamine, some kind of horse sedative, which would explain things a little.
As per usual I got more out of it as everyone else began chilling out. I used to love this time - plenty of room to dance, plenty of light to see everyone. My usual trick was to try and get a smile out of everybody; this is what would bring on the rush. I probably made quite a spectacle - inanely grinning, limbs flailing more or less in time to the music, eyes on stalks. I may have looked a bit silly but it was these moments of solitary dancing with my head in the clouds and well beyond, that I really felt like the sweaty, skinny embodiment of rave. Passionately committed to hard drugs and hard music, and brim full of pure chemical joy.
For me, being a raver was a full time job. It gradually infiltrated all aspects of my life. Like being in love, it became all I could think about. And I know there were thousands like me. From being just a weekend attraction, pretty soon weekends lasted three days and the rest of the week was spent smoking as much pot as we could afford, swapping DJ mix tapes with friends, and collecting drugs for next Saturdays party.
To be on the crest of the wave of a new movement was heady enough. Combine that with music that sounded like it had been downloaded from the future and drugs that make you want to embrace the whole world, and it is easy to see how so many people who once thought that they were students, or hairdressers, or bank clerks, instead became ravers, with reality an unfortunate necessity.
By now it was full daylight. It could have been any time; watches were way too tiny and complicated to read properly. It took me a while to realise that the fine drizzle that had been keeping me nice and cool was turning into more heavy rain. Cos my body was functioning at around 250 degrees this did not worry me unduly, and I continued to pound out the beat as my trainers turned the grass to mud. One of the few others left dancing grabbed me by the arm and looked at me with huge eyes and sunken cheeks. "It's amazing!" he enthused, his jaw working away furiously on some gum, "I've come down but I can still dance!" Yeah, right I thought, and smiled at him as he bounced off. However I soon realised that everybody else was now sheltering under the marquee and decided that it looked kind of fun.
These traveller raves brought in some people you could never imagine meeting anywhere else, and pretty soon I was chatting to a nearly blind dark haired girl called Nessy. She lived in a horse drawn caravan and could only really see when she put on some incredibly thick glasses. Needless to say she very rarely wore them, and was convinced that the world was a much more enjoyable place when all you could see were misty, colourful shapes. Her horse could see where they were going so she managed to get around ok. I put together a shaky spliff while she swigged on a bottle of vodka, and there you go, the sun came out again.
As the music continued to fill the air, the skies cleared and people began dancing again. Maggie and I pooled our money and scored a Red and Black, a powder filled capsule which we split roughly. We wondered off a little way and climbed a small hill. We sat on the wet grass and looked down at the colourful collection of vehicles, the shabby marquee, the DJ lost in concentration and the huge, omnipotent speakers. In front of these was a mixed bag of people, who had been drawn in from across the country to meet and party with others they would probably never see again.
From here we felt a little like onlookers, somewhat removed from the proceedings. It struck me just how bizarre these parties must seem to the general public. Yet for us, hearing the tribal beats reverberating around the English countryside did not seem in any way intrusive or out of place. Instead they somehow appeared to bring each other to life. The deep booming bass became like the earth's heartbeat, while the chattering, alien rhythms danced with the wind through the trees and seemed to awaken a mysterious, primitive consciousness in the surrounding landscape. Maggie and I contemplated on the uniqueness of such an event and decided we were pretty God damned lucky to have been there, then. I thanked whoever was listening that I had been born at the right time. Fuck the sixties.
The Red and Black turned out to be way better than I expected and was still rushing when the rest of my posse eventually broke it to me that they wanted to return home. We had been there for a pretty long time it seemed so we trailed back to my car, and I guess I drove home but I don't remember.
It turned out that shortly after we left the police descended in large numbers and by all accounts smashed up the sound system and as many cars as they could while the travellers and ravers looked on, powerless. Nice one.