GOOD TIMES, 1992.
So 1992 was a good year then.
Well, for me, and for a few thousand hedonistic others, it will never be beaten.
Since the very late 80's various collectives of DJ's and party heads had been making forays into the English countryside, searching out an empty barn or long disused warehouse. In it they would hastily install the biggest and most powerful sound system they could get their hands on. Lasers and flashing lights would be added. Acid induced designs and outsize letters 'E' were used to decorate the walls. If they had access to a marquee then a building was not needed, just a secluded field somewhere.
All of this would be done in strict secrecy. If the police discovered what was going on at this stage it would be a relatively easy matter to escort the few organizers off the private property they were trespassing on, give them a bollocking and send them on their way.
So usually at around midnight a phone line would open. The number was available on a hand drawn flyer given out at the last party or furtively taped to a shop window in the cooler part of the city. It would be dialed by an assortment of sweaty fingers, their owners more often than not already buzzing on half an E or a gram of speed. They would hear a recorded message relaying directions to the gathering and before long a convoy of cars would have accumulated along a winding, dark, country road. After getting lost several times the party would be arrived at. Drugs would be bought, sold and swallowed, and then that was it the pumping music stole everyone's soul for the night and we forgot everything and danced far into the next day. Another rave would leave a hazy mark in our memories.
The police would eventually stumble on to the scene way too late and could really do nothing more than just watch; to try and brake up a rave in full swing would be a logistical nightmare.
It was in 1992 that these raves reached their peak. They had gradually grown in popularity and were becoming a regular feature in outraged local newspapers across the country. Large outdoor legal, licensed events had of course sprung up, such as Fantasia and Perception as people inevitably tried to cash in on the scene. They drew huge crowds but it was the free parties that really embodied the true spirit of raves. Paying upwards of 40 quid, being parked by a car park attendant, being searched by a bouncer and having a go on a fairground ride seemed to go against the whole non commercial/non establishment vibe that sparked the whole rave scene. The fact that these illegal parties were so spontaneous and thoughoughly underground kept them fresh, unpredictable and wonderfully exciting.
Of course rave culture was really about two things which appeared at the same time and which were mutually dependant on each other for their ever-increasing popularity.
There was MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy. People have been taking drugs since time began, but this particular chemical induced incredible feelings of euphoria and empathy towards your fellow man that speed or acid or any of the others merely hinted at. But most importantly, it made you want to DANCE! But not just to anything. In one of those matches made in heaven, rave music sounded so god damned good on E that just experiencing the combination once would change the way you perceive that style of music forever. The gut churning bass, the throbbing beat, the fucked up noises worked in poetic tandem with the hyped up tripped out bug eyed E - fuelled mind. And who can forget how sweet those piano hooks sounded when rushing on your second pill.
In 1991 many of these raves occurred in and around Oxfordshire and I made sure I was at as many of them as I could. There was Horton cum Studley where I took my first E and from that moment on became a committed raver. There were several at Forest Hill, a travelers encampment in the middle of a wood. Eynsham saw two in quick succession, one in a farmer's barn and one in the middle of a field. At Little Faringdon I heard 'Charlie' by the Prodigy months before it's official release. There were at least 8,000 people at Shilton, and only a few hundred at Enstone airfield were we spent most of the night in my car due to it being so cold. And the one at Cassington lasted three days.
|And so record stores began filling up with largely nameless and faceless vinyl 12's, knocked out in bedrooms and makeshift studios across the country. With no need for any musicians to play instruments, all you needed was a computer, some basic technological equipment and a little imagination. The artists remained anonymous, picking one or often several different aliases to release tracks under. Thus music that sounded like it had been made by machines on drugs was given no human face to associate it with and this suited it very nicely.
Some stunningly original and beautiful records were made. Some kicked huge amounts of ass. Some were dark and evocative. Some made your heart burst with joy. And a lot were shite, but any DJ worth his salt would sort out the wheat from the chaff and give you a good night.
So music and drugs, once again, created a new subculture.
By 1992 these one off raves were gradually being replaced by a series of parties put on by various groups of DJ's and travelers. These people usually lived on the road in caravans, trucks and old buses and were turning their established summer festivals into raves, where they could sell drugs, make a tidy profit and have a great time in the bargin. Spiral Tribe were probably the most well known and even began releasing records under their collective name, enjoying some commercial success, and of course notoriety. There were many other such groups giving England a shot in the arm from one shore to another; DiY, Circus Warp, Circus Normal, Bedlam etc.
And so I began traveling further afield each weekend in search of the next free rave. The usual starting out point was a huge house on Cowley Road in Oxford. I must have been there a hundred times but I never quite worked out the exact layout of the house, possibly due to the fact that I was always under the influence of one narcotic or another. Number 227 Cowley Road was home to a whole bunch of committed Rave Heads. Craig was kind of the head of the house; he lived on the very top floor with his girlfriend Kate. There was gentle bald headed Russ, Jamie the DJ, Maggie the American girl who came over on holiday and never went back. Six foot two Mitch, strikingly handsome, his head shaved to the bone, multiple piercings and an honorary member of Spiral Tribe. There were many more who came and went; who lived there at any one time was something else I could never deduce.
So here are a few tales from these times. The specifics are gradually fading as time passes, but the sensation of dancing in a field in the dark, with an explosion of ecstasy in my belly and a huge grin on my face is as visceral and as fresh as if it were yesterday. I just have to hear one of those old tunes!