Rave is Back - Article on the Resurgence of the Rave Scene
To most people in Britain, rave is a memory, and a blurry one at that. For four years at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, Britain’s youth took to the fields, forests and warehouses, took Ecstasy, wore some of the silliest outfits ever devised — like cricket hats, white gloves and gas masks — and ushered out Thatcherism in a strobe-lighted haze of electronic music that shook the ground they danced on.
Then Parliament passed the Criminal Justice Act of 1994, which humourlessly characterized rave music as “the emission of a succession of repetitive beats,” and gave police the power to shut raves down. That swiftly put an end to the scene’s drug-induced violence — and to the scene itself.
But if you happen to be in London these days, there are signs that something like rave is stirring again.
“The first time around, rave really seeped into the mainstream,” said Carri Mundane, 26, a designer who was a child during the first rave scene but kept the fliers amassed by her older brother. “The music was in the charts, and everything just became a little bit more psychedelic.”
This time, it’s more insular. And it’s different in other ways, too: some of the music is rock, not electronica, and the scene is no longer as defined by the twin illegalities of drugs and trespassing.
But a collection of young creative types are dressing up and making music that unmistakably refers back to the garishness, the euphoria and the escapism of 15 years ago.
In mid-December, the Klaxons — an indie rock band and the self-appointed leaders of the scene — invited a pack of DJ’s, artists and other performers to play a final gig of the year under the railway arches of London Bridge.
The location was the site of illegal parties in the early 1990s but, in keeping with the more sanitized character of today’s movement, is now a well-appointed nightclub with a bouncer, sofas to lounge on and $7 beers.
The music didn’t sound like rave. Though tinged with electronica, the Klaxons and two other bands played stripped-back rock, not unlike much of the music that has been in vogue in Britain the last few years. And the dance floor was more of a punkish mosh pit, with lots of shoving revellers, than a blissed-out, synchronized community of dancers.
Still, there were glow sticks — a kind of waving coral reef of neon pinks, yellow and greens — and between acts, young men in leather jackets nudged their way around the dance floor, offering Ecstasy. Teenage fans wore reflective jackets, neon paint, sunglasses, beads and whistles as they hurled themselves back and forth, up and down, suggesting that if this wasn’t rave, then it was certainly a somehow-related cousin.
Like the original, the new rave scene may be a refuge from reality. Although neither incarnation of rave would claim anything as coherent as an ideology, there may be an echo of Margaret Thatcher’s frustrated youth among those experiencing the last days of Tony Blair’s Britain, said Tahita Bulmer, the lead singer of the band New Young Pony Club.
“That spirit of contentment has faded,” she said, with the country vehemently opposed to the way the prime minister has handled the war in Iraq. But it’s when people are unhappy, she added, that “everything goes neon and gets exciting.”
Ms. Mundane, the designer, who wears brightly coloured clothing that has made her an arbiter of rave fashion, said, “What I like about rave is the positivity of it, the fact that it is so utopian.”
The rave renaissance may be a reaction to the country’s dour political state or to the tyranny of indie rock. “There’s only so much partying you can do to these shoe-gazing indie bands,” said Jaimie Hodgson, a music journalist, referring to Britain’s emo-heavy music scene.
Many participants say they are nostalgic for a movement they are old enough to at least remember, even if they have not experienced it themselves. Or perhaps they’re just looking for an excuse to dress up and take Ecstasy, otherwise known as MDMA, a drug best known for inducing a touchy-feely, sensation-inducing high.
The new rave scene is a small, tightly connected movement of artists, DJ’s, bands and partygoers forged in a series of warehouse parties that, beginning in 2003, were organized by a gang of artists called the Wowow Boys, in New Cross, a ragtag neighbourhood of students and boarded-up buildings southeast of London Bridge.
As in the 1990s, the gatherings attracted newly formed bands that were eager to create an environment “where the specific aim was to party, “ said Jamie Reynolds, the bass player of the Klaxons.
Hence, the outrageous outfits: At a New Young Pony Club gig, Oisin Butler, a psychology student who said he was starting a band called Aids Baby, sat wearing a purple bow tie, a red cardigan and glasses with Day-Glo frames and no lenses. His jeans were so tight there was no room for his keys. “You can wear anything, as long as it’s odd, or glittery, or neon, or is really disgusting,” he said.
At a popular monthly dance party in Islington, North London, people are encouraged to download smiley masks — a throwback to the original rave scene and an Ecstasy reference — from a Web site. The event started in 2003 with a party in an abandoned public bathroom; this summer 3,000 people in fluorescent attended its Glade Festival.
The dance-music scene has been “snowballing” for the last three years, says the party’s DJ and promoter, who calls himself Saint Acid. He added that his early events were mainly attended by people in their 30s, wearing old clothes and looking to relive the dance parties of their youth, but now the crowd is “getting younger and younger.”
Mark Archer is half of Altern8, a riotous dance act last seen playing the violin in biological warfare suits in 1991. After 15 years of relative quiet, Mr. Archer, now 38, played at the recent Islington party and is enjoying the unlikely satisfaction of seeing a young band, Trash Fashion, cover one of Altern8’s old tracks.
“If someone had told me 16 years ago that I would still be playing now the same music I was then, and that rock bands would be covering our songs, I would have laughed,” he said. “All of a sudden rave has become cool again. It’s been a bit of a shock.”
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