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What is a Rave or Free Party?

This is a general article about the rave scene worldwide covering wide aspects that may not be recognisable to people in all cases in the UK but none the less is an interesting read...

A rave party, more often called a rave and sometimes called a free party, is typically an all-night dance event where DJs and other performers play electronic dance music and rave music.


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The slang expression rave was originally used by people of Caribbean descent in London during the 1960s to describe a party. In the late 1980s, the term began to be used to describe the subculture that grew out of the acid house movement that began in Chicago and flourished in the United Kingdom club scene.

The availability of drugs —particularly ecstasy — and/or alcoholic beverages have caused them to be targeted and criticized by law enforcement officials and parents' groups.

Mainstream raves began in the late 1980s as a product of, reaction to, and rebellion against, trends in popular music, nightclub culture, and commercial radio.

In an effort to maintain distance and secrecy from the mainstream club scene (or perhaps for lack of affordable, receptive venues), warehouses, rental halls, and outside locations most often served as raves' venues. In an effort to control and curtail rave parties, some police and governmental bodies effectively outlawed raves in some areas. Such laws consequently forced regional electronic dance music events to move to formal venues, such as nightclubs and amphitheatres. Some venues and jurisdictions additionally prohibited certain types of rave fashion and paraphernalia.

Early raves were completely do it yourself; only a small number of people contributed to event production and promotion. Self-styled production and promotion companies have increasingly organized raves; the "companies" were usually unofficial or loosely defined. Some of the more well-known rave promotion companies have included Brotherhood of Boom, Mushgroove, Freebass Society, and Pure. The companies promote their events by creating and distributing fliers and online bulletins.

As law enforcement agencies increasingly began paying attention to raves, concealing a party's location became important to an event's success. To that end, event organizers sometimes either promoted events solely by word-of-mouth, or would only reveal the date and location of the event to subscribers of an electronic mailing list or via voicemail. Some even went so far as to provide a series of clues or map checkpoints that ultimately led to the location of the rave.

What could arguably be called raves existed in the early 1980s in the Ecstasy-fuelled club scene in clubs like NRG, and in the drug-free, all-ages scene in Detroit at venues like The Music Institute. However, it was not until the mid to late 1980s that a wave of psychedelic and other electronic dance music, most notably acid house and techno, emerged and caught on in the clubs, warehouses and free-parties of London and Manchester. These early raves were called the Acid House Summers. They were mainstream events that attracted thousands of people (up to 25,000) to come, dance and take LSD.

The noise and disturbance of thousands of people appearing at rural locations caused outrage in the national media. The government branded them Public Enemy number 1 and made the fine for holding an illegal party £20,000 and six months in prison. This, along with ecstasy becoming scarce, ended the early raves.

Police crackdowns on these often-illegal parties drove the scene into the countryside. The word "rave" somehow caught on to describe these semi-spontaneous weekend parties occurring at various locations outside the M25 Orbital motorway. (It was this that gave Orbital their name.)

The early rave scene also flourished underground in some U.S. cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles and as word of the budding scene spread, raves quickly caught on in other cities such as San Diego and New York City and in major urban centers across the European continent.

Raves began to expand into a global phenomenon around 1989-1992, mostly on a grassroots basis: people who had travelled to attend the first raves in each region began setting up promotion companies, often informally, to organize their own parties. By the mid-1990s, major corporations were sponsoring events and adopting the scene's music and fashion for their "edgier" advertising, making the scene become more commercialized.

In 1994, the United Kingdom's Criminal Justice Bill passed as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which contained several sections designed to suppress the growing free-party and anti-road protest movements (sometimes embodied by ravers and travellers).

The Act targeted electronic dance music, defining it as "wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats". The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act empowered police to arrest citizens who appeared to be: preparing to hold a rave (2 or more people), waiting for a rave to start (10+), or attending a rave (100+). Section 65 allows any uniformed constable who believes a person is on their way to a rave within a five-mile radius to stop them and direct them away from the area; noncompliant citizens may be subject to a maximum fine of £1,000.

In Central Europe and other parts of the world, rave culture was becoming part of a new youth movement. DJs and electronic music producers such as Westbam proclaimed the existence of a "raving society" and promoted electronic music as legitimate competition for rock and roll. Indeed, electronic dance music and rave subculture became mass movements. Raves had tens of thousands of attendants, youth magazines featured styling tips and television networks launched music magazines on house and techno music. The annual Love Parade festivals in Berlin attracted more than one million partygoers between 1997 and 2000.

In the early 2000s, the apparent number of illegal parties began to decline, and the number of sanctioned events seemed to be on the rise. The few constants in the scene include amplified electronic dance music, a vibrant social network built on the ethos of PLUR, percussive music and freeform dancing as a basis for drug use, and an ambivalent attitude toward "club drugs" such as ecstasy, methamphetamine, speed and Ketamine. However, increased cocaine usage, preponderance of adulterated ecstasy tablets and organized criminal activity has been detrimental to UK-based rave culture, although free parties are now on the rise again.

According to some long-time observers, rave music and its subculture began to stagnate by the end of the 1990s. The period of grassroots innovation and explosive growth and evolution was over; the flurry of passionate activity and the sense of international community were fading.

By the early 2000s, the terms "rave" and "raver" had fallen out of favour among many people in the electronic dance music community, particularly in Europe. Many Europeans returned to identifying themselves as "clubbers" rather than ravers. It became unfashionable among many electronic dance music aficionados to describe a party as a "rave", perhaps because the term had become bastardized. Some communities preferred the term "festival", while others simply referred to "parties". True raves, such as "Mayday", continued to occur for a time in Central Europe, with less constrictive laws allowing raves to continue in some countries long after the death of rave in the United Kingdom. Moreover, traditional rave paraphernalia, such as facemasks and pacifiers, ceased to be popular.

Raves and ravers continued to be vilified by government authorities. For example, following a July 2005 violent raid by police on CzechTek, an annual techno music festival, the Czech Republic's Prime Minister said the festival's attendees were "no dancing children but dangerous people" and that many were "obsessed people with anarchist proclivities and international links," who "provoke massive violent demonstrations, fuelled by alcohol and drugs, against the peaceful society".

As with any trend that runs on for more than a decade, the Rave scene has recently been harking back to the old days of warehouse parties, with a surge in "old school" club nights, particularly in the Jungle scene, with DJs and producers who had dropped out of the business playing sets of music from the founding days of their genre, and producing new records in that style. Clubs are increasingly going back to the grimy days of warehouses in terms of styling, rather than the interior designed venues of the late 90s.

But more importantly, the rave scene has become its own culture rather than just a "party" term. Vibrant groups of like-minded individuals have united in the "underground" dance scene to form raver communities that share the same ideas that the raver community was built upon in the 1990's: Openness, Acceptance, and Positivism. A prime example of this culture would be the tight-knit community based out of New York City built around the Raveclick website. Founded by Despina Simegiatos, the web site was created as a way to educate and keep people informed about the underground rave culture and scene bubbling beneath the Five Burroughs. Comprised of dancers, DJ's, producers, promoters, and fans of electronic dance music, the site has attracted over 1,400 members to its message board and has become a central hub of the New York rave scene while still retaining a core of friends who share the same ideals and desire. These communities will strive to keep the rave scene and it's culture alive and well in big cities across the United States.

The upsurge in popularity of rave culture in the United States at a certain period in time often lends it characteristics common to a 'movement' or Subculture. Although raves have existed in the United States as long as in any other country, the sudden explosion of mainstream popularity in the late nineties has lead to more common approaches to defining rave culture as a youth movement, in way which would not be possible in the UK or Europe due to a greater diversity amongst participants, countries and musical styles. Accordingly, many of the descriptions listed below are only appropriate to groups within the USA, and may even constitute generalisations within the US itself. Although not universally agreed upon by those in the rave movement, some of the central tenets of the culture are said to be:

Openness: to not judge, condemn, or label other people's style of clothes, hair, makeup, costume, sexual orientation, musical preference, race, age, gender, class or income.

Acceptance: to not try to convince anyone of the rightness or wrongness associated with most human activities.
Positivism: to subscribe to the notion that if something makes someone happy without hurting someone else, then that something is okay. As such, fights or scuffles at a rave are rare.

Although not a constant among all ravers, one philosophy of rave culture is expressed through the acronym "PLUR", for Peace, Love, Unity, Respect. The concept itself is found particularly irritating by a large number of clubgoers, many of whom have been hoping the concept will fade into antiquity, to be replaced by better marketing terminology for positivist thinking, at some later date. As of yet the new terminology is still unknown.

Ravers have been compared to both the hippies of the 1960s and new wavers of the 1980s due to their interest in non-violence and music.   Technology is, by definition, central to electronic music, and technological innovation has influenced rave subculture in many ways. For example, since loud music made it difficult to converse at raves, virtual communities were extremely important in rave subculture. Also, access to various affordable computer technologies empowered amateurs to compose or manipulate electronic music.

On rave parties doing dance tricks of all kinds is very popular. However these tricks are not always non-dangerous and can sometimes lead to damages, so they are not always tolerated by the organizers of the rave. What kind of tricks are allowed and what not differs from party to party.
In contrast to many other 'Youth Cultures', older people are often active members of the scene and are well represented at events.

Loosely defined terms generated by the rave community. They are generalized and not conclusive, complete, nor necessarily current.

Old school raver - refers to someone who has been a raver for some time, whereas a baby raver or a newbie refers to someone who is new to raving or at their first rave. Hardcore ravers are sometimes called pure ravers or true ravers or partykids. Something can be rave or have raveness.

Jaded raver - one who has been in the rave scene for a long time or someone who is growing tired of 'the scene' and raving. The newness of the experience has long ago worn off and they have noticed the seamier side. They may be annoyed at what the raving experience has become or they may be lackadaisical to certain aspects of raving that they once held a fondness for. Quite often a jaded raver will not appreciate the influx of new ravers into the scene because the new ravers are viewed as contributing to the scene's decay.
Club kid - tends to dress in bright colors and flashy, sometimes gaudy clothes, including leather and fur. They might also favor fluorescent plastic bead necklaces and candy bracelets. Many club kids also wear children's' backpacks. Male club kids tend to dress in a more feminine manner. In some localities, a club kid is viewed as an outsider.
Candy raver / Candykid / bunny - often wears brightly coloured and child-like fashions such as day-glo wide leg pants, black light reactive or glow-in-the-dark bracelets/necklaces and t-shirts featuring cartoon characters. They wear homemade bracelets and necklaces made of plastic, glass, or felt beads or candy. Candy ravers or candykids are often found exchanging or giving out small gifts. These small gifts will usually be hugs, toys, glowsticks, drugs, CDs, necklaces, bracelets, and/or candy.

Liquid dancer - a person who performs liquid dancing (a fluid gesticulation of the arms and body) Junglist refers to an urban-based sub-culture of the rave scene defined by Drum and Bass (DnB) / Jungle music. Junglists often detest mainstream rave music and prefer darker and deeper vibes. Hostility between ravers and junglists has lead to a disconnect between the two groups. Many junglists refuse to refer to themselves as 'ravers' because of the drug connotations and the rave style of dress and attitude. Many junglists were once doe-eyed ravers or even candy kids who, after becoming jaded, left that part of the scene.

Some ravers participate in a light-oriented dance called glowsticking, and a similar dance called glowstringing, or poi. These dances, however, are independent of the raving community, and often the stereotyped association may be resented. Glow sticks in the dark stimulate the pupils, and it is claimed that they relieve the effects of Ecstasy. Therefore at some rave places they are presented as "safety materials." In some cases the sale of glow sticks during rave parties was presented as a proof of illegal drug use. Glow sticks have been considered drug paraphernalia because they are used in "blowing (someone) up," or giving someone on Ecstasy a "light show." The recipient of the light show sits or stands facing the show giver who moves the glow sticks away and towards the face of the recipient in various stylized movements. This lightshow is sometimes accompanied by a facial massage and/or by blowing mentholated vapors into the nose, mouth, and eyes of the recipient. This is intended to increase the effects of Ecstasy.

Regardless, glowsticks can be used at raves for interesting dance effects, because most raves, except some open air raves e.g., techno parades are held in dark or nearly dark rooms. Because rave parties are popular with people who wish to show off their dancing, glowsticks can be an ancillary material for creative freestyle dance.

In the U.S. the subculture has been branded by the mainstream media and law enforcement agencies as a purely drug-centric culture similar to the hippies of the 1960s. As a result, ravers have been effectively run out of business in many areas (Media Awareness Project). Although they continue in major coastal cities like New York and LA, and notably the Winter Music Conference in Florida, most other areas have been relegated to word-of-mouth-only underground parties and nightclub events. In some parts of Europe, raves are common and mainstream, although they are now more often known as "festivals," highlighting multiple acts over a whole day period, and often including non-dance music acts.

Groups that have addressed drug use at raves include the Electronic Music Defence and Education Fund (EMDEF) and DanceSafe, which advocate harm reduction approaches. Paradoxically, drug safety literature (such as those distributed by DanceSafe) are used as evidence of condoned drug use (EMDEF press release). Other groups, such as Drug Free America Foundation, Inc., characterize raves as being rife with gang activity, rape, robbery, and drug-related deaths.

In 2005, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, advocated drug testing on highways as a countermeasure against drug use at raves.


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