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A few words on the explosion of illegal raves this summer


Pandemic-rave culture

Boy's Own rave 1989, photo by Dave Swindells Boy's Own rave 1989, photo by Dave Swindells

There was a time when the thought of illegal raves conjured up romantic images of gatherings like Boy’s Own’s rave in East Grinstead, acid house parties during the second Summer of Love in 1988, or smoke-filled warehouses somewhere just off the M25. Pictures taken at sunrise of wide-eyed revellers lounging on hay bales, rocking double denim and reebok classics, fuelled some incredible daydreaming.

After the second Summer of Love, rave culture carried on booming into the early 90s before facing a sharp decline following the Tories’ Criminal Justice Bill in 1994. The Bill was passed in response to the explosion of unlicensed parties happening at the time. Its main catalyst was an epic week-long rave at Castlemorton Common in 1992, attended by up to 40,000 people. By heavily increasing police powers, the Criminal Justice Bill – which singled out music “characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” – made it far harder for illegal raves to continue, forcing revellers out of fields and warehouses and into licensed venues.

Illegal raves had been enjoying a renaissance pre-covid, however the rise in numbers this summer has been dramatic. Since the end of June, the police have responded to over 1,000 unlicensed parties in London alone. Opportunistic organisers across the country have been capitalising on people’s desperation to get out and party by throwing 3000+ person pandemic-raves rife with violence, crime and various other issues. As a deterrent, illegal party organisers, and even facilitators of gatherings of 30 people or more, now face fines of £10,000.

It should be stated that the illegal raves reported this summer are not representative of the large proportion of unlicensed parties that were existing healthily under the radar pre-covid. The resurgence of unlicensed parties over the past 10 years has mainly been a response to nightclub closures as well as gentrification, over-regulation of events and difficulty obtaining late-night licenses. For the most part these parties were existing through a shared love of music and bringing people together. In contrast, this summer’s activity has predominantly been a result of culture being cancelled and serve as a reminder of the crucial roles nightclubs and festivals play in keeping young people entertained and occupied.

Unlike the early 90s when licensed venues overtook raves as young people’s primary source of escapism, this time there isn’t a substitute. Although too early to tell, reports suggest that the upping of fines has done little to deter rave organisers and attendees. There have already been over 20 £10,000 fines handed out, most notably to the organisers behind a 3000-person rave in the mountain village of Banwen, South Wales over the August bank holiday.

It’s difficult to justify clubs reopening with the possibility of a second coronavirus wave looming, though it’s clear that if we are to endure another year of no parties, this new explosion of illegal raves will only grow louder. Socially-distanced events can help fill the void in the short term and provide a much-needed lifeline to our industry. However, clubs and festivals will need the chance to operate freely (with necessary precautions) again in order to regain their allure and provide safe spaces for people to dance in.

Sadly, it feels like there will still be at least a few months to go before that can happen. All we can do for now is keep dancing in our living rooms and daydreaming about the next Summer of Love.

Roll on 2021.


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