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Museum of Youth Culture:
The Rave Road

Words by Jamie Brett, Museum of Youth Culture

At the heart of rave culture lies a deep-rooted history of folk gatherings, a primitive connectedness, and do-it-yourself creativity all united through a mesmerizing love for the undulating bass of dance music.

Since the earliest records of human gatherings, cave-drawings show distant figures moving their bodies to the sound of drums made from hide. Judging by similar surviving ceremonies in Africa, India & Australasia, humans have been intrinsically and energetically connected by the repetitive beats of music composed specifically to encourage and intensify our natural desire to dance together.

Time-warp to the late 1960s and the commercial availability of the electronic synthesiser such as the Moog, and the evolving of self-built dub Sounds Systems in Jamaica, early experimentation with big sound & electronic music begins, and by the early 1980s, drum and rhythm machines such as the Roland-808 and the Roland-909 bring to the world an opportunity to reconnect to those ancient sounds of bass, rhythm and a resounding repetition.

Jah Revelation, Roots Style N' Passion, Notting Hill, London, 1985 by Beezer

Across the pond in the USA in the early 1980s, the sounds of house music formed in the underground black, queer warehouse parties held in abandoned motor industry factories, a place for those marginalised to come together amongst the detritus of the collapsed economies of mid-Western cities such as Detroit and Chicago. Phasing out the sound of Motown and Disco, house music began appearing on American Mid-West pirate radio stations, diversifying its audience outside of a formative Black Gay listener-base towards the general American public. Holy grail cassette tape recordings of this formative period exist on YouTube, with DJ’s beginning to mix, scratch and talk over the tracks, an early precursor to the worldwide renowned sounds of modern House, Techno, Drum n Bass and UK Garage to name a few.

Techno Pioneer Carl Craig in Detroit, USA, 1987 by Normski

Although Disco was designed to be mixed and played continuously for all-night parties, it wasn’t until the emergence of Acid-House in the clubs of Ibiza that began to fuse a chilled-out Balearic synth, with the crunching bass of Detroit into a new sound that, alongside the emerging popularity of drugs imported from the States like Ecstasy, worked hand in hand to produce 24 hour transcendental dedication to the love of dance music that lasts for well over 4 decades.

Playing a vital role in bringing this new sound to the UK was a club night held at the Hacienda venue in Manchester. Directly importing the event ‘Hot’ to the club name-by-name, the Indie club took a risk and allowed DJs Mike Pickering and Jon DaSilva to bring Acid House to Manchester on less popular Wednesday nights, to huge success and eventually bringing the club from bankruptcy to worldwide fame.

Acid House Ravers at The Haçienda, Manchester, 1989

As the sound of rave began to clash with the Conservative politics of Thatcherite Britain, thousands of young people began to party in what were previously outdated, often holiday camp style nightclubs and, much like the black community of the American Mid-West, took over empty factory spaces in the now derelict and deprived Industrial North of England.

Repurposing the factories in which their forefathers used to work, young ravers replaced the sounds of turbines and machinery with the pounding kick-drum and squelching synth of Acid House and Hardcore breakbeats, a manifesto for a new way of living, free from the humdrum of pop music, manual labour and Conservative politics.

Freedom to Party protest in Trafalgar Square, London, 1990 by Gavin Watson
Ravers in High Wycome, 1980s by Gavin Watson

In fact, many young adults decided to sell their houses and buy old buses, lorries and even ex-East German military vans and trucks. Turning them into mobile-homes and carrying powerful, often converted Jamaican Dub speaker stacks. This powerful subculture of travelling ravers fused with an already established group of nu-age travellers armed with activist strategies to help preserve a rave culture at risk.

By 1994, the British Government launched an official taskforce to crack down on large unlicensed open-air raves, legislating against events which involved ‘a series of repetitive beats.’ In protest, a series of large-scale Anti-Criminal Justice Act protests took place across the UK, and illegal outdoor raves continues to attract as much as 25,000 people outside the M25, triggering sensationalist headlines and national moral panic.

Bar Truck, Steart Beach, Bridgwater Bay, 2002 by Molly Macindoe
Crowd at Stonehenge, Summer Solstice, UK, 2001 by Adrian Fisk

Towards the mid-90s, and in response to nationwide protests and general public disdain towards ‘crusty’ ravers as the clean-cut aesthetic of Blairite Cool Britannia began to take over, a decades long European bond began to form through a well-established travelling ‘Rave Convoy’ which dotted across Europe bringing the sounds of Acid House and Techno to countries such as France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

Setting up impromptu parties in abandoned quarries, woodlands and industrial spaces across all types of European terrains, climates, and local dialects, these Free Parties brought the unifying sounds of electronic music to the people, picking up roadies and lifelong friendships along the way.

The ripple of electronic music spread with vigour across the European continent, with Italy spawning its own buoyant piano-led house music with its own disco lineage known as Italo House, and the unmistakable visuals of Italian 80s design (in particular Memphis Group) informing the interior spaces of nightclubs across the world. Across the border into Germany, and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall came a harder, four-to-the-floor Techno, evolving into a genre of its own and pushing a darker, harder kick-drum with brutalist, concrete visuals and a deviously hedonistic squat rave energy. As a result, many see Berlin as the epicentre of Techno, with exclusive and enigmatic super clubs like Berghain and Tresor attracting visitors from all over the world.

Flyer for The Fantastic Ibiza, 1989 by Chelsea Louise Berlin
A Squat Rave, Cardiff, 2018 by Aiyush Pachnanda

In celebration of this iconic Rave Road, Fred Perry joins forces with the Museum of Youth Culture to tell this powerful story of international friendship and cultural connectedness through a series of online and in-store exhibitions, twinning each of its European stores together through their own individual yet interconnected and untold rave histories.