Still not locked off.
Every weekend, all across the country, hundreds, often thousands on bank holiday, of people of varying ages will find themselves venturing far from the bright lights of city centres and breaking the law for the sole purpose of socialising and dancing to music rarely seen in the overly strict, guarded, often hostile environments of commercial clubs.
Yes, the free party scene is still alive and healthy in 2019. In the Lancashire and Manchester area alone, there is a myriad of crews all with slightly different sounds and equipment, yet all sharing the common wish to put parties on, out of great cost and risk of imprisonment, for a solid community of people all with one thing in common, the love of music and the culture that surrounds it. Just this summer crews across the area put on regular multi-system link ups in astounding natural locations from Burnley to the Yorkshire Dales. Perhaps the ultimate nod of respect to our local scene was when iconic Drum and Bass DJ Goldie came and played a set for free at a Dropjaw Audio party in some woods near Darwen at the end of August. The fact our region alone still has such a thriving underground dance scene is fitting really, as it is this region that was the home of huge illegal acid house raves in the early 90’s, and the worlds first super-club, the Hacienda, long since shut down and converted into flats; a sad reminder of the factors that have driven new and inventive dance music and the people who follow it out of the commercialised, expensive city centres.
Manchester’s nightlife in particular is suffering due to the appeal to developers to throw up low-cost, poor quality accommodation for its booming student population, which results in many venues (such as sound control last year) being sold off and flattened. With an increase in inner city population there also comes harsher restrictions on sound levels, and opening hours, as seen in the removal of Antwerp Mansion’s (a dance music venue in an old Victorian mansion-house in Rusholme) license earlier this year, and the cutting of their opening times from 3am to a practically evening time 11:30pm. Even if the venue of your choice is still open, it is often not worth the fuss going there for many young people, with ridiculous security often not letting you in for the wrong trainers, brand of shirt, or simply because you just “don’t look right”, and all that’s before you get into having to pay eye-watering prices for drinks at the bars.
In contrast to this, a night at a free party could not be any more different. No one is judged on how they dress, the atmosphere is one of acceptance of all tribes and styles, and often the most expensive part of the night is trying to sort a minibus to take you and your mates to whatever quiet corner in the back of beyond the crews have decided to go to that weekend. The DIY, anti establishment attitude of the punk era has truly carried down through the ages to this scene, with everyone conscious of the nature of the event they are at. I have seen more trouble on one night round town than I have in years of going to so-called “illegal” raves. The community led nature of these parties also adds an extra degree of it unseen in any other nightlife culture in the country at the moment. The fact everyone knows each other means after a few months of attending parties you will be bound to see familiar faces, it is reminiscent of past days when there were still defined subcultures and scenes, and it is obvious to all the organisers and DJ’s are just as embedded in this scene as the ravers who show up week in week out to support them.
The free party scene was once also a hub of political organising in this country, in the early 90’s, for example, many of the new age travellers subscribed to anarchistic ideologies, and their parties likewise were places of transmission of these values and attitudes. The British State obviously saw the scene as a threat, so much so they passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order act of 1994, in response to a huge free festival on Castlemorton Common held in 1992, which saw up to 40,000 people all peacefully gathered totally out of the control of any police, bouncers or profiteering promoters. This act explicitly banned the listening of ‘repetitive beats’ in a public place, deliberately targeting the burgeoning rave scene and disrupting these peaceful gatherings of communities to this day. The attendees of these raves had a role in the poll tax riots, and indeed huge protests against the Criminal Justice and Public Order act were held by the ravers themselves. Sadly, the rave scene today is slightly less explicitly political than it once was, but the attitudes of anti-state, anti-commercialism and solidarity still firmly exist within the scene, and I think it would be foolish for people within the scene who share left-wing, pro working class values to not start and try espouse them more, We are seeing this with the advent of RedTek in London, and indeed our very own 0161 Community Soundsystem.
In conclusion then, the free party scene is still thriving in the UK, and with the decline of city night life, it is likely more and more people will start to be drawn towards this side of nightlife, and with Tory cuts getting harsher year upon year, we may again soon see the day when the dancing turns to marching, and we will have a culture with real power for social change, soundtracked by earth-shaking bass and banging kick drums. Ring the partyline anytime after ten, and keep your ears to the ground!