Posted on January 12, 2017
At Rave’s End + No Hero Radio #002
I think my real introduction to communal dancing and the rave scene began in the illegal parties on the outskirts of Mumbai and Goa. I’d attended concerts before that, but the testosterone-charged atmosphere of Bombay’s metal and rock concerts did little for me compared to the relative liberation and freedom felt in the midst an outdoor rave with, importantly enough, non-stop music. Time played a huge factor in this. While a concert had this set-in-stone, PG-13 pattern of beginning around dinner time at say 7pm and ending around 10pm, the illegal parties began around midnight and lasted a whole twelve hours sometimes. The parties in Goa even went on for days at a time. I also had to be pretty open about going to a concert i.e. no one really cared, but I almost always had to lie to my folks about going to a rave. In the dumbest way, that probably amplified the thrill. I figure I’d be really into that scene even now but for the bulk of the music being absolute dogshit. While I really enjoyed taking those road-trips to get outdoors and dancing through the night and the morning with my friends, I couldn’t bring myself to ever listen to psychedelic trance music on any normal day ever. But there are people who do, and bless their hearts because they’re the real troopers.
It was only around the year 2004, aged 17-and-a-half, when I moved to London that I discovered what a rave meant in the ol’ English sense. The music was rarely if ever as monotonous as psytrance, and sound-systems seemed to have been tweaked perfectly for every occasion and every kind of music. There was usually a choice of beer to drink (because sometimes you brought your own; Kronenbourg 1664 and Red Stripe for me) and unlike back home, the police, when they did come around to put and end to things, didn’t threaten violence or arrest anybody. They only ever just wanted the noise to stop. The only commonalities I could think of between England and Mumbai were that there were a large number of freaks who assembled in places sometimes far away from home to dance, and that they always knew of the parties from Internet forums or text messages or word-of-mouth.
It was around this time I was introduced to the music of Good Looking Records, R&S, Creative Source, Lucky Spin and Dee Jay Recordings, and then later on Virus Recordings, Skam, Warp, Wax Trax and Rephlex plus the dubby, minimal electronics of Basic Channel. At a lot of these parties I went to, I found myself surrounded by people who couldn’t seem to let go of their fascination with the mid-‘90s sound, all clinging on to the fag-end of the rave era and probably for good reason. A lot, and I mean A LOT of this music has aged very, very well. Take Parallel World’s ’Tear Into It’ for example.
I recall never caring about who was playing the music back then and that, I suppose, was perfectly okay with me, and besides I was mainly into bands and shit. I’d however amassed tens of CDRs of old-school jungle. drum ’n’ bass and techno tracks as hand-me-downs, so in a way, I kinda knew the music and that seemed to matter more. The LTJ Bukem mixes and the Jumpin’ n Pumpin’ compilations left quite the mark I think and I sorely wish I’d still hung on all of them or even know where I’d left them. With no real aspirations in music (I attended culinary school during the week) I was a bit too off my rocker at the parties then to care about following what the DJs were getting up to. All I really wanted was for the party to not stop. And when it did stop, it was back to my flat at Shepherd’s Bush on the night bus or sometimes two trains, a stop at Gregg’s for carbs, cafe au lait from the hole-in-the-wall next door to the post office, and then downtime at home with my Greek roommate who would be drinking these home-brewed magic health potions and listening to the latest in European IDM on my Stanton STR-8. She was amazing in the way that she would always call me in the morning to ask if I wanted the bath running when I got home but absolutely batshit insane in the way that when she left she burned all the insoles of my shoes and tried to end me with my eight-inch Wursthof. I wish her well though.
Those were, in fact, the most memorable days and nights even though they seem to blend into each other. As I cleaned up my act so-to-speak, I began going to parties closer to home and sort-of expanding my musical tastes. The circle of transitional party friends had been split and everybody had retreated back to Kent or Hertfordshire or Canterbury. Weirdly enough, I was the only city boy among this one particular lot and consequently found myself quite alone. Music that played in the city was mostly shit apart from concerts and what you heard at say Electrowerkz and Fabric or the low-key Spitz near where I worked on Commercial Street. Soon though I found my favorite underground spot – the members-only (five quid), converted underground toilet Ginglik. Ginglik was a local treasure, and a fantastic place to get completely shit-faced and listen to some really really good music that was diametrically opposite to the crap you’d hear outside, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. And they had a variety of shit going on there. Bands some nights, comedy during the week, local neighbourhood meetups, and DJs on the weekends. Jimmy Carr was a fan and legend has it that even the late Robin Williams dropped in one night to do a surprise set. I caught residents Kone-R and Magnetic Man often enough even the less-talked-about LJ Kruzer who had a lot of (justifiable) hype around him back then. To top it off, I could walk home at the end of the night with a convenient stopover for a kebab and even pick up a pint of milk, some blue Powerade and the morning paper from the Sri Lankan grocer downstairs.
A huge turning point for me musically came with the Wheels Instead of Hooves all-nighter in March of 2005. It’s where I got to check out B12 playing live, plus Plaid, Ceephax Acid Crew, Luke Vibert, Rob Hall and the Skam DJs among a whole lot of folks squarely in that Rephlex-Warp-Skam vibe in a fucking blistering party that I couldn’t get out of my mind for weeks. All of a sudden I didn’t care so much about illegal parties outside of London because I was getting more than I could have handled right here in the city. That was in the past, and this here was very much the present and the future. It seemed that the louder and more annoying pop music became on the radio, the heavier and more unrelentingly the underground responded back. London in early ’05 seemed THE place to be, but sadly enough, I left soon after.
From a complete outsider’s perspective, I think it was the implementation of the Drugs Act of 2005 that signaled the final nail in the rave scene’s coffin. And with the recent enlargement of EU, Eastern Europeans were flooding into the city looking for jobs and everybody from the owner of the Lahore kebab shop in Aldgate to the Italian deli owner in Ladbroke Grove thought it fit to complain about “immigrants”. Pretty ironic. For a place that prided itself on its diversity and tolerance towards immigrant populations, even parts of East London (where I worked) were turning sour with angry, racist people finally coming out of their angry, racist closets and bigotry making the news often (well, as often as it could steal some headlines from David Beckham’s romps with the personal assistant). On the music side, most everything great but festivals had moved indoors and the scene was, for better or worse, changing and having to reinvent the way it kept listeners glued. I had also quit Thames Valley University in Ealing by then and joined the Musicians Institute in Acton and knew my time was coming to a close. I had my sights set on America and a new chapter in my life, one that would take me to the Pacific Northwest, home to a few thousand hippies, Kurt Cobain and a lot of artisanal coffee.
On a complete side-note, I think, in theory, for any non-mainstream scene to survive against the mammoth of something like, say, Bollywood, it has to find a way to get itself heard and get heard LOUD. It has to be able to offer young kids the space and time completely lose themselves minus the modern-day distractions. If that means hosting illegal all-nighters at undisclosed locations once-or-twice-a-while, that may just be it; let’s just not make it a fucking posh affair restricted to only rich socialites and “influencers”, both groups of which proudly parade around their undeniably shit taste in music. I went to a club night in Nuremberg in September that incentivised leaving your phone in a locker at the front of the club, and with most people having done that, I dare say, it was different, in a good way. I think small ideas like those can actually change things for the club scene. If those who worked in the music industry and claimed a stake in whatever you could call the underground these days could look at music as the base of the pyramid and everything being built on top, I can’t help but think the music would actually get better and more avenues for its expression would eventually open up. Admittedly, that’s impossible with a cash-grab mentality that seems to govern most folks these days but I still believe it pays to be hopeful, especially when things are looking down.
Okay, back the whole point of this. Cleaning up MY closet this morning, I found some CDs from those days in London, most of them in terrible condition so I kind of excavated whatever decent quality tunes I could from them and made a mix of about an hour and a half. In some ways it was an emotional ride just making this mix, and in some ways it was good to kind of get it out of my system. I have little time to listen to old music these days when there’s so fucking much new shit out there. Eventually, I’ll toss these CDRs away because this nostalgic shit is really unbecoming of me (I’ve begun to appreciate the irony brought on through my own contradictions).
For now though, here’s a throwback to some music from the ‘90s. All (I think) heard and danced to in London in ’04 and ’05. Enjoy listening and have a great January. Tracklist below.