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The history of rave culture takes a trip to a field just off the M25 to discover what the hell rave culture is all about.

What is a rave?

A rave is an all night event, where people go to dance, socialise, get high and generally have fun in an uninhibited way with other likeminded people. Some say it's about the creation of a community and re-connecting with something perceived as lost. Others just say it's about necking loads of pills and getting wasted with your mates in a field.


Usually in a derelict warehouse, a club, a beach, a field, an aircraft hangar or a sports arena - anywhere you could fit a massive sound system and a lot of people. In the rave heydays of the late '80s, the larger events attracted tens of thousands of people. The venue would often remain secret up until hours before the party was to begin as a way of keeping the police away. Organisers would even sometimes have backup sites in mind in case the cops sniffed them out - which they did more and more often.


The term rave first came into use in Britain in the late 50's referring to the wild bohemian parties of the time. It was then briefly revived by the mods, but didn't come back into fashion until the illegal London warehouse party scene in the mid eighties. However it is likely that the term 'rave' came from Jamaican usage rather than a revival of any previous usage in Britain.


Rave crowds were and still are mostly (but not exclusively) young from all sections of society .

What is rave music?

Rave music is what most people now call 'dance' music, or as some government wonk put it, music with a distinctive 'series of repetitive beats'. Early ravers discovered that the combination of ecstasy and music with fast, repetitive beats was a marriage made in disco heaven. The big raves have a line-up of bigtime DJs as well as some live performances by dance music bands.

Instead of money and power, rave called for empathy, intimacy, spirituality and the joy of losing yourself in the crowd.

Why did rave culture take such a hold of the UK in the 1980s?

There are many theories why the UK went nuts for raving in the late 80s and beyond. It happened during a period of major consumerism and individualism. Margaret Thatcher was telling everybody to look after number one (famously saying there was "no such thing as society"). There was bound to be a reaction to this and it helped that a bunch of English DJs had just got back from Ibiza where they had experienced ecstasy and rave culture first hand. They brought it to the young people of Britain and within a year rave culture had flourished. Instead of money and power, rave called for empathy, intimacy, spirituality and the joy of losing yourself in the crowd.

Some other random thoughts: Doug Rushkoff, author of Ciberia, observed that the majority of house music runs at the speed of 120 bpm (the rate of the foetal heartbeat), while Simon Reynolds has noted that raves mimic the atmosphere of a nursery with its use of kids' TV themes, sampled baby vocals, dummies, baggy unisex clothes, and the camouflaging of drugs as sweets. Think about that next time you go dancing.

And then came the end

By the early '90s, the Tory government, the police, the tabloid press and middle England had all had enough of rave culture. The government acted, passing the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994).

Sections 63, 64 & 65 addressed the issue of raves:

A 'rave' is defined as a gathering of 100 plus people, at which amplified music is played which is likely to cause serious distress to the local community, in the open air and at night. These sections give the police the power to order people to leave the land if they're believed to be:

  • Preparing to hold a rave (two or more people)
  • Waiting for a rave to start (10 or more)
  • Actually attending a rave (10 or more)

Ignoring this direction, or returning to the land within the next week, are both offences, liable to 3 months' imprisonment and/or a 2,500 fine. Section 65 lets any uniformed constable who believes a person is on their way to a rave within a 5-mile radius to stop them and direct them away from the area - failure to comply can lead to a maximum fine of 1000.

The Act effectively killed off free parties or events not licensed through local government. Aciiid is dead, long life Aciiid.

Updated: 01/04/2011

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