The secretive world of UK raves is a dizzy mix of drugs, mistrust of the authorities and exclusive WhatsApp groups – but what brings it all together is music and nights to remember.
Secret locations. Announcements hours before an event. Password protected social media groups. Paranoia of police infiltration. The word of rave music has begun to resemble the working of the Mafia, thanks to Covid-19.
The scene has spawned shocking headlines recently, due to stabbings, rapes and crowds of up to 4,000 rowdy partygoers invading empty fields. An illegal rave in Carrington, near the training ground of Manchester United, saw three stabbings occur, with police having to fight through revellers to reach one victim who was fighting for his life. A teenage woman also reported being raped on the site and other officers had to take cover as some ravers pelted them with missiles.
But the negative reaction to these gatherings, which even saw them discussed in the House of Commons, hasn’t killed the momentum.
They’ve been dubbed illegal or quarantine raves, as with social distancing laws in place, there’s nowhere for ravers to cut loose legally.
This Saturday night, Pleasureroom Records will release the location of their London rave – one hour before it starts. To gain entry, people have to locate the invite-only WhatsApp group then supply their name, phone number and Facebook page.
RT got in contact with the organisers but they did not feel comfortable commenting.
However, the man behind another secret rave, 18-hour Freedom in the Sticks, was more forthcoming.
Known as Kev, he’s expecting 1,200 people at his event on July 25.
Many have already bought tickets. This is done via bank transfer – they send a picture of payment confirmation to the event’s social media and their tickets are then delivered.
Kev is quick to highlight how illegal events are only one side of the coin.
He said: “They are not putting people’s safety first, big groups turn up, fights happen and there’s no security. You need to make sure people are behaving themselves. At these illegal ones any Tom, Dick or Harry can turn up and it makes the whole rave scene look ugly.
“I’m putting my heart into it, there’s a good squad of us and we’ve all got good intentions.”
Freedom in the Sticks will have security personnel, guard dogs and will be held on private land that is fenced-off. The event is even advertised as virus-free, with branded face masks and hand sanitiser distributed, and the site large enough to comply with social distancing.
Revellers won’t find out the precise location though until the day of the event.
Kev added: “That gives it that old school 80s feel, people like that and we’ve had people hitting 50 years old wanting to come. We want it to be peaceful and no bad vibes. It’s about the music. People want a release and to let themselves go – enough is enough with Covid, they are overhyping it.”
Even after managing to gain entry into the Secret Shindigs #001 WhatsApp group, I was accused of being a member of the police for asking too many questions. Pictures of pigs and posts such as “he’s a fed” followed.
One raver who does go to illegal events did agree to speak.
Rosie – not her real name – explained: “Promoting it over social media is attracting all crowds, right and wrong ones which is why I believe setting up an illegal rave only with the right people is important.
“That’s why the next one I’m attending is invite only, not promoted, so hopefully we won’t have any issues.”
She admits that drugs are part of the scene and has herself taken MDMA, ecstasy and ketamine at raves.
No surprise she isn’t overly worried by Covid-19.
“I used to worry but I don’t anymore,” she said. “I don’t trust our Prime Minister or our government and everyone has their own opinions. I believe we still have to live our lives and take precautions when possible, but still enjoy life.”
I go for the music and so does everyone else I know.
Clearly, many feel the same as Rosie as there’s a feeling that raves offer an outlet for people who don’t align with expensive nightclubs or strict dress codes.
Someone’s who spent a long time in the scene is X13, who’s concealing his identity for fear his employer discovers he attends illegal raves.
He said: “It feels free from the normal constraints of a night out. People go for the music, to socialise with friends, to feel the music hit their chest. It’s not a night of loutishness you typically get on a British highstreet. A rave is about the music and the people.
“People go to have fun, not for everyone to meet up and stab and rape each other, why would anyone go if that was normal? It’s horrible when that shit happens and ruins it for everyone, thankfully it’s a complete rarity, I’ve never experienced anything like that and I hope I never will. Does that mean it’s free from violence? No, but it’s not accepted, tolerated or condoned. “
The general rule of all raves is ‘Don’t be a dick’ and ‘Eyes to the Skies’.
X13 also shed light on an intriguing rave sub-culture involving the UFO scene fuelled by the pandemic and also explained why most involved want to keep their participation secret.
“Raves are entrenched in alternative culture and rebellion, therefore there is an inherent distrust of authority in some circles. One of the main scenes still active is the new UFOs has emerged because of COVID.
“They use the UFO Facebook groups to organise raves so the police don’t find them, but it’s grown into a subculture of underground space themed bass music where people look to the skies hunting for UFOs whilst dancing.
“This is a scene entrenched in conspiracy theories. We’re all in search of a cosmic, out of this world experience.”
Some established rave organisers are also very unhappy about how their community is being portrayed right now by the mainstream media. The police are now actively shutting down raves in advance by infiltrating social media groups, because of the recent scandals which included a death from a drug overdose.
An organiser based in the North East of England commented: “Generally the rave scene has never had a great appearance from the outside looking in and these illegal raves certainly don’t do the reputation any favours.
“Most clubs who we deal with are willing to work with us to make sure everything goes well in terms of security etc and the nights generally go without problems, usually a lot fewer problems than their normal dance nights.”
However, there’s no doubt that the current illegal scene is being powered by youth.
One theory is that we are in a security conscious and politically correct era, so this is their outlet to throw off the shackles and rebel.
Veteran illegal rave goer, speaking under pseudonym Jack Yabaddi revealed: “Older ravers remember when self-organisation was the only opportunity. Raving never died, it was just absorbed and sanitised.”
UK music festivals are just a cleaned up version of the illegal party scene.
“Now with Covid-19, this is like prohibition as when booze was banned in the USA, the speakeasy culture sprang up. Raves are about nurturing joy and feeling free. Being recognised and being the truest version of yourself even if just for a night. Then it’s back to your shitty job in Starbucks with your passive aggressive boss.”
“I always remember something a DJ said at a rave in London which stuck with me: This is not a free party because you don’t have to pay to get in, this is a free party because you bring your freedom.”
Whatever way the rave scene goes from here, legal or illegal – it doesn’t look like it’s going to be boring.