Hedonistic Hysteria

A look at the rave culture, its formation, impact and legacy musically and culturally today. 

 

WATCHING HEATHER SMALL trot around BBC's Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday evoked memories of the former M People lead singer's dance talent of a different kind throughout the 1990s.

This dance talent provoked a swarm of politicians to debate on a phenomena, people of all ages and backgrounds commenting on the raucous sound and the drug-induced culture hitting swathes of 'oiks' on the M25.

In the late 1980s onwards, something arose which allowed masses to join and become not only involved in racing Ford Escort XR3is over 100mph past Clacket Lane Services, but something which captured the imagination of millions of desperate folk.

In amongst the Margaret Thatcher era of emerging capitalist privatisation in the south and scores of workers offloaded from their staple industry jobs of mining and steel production in the north by the "Iron Lady" and her regime, below Watford Gap the rave culture descended from America at a tidal impact.

However the term "rave" had been adopted by numerous artists contrasting deeply from those who engineered their electronics and indulged on ecstasy in London's green belt 'gardens'. Not just those who swept dancers off their feet who had emerged dazzled by the warehouse of the Hacienda club in Manchester and its "Acid House" beats, but in the 1950s and 60s, pop musician and drummer Keith Moon of The Who and rock's guitarist and vocalist Eric Clapton of The Yardbirds were just some of the self-confessed "ravers" by day-and-night. Although, this emerging culture to overhaul the previous unfortunately puritan and sparse era for entertainment which had preceded it (offering wartime depictions by Vera Lynn and musicals including Oklahoma! from Rodgers and Hammerstein) and by no fault of its own due to the destruction witnessed during the Second World War and the Blitz, was something of a refreshing change culturally.

Prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson would view it and the latter embrace it, as socially it provided Britons a chance to unite and depict a state of happiness. But how did the rave of the 60s change rapidly to the rave of the 80s and today?

Observing Keith Moon launch his latest new car in to a swimming pool alongside floozies in skimpy gear outside his mansion in exuberant destruction throughout the 1960s, compared with Orbital's Paul and Phil Hartnoll's motionless displays behind Roland keyboards and beside a frenzied female dancer on Top of The Pops in 1990, highlights the dramatic change.

Technologically music had not yet found its niche and until the mid 1970s via synthesizer group Kraftwerk and productions by Giorgio Moroder, the era of fortissimo drumming and hippy haircuts was prominent. Image-wise, people accepted the change and with roaches incessantly rolled and Prog Rock groups like Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes leading suit in dodgy haircuts, the rave was psychedelic and rock based, but slightly safer and deemed more intellectual than raving today. Not everyone accepted it, least of all those who were used to listening to Tchaikovsky and attending Evensong services in their local parishes.

But to compare the rave of the 50s and 60s with the rave nowadays would simply fall flat. In America, the disco scene which evolved via "Chicago House" and "Detroit Techno" in the 70s, with the first DJs embarking on software imported from China, helping to mix many an Earth Wind & Fire or Kool & The Gang record, helped capture the attention of numerous UK based artists after a rave renaissance.

One of Punk's influential groups, Joy Division, was destroyed by lead singer Ian Curtis' unexpected suicide in May 1980, but what followed was the re-grouping of New Order and the calls of "Acid House". New lead singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, drummer Stephen Morris and keyboardist Gillian Gilbert rose from the flames of Joy Division to tour New York and be swept up by the house sounds and hedonistic culture of a lively and homo-erotic partying scene. In turn, this lead to the 1980s witnessing so-called "New Wave", "New Romantic"and "Synth-pop" artists including Duran Duran, Tears For Fears and Depeche Mode all embrace electronics - they just did not no how to party.

From listening to Blue Monday by New Order in 1983, composed on an Oberheim DMX drum machine with a subtle tempo house beat of between 121-135 beats per minute, the early signals of "New Rave" were there to adore. Not only did this influence New Order (their 1989 album Technique contained their best Acid House work as it was produced in Ibiza) and their fellow Manchester peers including The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and 808 State to dabble in lush melodic but frenetic rhythms on Roland TR-808s (808 State adopted their name from the 808 drum machine and their state of mind), but it allowed DJs and artists globally to spot a niche which could be explored. 

Soon after though, Maggie and her croneys would criticise the escalating drug and yob cultures for their influence on the UK state and a rise in raving generally. Ravers would find their spiritual home to be warehouses and industrial estates, or failing that anywhere in the sticks, as long as the Police could not detect them amongst illegal raves, as bus loads of people were carted to Acid House parties.

Despite the rave culture bringing numerous negatives, it also brought a plethora of positives. Positively, it allowed talented DJs and producers to adopt the style of music which contrasted from monotonous angst-ridden chanting by The Who and Punk generally beforehand, and evolve it to the dance music which amassed numerous hits in the 90s onwards and attracted a public now obsessed by hedonism and immersing themselves in relaxation. Leftfield, M People, Orbital, The Prodigy have all since become successes thanks to the legacy of the rave and have allowed others including Corona, Robert Miles and Snap to enter in to house grooves. 

But whilst the money men behind music have prospered, gun crime and drug cultures have expanded, with Manchester being labelled "Gunchester" in the 90s and the Hacienda forced to close. Economically, it made no difference, as ravers pay to the doors of mafia bosses behind UK clubs today, so why would politicians see it as a benefit? But, entertainment-wise, it has helped electronic music and technology gain a critically acclaimed prominence and allowed ravers of the past 20 years to delve in to their pockets to down shots and dance to "Happy Hardcore" such as Cascada and Scooter.

On a personal and social level, raving has succeeded thanks to technology and the interest from minority UK groups. However, the deaths of teenagers in clubs and the noise "pollution" generated to deafen unfortunate elderly and otherwise inclined (or rockers) residents across England has not endeared its appeal (or perhaps lack of it to some) unsurprisingly. But the day raving becomes unpopular and doesn't attract an appeal globally through glowsticks and booming basslines, the apocalypse will have arrived. Shapeshifters' recent cover of Orbital's Chime suggests the rave formula is set to at least last a little while longer.