Illegal raves have always been romanticised as a zenith of youth culture: a singular phenomenon that carries the weight of coming of age. Though they can be beautiful and poetic, raves are really just a grimy, dirty sweat-fest of underground misfits searching for the next high. And I say that in the best way possible.
Over the last few decades, Melbourne, in its own isolated pocket on Australia’s southern shores, has developed a unique party scene that initially erupted in the ‘80s/ ‘90s alongside the evolution of music technology and new designer drugs.
Since then, raves have never really left: A perpetual cockroach of Melbourne culture.
After the initial devastation of the pandemic, rave’s have resumed in full force. For every party there’s a crew that works tirelessly behind the scenes: scouting locations, setting up the sound system, hauling generators, putting up tents, and carting drinks to an undisclosed location. It’s not cheap, either.
There have been many groups – whether that consists of friends or DJ collectives – throwing regular parties at the placid, abandoned locations around the city landscape, each with their own obligation to the legacy of Melbourne music and culture.
Filter, run by two expats from New Zealand Toby and Joel, is just one of those groups, and since the start of the year, from their first party in an open-aired warehouse yard in Melbourne’s north, they’ve seen booming growth.
What started as a platform to release mixes during lockdown quickly grew into conceptual parties that involved engineered artworks, sophisticated light shows and some of Melbourne’s most well-known underground DJ’s.
As their crowds grow bigger, and their reach expands across the raves and into the clubs, we thought we’d ask their advice on how to throw the perfect rave.
LOCATION IS EVERYTHING
“You don't want to just do it anywhere that's been done before,” Toby tells VICE. “Always think about your location.”
Some spots around Melbourne have been consistently proven to work, mostly because of their isolation from residential areas and their distance from the prying eyes of back-and-forth traffic. It’s not unusual to go to a party multiple weekends in a row underneath a certain bridge or by a certain river.
“We’ll just jump in the van and on a Saturday or Sunday we'll have a look at four or five spots and work out which ones definitely will work,” says Joel.
“Some of them are really, really cool but then there'll be residential areas just a bit too close. Because that's the other thing, we obviously want them to go all night, so you have to find the balance with a spot that won’t annoy anyone but that’s also different.”
Stumbled upon by a friend in the area, one of Filter’s first raves played out the back of an abandoned warehouse in North Melbourne. Over lockdown they’d go there to skate, paint and build stuff before they decided to convert it to a party space.
The vast concrete pitch, stretching out like a car park, presented the perfect expanse for a dance floor. While Toby headed the organisation of the line-up, Joel, who works in sculpture, and their friend, Nick, built the various art pieces and lighting that scattered the venue. There had never been a rave there before.
Though the perfect location is a must, Filter always comes prepared for the worst: perhaps getting rained out, or shooed along by police (which rarely happens). There’ll always be a location back-up.
“We always come prepared to carry on the night, no matter how badly the night might go,” says Toby.
Joel agrees: “Yeah, we've got our map for our main location, but we always make another one, just in case we need to resend the map out for the backup location. And then we're able to fully pack up all the gear and move spots.”
After the location comes the part both Toby and Joel say they like best: the planning, the set-up, and locking in DJs.
One thing that sets Filter apart is their commitment to presenting the party as a multifaceted experience, involving both musical and visual components. In the lead up to a rave, Joel will spend weeks in his workshop fine-tuning the lighting, the structure and the sculptures.
They’ve had fabric chandeliers adorning the crown of the DJ decks, towers made from crates, old washing machines spray-painted, balloons and lights twisted into abstract shapes, red light-up bulbs forming crosses and metal beams moulded into speakerphones. Depending on their intricacy, they’ll take Joel anywhere from one week to a month to make.
“It’s that point of difference to not just make it a musical experience but a visual experience as well,” says Joel.
“The more we’ve done it the more we’ve realised we have to refine it. It’s got to work in the space, I can’t just make heaps of random stuff.”
When it comes to the music, the most important thing Toby cites is diversity.
Filter's last party had the likes of Melbourne locals Stev Zar, Caucasian Opportunities, Disgrays, Patrick Henning and Filter themselves on the decks: a group of artists pushing out a cacophony of different influences and sounds.
“I know that for a vibrant party you might want similar DJs, but what we’ve always tried to do is have lots of diversity. Whether it be slow, chuggy house or hard dance, or even psytrance cause we don’t really want to be listening to the same thing all night,” says Toby.
“We're really lucky because everyone wants to play these parties. So they usually do it for free, which is great.”
SOCIAL MEDIA PROWESS GETS THE GOOD CROWD
Like most raves these days, promotion of the parties happens online and through Instagram, although Toby’s found that uploading videos on TikTok has been attracting eyeballs.
Teasing partygoers with packed line-ups and aesthetic posters that they upload to their instagram account, a covert line, “dm for location”, is printed underneath. The day of the party, Toby and Joel – sometimes with the help of a recruited friend – will copy/paste details to most who ask.
“The day of the party I can't just be sitting on my phone copying and pasting messages because I have to help Joel set-up,” says Toby.
“If someone’s at home we’ll just hand the phone to them and they’ll literally just go to the top message, send the map, next message, send the map.”
Each party, Filter's crowds grow by a few hundred. Their last was the biggest one they’d seen yet. Though they want to promote as much as possible, posting parties to instagram means constant monitoring and finding careful ways to jump through the loopholes of legality.
Basically, you have to “give what you want to give, but not too much”, says Joel.
Though it’s not always easy to control, the crowds that the Filter parties attract through Instagram, as Joel puts it, are always “beautiful people”.
“Yeah, we’ve had some absolute legends,” says Toby.
“I remember once, Joel and I were cleaning up, and this group of people, there were about ten of them, took all the bags of rubbish out to the street without being asked. People we didn’t even know.”
RESPECT THE SPOT
When the people are gone, the partying’s done and the sky gets light, the last thing that Joel and Toby swear by is “respecting the spot”. That means cleaning up what the party revellers have left behind: cups, cans, bottles, bags and clothes.
“We’ve found a couple of tread marks, but apart from that, a lot of respect to the spot,” says Joel.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE COPS?
Filter’s parties have (so far) never been shut down by the police - knock on wood. Though raves do tend to sometimes get pulverised by (in the worst case scenarios) police in riot gear and helicopters, Joel and Toby have never had a problem.
“On paper it’s not legal, but you are allowed to have people drinking in the park. But then, I guess once you have a lot of people there, it’s a bit iffy with age and stuff like that,” says Toby.
Joel recounts being visited by the police once, but nothing came of it.
“The last one the cops came at about midnight. They just asked the basic questions like, ‘Is anybody drinking underage? Has anybody been violent? Has anybody been climbing on things?’”
“He was like, ‘As long as there’s no noise complaints, no Triple 0 calls, I’ll let it run’. I mean, I think it’s kind of a grey area. I think technically it’s allowed but because it’s a big crowd probably not.”
In the end, Toby and Joel have put countless hours and even more pay cheques into setting-up, running and breaking down their numerous parties. Some might describe it as God’s work: keeping the culture of Melbourne running and alive. It’s an exciting space, away from the restrictions and mandates of club life, that provides somewhere for young artists to experiment as they make their way through the trepidatious art’s scene.
“We want to support the scene,” says Toby. “We want to continue to grow the party scene in Melbourne and see where it takes us.”