This article originally appeared on VICE France.
Europe has long been travelled by nomads. But in the 90s, the continent became the playground for a new group of wanderers, travelling in paint-splattered buses crammed with people and sound systems. These self-proclaimed “tribes” of tekno travellers (spelled with a 'k' to differentiate from the genre of techno) salvaged old trucks and equipment to throw raves in isolated spots – celebrating freedom as a political act. What brought them together was the love for tekno, a genre that mixed jungle, rave, techno and hardcore music born in the free parties scene, far from the bustling clubs of the big cities, free of charge and free of rules.
When the movement began, photographer Tom Anirae was a teenager partying in raves in his hometown of Nice in southern France. Captivated by the tekno tribes he met through friends and acquaintances, he joined them on the road from Andalusia to the Czech Republic, Italy and back to the south of France, documenting the height of the movement with his camera. Years later, he exhumed the portraits of life on the road from his archives. The tribes he roamed with – Spiral Tribe, Kamikaze, Hekate, Cirkus Alien, Desert Storm, Lego – now have mythical status within the scene. We spoke on the phone with Anirae about his memories of that time while he was road-tripping through Southeast Asia.
When you discovered techno, did something just click for you?
Yeah, I remember thinking: “OK, this is really different.” It was like there were no musical limits anymore. Then, I discovered illegal parties – that was a total game changer and something I’d never seen before.
Is that when you decided to hit the road?
At first, I only wanted to join them for a short time, but I got more invested around 1999. It kind of became my lifestyle, but I also didn’t fully identify as a member of the movement. I was a regular visitor and friends with people who were 100 percent into it.
Did you travel with multiple tribes?
Yes. Each tribe had their own sound system, their own name and logo – like in the punk scene. Some were bigger, some were smaller. I travelled mostly with Kamikaze, a tribe of people from France, England and a few from Germany.
So how do you organise a free rave?
Well, first you have to find the right spot. In winter, that was usually an abandoned warehouse; in summer, somewhere outside. We looked around industrial areas for a good spot, then we made sure there weren’t any cops around and that the location was safe. We had to organise everything very carefully, without the cops seeing. Logistically, we needed a few hours to get there with the trucks, put up the sound system and the lights. And before that, we'd distribute flyers with a phone number and leave all the party info on the answering message.
How was your relationship with the police?
They were mostly really surprised, but some also got really violent. We were claiming a place that wasn’t ours and breaking the law. It was a game of cat and mouse that sometimes led to confrontations. Once, I saw a guy called Keef from the Desert Storm tribe ram a salvaged military truck into a police blockade. That's not something you see every day.
Were raves easier to organise in some countries than others?
Not really, although in the UK it was just impossible. The whole movement of tekno travellers started from there at the beginning of the 1990s, with the legendary Spiral Tribe. They threw a party with another group called Bedlam at the Castlemorton festival, it was so huge that Margaret Thatcher sent the cops to rough everyone up. Then the government passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, forbidding all gatherings with repetitive music. So, ravers started touring continental Europe.
How did the tekno travellers make a living?
Everyone donated what they could at the parties – five or ten francs [0.75 or 1.5 euros], or nothing if you had nothing. And there was always a bar, which also brought in some cash. Some travellers had side jobs, like wine harvesting for a couple weeks a year. Honestly, their lives weren’t expensive. You can live almost with nothing, you just have to be a little crafty. If they had a mechanical problem, they’d fix it themselves.
Sounds like a techno circus.
Yeah, being on the move all the time gave them the freedom they wanted. They were inspired by new age travellers [a movement of voluntary nomads in the UK in the 70s]. Only they were more punk than hippie.
Were there kids around?
Yes, some. Most of them loved that life, although sometimes they’d leave when they were teens. I met incredibly brilliant kids, like this little guy Liam – his mum was English and they lived on the road. He was very independent, super bright. He started mixing his own sounds at 12.
Why did you give up that life?
We had sort of a golden age between 1993 and 2000. Then it started to feel like there were too many of us. When a movement gets too big, it loses its energy. Plus, there were horrible things happening at some parties – rapes, guys getting knifed. Our relationship to drugs changed, too. In the old days, we’d get high as a way of exploring our spirits, but then people got addicted. And the cops eventually caught on to our plans. Basically, imagine you found a beautiful beach that feels like your own little piece of paradise. If 5000 people joined in, it would still be beautiful, but not a paradise anymore.
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