We Asked 90s Ravers What They Think of Today's Illegal Party Scene

Do they think this is a bold new illegal rave movement our just the next generation copying them?

by Angus Harrison
28 May 2016, 12:00am

VICE's new film LOCKED OFF captures the urgent energy of the UK's current rave scene, uncovering the illegal parties being thrown across the country, in spite of the slow decline of licensed British clubs. Bolt-cutters are back in fashion and squatters are taking over from traditional promoters.

But how much does this latest wave of free partiers owe to the original UK rave scene: the second summer of love, the arrival of ecstasy and the birth of acid house? Some of the parallels are obvious – it's still, ultimately, people taking drugs and listening to repetitive music. What's less clear is whether they share a creative outlook or a political ethos.

In an effort to fully explore the shared heritage between today's raves and the parties of yore, we showed LOCKED OFF to a few promoters, producers, DJs, and door-pickers from the previous generation of party-throwers, to see how they think the new school holds up in comparison.


Photo by Luke Overin

Denzil Roberts spent the best part of the 90s running the doors of London venues like Legends, as well as M25 raves during the acid house days. Denzil's job as a door-picker was simple: if you weren't right for the party then you weren't getting in.

VICE: What are your initial impressions of the current UK free party scene?
Denzil Roberts: The underground rave scene that is taking place now has got no soul, no love, no energy, and no great looking people. Just a load of people playing music, in a dirty warehouse. The summer of love was off the wall and nothing now comes close, they are on a different planet now.

OK, so not a fan. Why do you think the vibe has changed?
Back then people came together as one and partied in a united way—you could feel the electricity coming from the crowd. Now it's just lots of little parties in a dirty warehouse listening to noise. The people, the style, the fun, energy, and our love for the music and coming together is missing now, it's just tacky people in tracksuits everywhere.

So can we call this a renaissance of the illegal rave?
Cool illegal raves are still taking place with amazing people if you know where to look.


Peter Duggal came to prominence as a producer in the early 90s under the name Demonik. His record "Labyrinthe" was a regular in the warehouse days and was sampled by Altern-8 on their track "Infiltrate 202."

VICE: What are your initial impressions of the current UK free party scene?
Peter Duggal: It's really interesting, and I think if I was to wind the clock back and be 17 again, I'd definitely be checking some of these nights out. Not that gabber one in Wales though, my ears would not thank me for it!

What are some of the big differences between the scene now and the scene in your day?
Peter: When I was producing there was more of an air of invention and so much uncharted territory. You'd spend days crafting an amazing bleep from a really gritty square wave. Now, everyone has everything available to them now, the technology is incredible. That's undoubtedly a good thing, but to me personally it has always been the case that people create more interesting music with less.

Do you think the atmosphere at the parties has changed?
It seems a lot of the spirit about these free parties revolves around the adventure in the illegality of them, playing cat and mouse with the police, being a bit naughty. There was that back then too, but everyone I personally knew from that scene was singularly interested in the music, and everything else was secondary. The big thing that came across to me was that it all looked a bit more edgy, and a bit less fun.

Does the response from the police seems harsher or more lenient?
It's the same really. There seems to me a bit of a lack of authenticity in all this "standing off." I mean, if I'd broken into someone else's building, loaded myself up with chemicals and then the police arrived to shut it down, I'd feel a bit odd complaining about it. All the premeditation with the squatter's rights signs, I don't know, it all seems like it's meant to be spontaneous, but in essence, it's staged.


Electronic music website RA describes Sean Johnston as both an "Acid House Veteran" and a "Balearic Survivor." His DJ career started in the 1980s, and since then he has played a constant role in the UK nightlife. He currently produces music with the Hardway Bros and recently held a residency alongside Andrew Weatherall titled "A Love From Outer Space."

VICE: What are your initial impressions of the current UK rave scene?
Sean Johnston: I can really relate to where all the kids in the film are coming from. Our situation was very similar: repressive Tory government; shit, violent, townie night-clubs, and a real desire for something that was exciting and our own.

How different is the music?
The gabber kids seem to be playing exactly the same records the Fear Teachers were playing in 92. Did they get their records on eBay?

Quite possibly. What about the atmosphere—do you think that has changed much?
Seems to be exactly the same, but then, will we ever want to stop getting high and dancing to music? It's a tribal thing.

So do you think anything is missing?
Back in the early days there was an evangelical fervor and loved up vibe that was down to the quality of the pharmaceuticals. That seems to be missing, understandably.

Does the response from the police seems harsher or more lenient?
It seems to be similar to me, by and large. The police would let you get on with it if you weren't taking the piss and causing too much disturbance. Our objective was always to pull off a great party without them even getting wind of it. There were groups like Spiral Tribe who were much radical and confrontational who seem to have blazed the trail for Scumtek. I never went to their dos because their music was utterly shit.

So should we call this a renaissance of the illegal rave?
Don't call it a renaissance, it's a continuum. They have been going on every weekend for as long as I can remember. It's just the social, economic, and political situation that conspire to make it more visible. It's great to see a film like this and seeing something we started being carried on by the next generation. Glad that the youth of today of still got a bit of the renegade spirit. Good luck to all of them!


At age 15, Billy 'Daniel' Bunter was already DJing at the seminal Labrynth/2000AD in Dalston. He played a leading role in both UK happy hardcore and later hard house scenes. Along with Slipmatt, he spearheaded the Helter Skelter series, which came to define the late-90s rave scene.

VICE: What do you make of the new free party scene?
Billy Bunter: This is a continuation of what was happening 25 years ago, just as what we were doing was a continuation of the 25 years before, a continuation of the Woodstock era. The ethos hasn't changed. As an 18-year-old, what do you want to do? Whatever you're not supposed to do. Our generation wasn't doing anything new in terms of partying illegally. It's a youth thing. Any form of music has to come with an element of decadence. And out of that comes new music, and creativity.

Would you want to be a part of this rave scene?
I'd like to be healthy enough to kick down warehouse doors and run away from the police. A few years ago when the new warehouse scene started happening, I saw older promoters trying to get into it. But I saw it and I knew it wasn't my place to get into it. It's not my turn anymore. I put on licensed events now.My kids are 18 and 21 and the way they feel when they hear new house or drum and bass is exactly how we felt when we first heard records from Chicago.

But you still put on raves?
For me now, I'm throwing raves for my demographic, people who are 35 to 40 and now have kids. If they are going to have a night out they have to plan it in advance, call a babysitter and book coach travel down from wherever they live. I can't really ask them to help me break into a warehouse.

Are the parties you see in LOCKED OFF missing anything?
Do you know what I despise? The fact that many people from my generation are all, "It ain't as good as it was when were partying, there's no peace and love." People say that the kids today don't care about peace and love because they are fighting off the police? But that's the same as how it was in my day. People would lob bricks at the police in the Biology days if the rave was getting shut down.

Does the police response seem more extreme?
Again, it's all generational. Life in 1989 was so different. Back then it caught the police by surprise. Loopholes in the law were there to be exploited. We're now in a different era. The police have learned in the last 25 years that if they are heavy handed, they can end it quicker. That said, those violent episodes are one minute snapshots that make it onto the news. I bet there are raves all over the country that are shut down peacefully, or where the police join in with the party.

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