If we're being honest, party stories are usually fucking terrible, or usually told in dire circumstances, and it's often difficult to tell which is which. Unless your serotonin-sodden chemical experience actually has some epiphanic ending, or you've been blessed with the gift of narrative, your big oral exploration of the Fucking Maddest Night Out Ever Mate is just a dewy-eyed YouTube comment dribbling into the disinterested ether in the middle of the pub on a Wednesday night.
My Uncle Gaz is an exception.
My Uncle Gaz knows how to tell a story. Because he's got an actual story. An actual story that makes the stories most of us tell—someone you don't know did something I can't really explain properly somewhere you weren't—look like the middling anecdotes they are. My Uncle Gaz spent his youth as a sound engineer and party planner with Midlands based crew Elemental Soundsystem way back when in the now distant 90s.
Having heard stories over Christmas dinners, I decided to share them with the wider world. So I gave Gaz a ring during the halftime interval of Wales vs Portugal the other week.
THUMP: When were Elemental Soundsystem active?
Uncle Gaz: The first party was held on the 18th of September, 1993. And we carried on until '98 when i went off to university. The first party was funny. We were still painting the bass bins as we were setting up. Painted all but one side the night before, then did the remaining side at the party and stood it next to the wall to stop people getting paint on them.
Where was the first party held?
Well, I ended up shagging the girl whose house it was at. To be honest, I think that's why she asked us to throw it there.
Was it a good time all round?
Not sure the neighbours thought so, but we had fun.
How was your relationship with your party neighbours? I remember you telling me about one landowner kicking the police off the premises.
Depends how you mean neighbours. When we did house parties, they were mostly warned or invited beforehand. It was normally the people three doors down that had an issue. When you put 15 inch scoops [bass speakers] into a house, the entire block hears it. Outside stuff you could never tell until you got there. It all depended on the landowner.
On one occasion I had one guy halfway up a tree, wrestling me over the lights we'd put up. On that occasion the police stopped him and told him to go away and let them deal with it. He could do that or be arrested for assaulting me. The police let us carry on but left a car there, making sure we didn't get up to anything serious. On another occasion I had a bloke with a shotgun telling me he was going to drive a combine harvester through the PA. He didn't seem pleased when I pointed out that it probably wouldn't fit under the bridge our rig was under.
Then as you say, the police turned up at one party. They were telling Bob, our negotiator, that there had been complaints. One of which came from the landowner. I cannot remember if we knew at the time that the landowner was at the party. In any event, he introduced himself to the police and told them he had not complained, asked them to leave then we carried on.
In fact it was one of these landowners who asked us to do a party on his farm. Someone he knew had got married. So, he got a band and asked us if we could do the sound. I had never done a band in my life. But I was at college, so borrowed a small mixer and did it. On a pig farm. Between a grain shed and a farmhouse under a big shelter he made.
With regards to field parties, was it a case of just getting as many people as possible there? How did you ensure it wouldn't get broken up?
Well, there are stages to it. You have to make sure that your numbers make the job of preventing the party too difficult. It was the old days before everyone had a mobile and the internet was shit. So we left one person in a car in town who would have the directions on an answer phone. People were told it would go live and to be ready to get there, then the ravers did their part. We would get onto the site, speakers loaded into the van in the reverse order to how they would come out. We could get a 14kw PA set up in under 25 minutes and during that 25 minutes, people were arriving. So before we made any noise, there was always a few hundred people on the site.
That puts a stamp on things. Until that point, a police presence would stop the party. But if you fill the site with cars and bodies, they'd have little choice but to negotiate. Warehouses were similar but we had a policy of making the building safe, and doing work to them before we went in there. That way if the police turned up, we could give them a tour and show them we had sorted the place out to keep people safe.
And that is the second most important point, don't abuse the police! With regards to the police, we had a negotiator, Bob. A school teacher, so he could string a sentence together without swearing, he would talk to the police, and other folk on the crew would mill around and usher punters away from them. The idea was to keep them sweet, while never letting them know who was who, punter or member of the crew.
So it was a game of chess but with hatchbacks instead of pawns?
Yes, very much like a game of chess. Of course, we were all just out walking the dog and found a party while we were doing it.
Was there ever a political motivation for the parties? Or are politics inevitable when you have lots of people and drugs in a field?
Well yeah, if it wasn't for politics it probably would never have happened. Not in the way it did back then the CJA was still just the CJB [Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994] and the party movement was a direct reaction to the government's plans to criminalise gatherings of this kind. There were a lot of elements that all came together at the same time to make it what it was. The E was proper, and you didn't have to worry about it being some Frankenstein cocktail of what the chemist had under his sink. There was new technology, that enabled us to make sounds that were previously unavailable. It all came together at the same time.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to set up their own party? Apart from knowing your stuff obviously.
I am not sure I could give a single piece of advice that would make any difference. Of course I could talk setting up systems all day long, but the political situation, the drugs situation and from what I can tell the scene itself is a very different place now. The police seem to be more full on. Of course, they now have more powers to come down on folk. So I suppose now, more than ever, the idea would be to keep it friendly between you and the police. I have seen over the top videos with each side of the argument doing things wrong. Police beating folk for no reason, punters pelting vans with rocks. These things, while they did happen, were almost unheard of back in the 90s.
When we were doing it, there were a couple of systems on the scene who were not friendly to the police or punters. They would smash things up on the land too, which spoiled it for everyone, so if we heard about one of them parties getting pigged then we would kind of know why. We had the same person talk to them each time they arrived. So there was a friendly face, and the coppers would know it was us before they even got on the site. I remember parties of ours where the police put their blue lights on for us to add to the lighting effects. I have seen them juggling with people near the fire and so on. Now they all seem to turn up in riot gear.