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How Rural Raving Made Me The Man I Am Today

You never got superclubs on the outskirts of Ipswich. You got pills, youthful excess and life-changing jungle.

by Louis Cook
01 September 2014, 2:00pm

Moving from a garage and jungle soaked London to the veritable hotbed of electronic music culture that was Ipswich in the mid-nineties wasn't quite the cultural upheaval it could have been. Truth be told I was a U2 and Queen fan as a child, and at the time of my move 80 miles up the A12, was still to discover the magnetic draw of acetate, bassbins and repetitive machine-made rhythms coupled with the magical combination of poor quality ecstasy and my older sister's hash.

Ipswich was, and still is, the County Town of Suffolk; a place that same county's town planners had seen to do their utmost to fuck around with to an extensive degree, with such greatly considered ideas as placing a Hollywood's club within viewing distance of the quasi-quaint train station, a Staples megastore across the road, a BHS housed within a Grade 1 listed building and a tattered HMV ripe for shoplifting. As my teenage years encroached and I did my utmost to establish what I viewed as an impressive weed habit, my ears turned from indie to jungle, encouraged by catching DJ Slipmatt perform at an under-16s event hosted within the confines of the local Corn Exchange, where hormone ravaged teens would cop off with each other to a furious extent, coupled with hearing my sister's tales of weekend visits to Sidewinder and AWOL. Double CD jungle compilations were avidly listened to, tape packs were stolen and the idea of what it was to attend a 'rave' started to develop in my teenage mind.

Unfortunately, the year I was finally old enough to look 18, the local Hollywood's changed hands and was converted to a dingy chest-beating affair of Ben Sherman shirts and bottling incidents called Kartouche (famed for having bouncers that once beat a man to death after ejecting him), whilst the seemingly sterile surroundings of our branch of Liquid contained only a heady mixture of 18-48 year old pissed-up cunts and local "celebrities" like Titus Bramble and England Under 21 forward Kieran Dyer. Brannigan's just around the corner offered up neon-clad space for "Eating, Drinking & Cavorting", but was more a housing pen for the older generation's pre-punch up experience, with a considered music policy of Shania Twain remixes and the odd ATB anthem.

To be fair to Ipswich, this was the town that birthed the near-legendary Red Eye Records store (Eagle Street), Certificate 18 Records, The Stupids drummer-come-d'n'b legend Klute (who I was proud enough to have shared a school with – though crucially at completely different times), and even played home to none other than Metalheadz star and now Daft Punk collaborator Photek at one point. So the burgeoning dance scene was present in some respects, even if decent club events were few and far between. By the time I was 16 I was desperate to be calling for rewinds with the best of them in the imagined club of my mind, and crossover jungle albums by Goldie and Roni Size did nothing to dampen this intoxicating dream.

So it was that in the summer of 1999, having experienced a local club called Essence (gurning girls in bras and Nike visors, cold water taps shut off, windows locked, two large fans and a smattering of Class A drugs), a group of us headed off to local Suffolk farmland owned by an older school colleague for what would become one of the defining points of my youth. Grinchout was the event, consisting of two large empty barn spaces on the banks of the River Orwell, a 15K sound rig, a large field readymade for drink driving antics and sexual congress, and a collection of older youth who were to my eyes, sheer veterans of the jungle scene. In other words, this was the closest I was likely to come to fucking having it, and I intended to do just that.

Shunning the early stages of hip-hop, funk and pork roast, I must have done my utmost to get as fucked up as possible, as soon enough I was dry-humping my long-term girlfriend in a damp field whilst a group of friends took turns in speeding past our heads as quickly as possible in an Escort without actually ploughing over our erotically charged bodies (thus presumably spoiling the party for at least some of the evening). This was the type of event that was ruled by the youth, with minimum or no actual adults on site – ones who perhaps had responsibilities or had lived for longer than a couple of decades at least – and the activities taking place outside the buildings have become as legendary in my mind as the raving vibes created within.

Over the years various different stories have been remembered, retold and embellished, to include; hard-line Absinthe consumption, the eating of wasps, sleeping standing up, devouring raw potatoes from a nearby field, a game simply referred to as "boiling water retaliation", an unlucky attendee left hoisted up in the bucket of a JCB for the evening, a raver defecating in the road, a car into brick wall incident - you get the idea. Seemingly the Class As consumed did nothing to abate our youthful interest in potentially hurting ourselves and each other, and it seems a miracle nobody actually perished in the Suffolk countryside (or during the pilled up drive home). Oh, and I broke my sister's cheek in an ecstasy fuelled trampoline episode, but that was her fault.

However, for me it had to be the combination of music and atmosphere that became the real draw here. My memory of sweating through my Rawkus Records tee within a few minutes due to hearing tracks like DJ Die's 'Special Treat' on an actual sound system, I think are likely to stay with me until that teenage weed habit finally takes its toll. Bouncing off the walls to staple classics like Ed Rush & Optical's 'Wormhole' or Rebel MC's 'Junglist' – tunes I'd listened to via various tape packs, but never experienced rattle around four concrete walls – it's fair to say I'd never felt anything quite like it. This was a strictly bass-driven affair, with to my mind Ipswich's finest selector/MC talent Brockman & Bias, Mandray and Boomer returning home from their London university places to show what raving was like an hour down the road (the answer being; fucking sick).

This was my first grappling with the communal raving experience. My second (and then third) pill. My introduction to a world that I'd been intrigued by, and would go on to pursue for years to come. Having spent the past 15 years taking part in club events, whether as a raver, worker, DJ, or promoter, it all comes back to memories of brocking out to Full Cycle classics in a barn in Suffolk. Hearing about seemingly unattainable instances such as one featured DJ regaling his first and only visit to the Blue Note in London, where he played Grooverider on the arcade whilst trying not to grind his molars down to dust, became their own kind of social currency. As did vital conversation topics such as MC Bassman's unique approach to the mic (and to be fair, women), or more importantly – who had any weed – all told whilst heading into an MDMA-spangled dawn in the back of someone's Nova. These were the kind of experiences that were different from that which I was to take part in once I moved back to the capital, and have become some of the keenest memories of my youth.

In retrospect, memory has turned the whole experience into some form of rave-based utopia, which is fucking ridiculous considering what it actually was. The memories of slipping on someone's pill sick, or trying to talk my girlfriend out of a drug-induced manic episode, or watching someone eat cold pasta from the dirt at 6am, or a girl with inflated and bloody chewed upon lips, or the smoke machine being used as a weapon to the face of anyone trying to get behind the makeshift DJ booth, aren't the ones that take precedence. Over the years it's the collective excitement of loud, life changing music, and that basic introduction to a culture I would go on to pursue, that seems to be what the experience boils down to.

I was still a couple of years away from breaking my Fabric cherry, where my first visit would lead me into a near death experience with some Evisu-clad drug dealers, losing my brand new Nokia, and a sad three hour wait on the stairs vainly hoping to bump into my long departed group of friends. Not to knock large scale clubbing or the professionalism of such institutions, but an hour and fifteen minutes up the road I had been involved in something that seemed far more personal, without the £15 entry fee, threat of violence or the possibility of not even getting inside the venue thanks to a 6' 4" wall of steroids at the door. Much can be said for the at times bizarre instances of rural raving, and I felt like I experienced them all.

In following years, tickets started being sold and the event got shut down by the Suffolk Constabulary. At the time this seemed like some form of strange victory – grasping at the ghosts of '88 – a time we were all too young to have been a part of, yet perhaps hazily remembered from BBC news reports from our childhood. As a teenager, the chance to do exactly what you wanted, surrounded by perhaps less dodgy characters than you might have met in a London club, seemed to be an unadulterated exultation of adolescence, capped off by a shared musical experience that simply added to the intrigue I had in raving and club culture, and seemed to be something that was attainable, as opposed to the almost mythical adult world of top name DJs, professional venues and dance music industry that you'd find within Zones 1 and 2.

My keenest memory of this period is walking out the back of the barn, away from the dance, with a cold pill sweat on my back and in search for my friends, as a Kappa-toting one-legged young raver entered via the same point, casting his crutches to one side and fucking going for it in a hopping-brocking position that even the most able bodied of people would have been proud of. That single image is one that surely sums up the feeling of those kicks, highs, pads and snares bouncing around those barn walls in the heart of Suffolk  – casting aside your stresses, or whatever shit you may have going on in your seemingly meaning-addled life, to live in the moment, even if just for a few minutes. 

Louis Cook

Louis Cook on Twitter: @LouisMusikal