Tuesday, 24 May 2011

London Loves.....Raves

by Joshua Surtees with photographs by Molly Macindoe

Photograph by Molly Macindoe

On the 31st December 1997 in the pissing rain and howling wind accompanied by two school friends, one affectionately known as 'Bungle' after the Rainbow character, I found myself trudging down an ill-lit road next to a reservoir flanking Tottenham Marshes. Heading towards a desolate industrial estate, we called the 'partyline' again (an 0909 number connected to a recorded message giving directions to the venue). In the centre of this bleak scene the silhouette of an enormous warehouse could be seen and the closer we got to our destination the louder the thud of electronic beats became. The distant repetitve banging became more distinguishable, the flickering of light rigs began to colour the dark skies, the blaring of horns reached a crescendo. At the entrance a Scottish man; half punk, half new age traveller (as the 90s press liked to call them) stood outside holding a bucket and a can of Fosters. In the bucket were coins and, upon receiving the gruff encouragement "a few quid please lads" we deposited a few pound coins 'entrance fee', shuffled into the darkened interior and were quickly swallowed up into another world....

Photograph by Molly Macindoe

The scene we encountered was similar to the one above, only much darker, more crowded and far more disorientating. The venue, we quickly realised, had once been an abattoir or meat factory. This was evidenced by large machinised meat hooks hanging from the ceiling, huge conveyor belts and various bits of slicing and dicing equipment. The size of the place was almost unimaginable. Each room was the size of a football pitch. Each contained a soundsystem playing either techno, jungle or gabber. Gabber (fast, pounding techno music invented in the Netherlands) is not for everyone it has to be said and we quickly passed through those halls while taking in the sight of topless, 40 year old men in cowboy hats and huge clumpy space boots 'dancing' to the beats. Eventually finding our way to the central area where crates of Fosters were piled in a makeshift bar and onsale for £1.50 a can, we found other schoolfriends and exchanged awestruck greetings. We raved all night and left around 8am the next morning when daybreak had arrived and light ascended illuminating scenes of carnage. The party itself, so we heard, went on for days until the police finally lost patience and shut it down.

That night was my introduction to the free party scene ('illegal warehouse raves' to you and me) and it was certainly an eye opener. Being predominantly a rock'n'roll kind of guy I never got quite as carried away with the rave scene as others have. To maintain any kind of frequent appearances within that scene requires both the constitution of a water buffalo and the stamina of a long distance runner. I had neither. Many schoolfriends however were seduced. Not least Molly Macindoe, a photographer from Southgate north London who spent the next ten years documenting this extraordinary, hedonistic, rebellious underground movement and who has just released a beautifully put together book of photographs taken over the decade-long period.

It features touching portraits of some of our old schoolfriends.....

Photograph by Molly Macindoe

And some astonishing shots of landmark buildings around London including the '50 Pence Building' in Waterloo. Now demolished this building stood derelict for years, a hideous relic of 1970s 'modernist' architectural ambition gone badly wrong. It had been squatted for years and earlier free party protagonists had thrown raves there in the early 90s. At one of these early raves, hosted by old school soundsystems like Spiral Tribe, a young man, the son of an MP tragically jumped to his death off the side of the building. The final send off on Halloween 1999 was less tragic, more tumultuous and flamboyantly raucous.

Photograph by Molly Macindoe

For me, the ingenuity and imagination the rave organisers showed in picking the London locations is what made the scene so special. These were buildings lying empty in ruins. Filthy, devoid of electricity supplies or running water, windows broken, utterly neglected and destined to stay like that for years. Soundsystems such as Crossbones transformed these spaces into living, breathing, mind altering events full of colour, energy and sound. Very, very loud sound. From derelict Victorian warehouses such as the one on Beachy Road in Hackney Wick where the party lasted for 13 weeks...

Photograph by Molly Macindoe

...to modern developments such as Millharbour on the Isle of Dogs, formerly housing the head offices of the 'Fantasy X' porn channel....

Photograph by Molly Macindoe

And perhaps the greatest rave of all in a 20 storey disused office block on Shoreditch High Street....

Photograph by Molly Macindoe

This party took place on the eve of the new millennium, New Year's Eve 1999, and turned out to be the last illegal rave I attended. Arriving as usual after midnight there were hundreds of crazy kids shouting to be let in. The 'door staff' (again Scottish punks seemingly off their faces) struggled to contain the enthusiasm and, though the buckets were offered, many must have entered the building that night completely free of charge. On each of the 20 or so floors was a different soundsystem and in the winding central stairwell connecting the floors an army of ravers shuffled up and down all night seeking out new adventures, new people to talk to, new friends to be made. I danced to drum'n'bass until the early morn and departed without many of my worldly possessions save for a t-shirt and an enormous smile. God knows what the early morning tourists on the Central Line made of me.

God knows what the early morning commuters made of these ravers in the space formerly known as 'cardboard city' under Waterloo Bridge, now home to the IMAX cinema.

Photograph by Molly Macindoe

But thank god for the organisers, the soundsystems, the DJ's, the bar staff, the doormen, the dancers, the fire eaters and the party people. These people followed a tradition established with the dawn of the Acid House movement in 1988 and the M25 raves in fields around the outskirts of London that gave the legendary Orbital inspiration for their name. As youngsters we had heard tales from elder siblings of Sunrise, Fantazia, Raindance and Tribal Gathering and revelled in the flyers we saw on their walls and the tales they told of setting off in Ford Escorts up the A12 to fields in the middle of nowhere where they would become, as Alan Partridge might say "briefly mindless".

The Criminal Justice Bill legislation arrived in 1994 under John Major's government, putting an end to impromptu outdoor gatherings of thousands of E'd up youths. And thus the free party scene was born. Out of a need to dance. A need to rave. A need to reject heavy handed governance and establish a vibrant subculture. As a reaction to the commercialised, sanitised rip-off that the live music scene in London has become.

Thank god that Londoners love to rave.



Out Of Order by Molly Macindoe is out now published by Tangent books priced £29.99
See Out of Order picture gallery on guardian.co.uk

5 comments:

  1. Excellent, really enjoyed this post. I started raving way too late, wish I'd been there for those.. Thanks for sharing your memories, and Molly for documenting yours. Precious.

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  2. Hmm, good general content. I think your comment about the CJA stopping the rave scene and starting the free party scene is largely inaccurate though. However, it's an easy mistake to make. I believe the CJB was a reaction to the free party scene itself (although it's true there were licensing laws put in place that helped stop the initial profiteering rave scene). Maybe you've seen it already, but I'd thoroughly recommend reading "Altered States" by Matthew Collin for a fuller understanding of what happened. Particularly the "Techno Travelers" chapter.

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  3. I'm suprised by how few posts like this there are about these 'happenings' in London. I was involved with a sound system between 1995 and 1999 that set up in the '50p' GLC Anex venue as well Camden Parkway Cinema, Kentish Town Universtity, Wood Green Bingo Hall, Euston Square Station, Manor House Tram Terminus, Bow Road Gym and many at the arches in St Pancras staion (our HQ for some time) plus too many more to metion. I remember my shock when news of someone jumping off the roof. One of our people went to the mans funeral and shook the hand of the mans farther. These were strange and amazing times. I guess I should start a blog my self to get it 'out there' - Thanks for reminding me of those times!

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  4. Nice article. I seem to remember the number wasn't an 09 number but 081 959 7525

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  5. The phone number was my sister's but she died last year

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