Way of the raver
People with passion will always feel the need to party. And to party on their own terms. True freedom manifests itself in rooms of Royalty, on the beach where no one is watching; and in the greatly illegal parties of Great Britain.
London is one such place where ravers seek their freedoms for the long weekend. Self-styled groups of teenagers group together in dank bedrooms and empty buildings. Attentive to phones which will soon deliver them from boredom; eleven PM and it begins. One line of text in one group chat has the power, it might summon 2000 people. They hone in on the spot from all over the city. From South East to Staines, from Egham to Essex.
They cram themselves onto buses, maybe a quarter of them pay, maybe the driver gives a shit. Top decks and tube stations are full of colourful tracksuits animating the place with their sounds and shouts. Closer the party, denser the ravers. A final stop, a stream of life piles up the escalator, past the staff and through the barriers. Then they’re gone, and the station is quiet once more.
It could be a forgotten railway bridge, car park, industrial complex, leisure centre, warehouse, World War II bunker, greyhound track, river bank or just a plain old gated field. Professional security guards a gap in the fence, you know a guy it’s free. Otherwise ten pounds. They’ll take your knives or your glass, the rest can pass. Inside is rampant, loaded. You’ll bare witness to people staggering and stomping, stone cold sober or approaching death. Most of everyone is very friendly.
“This is your first squat? No really!! Come on have a key.”
This is the squat rave, where dance music rules. Jungle, Drum and Bass, sometimes Techno. There’s a big beat and everyone makes a big bounce. You catch a glimpse of a face when the light some yat stole from Wilko’s hits it. Thirty people deep in the crowd, a wide-eyed girl grabs the arms of whoever might be next to her, commanding their motion. Circles form around the best skankers while MCs take turns on the mic. The sound system is hefty and the ravers respect it, but a few large fellows stand around the mix artist just to make sure. This scene appears chaotic, but it isn’t entirely. Money is flowing. One thousand patrons is ten thousand pounds, organisers sell balloons, security sells gear and the rest. The sound system is rented to reduce cost and avoid police seizure. Security is well paid, usually. If not, they’ll find the money themselves.
Horror stories of corrupt staff encircling the crowd and robbing everyone at knifepoint circulate. At any squat event, some patrons aren’t there to party. Small groups dressed in all black lurk at the edge of the crowd, waiting for dead eyed ravers to stray. They’ll be happy to leave with an iPhone or two. The organisers know all about this, of course. Safety in numbers and the quality of security are touted on their social platforms. Take care of each other, stay in your groups.
This fresh breed of squat rave is only as old as social media. They’re different from the classical raves of the 90s. Those events were usually free, and took place at least an hour’s drive from town, far from Police and the prying eyes of a City. London’s new squat raves serve a younger audience, reliant on public transport and pocket money to execute their desires. The background organisation is approaching the extent of legal events now, too. Some organisers impose an 18+ entry cap, sometimes requiring that patrons log into their website and send in their ID to pre-purchase a ticket. Although the thing might be locked down by the time you get there.
The Police usually catch on some time between 5 and 9am. They start by blocking off the entrance, shouting and charging at people who try and enter. The party continues even with the Police outside, until the feds prick up the courage to start asking everyone to leave. Few people are searched. Before Covid times, the organisers might have stuck around to argue that the Sound system was rented and therefore can’t be seized. But since the introduction of £10000 fines for party organisers, sound systems are purchased outright and allowed to be seized. Collateral expenses. Although, one brave organiser assured me that it doesn’t always go like this.
People leaving a London squat in the early hours of the morning find themselves squared up against the real world. Tubing through Central alongside their fellow early birds, the guys in suits look but don’t speak. Sneaking a glance at the flipside, envy?
Birth of the Raver
Old children, young adults, teenagers can see the world with fresher pairs of eyes. There’s a party, ‘Where’s the party at?’ In the abandoned Police Station? No problem.
This journalist observed a troop of nondescript Northern youths in a nondescript Northern town spawn their own illegal party scene, not a ten-minute walk from a Primark savvy high street. The locale designates a few methods of entertainment. Football in the park, skating in the street. Buying things. Sneaking into the 18+ club might be fun? But that’s all gone since lockdown. Fuck it, let’s explore. That building looks empty. Fuck it, let’s take a look. Hmm, that’s funny, the alarms don’t work. The toilet still flushes? Sockets still work? And just like that, a new venue is born.
Weekend after weekend; a variety of characters were in and out of the place. The youngers would call up all of their friends, helping them climb up and around windows to sneak into the building. It’s vast.
Each night, a different room witnessed scenes of relatively harmless madness. Party lights, fire extinguisher fights and a skank or two. The floor got messy but the kids got braver. Timid on their first night, hollering the place alive by their last. Sleep over? No problem.
Sofas and soft finery from old police dorms make good bedding, and one room’s heater still works just fine. When the police turn up in the morning, they show you to the door and ought to wish you well. Non-residential intrusion is a civil offense, not criminal.
On one occasion, this journalist witnessed a violent minded drug dealer make his way inside, brandishing a knife to anyone who he made eye contact with. The situation seemed tense, but it loosened up quite substantially when a friendly woman in her thirties removed it from his grasp and performed an exotic dance routine, licking the blade as she went.
The street kids up here are a different breed to their southern counterparts. In some cases malnourished, in some cases maligned by a few generations of joblessness. Many of them just straight up crazy. The attempted destruction of Britain’s working class in the 70s has left behind a hot bunch of hotly confused and identity crisis stricken youngers ever since. And damn do they not give a fuck. Today, they can either attach themselves to the vestiges of the shopping center, or try to make something of themselves in their own way. Fortunately, Maggie left behind a playground of abandoned structures to help facilitate this.
After a good few months of activity, the building found itself fully sealed once more. Security patrols the grounds, alarms function as intended. Soon, the building will be converted into a block of flats.
Taking to the streets with those who had partied demonstrates their renewed bravery. They look at empty buildings with a view to explore; their desire to party is now backed up by the blind courage required to make it happen, whatever the weather. Kids who met in school once again met in the police station. A few of the craziest inspired a bunch of the others. Now the group wakes up in the morning, desiring a party to call their own in a place more dangerous, but much more fun, than home.
If only Maggie could see them now.
Look of the Raver
The sea of trackies is broken occasionally by white boy summer shorts and girlies dressed for festivals. West London kids don the full H&M look, there’s a straight up hippie standing next to them.
Regulars don’t dress to impress, they dress to avoid being finessed. Keep garments tight on the body. Anything worth stealing needs a strap or two.
Painters and skaters dress as usual. Tekno kids like the high viz too, but their variety usually isn’t TFL branded.
We love the logos. Deliveroo jackets and Royal Mail Doc Martens. Maybe a Maccy Dees hat. These marks can’t be bought in Marks’ and sparks, they carry a special esteem.
You might see a construction hat. There’s fairy squads too. Bitches in wings sometimes.
Then there’s the fashionistas. Lil squads in BIG patterned jeans with fake burb bits all over. People turning up in trackies are often hiding a well coordinated look underneath.
Ok that’s enough now fuck off and go home bye.
Words and images: Max Auberon @auberonfilm