Anatomy of a Raver

Passionate people will always feel the need to party, and party on their own terms. True freedom manifests itself, in rooms of royalty, empty beaches, and in the greatly illegal raves of Great Britain.

London is one such place where ravers seek their freedoms for the long weekend. Self-styled groups of teenagers come together in dank bedrooms, derelict buildings, and abandoned warehouses in pursuit of the next great party. Later they’ll find themselves under a forgotten railway bridge, in a car park, an industrial complex, leisure centres, war bunkers, greyhound tracks, or just a plain old gated field. One text in a group chat has the power to summon two thousand people, cramming themselves on buses and trains, animating them with colourful clothing and language.

Professional security guards greet you on arrival, acting as a filtration system to those posing a threat. Once inside, you’ll witness swarms of people staggering and stomping, stone-cold sober or in need of an ambulance. Most people are friendly, the party spirit is strong.

This is the squat rave, where dance music is king. Jungle, Drum & Bass and Techno create big beats that rock the room. Circles form around the best skankers while MCs take turns on the mic. The rented sound system is hefty and the ravers respect it, a few large fellows stand around the mix artist just to make sure. The scene appears chaotic, but it isn’t entirely.

Money is flowing. A thousand patrons spend ten thousand pounds, making raves big business if done right. Organisers sell balloons, and security sells drugs to those inclined. Bouncers are well paid, usually. If not they’ll find the money themselves.

Horror stories of corrupt staff, surrounding 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. This is common knowledge to the organisers. 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 free raves of the nineties that took place away from the prying eyes of the city. London’s  new squats serve a younger audience, reliant on public transport and pocket money to execute their desires. The background organisation is now approaching the extent of legal events. 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 five and nine AM. They start by blocking off the entrance, shouting and charging at people who try to enter. The party continues even with the Police outside, until the feds pluck up enough courage to ask that everyone 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 £10,000 fines for party organisers, sound systems have been 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, businessmen in suits look but don’t speak. Sneaking a glance at the flip side, envy or horror?

Older children and younger adults can arguably see the world with a fresher pair of eyes. Observing a troop of nondescript Northern youths from a nondescript Northern town, I set out to learn just how they go about birthing their illegal party scenes after COVID.

This 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? Since lockdown, an explorative nature ensued in the youth. That building looks empty, let’s take a look. The alarms don’t work! Does the toilet still flush? Do sockets still work? 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. Sleepover? 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 issue, not a criminal offence. On one occasion, I witnessed a violent-minded drug dealer make his way inside, brandishing a knife to anyone with whom he made eye contact. 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 are just straight-up crazy. The attempted destruction of Britain’s working class in the seventies has left behind a hot bunch of hotly confused and identity crisis-stricken young people ever since. Today, they can either attach themselves to the vestiges of the shopping centre 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 luxury Hotel. Taking to the streets with those who had partied demonstrates their renewed bravery. They look at empty buildings 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 meet in the underground. Now the group wake up in the morning, desiring a night out to call their own in a place more dangerous, but much more fun.

Words and images: Max Auberon