Photograph by: Carys Huws
Young people have been vilified for their behaviour since humans came up with a word for hormones.
It has apparently taken this long, however, for a generation to be so juvenile and self-absorbed that it refuses to grow up and instead spends its time berating the next generation for not taking as many drugs as they did, having as much sex as they had, or generally being as cool as they once were, quarter of a century ago. Dance fans have spent the morning scratching their heads over the claim by George Hull, founder of one of the UK’s biggest house and techno festivals, Bloc, that a generation of “hipsters” has made his beloved dance music “tedious and diluted.”
“Young people these days just don’t know how to rave,” he frothed in the Spectator (last week’s cover: “Rod Liddle on the farce of British border control”). “They are too safe and boring.” There’s no point putting on raves when the kids are just “wimpy pseudo-hedonists” who demand to dance in “a carefully designed ‘safe space’,” explained Hull, and that’s why he’s quitting the promotion game.
A bunch of the FACT team were at Bloc last weekend. At some point early on Sunday morning, after being reminded why Jeff Mills is the absolute boss of this town and that Bloc pretty much owes its existence to one superhuman and his 909, we found ourselves in a queue for Bodyhammer’s set, the only remaining option at the festival for the hundreds of people who, for some reason, just weren’t that sleepy.
We were already committed to making it to Bodyhammer, the DJ duo of Scott Fraser and Joe Hart, whose mastery of the “WTF is this?!” canon and taste for new beat, acid and freaky body music comes highly recommended. They played, and I believe this is the technical term, a fucking blinder. It seemed as if most of the crowd who were in the room when we first made our way in at 6.37am were still there when they kicked us out at 10am, goofy smiles pinned to their ears and T-shirts turned inside out or thrown to the filthy floor. At one point a young person next to us went on a mission to Spar and spent a tenner on stickers, a string of beads that immediately disintegrated, a water pistol to fill up with shandy and a pair of John Lennon sunglasses which only had one lens left within minutes. Just for the fuck of it. On our other side was another dedicated crew of dancing young people, happily ordering fresh pints on the hour. By the bar, around 9.30am, a couple were slumped against each other, fast asleep in the loudest rave of the weekend while the man rested his leg on a chair. His leg was in a enormous cast, and his crutches were resting against his face. Truly, it was a picture.
It feels important to establish that the problem is not that Twitter and coursework and vegan food have sucked the fun out of the young people, as Hull seems to think. This kind of partying still exists, even at a festival where tickets cost £180 and one of the stages is sponsored by a clothing brand. I expect Hull would have enjoyed Bodyhammer, with their choice vintage selections and the atmosphere of dank, illicit joy. Maybe he was there. Any young clubber who’s been to a dodgy warehouse party, or Bangface or Frenchtek or any below-the-radar free party on the fringes of their city, or even if they’ve been to a night where Joe Hart is DJing – they’ve had a taste of this rave experience that Hull praises so highly.
“The reason raves aren’t fun anymore isn’t because they’re “too safe” – it’s because the underground has been bled dry by promoters and parasites”
But an early morning rave in a seaside resort is an unusually carefree situation. We queued for 40 minutes to get inside, and in that time another thousand very “up” people decided not to bother, returned to their chalets and extended the party without extending their bar tab. Do the original ravers really need it spelled out to them that things are not as they once were? It’s true that young people don’t drink or take drugs as much as they used to. They also don’t get pregnant, smoke or commit suicide as much. They also can’t spend their glory days raving or playing in bands while claiming the dole and doing a bit of painting and decorating on the side. The old people took all that good stuff away, sadly. We’ve got the worst economic prospects for generations and middle-aged millionaires like Hull are telling us to have more fun and forget about it. Trust me, we’re trying.
Hull reserved much of his venom for the concept of ‘safe spaces’ and their attendant “rules”, dismissing the notion that people should be able to have a nice time in a club without dealing with sexual harassment or discriminatory treatment. The clubbing experience has become unnecessarily tedious and “the opposite of fun”, sighs Hull. I agree. There’s nothing more tedious than an overpriced, oversold night where you’re told to arrive before midnight and have to shell out another £3 to put your coat away, where you’re shepherded to the smoking area and back, have to queue for an age to spend £5 on a can the bar staff haven’t even opened for you, where the ticket apparently doesn’t even include the cost of being able to hear the music properly because it’s being ragged through a PA they’ve pulled into an archway for the night. The reason raves aren’t fun anymore isn’t because they’re “too safe” – any woman in the club could tell you that – it’s because the underground has been bled dry by promoters and parasites who only care about their bottom line.
Hull claims that raves are “supposed to feel like a distinctly unsafe space,” yet admits in the same sentence that “the danger was illusory”. The original rave ideal, as passed down with a glinting eye by people twice my age, was predicated on creating a space to dance where everyone was welcome. Ecstasy arrived, as legend has it, and within a summer the football casuals were hugging each other instead of stabbing each other come 3am. For women, ecstasy-fuelled raves offered a totally different environment, a reprieve from the meat market attitudes and unwanted attentions of drunk men. Those who felt different now felt included. Going back further, of course, the American house and techno scenes which birthed the entire culture and allowed Hull to fill his pockets were made for and by minority communities and scenes as retreats from the unsafe mainstream.
In the early 1990s, the rave dream was heady enough that people quit their jobs and ran off with Spiral Tribe because their minds had been opened to an alternative way of living – one without hierarchy or authority, without the law, without predatory men or unnecessary commercial interests getting in the way of having a good time. All of this is the basis of the rave culture Hull claims to stand for.
But for Hull, the early 1990s “were the heyday of commercial rave promotion,” when “quick-witted entrepreneurs” put on raves for thousands of people “in true Thatcherite spirit.” It’s telling that he picks Paul Staines as his closest peer, a rave era promoter who moved fast to make a quick quid off a generation’s enthusiasm. Staines now writes the right-wing blog Guido Fawkes. His notable achievements include fuelling rumours that former foreign secretary William Hague was in a gay relationship with his special adviser.
After Hull’s comedown wears off, he’ll be turning his attention to Bloc’s next project – a “super club”, as the organisers have described it, in east London. Perhaps they’re hoping that today’s young people won’t have heard of the super club era that followed the halycon days of rave. But then again, we like our dance music tedious and diluted anyway, don’t we?
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