Saturday night, a solemn account of formative years and a semi-legal party on the fifth floor.
My earliest experience of dance music in the physical sense was a mismatched collusion of headline drum & bass events in London and a series of home counties free parties from collectives like STS and the like. It was the latter where I felt a real culture of conscious subversion. Where the above board, main arena events provided what I believed at the time to be the most cutting edge sonically, the free party scene was truly underground, hidden and out of sight. You had to find it.
It was there to be found, but you had to search. Both in a figurative and literal sense. Be it scanning online message boards to find a working “rave line” or driving through the countryside through the night searching for an elusive tekno party in the forest. The free parties we frequented were a regular weekend adventure for around two years. Some stick in my memory more than others; A warehouse in Canning Town, An empty office at the freight terminal near Heathrow airport, A forest in Dorking, An old slaughter house somewhere in North London, an ex-outlet store on a Milton Keynes industrial estate.
You didn’t always find it… I remember driving to Peterborough to be met by an empty industrial estate, listening for bass in the distance but finding nothing. It was all part of the game, call the number, pile into a knackered Citreon AX or purple Mini on it’s last legs, whack on your favourite Mickey Finn or Producer tape depending on what you were going to, follow the vague directions, cross your fingers and hope!
When you got there (assuming you found it) you were playing a Russian roulette pitting your naïve expectations of rave unity against the grizzly reality of pharmaceutical drug abuse. Ecstasy was a tame prelude to some of the more non-descript substances that the free party scene was offering. If you saw a needle, you knew you were probably out of your depth and that these people weren’t necessarily here for the same thing as you. To my mind however, this was less common, an unfortunate symbiotic element of the whole.
My memory of these parties for the most part are good ones, these years were certainly an eye opener. It was these memories that were recently re-conjured by an invitation to something that was somewhere between the tekno parties I remembered and something altogether more tuned.
Last Saturday I found my self at 2am in a creaky lift the size of a large wardrobe being taken to the fifth floor of an old office block in Bethnal Green. As if a decade ago, I felt the shadow of expectation. Would I be walking into a room of new friends or the needles and host bodies I remembered from the darker nights of my late teenage years?
Having spent the previous hour and forty minutes slowly getting drunk on my own in a late license boozer waiting for my friend (who was also my connection to the party) to make her way to meet me, the stresses of adult life had fallen to the way side, and the alcohol had clearly put me in the mood for a party. The following hours gave me then, and give me now a reinvigorated sense of what the underground can be; Close, personal, considered and respectful. There were no needles here, just decent music, friends and most surprisingly a clean toilet! There was never (ever) one of those 10 years ago. Thank you to Becca and Chris for the invite.