View From The Side: Cultural Weapons, Politics And Partying


What’s worse, sunglasses worn on the first train home after the night before – leaving everyone else guessing who that person is looking at/talking to – or rose-tinted spectacles?

Regardless of your thoughts, nostalgia is a dangerous thing. I look back on the formative days of 16 years half-spent wondering when Sasha and John Digweed will next play back-to-back in the north with misguided pleasure. Those memories reek of care-free abandon and are void of apartments overlooking the queue to get in.

A period of legal cigarettes on the dancefloor and joints smoked inside without much fear because the whole place stank of fags anyway. A time when genres like hard house and trance hadn’t become jokes, breakbeat could be understated and DJ Craze rinsed out drum ‘n’ bass at Sankeys Soap on Tuesday before A-level sociology the next morning.

Irreplaceable; if you weren’t there, you clearly missed out.

Let’s face it, though, in another 16 years today’s whippersnapper hedonists will feel the same about their own teeth-cutting phase, albeit with different touchstones. The era prior to realising you need a mortgage, pension plan, savings account and reliable income gleaned from outside the realms of journalism and writing is always golden.

Perhaps, then, all you missed from my glory years was the sight of my face following 12 hours of innocent carnage. And you can live without that.

There’s often a misconception, when people look back on British dance culture history, that politics acted as a catalyst. I’m too young to claim first hand knowledge of This Thing Of Ours circa 1987 – I was three at the time. But, by all accounts, it’s not hard to work out which came first between the chicken and egg.

In the UK, at least, parties began long before terrifying headlines appeared in tabloids, years ahead of the Castlemorton Common Festival and the passing of 1994‘s Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Yet protests occurred and people fought hard to protect a culture that had emerged unplanned and unpredicted once it came under threat.

None of which is to say social divides, and the breakdown of established boundaries, weren’t fundamental to the rise of rave. But that’s another point for another rant.

Casting an eye over today’s red-faced, bloated, soon-to-be-found-dead-on-a-toilet scene, it’s easy to wonder how things got so big and cookie-cutter in nature. We can sit around and discuss what would make it all better, but we should never take the good parts for granted, and stand idly by as society accelerates into a neo-liberalist nightmare where the ghosts of once-treasured nocturnal haunts don’t even get a blue heritage sign.

Unlike the opinions of a certain Guardian writer who this month rejoiced in news that more than half of all UK clubs have closed in the last ten years, I believe that – Tiger Tiger et al aside – these places and these parties genuinely serve a positive purpose. And that purpose has nothing to do with establishing who the cool kids are, hence great techno nights full of total fucking weirdos whose idea of socialising outside the venue is spending all week listening to rare recordings from The Orbit in Morley. Alone.

The current UK climate of increasingly stringent licensing and the on-going demonisation of clubs can be intrinsically linked to the overall direction British politics is heading. If the 1990s are (mistakenly) remembered for liberalism, positivity, and (perhaps more accurately) really good Mitsubishis, the current decade is likely to be lamented as a heyday for selling out, selling up, and selling off to whoever’s flossing. And that goes for everything from hospitals and schools to music halls, clubs and independent galleries.

Calling it a war would be offensive to the victims of real life conflicts where people are maimed and murdered. Nevertheless, battle lines have been drawn in terms of perceived value. Some want to buy into a world that lacks real freedom, creativity, empathy and compassion. Others don’t. And it’s no coincidence those who have purchasing power are often the same people you see crossing the street to avoid increasing numbers of have-nots.

Putting things succinctly, then, there’s a crisis at the grass roots level of culture in the UK. And, although healthcare, housing and welfare demand more urgent help, these things aren’t mutually exclusive either; the same forces are threatening the job lot. Surely then it’s time for another reaction. Politics may not have been part of your world in the past but, like it or not, the same is no longer true. So in the name of ending where we began – like a well produced record with an intro and outro of stripped beats – here’s another question; what are we going to do about it this time? 

*main image taken from the free party people. Soundsystem image from digital journalist