Gone To A Rave #24: Pirates, Scourge Of The System


“They’ve turned the tops of London tower blocks into fortresses”

This week’s column sprung into life when I came across a quite remarkable bit of old news footage.  I often write about the rebel nature of rave, but sometimes I don’t think I’m really conveying the fairly repressive state of 90s politics, and the outlaw culture of rave itself– in both how it structured itself, and how it was treated by authority. A lot of my mistrust of state institutions comes from the way in which dance culture was vilified as I grew up, with a fair proportion of the pricks currently in parliament legislating against it in the 90s (I see you, Iain Duncan Smith). I feel like this throw away news item on pirate radio does a better job than I ever could.

Taken from the mid 90s, the report – I think from ITN – follows a team of police and council officials breaking into a supposedly empty flat in Hackney. It transpires that the flat has been used as the base of operations for a pirate station (unfortunately they don’t reveal which station). The reporting steams straight in, a pinpoint accurate satire of media panic that’s only slightly let down by the fact they’re not joking. The picture they paint of the pirates makes them seem like psychotic urban guerrillas waging a dirty war from within rather than, say, some people who want to hear a bit of DnB on the radio.

The news reader starts – “A booby trapped barricade of concrete and razor wire,” Underneath, a tumping ragga jungle track kicks in. No lie, my blood started rushing. The film switches to the high rise itself. A new voice over starts. Ominous. Disapproving.

“Once this was a typical high rise council flat in Hackney; now it’s a pirate’s fortress protected by three tonnes of concrete. Workmen sent to smash their way in say they could have been killed. Scaffolding pipes embedded in the concrete were allegedly wired up to the mains. It’s alleged that glass vials containing ammonia and CS gas were embedded in the wall, waiting for the workmen to strike.”

Fuck me! You don’t get that at NTS.

The piece then goes on to suggest that the pirates abseil off the roof of the high rise, to smash into the flats below and set up shop –yes I know, swinging on ropes JUST LIKE REAL PIRATES. Tremendous. Then they chuck in a couple of spurious, completely unsubstantiated rumours that the station is funded by ‘drugs money’ and aimed at promoting ‘drugs parties’. Slightly more unpleasantly, the copper from Stoke Newington talks about how he plans on dealing ‘in a robust and vigorous way with the misuse of drugs’ – most people won't be aware that in the mid 90s Stoke Newington police force was quite probably the most corrupt in the UK. Check out this 1993 report from the Independent:

“Stoke Newington's reputation for police skulduggery has spread far beyond the borough of Hackney… The allegations against the police include gratuitous violence, fabricated evidence, perjury, racism, racketeering, conspiracy, fraternising with criminals, trafficking in drugs. According to senior Scotland Yard officers, the damage Stoke Newington has caused to the reputation of the Metropolitan Police is 'the most serious for 20 years'.

“In recent years at least one policeman has died (an inquest verdict of suicide has failed to dispel rumours that he may have been murdered). Another was jailed for dishonesty. Three have been suspended. Eight have been transferred. The entire drugs squad was disbanded, then reassembled with new officers.”

Go on the lads! And here’s this bald shit head laying down the law as though he’s not a total wrong un… Most entertainingly, the news reporter just cannot grasp ‘why they would do this?’ There’s no engagement with the idea that Colin from Rush FM might just want to play his music, and that loads of people across the city might want to hear it.

Instead we get this cracker:

“It may not turn out to be harmless fun for passangers on a fully laden jet – the pirate’s broadcasts could interfere with Heathrow’s transmissions, and could conceivably cause a crash.” Are you getting all this folks? Pirate radio causes planes to fall from the sky. Do you want that to happen? Do you?

Finally, to compound the sense of a complete breakdown of society, the reporter alleges that “to get into that flat, the council are going to have to bring the army in” – to be honest, we’d guess that a pneumatic drill and a face mask would probably get the job done, but this is WAR dammit.

Part of me yearns for a time when people felt so passionatly about playing their music that they were willing to abseil down the side of a tower block to do so, but I'm pretty happy this kind of scare mongering reporting has been put to bed (as far as dance goes anyway-)

As an antidote to all that madness, here's a slightly more sympathetic doc on Kool FM, narrated by a comically plummy BBC guy ("DJ Bwokie is on his way to work"). Surprisingly, in this doc, the pirates are given a decent platform to speak, and the scenes with the radio authorities are accompanied by a really creepy ambient track as they are referred to as 'big brother' – I guess this is the sort of thing that would have the Daily Mail claiming the BBC was run by Marxists…