Continuing our celebration of the Summers of Love, Wag Club founder Chris Sullivan moves into 1988 and onward, charting the explosion of acid house into the mainstream, and the dawn of the legendary illegal warehouse raves and parties…
One might reasonably accept that punk changed attitudes and was the most important youth cult since the sixties. But rave has been equally subversive, causing seismic shifts in cultural and political attitudes and behaviours.
But there’s a big difference between punk and rave. With punk, even though its adherents’ attitudes were cut from the same anarchic cloth, you didn’t have gatherings of tens of thousands of people on any Saturday all over the UK, dancing to the same music, all on the same buzz, and all with good intention. Where punk was about anarchy, shock and anger; rave was about love, appeasement and acceptance.
Everyone was loved up, and caught up in the moment. We all felt a part of something new and exciting that was ours
“I was 13 when punk happened,” states pioneering house DJ Andy Weatherall. “So I watched that train go by, but when I got on this [acid house] bus I was deliriously happy, out of my head on E. I felt like I was at the centre of a magnificent cyclone.”
“Punk and New Romanticism were very empowering for us,” explains pioneering promoter Nicky Trax. “They too had this DiY ethos which house music picked up and ran with. House music was a very open and friendly scene – no VIPs, no attitude – and it was all about like-minded people taking a chance, putting on something new that might or might not work. Everyone was loved up, and caught up in the moment. We all felt a part of something new and exciting that was ours.”
But this fledgling scene, just like punk, was all-encompassing, certainly organic; and was growing exponentially all over the UK.
By January 1988 Shoom was so busy Jenni Rampling had to stand on the door and vet attendees. “You’d see Pete Wylie, Paul Rutherford, Keith Allen, Boy George, and Michael Clarke dancing, off their tits in the smoke, bumping into the bleeding mirrors next to a bunch of Millwall fans from Rotherhithe,” laughs Johnny Rocca, ace face on the music scene.
“Sometimes we didn’t get into Shoom,” attests Charlie Fitzgerald (nee Colston-Hayter), whose brother Tony was the man behind the now-legendary Sunrise parties. “I think this is when Tony started thinking he could do his own events.”
‘Afters’ only lasted a few months as it was free to get in and we didn’t sell any drinks as mostly everyone was off their trolley on E
Other people had similar ideas – me included. In December 1987 I opened a club called Afters in Clink Street (near to London Bridge) that started at 4AM and finished at noon. The music was a couple of 90 minute acid house cassette tapes mixed by a bloke called Ron Hardy of Chicago’s Music Box, played on a boom box. Afters only lasted a few months as it was free to get in and we didn’t sell any drinks as mostly everyone was off their trolley on E. But that’s why they were up all night dancing. Swings and roundabouts. C’est la vie.
Club night Delirium had paved the way with an exclusively house music policy but closed its doors in December 1987, and DJs Noel and Maurice Watson moved to the Wag on a Friday to do Black Market main man Rene Gelston’s 100% acid house night. And in January 1988, the brothers became residents in the same club on a Tuesday for Translantic, where Ce Ce Rogers, Marshall Jefferson, Kym Mazelle, and Frankie Knuckles performed in February ’88 – for the almighty sum of £350.
Around the same time in the Empire Leicester Square, they played former St. Martins Art student Robin King’s Delirium Deep House Convention, and were joined by Fingers Inc., Robert Owens, Ralph Rosario, Dj Pierre, Adonis and Xavier Gold.
“It was make or break for me as the acts came at great expense,’ sighs King. “Unfortunately, only 250 people turned up and I lost about £4,000. It was a credible success, but a financial failure.”
But, this was just the lull before the storm. An unlicensed event, aptly named Hedonism, in a rundown furniture warehouse in Hanger Lane would create the blue print for the coming acid house tsunami.
MOVING INTO UNDERGROUND TERRITORY
“I got married in Wandsworth to Jenni on the day of Hedonism,” grins Danny Rampling. “Got married, had lunch in Joe’s Café, went home and changed, and then went and danced all night. It was a pivotal event.”
Hedonism was created by brothers Alun and Simon Gordon, and a third partner, Josh Wilkins. The brothers had gone to New York in the summer of ‘87 and caught DJ David De Pino at the predominantly gay Tracks NYC (sister to the Detroit club) on West 19th that featured dry ice, Muscle Marys, OTT drag queens on PCP and thumping house music via a monster sound system.
Bringing the vibe back to London, on Friday 26th February 1988 they launched warehouse night Hedonism, with DJs Colin Faver and Justin Berkman (who went on to found the Ministry of Sound) pumping out pure house music all night long. It not only hit the target, it blew the bloody doors off. Hedonism with its solid no-holds-barred one hundred percent Chicago, New York and Detroit house soundtrack was tough, urban, very London and utterly perfect.
“My first real ‘proper’ flat-out full-on all night house music session was at Hedonism,” remembers Nicky Trax. “Around 400-500 people jammed all night, the sound system was one of the best you’ve ever heard while the lasers smoke machines and graffiti decorated walls topped it off. It was an incredible sensory experience; stimulating and immersive.”
A wave of Doves and new clubs sprang up proffering this new acid house idyll while the crowds got bigger and bigger
This is something of an understatement. I personally walked in at 4.30AM and was hit flat. The bass growling through the pit of my stomach via one of the best sound systems I’d ever encountered, the treble tickling the spine while patrons danced furiously in semi trance, whacked out of their gourds. I then knew that this was it. This was going to be massive.
Three more Hedonism events followed; the scene exploded on a wave of Doves (unusually potent pills from Amsterdam) and new clubs sprang up proffering this new acid house idyll while the crowds got bigger and bigger all over the country.
“The effect of E was huge,” stresses Hacienda DJ Mike Pickering, the man behind the Latin House classic Carino of 1987. “I remember how over a three week period the crowds changed; I likened it to a Mexican wave starting one end of the club to the other. The whole atmosphere and look of the crowd changed, and DJ-ing was never the same again. Then on my Friday night Nude [at the Hacienda] the queues started forming around 6PM and by opening time stretched miles around the block. I then saw that this could be truly a global thing.”
The effect of E wasn’t just felt on the dance floors.
“The North was pretty grim back in the 80s,” remembers Graeme Park. “There was a recession and cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bradford, Leeds and Nottingham weren’t the glitzy modern metropolises they are today.
“Nobody lived in city centres and they were pretty dismal. Unemployment was high and there was a Thatcher government, so the rave scene was an escape from the harsh realities of modern life. Acid house and ecstasy was the perfect antidote and nobody cared who you were. Gay, straight, black or white; plumbers, barristers, shop workers, doctors, football hooligans… they all came together to party all night long with a soundtrack like no other.
By now this cultural tidal wave had its own clothing mores and was developing its very own argot; ‘On one matey,’ ‘radio rental,’ ‘Jack and Jills,’ ‘monged ‘, ‘munted’ etc. Much taken from ye olde Cockney Rhyming slang tradition (itself created to baffle undercover cops) it was often deliberately absurd, rapidly obsolete and consciously irritating.
Meanwhile, all over the country little warehouse parties full of happy, euphoric ravers were cropping up most weekends, along with weekday one nighters.
Back in the clubs, Shoom moved to a bigger venue, RAW at the YMCA in March 1988, and in April Oakenfold and Ian St. Paul teamed up with Gary Haisman to do Spectrum at Heaven on a Monday night. The first night was under-attended with only about 300 in a space that held 2,000. “We were in trouble,” admits Oakenfold. “Then after a few weeks it went massive and was packed every week.”
Soon people were coming from all over the country; in particular a big Manchester contingent. So Spectrum productions became more and more ambitious; one week there were confetti snowstorms, another saw a huge E covered in silver foil coming out of the ceiling to Ride of the Valkyries; while even more remarkably, one Monday night I saw Lisa Minnelli sitting drinking champagne on the balcony.
“Looking around Spectrum one night,” reminisces Johnny Rocca, who DJ’d in the back room and looked after a lot of the scenic productions, “there was all these proper hard football hooligan firms there that I knew and I thought ‘Oh no, it’s going to kick off!’ but it didn’t, as everyone was so off their face on the best E ever, they were all hugging each other and totally loved up.”
(It still tickles me that chaps who’d a few weeks before been fighting viciously over football were embracing this music that had, in the main, been created by gay black Americans. But such was the power of the pill.)
“I used to go to raves in Blackburn that were massive,” enthuses Dave Beer, the main man behind Back to Basics in Leeds. “And then it spread all over the North, and it was lovely because before, if you came from Leeds and you went to an event in Manchester or Liverpool you’d get your head kicked in. But during the house days we all accepted each other and suddenly got on and danced as it was all about love and acceptance. It changed people’s lives forever.”
And all the while preposterous shenanigans flourished.
“I remember on my 40th birthday in ‘88,’ interjects Rocca. “I was DJ in the back room and they had a little kids’ play pen in the bar. So I climbed in it with Dave Little and spent the whole night rolling about with a variety of strangers and friends. Totally off my tits, it felt like I floating was in a lovely big bath. It was the best night of my life. You could do what the fuck you wanted back then as it was all about love and acceptance. But it was full time, like going to war, a military campaign; we all lived it to the max, going out every night of the week till dawn for months on end.”
The acid house scene is lovingly recollected by all.
“One of my fondest reminiscences is of Barry Mooncult – who’d been a proper nasty Chelsea football hooligan – rearranging the petals of a daisy he’d found, and trying to revive it by pouring mineral water on it,” recalls DJ Andy Weatherall. “It had that effect on people.”
Undeniably, Spectrum’s huge success signaled the scene’s move from subculture to superculture.
In June 1988 Nicky Holloway opened The Trip at The Astoria that, a smash from day one, had queues around the block, and folk dancing in the fountains underneath Centrepoint till they were dragged away by the peelers.
I recall a pile of about 20 punters writhing around on the floor and my business partner asking me, “What on earth is going on Chris? What have you done to our club?”
Two weeks later Love opened at the Wag with two floors of crucial house music from 10PM till 6AM. Initiated and promoted by Rod Marsh and DJ Dave Dorrell (who’d had a number one record with Pump Up The Volume), Love proffered the UK’s finest house music DJs such as Dorrell himself, CJ Macintosh, Pete Tong, Jeremy Healey, Paul Anderson and Andy Weatherall et al, whilst also pulling in likes of Mike Pickering and Graeme Park from the North, and legends like Tony Humphries, Little Louie and Frankie Knuckles from over the water in the US.
Because it was legal, proper and on a Friday, customers traveled from all over the UK; there were 500-metre queues each week. But the downside of the market was the drop in drinking. Whilst floors filled up, the bar take plummeted to nothing. I recall a pile of about 20 punters writhing around on top of each other on the floor and my business partner asking me, “What on earth is going on Chris? What have you done to our club?” My only reply was a cheeky gurn.
THE SECOND SUMMER OF LOVE
Love spawned the nomenclature, ‘The Second Summer of Love’. For that and the next few summers Rod, Dorrell and I took Love to Ibiza monthly with our residents DJs, and took over Amnesia on a Friday and Pacha on a Saturday. Back in the UK things were moving fast and the movement was spreading.
“I’d never witnessed such electric energy and enthusiasm in my life as at the Friday Nude night at The Hacienda,” smiles Graeme Park. “It was a night for hedonists by hedonists. I doubt we’ll ever see the like again.”
“All over the country you’d see these freshmen walking into a rave,” chuckles Johnny Rocca. “And they’d be all wide eyed and nervous, not knowing what to expect, then you’d see them dithering about, deciding whether to buy an E which was £20 a pill (£60 now). Then next thing they’re on the dance floor drenched with sweat, and you’d see them outside at 5AM still off their box looking as if they’d found God.”
Times were tough. Disaffected youth weren’t happy. They needed something that was their own
Indeed, I’d liken them to Moses when he came down off the mountain but the big difference was that Mo hadn’t swallowed his tablets! Looking back, for many this was the chance they’d been waiting for. Times were tough. Disaffected youth weren’t happy. They needed something that was their own that their parents and the powers that be disapproved of. Said youth went into their first acid house night as civilians, dropped a pill and came out disciples of this futuristic epicurean religion and went forth and multiplied.
ANARCHY IN THE UK
It was at this time that unauthorised, anarchic parties started popping up everywhere until barely a field was empty. Getting stranded in the countryside and asking a cow for directions home became tres chic in the UK.
“I thought at the time that this house music palaver was both amazing, and also that I hated it,” recalls BBC London’s Robert Elms. “I knew immediately that this fledgling scene was the next big thing, but this will end in a field I thought. Hippies, mud, terrible clothes and no discernment. It was so all encompassing and all consuming and there has been nothing like it since. It was the last spaced out, loved up, lilac-clad hurrah of indigenous British youth culture.”
“My first rave experience was in a massive field somewhere in the Midlands,” recalls Wolverhampton-raised DJ Sarah Walcott, who was 18 at the time. “Thousands of people jumping for joy, running around smiling and hugging each other; but mostly dancing, smiles of ecstasy on their faces. The defining moment was the sun rising, smiling like an Inca God over us, it was beautiful! Hands out raised to the sky, all of us together, was a magical moment! From that moment we knew we were part of something that was extraordinary.”
The youth, just as they had with punk, considered anything The Sun hated as being something worth following
On the 17 August 1988 The Sun led with the headline, ‘Scandal of the £5 drug trip to Heaven’. They got it totally wrong, as they claimed everyone was tripping on LSD and not on Ecstasy, but the headline ultimately only served to promote the concept even further, as the youth, just as they had with punk, considered anything The Sun hated as being something worth following. And so, while the authorities were sharpening their knives (as they had with Teddy Boys, Mods, Hippies and Punks) the movement exploded.
Parties popped up in grand stately homes, on farms and on racetracks; in London, every night a good half dozen acid house after-hours spielers were open till they shut in Soho full of gangsters, trendies, trannies, hookers and ravers. In Brixton you had Mendoza’s with DJs Fabio and Grooverider, while those not in the know after the clubs had finished simply congregated around a car with a good sound system and blasted out the house music until the cops arrived. A night out became an hilarious adventure fuelled by E– looking for parties, getting lost, taxi journeys, the police, running out of petrol, being stranded. Every calamity was hilarious.
Luckily, the tube was running by the time I left professional gambler, card counter and veritable genius, Tony Colston-Hayter’s first event (with Roger Goodman), Apocalypse Now, August 88 in Wembley film studios.
“When Tony said he wanted to start putting parties on, none of our group questioned it,” says his sister Charlie. “We all jumped on board and took on different roles. Tony found a loophole in the law that said it was legal to put on a private party, so everyone became a Sunrise member, and they were going to a private party. They all had membership cards and we sent out newsletters (by post, no internet or Facebook in those days). We ended up with about 30,000 Sunrise members by August 1989.”
The first Sunrise occurred on 8 October 1988 in Wembley, four days after ITN had transmitted a damning six-minute report about the dangers of ecstasy, and so the police busted it. Undeterred, Tony then put on a bash at a secret location near his home in Buckinghamshire. About 1,000 guests experienced a rather incredible evening that ended at 8AM with Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. So we didn’t worry and were happy as sand boys.
But this was perhaps the last un-maligned event of the time as by now the powers that be had fully cottoned onto this ‘thing’ that was happening and began to crack down.
All the press needed was something to hang their coats on to lambast the movement and sell newspapers. This came in the form of 21 year old Janet Mayes who died at the end of October 1988 after taking a couple of Es. Oddly the first death – 19-year-old Ian Larcome who died after he allegedly swallowed 18 ‘little fellas’ after a police stop and search – went largely unreported. He probably wasn’t pretty enough.
Meanwhile the BBC banned all acid house. Lick-arse DJ Peter Powell commented, “It’s the closest thing to mass organised zombie-dom. I really don’t think it should go any further.” We didn’t agree, and neither, it seemed, did the public.
“We were racing up the pop charts with the track I did with D-Mob, We Call It Acieeed,” recalls frontman Gary Haisman. “We were already there, then at the last minute they cancelled us and said we’d been banned. It didn’t stop us getting to number one though.”
1989 the Metropolitan Police in their infinite wisdom publicly declared open hostilities with the acid house scene, and invaded a small soiree of some 150 people on a boat on the Thames
There’s nothing like a banned record to propagate a youth movement, just ask the Sex Pistols. And so the popularity of acid house and the raves that went with it catapulted beyond our wildest imaginations. As did the absurd police attention.
In November 1989 the Metropolitan Police in their infinite wisdom publicly declared open hostilities with the acid house scene, and the next day invaded a small soiree of some 150 people on a boat on the Thames, pulling out all the stops. Undercover rozzers in bandanas, smileys and dungarees, scores of riot police dressed in crash helmets and protective boiler suits carrying shields; frogmen, launches and searchlights.
It was the Raid on Entebbe, but on the Thames at a tiny party. An impressive haul of just nine middle class party people were arrested for having a good time, being friendly and sharing half an E.
On a more serious and utterly unjust note, organisers Robert Darby and Leslie Thomas were charged with “conspiring to manage premises where drugs were supplied” and were sentenced to 10 and six years imprisonment respectively. You’d get less for rape.
The genie was out of the bottle and 1989 was to become the year that house music made serious money for farmers with empty fields, warehouse owners, ecstasy dealers and bottled water companies
Still the scene grew. James Perkins started his Phantasia events at Cheltenham; Fabio and Grooverider opened Rage; Sunrise sold 4,000 tickets for their Guy Fawkes bash, and Wayne Anthony commenced his series of Genesis events in the East End.
The genie was out of the bottle and 1989 was to become the year that house music made serious money for farmers with empty fields, warehouse owners, ecstasy dealers and bottled water companies, and the whole of the UK was consumed by this wave of goodwill – all initiated by a gay club in Chicago and bolstered by Ecstasy.
“The attempts to clamp down were always doomed, due to the sheer numbers of people and the ingenuity of how to get around the authorities,” chuckles Graeme Park. “The police were only paying lip service to an outraged right wing press and government. They knew they were on a hiding to nothing.”
STILL RAVING ON
The police, the authorities, and the property developers might be moving closer, but for now the scene is a long way from being locked off
Today, as traditional nightclubs close for business left and right, illegal raves or unlicensed all night parties are popping up again all over the UK, as the new Vice online documentary Locked Off, directed by Rhys James and presented by Clive Martin reveals. “The police, the authorities, and the property developers might be moving closer, but for now the scene is a long way from being locked off,” concludes Martin.
“Something like this is needed now in the UK as society is in a mess divided through politics and social media,” concludes Danny Rampling. “And it’s sad to see the rise in the level of violence, knife crime, hate racism and the far right. What we did was change people’s attitudes and gave them a certain empathy and love for everyone. This is needed right now.”
“I suppose back then people felt like anything was possible, which is a good collective energy to be around,” concludes DJ Nancy Noise (top photo, in hat). “My daughter has said to me quite a few times, ‘you’re so lucky Mum, what you went through; being part of something like that’. And you know what? We were.”
To read Part I of this journey click HERE
Chris Sullivan promoted a long list of warehouse parties, founded and ran the Wag Club and is a former GQ style editor who has written for many others including Italian Vogue, The Times, Independent and The FT. He now is Associate Lecturer at Central St Martins School of Art specializing in ‘youth’ cults.
The three-CD mix celebrating the Second Summer Of Love. The period from 1988 through 1989 as compiled by Paul Oakenfold, Nancy Noise and Colin Hudd is out now on though New State Music.
Limited edition signed lithographic prints of Spectrum; Land of Oz. Boys Own posters etc are available from www.davelittle.co.uk