Summer of Love 1989
Warehouse parties have gone mental. This summer, massive events like Sunrise have summoned thousands, in buses and car convoys, to aircraft hangars in the countryside for all-night house sessions. The tabloid press and the police are going wild trying to stop them – but can they crush a phenomenon that has been growing for ten years?
It’s five in the morning, and the convoy of cars has been reduced to a crawling procession through the countryside. In the car in front a young lad has been leaning out of the back window for the last half hour screaming “mental, fucking mental mate, let’s go mental”, but the predominant noise is the sound of a thousand car stereos, bumper-to-bumper, blasting out ‘Strings Of Life’ and ‘French Kiss’ into the warm summer morning, and the thumping bass of a distant sound system.
A Sunrise warehouse party starts long before you pass through the entrance; it starts when you ring the Vodafone number on your ticket for directions to the party’s secret location, and when the cars start meeting on the motorway. In this ’80s Magical Mystery Tour, the thrill of the chase is just as much part of the event as the massive spectacle which, hopefully, lies at the end. This new breed of warehouse event, drawing thousands of people to aircraft hangars, film studios and other outdoor locations, are one of the most important new developments in the dynamics of club culture the decade has seen. Sunrise, Biology, Energy, Back To The Future and countless others have brought new blood, new money and new dimensions to house music and created in the process what The Sun would have you believe is the greatest threat to the nation’s morality since punk rock.
These warehouse events have grown directly out of 1988’s Summer Of Love. After the West End deserted the acid scene last autumn, the mass audience that acid had gained still wanted that buzz, and the house scene just kept on growing. “I can’t wait for Saturdays now. Before I went to a Sunrise, I didn’t like going to clubs much; I went because my friends went and the boys I was with went. When I saw it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, just the sight of this massive place with thousands of people going absolutely crazy. Once I’d let myself go, it was the best night of my life.” Sarah’s is just one Sunrise story, one of thousands. She doesn’t care about the names of the records. She doesn’t go to West End clubs, she’s from East London and regards herself as ‘normal’ rather than ‘trendy’, and she’d punch your teeth down your throat if you even thought about calling her an acidhead.
The growth of the warehouse events has changed the face of underground club culture. People who didn’t see clubbing as a way of life, or even an interesting pastime, are now willing to drive 50, 100 or even 200 miles to a rave (like the Biology jaunt from London to Birmingham in July) and spend as much as it takes to get through the door (usually about £15). Developments in the warehouse scene have been almost unbelievably rapid. In May, it was underground, and you either knew what was going on or you didn’t. Then, in June, the tabloids got their claws into the ‘phenomenon’. In a virtual repeat of last autumn’s tabloid frenzy about acid house, “Britain’s Biggest Ever Acid Party”, the 10,000-strong Sunrise ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ event on 24 June 1989 in an aircraft hangar in Berkshire, was splashed over national front covers in The Sun and the Daily Mail and countless local newspaper and TV reports. The reports centred on ecstasy consumption and drug-dealing, but there was little or no regard for the facts, demonstrating once again that the tabloid press, faced with a youth movement they can’t comprehend (from rock’n’roll to punk to acid house to the Stonehenge ‘hippies’), simply define ‘youth’ as ‘trouble’.
It’s a stereotype which simply doesn’t hold up. Gary D, a DJ from the London-based house music pirate radio station Centre Force, has been playing at house raves in East London for over a year. “I’m 32, and like most of the blokes I’m married with kids. Before this scene started my idea of a good night out was a fight with the bouncers of any East London nightclub. I was a right nutter; now I’m mixing with people I’d never thought I’d meet. This scene has done people so much good.”
The positive side doesn’t make good tabloid copy, but it’s not difficult to find. Judge Jules is a West End DJ who played at recent Back To The Future and Sunrise parties and was pleasantly surprised by the experience. “The best thing about what’s happening now is the new open-mindedness. People are genuinely friendly, not just in a superficial and over the top way, it brings people together. It’s also genuinely multi-racial; this year’s scene is totally mixed without any kind of tension. Even in the rare groove scene, which was multi-racial, there was still that little bit of tension.”
Acting under the weight of vitriol poured on to the scene by The Sun and the Daily Mail, the police and the Home Office have to be seen to act. Douglas Hurd appeared on the news talking about legislation to “stop the menace of acid parties”. What he means is making it a crime punishable by a custodial sentence to organise any sort of event without a license. With the widespread use of roadblocks to stop traffic going towards warehouse events, the crackdown is rapidly turning into an assault on civil liberties. Warehouse events in Blackpool, Manchester and the Home Counties have been stopped. “It’s really frightening at the moment,” commented a Leeds club-runner, whose large-scale warehouse event was busted by police (who also locked the DJs up overnight for good measure). “The police are just resorting to crude intimidation. They’ve told the city’s major club owner that if he employs any of the DJs who work at the warehouses, or even any of the security, they’ll make sure his license gets taken away. They weren’t satisfied until all the DJs playing house music were harassed out of their jobs. Now there isn’t a single club playing house music in town.”
Getting legal permission, signing contracts or entertainment licences may mean nothing if organizers catch the Old Bill in the wrong mood, as the Milton Keynes’ Eclipse warehouse team found on 15 July 1989. “The police got an injunction, stopping us holding any event, and our phone lines were disconnected for 48 hours,” says John from Eclipse. “We contested the injunction, got it overturned in court, and started working on the event. We had a contract drawn up with the land-owner involved, but the police went to see him and told him all sorts of things, so he then said to us that we couldn’t use his land anymore.” Eclipse was postponed, but in the wake of the tabloid publicity, organisers are finding it increasingly difficult to find new venues – but, fired by a massive, ever-growing demand, they are still trying.
There is a myth that ‘acid barons’ are making financial killings. Certainly there are some people who are making large amounts, but they are also risking losing large amounts if they are raided. The truth is that there are a large number of people making modest amounts – the DJs, security, people who hand out flyers, people who set up the staging, the lighting, the sound, plus an important new part of the jigsaw, the independent ticket agents who bulk-buy to sell to friends. Simon uses his profile as a well known ‘face’ in the scene to make a fair profit selling advance passes. “I make about £400 each event. That’s without selling any tickets over the odds; if I went for what I know people would offer me, I could make £600 or £700, but I wouldn’t last. There’s an enormous amount of trust involved, there are always forged tickets around and if you let your people down, you’re out of business.”
Then there’s the hassle of refunding everyone’s money if the rave gets ‘caned’. At the other end of the spectrum there are bigger stakes. Energy’s event in a West London film studio on 27 May 1989 attracted a capacity crowd of 3,500, but they claim to spend more per head than anyone else, selling themselves as a ‘quality event’. “We invest £40,000 each time:’ insists Tintin from Karma Productions, who run Energy. “Not because we have to, but because we need to keep our reputation for being creative and spectacular. We could easily get away with spending £1,500 on lights as one of our competitors does, but we spend £8,000. The one time we were raided, it wiped out all our previous profits.”
Essentially summer events (which will have to hibernate throughout the cold winter nights, or at least adapt to a more modest scale), the warehouse party was taken to its logical summer conclusion this summer when, weather permitting, it dispensed with the building altogether. Biology’s outside event in a field just off the M25 in June was a turning point. With a built-up stage, huge light show illuminating the sky, and lasers clipping the tops of trees in woods a couple of miles away, when the sun rose (when people were still arriving en masse) it had the feel and look of a hippy festival. People started talking about Woodstock revisited’.
Of course, the comparison between the ’80s acid house scene and the hippy movement of the ’60s is nothing new. The original hippy warehouse parties, author/LSD propagandist Ken Kesey’s ‘Acid Tests’, which he held with his Merry Pranksters group all over California and Mexico in 1965 and 1966, were all-night sessions fired by psychedelic light shows, pulsing music, film projections and hallucinogenic drugs — remarkably similar in conception to today’s warehouse events. The ‘Acid Tests’ formed the blueprint for all subsequent hippy clubs, including the UFO club in Tottenham Court Road and Middle Earth in Covent Garden in 1967 and 1968.
But today’s warehouse events also have roots in a culture of illegal parties which began in 1978 and 1979 with three warehouse parties at Mayhem Studios in Battersea, South London, organized by Chris Sullivan (later co-owner of The Wag Club). The first one featured ‘50s blue movies projected on to the ceiling, a snake dancer and funk music. “We did it because they wouldn’t let us in anywhere else,” recalls Sullivan. “We couldn’t get in to normal clubs, so the only thing to do was organize our own.” When The Dirtbox opened above a chemist’s in Earls Court in 1982, it cost a mere £1 to get in, but helped instigate a warehouse scene that’s still developing. “The police didn’t notice it for the first few weeks,” says Dirtbox DJ Jay Strongman. “On the sixth week, Pride (now better known as Sade) played live and the queue went round the block. The police raided it and there was a big punch-up, fire hoses were set off, people were arrested and a pinball machine was pushed downstairs.”
The Dirtbox cotinued to move around, first occupying a rehearsal studio in Tooley Street, London Bridge, then a variety of venues from a basement in Baker Street to a pool-hall in Islington. Throughout 1982 and 1983 new warehouses kept springing up. The Circus, run by Jeremy Healy (then of Haysi Fantaysee) and Patrick Lilley (now of High On Hope) had its first party in Cleveland Street W1, with customised decor and scratch videos. Bianca Jagger paid £5 to get in, and over eight subsequent events until 1985 the Circus acquired a reputation for some of the best-organized and most spectacular warehouse parties. The 1983 Demob warehouses in Rosebery Avenue were the target of some early tabloid attention from the Daily Mirror's Paul Foot, who accused them of paying the police off and inspired a demonstration of angry OAPs outside the space.
The Wharehouse in Rosebery Avenue in 1983, and later in Kentish Town, was massively popular and eventually ‘went legal’ at Camden’s Electric Ballroom, the first warehouse to do so. The Dirtbox was now attracting 1,500 people, while a seven-month Saturday night warehouse at Battlebridge Road, Kings Cross in 1984 drew up to 2,000. “We turned up one night and the police had barricaded the building with aluminium,” says Battlebridge Road DJ Noel Watson. “There were about 200 police outside waiting for us.” People who ran warehouse parties either hired the space, borrowed the keys from estate agents or simply paid off the night watchman — though there were occasions of breaking and entering warehouses. “I used to drive round looking for them,” says Norman Jay of his Shake & Fingerpop warehouses, which started in 1986 at the Hole In The Wall in Paddington. “People didn’t expect parties to go on then, and the Old Bill were quite good about it.”
DJ Judge Jules’ first big Family Funktion warehouse in April 1986 attracted 2,000 people. The next month, Family Funktion and Soul II Soul drew 4,500 to St Pancras Way, King’s Cross, and the Mutoid Waste Company were doing parties with extravagant recycled junk sculpture decor. The funk warehouse scene had reached its peak, with numerous warehouses all over London, attracting a lot of rip-off promoters, drug dealers out for any easy profit and posses of ‘steaming’ youths, who caused serious problems at raves in the summer of 1986. It wasn’t long before the press caught on. “Junk, Funk And Sex On Offer” was the headline in the South London Press; the London Evening Standard picked up on it, concentrating on drug dealing, and police action followed rapidly as many events were busted. This pattern of events was to repeat itself in autumn 1988 with acid house and summer 1989 with the Sunrise warehouse events. “It’s like a cycle,” says Judge Jules. “The hardcore people put on small scale things, attract the money-grabbers, who attract the press and then the police. That happens over and over again.”
The series of Hedonism warehouses in West London in early 1988, the first to concentrate on house music, heralded the start of an explosion of underground events during the Summer Of Love, which lead up to the massive Sunrise in Greenwich later that year. The emphasis shifted away from the music and towards the spectacle itself, the event. “What people want now is the biggest and the best, they won’t go to the second biggest party in town,” says Tintin from Karma Productions. “That’s why things have got bigger and bigger and the claims on flyers more and more outrageous. The spectacle of the thing is all important.
“What will probably happen is that, as in the ’60s, the musical part will slide into history for all but the hardcore. House music speaks to people now in the same way that rock did then, but they inevitably drift away from it as it becomes just another part of music history. The event though is something they’ll remember forever, something which changes them.”
If it has the power to change people, the change will be to a club scene which is more integrated in class and race, a less elite, more mainstream and definitely more mass scene than has previously existed in club culture. If the current ‘Second Summer Of Love’ — 20 years after Woodstock in 1969 — conjures up images of the ’60s, with contemporary hippies taking E instead of LSD, it’s a comparison that only works on a surface level. Beyond ‘togetherness’, drugs and house music, the current scene has no political intent, no desire to change the world. The major events are large-scale business undertakings, run by serious, money-minded entrepreneurs. Sunrise figurehead Tony Colston-Hayter used to be a professional blackjack player; Karma Productions, who run Energy, organized the Gatecrasher Balls for public school kids. Their intention now is to ‘go legal’, like the series of massive Westworld events in London over the past few years. “I see the future as being upfront with the police. We want them to police events,” insists Tintin from Karma. “Drug dealing is a problem, but we can’t solve it until we’re in a position to co-operate. We’re willing to do things legally, we always get fire officers in to check out places, we make sure people are safe. It’s fun outwitting them, but we could do without it.”
There will be more warehouse events than ever over August Bank Holiday weekend, also the weekend of the Notting Hill Carnival. Energy intend to hold a party outside, in an amphitheatre within 20 miles of London; there will be bands playing, entertainment tents and fun fairs. It will look just like a festival. Other outfits will hold rival warehouses throughout the London area.
What happens this August Bank Holiday, the traditional end to the British Summer, could well determine the shape of things to come. Will the police go all out to break the house scene, or will they back off from a confrontation with tens of thousands? Whatever happens, it looks like it will mark the end of this year’s whirlwind cycle of events, but it may well have set the tone for the ’90s.
Rhythim Is Rhythim: ‘Strings Of Life’ (Jacktrax)
Kariya: ‘Let Me Love You For Tonight’ (Sleeping Bag)
Carly Simon: ‘Why’ (WEA)
Lil Louis: ‘French Kiss’ (ffrr)
Victor Romeo: ‘Love Will Find A Way’ (Jacktrax)
Soul II Soul: ‘Back To Life’ (10)
Ralphi Rosario: ‘I Want Your Love’ (Jacktrax)
A Guy Called Gerald: ‘Voodoo Ray’ (Rham)
Sweatshirts and sweatpants in day-glo, lilac or green
Anything by Naf Naf (South)
Anything by Joe Bloggs (North)
Soul II Soul T-shirts
Anything from MASH (Oxford St, London)
Baggy, low-crotch jeans
Originally published in i-D, Sept 1989
1 post • Page 1 of 1