Rave as Confrontation –
Marching Against the CJB in 1994
I read a review of a club night recently in my local free paper, The Islington Tribune. To capture just what a great place this club is they wrote that it is “filled with the kind of happy campers you could imagine filled a field in the ‘90s – but less crusty – it specialises in delivering the kind of electro disco beats that send buttoned-up city types into an air-punching frenzy.”
The funny thing about the above sentence is that it perfectly captures the shift from rave as a force to be reckoned with (the crusties who actually LIVE in the field – Yuk!) to a pleasant night’s entertainment for ‘buttoned-up city types’. It is not misty-eyed nostalgia to recall that rave music – as a bottom up musical and social revolution – really did disturb the status quo for a bit back there. They even brought in laws to deal with this menace!
1 – May 1994 – My friends Pete, Eun (DJ Typhoid later to become Black Mass Plastics/Thorn Industries) and I made a large banner (approx 4Mx1M) that read ‘MARCH IN LONDON TO PROTEST AGAINST THE CJB. YOUR FREEDOM IS AT STAKE. SATURDAY TRAFALGER SQUARE ETC ETC.’ I remember that it said ‘Your freedom is at stake’. This was to advertise the anti-CJB march coming up in the summer of ’94. We hung it above the old Rex Cinema in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.
2 – June 1994 – I attended the protest that ended peacefully in Trafalgar Square in June/July ’94. There is an old DJ magazine with my picture in it from August 1994. On this occasion my hat said ‘I’M DISTURBED BY THE CJB’. I do remember being with Eun as the face-off with the police began to develop in the late afternoon. He and I were yelling ‘Where are your numbers?’ to the police because they appeared to have no immediate form of ID as police officers usually do. But on this occasion I did not – nor did anyone I knew – get any closer to the forces of law than this. I also remember absolutely loving the bicycle-powered sound system. It was the only music going apart from an assortment of bongo players and whistle-blowers. That is until we got to the sound system in the square itself. This was my first anti-CJB march.
3 – October 1994 – I came down to London from Manchester with a friend (Gabi from Hekate) to attend another march against the CJB. This time, having marched the march to Hyde Park, the police refused to allow anybody to enter the park. At this point loads of people simply left. I lost touch with Gabi who had managed to locate the correct coach amongst many and begin making her way safely back to Manchester. It had been a large march and despite the decreasing numbers there was still a huge number of people lingering outside Hyde Park. I became enthralled by the face-off between mainly young 20 or 30-year-old protesters and mainly young 20 or 30-year-old riot police. I found myself in the no-man’s land between these two groups on several occasions shouting at the police. On one of their charges forward I stood my ground on a railing that marked the edge of a pavement. The cop told me to move and when I said I didn’t have to he simply beat my leg with his stick. I suppose this must have got the adrenalin going because I certainly didn’t think of retiring at this point. The next thing I knew, the cry of ‘Oxford Street’ went up. I distinctly remember thinking that it was a joke. In fact, my memories of this time are very vivid indeed.
4 – Sure enough the crowd began moving towards Oxford Street. I had no real knowledge of the streets of London at that point and I simply followed the throng. Up on Oxford Street I could see that the riotous crowd had already got into the swing of things. I saw people attack shop windows and then get inside to take stuff. I did not take part. I saw a policeman on a motorbike, pulled up in the road to survey the situation, get brutally attacked with something heavy. I had no inclination to become involved in that kind of thing. I was just too excited by it all to want to be anywhere else. This was long before I owned a mobile phone so there was no question of hearing a familiar voice and removing myself from the situation in a sensible manner. I was enthralled by it all: policemen on horseback charging from one end of the street and motorbike cops zooming down from the other end. Members of the public caught up in this were driving by looking on with discomfort and horror.
5 — At this point I decided to become involved in this as more than just a passive spectator. I saw some plastic railings in the street, the red and white type that are used to stop people from falling down holes in the road. I thought it would be a good idea to pull these into the road to act as a barrier, breaking up the free and easy movement of the horses and motorbikes. I went to pull the barrier across the road and the top part came away in my hand. I immediately tossed it down onto the ground. At this point I saw a group of 4 or 5 riot police run towards me. I scrambled away from them and immediately ran into another group of riot police. They pushed me down onto the ground and began putting the boot in. I was in the foetal position. I came away curiously unscathed. I think the policy must be to terrify you rather than actually beat you into submission unless you are putting up a vigorous protest. I should ask a real riot cop to find out. There was a riot cop at one of our Deadsilence gigs but I couldn’t ask him because he was out of his head on confiscated drugs.
6 — So then I’m in the back of a wagon and off to a central London police station where there are loads of other rioters. The guy in front of me has his hair in one massive clump of a dread and they’ve dressed him up in a white paper boiler suit. He is impressively surly as he has his fingerprints taken. Then it’s me and then I’m just lying on my back on the little bed in my cell. An hour or so later a legal aid representative talks to me through the shutter. He says they have charged me with affray. He says it will probably be reduced to ‘Using or threatening violent behaviour’, and then I fell asleep. At about three in the morning they let me go – making jokes about how they should dump scum like me in the river. I got a pint of milk from a milkman and walked up to Euston where I got a train back to Manchester. I took a bus to the University and went to my morning lecture about ‘Sufism’.
7 – Aftermath – A few months later I was in Horseferry Road Magistrate’s Court. Being in court was annoying because I wasn’t allowed to speak. I now have a criminal record that states I swung a beam at a line of officers. This is, as you can see from my account, untrue. The magistrate left it at a small fine and nothing more because he was satisfied that the beam -THAT I NEVER SWUNG AT ANYBODY!!!! – was made of plastic and not wood or metal. The legal aid bloke was right and it was reduced to ‘Using or threatening violent behaviour’. I had to pay a £120 fine and I was bound over to keep the peace for a year.
I felt a bit daft for getting caught, but I’ve never felt any shame at my criminal record. I was protesting against new laws that, amongst other things, simply outlawed people getting together and, much more worryingly, took away various other rights that have been a part of British law for centuries – such as the right to silence. A lot of British law is ancient and shouldn’t be tampered with just because young people are having fun in new ways. The populace at large was encouraged by the newspapers and TV news to look at raving as depraved and dangerous. A whole generation of people in this country know differently of course. Those who dream of total control however saw a chance to exploit the hype surrounding rave to justify their own restrictive agendas.
I have never shouted my head off at a protest since then, and I have deliberately avoided numerous protests I would like to have gone to, such as Reclaim The Streets when they took over the Square Mile. So the law, in my case, has acted as a deterrent.
Showing concern about the state of the world we live in should not be confined to the squatters, the anarchists, the punks, and the hippies. The massive march against the idea of invading Iraq – that I attended in February 2003 – was attended by a cross-section of society. It has since been proved beyond doubt that the invasion was not to find ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’. It was in Western interests to destabilise Iraq and the compassion of the British people for the Iraqi people was not a matter of any importance to those in power.
Greater inequality and less freedom in society are inevitable if people don’t unite and protest when those hard-won freedoms are under threat.
Raving swept the nation in the late 80s and early 90s. It was a cultural phenomenon. Its very meaning as a musical form and as a social experience presented a threat to the norm. As such it is something to be proud of and it felt right to stand up for the right to party in the face of ignorant law making.
RAVE ON RAVE ON
PS – Over ten years later, in the summer of 2006, I was again caught up in a full-scale riot. I was at the (attempted) Czech Tek in Pilsen. There was no proper reason to stop this festival as it had been arranged entirely legally. The riot police were brutal in making sure this one didn’t happen! My letter to the Prague Monitor makes clear what the issues were. It is clear that they wanted it closed down just because of what it was rather than for any particular reason. So large unofficial outdoor gatherings remain deeply unsettling for those in power.