‘These days are not to be missed’ – 1990s Rave and Club Culture in Fiction

Nights out dancing, for all their intensity, leave few visible traces. Immersed in a multi sensory environment of noise, lights, encounters, movements, we emerge with only memories and half-memories. Of course there is a material culture of associated objects – items of clothing, flyers, vinyl – but much of it is ephemeral and on its own tells us little. Once everybody has gone home, the haunted dancehall refuses to give up its secrets.

So perhaps it is not surprising that we turn to the novel to get a sense of what it was like to be there, in different times and places. We turn to F. Scott Fitzgerald for the parties of the Jazz Age, to Colin MacInnes for 1950s London, or even to Jane Austen for the balls of regency England.

The electronic dance music scene that exploded through acid house and rave in the late 1980s and has mutated ever since now has its own library of fictional representations, much of it dating back to the period in the 1990s when the scene in the UK reached its somewhat overbloated commercial peak and publishers like everybody else were trying to get their share of the dance music pound.

The writers of such fictions may not always be reliable narrators – were they participants or voyeurs, or just chancers looking for edgy material on which to build a career? And the perspectives they offer are inevitably partial – as in many domains, male writers seem to be over-represented compared to female, and white voices more dominant than black. But these stories and novels undoubtedly tell us something even if in some cases it might only be how those in the literary world perceived what other people were getting up to at night. There is even an argument that the better writers have got closer to the reality of the experience than more conventional historical accounts. Sarah Champion, who edited the 1997 Disco Biscuits collection of short stories, asked: ‘how can you capture the madness of the last decade in facts and figures?… the true history is not about obscure white labels or DJ techniques or pop stars. It’s about personal stories of messiness, absurdity and excess – best captured in fiction’.

Places and spaces

In fact, much of the content is barely fictional at all with writers frequently referring to (then) actually existing clubs and parties – an obvious device for grounding a story in a specific context, as well as for the writer to indicate that they know what they are talking about.

Gavin Hills set his tale White Burger Danny (1997) in the early days of London acid house in the late 1980s, when ‘from Shoom to Spectrum, Super Nature to Sunrise, we were filled with hope’. He mentions the Mud Club, dancing on Clapham Common, and Clink Street, ‘A run down old dock building’ near London Bridge where ‘The scene is bedlam. Happy crowds swing from rafters and hug in circles’ and in the absence of a bar, ‘cans of coke and cartons of Ribena are dished out of a bin full of melted ice and fag buts at £2 a time’. He follows the scene’s development through to the M25 raves, setting a key scene at a World Dance rave ‘at some pit of a farm near Crawley’.

1990s London house, techno and jungle clubs that get name checked in stories include the Ministry of Sound and Final Frontier (Hall, 1997), AWOL at the SW1 Club, Garage City and The Gallery (Welsh, 1996), while Junglist (1995) by Two Fingers and J.T. Kirk includes scenes at The Lazerdome in Peckham and, again, The Ministry of Sound: ‘the ultimate in sound reproduction. Bass so clear, full and deep, it makes you feel like weeping at the sound of it. Like an angelic chorus. Bass driving deep into the fibre of my being’ The follow up novel, Bass Instinct (1996) dismisses popular/trendy drum’n’bass club Speed: ‘All Speed is is a club where white people can listen to jungle without fear of being in a club full of niggas’.
Irvine Welsh (1996) mentions Scottish clubs and raves including the Tunnel, Sub Club, Pure, the Arches, Slam, and Rezurrection, while the ‘Squaddie ravers’ in de la Mer’s 4 a.m are into happy hardcore, referencing DJ Slipmatt and Dreamscape as well as hanging out at the Tunnel Club in Hamburg while stationed with the British Army in Germany.

The squat/free party scene is less represented, though Bert Random’s Spannered (2011) is set at a mid-1990s warehouse party weekend in Bristol and Martin Miller’s How Sunshine Star-Traveller Lost His Girlfriend (1997) takes place in ‘Cool Tan, the squatted and rather desolate remains of the old dole office in Brixton… used during the day as alternative art gallery, vegetarian café, drumming workshop, and suchlike, and at the weekends as a place for raving. So people now danced where their older brothers and sisters had once stood miserably in line to sign on’. In keeping with the sometimes hippyish vibe of the place, one of the characters plans to do a ‘Spinning Dance of the Chakras’ suspended on a rope above the dancefloor.

Further afield, the heroine of Alan Warner’s Morvern Callar (1995) runs away to the clubs of Spain, including the Spook Factory (presumably the actual club of that name in Valencia though that is not stated) while Alex Garland’s Blink and You Miss it (1997) is set in the trance scene of SE Asia ‘A full moon party was coming… which spelt big party, and party goers coming from miles around to partake. Miles as in thousands. Point of departure, Goa or Koh Phangan’.

Sometimes there are references to London’s pre-house nightlife: Hall recalls reggae sound systems: ‘dark marijuana nights down in Melon Road, Peckham, with Jah Shaka giving us pumping acid dub. We’d stay out until the break of dawn, dancing all night, fuelled only by ganja and Red Stripe’. Junglist looks back to 1980s soul/funk nights: ‘Jazz Café, Maximus, the Fridge before it went gay, Brixton Academy, Iceni, Fresh’n’Funky, Leave my wife alone, Funkin’ Pussy’.

Drugs and other highs

If many of the settings were real, some of the storytelling also doesn’t get much further than describing the experience of going out clubbing, or perhaps re-imagining the actual experience with more sex and better drugs. Writers work their way through a pharmacopeia of late night substance use, but it is the description of coming up on ecstasy that is a more or less obligatory feature of rave fiction – rendered both as an internal sensation and a changed perception of the user’s relationship to the world and all the people in it.

In Starfishing (2011), Sarah Monaghan sexualises this experience: ‘I got this feeling in my head, like an orgasm in my brain. Then, like after an orgasm, the way your body aches and you feel tired but in a lovely, satisfied, How-Great-Thou-Art, birdsong-and-bright-sky-on-a-spring-morning kind of way … round me the colours that had been bright before shone out like they had lights behind them’.

Taking the drug for the first time, Shahid in Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album (1996) feels that ‘everyone was looking so beautiful. But before he could think why this might be, or why he was enjoying himself so much, an undertow of satisfaction rippled through him, as if some creature were sighing in his body. He felt he was going to be lifted off his feet. The feeling left him and he felt deserted. He wanted it back. It came and came. In a pounding trance he started writhing joyously, feeling he was part of a waving sea. He could have danced for ever’.

Mike Benson, in Room Full of Angels (1997), dwells on the chemically-infused perception of the music: ‘I can hear thumping banging grooving pulsing sounds all around me. I can feel it feel me. I’m inside it as it enters me… I don’t hear music I feel it absorb it sense it become it hold it in my soul and thank it so much for being there, and I’m so glad I’m here and not somewhere else, there is nowhere in the world I would rather be than in this body at this place in this head at this time’. A character in Irvine Welsh’s The Acid House likewise remarks that ‘the music is in me around me and everywhere, it’s just leaking from my body’.

There is a long literary tradition of writing about drug experiences, from De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821) to Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (1954) and beyond. The difference with rave fiction is that it does not deal with drug taking as a solitary experiment and/or addiction but as a social event. As such it is not always possible to separate out the effect of the drug from everything else that’s going on.

In Paris Trance (1998), Geoff Dyer foregrounds the bass and the energy of the crowd: ‘You could feel the throb of the bass outside but the music hit you as you went in, as you passed into another world, where the rules of outside ceased to exist. It was packed. The throb felt outside was not simply the bass: it was the pulse of all the energy confined inside… Everyone was a spectator, everyone was a participant’.

That sense of relative equality – of everybody or nobody as a star – is also highlighted by Gavin Hills: ‘Radiant girls come up and kiss you, the boys to chat and hug. It was as if the veils of pretence and reservation had fallen and truth was allowed to dance naked. Quite literally on some occasions. There were few stars, only extras, and we all had speaking parts. Well, gibbering ones at least… I remember thinking it in full 3D: the eighties have been shit and this is fucking excellent’. In the days before people turned to face ‘superstar DJs’, there is also a basic equality between the dancers and those playing the music. Describing an early 1990s rave in New York, Tony Fletcher (2003) observes: ‘this crowd is in adulation only of itself. The room is all on one level, dark and crowded; whereas at Hedonism [another club in the novel] the DJ looks down from his exalted position above, the decks here could be anywhere in the room. No one seems to any extent interested in finding them’.

For Morvern Callar, the pleasure is tied up with the possibility of escape from a small town where everybody knows your name and life story to the welcoming, polymorphous anonymity of the ‘rave catacombs’ of the Spook Factory: ‘Immersed in the darkness… I was so close some boy or girl that their sweat was hitting me… You felt the whole side of a face lay against my bare back, between shoulder blades. It was still part of our dance. If the movement wasn’t in rhythm it would have changed the meaning of the face sticking there in the sweat. You didn‘t really have your body as your own, it was part of the dance, the music, the rave’.
Perhaps we should avoid the chemical determinism of attributing all this to MDMA. After all everyone can recall mind-blowing nights without it, and the narrator of Junglist , while dismissive of E’d up house music clubs with ‘that false high, that false hope, that false love’ still has the sensation of ‘The rhythm that heartbeat which entwines itself around your own, pulsing with it… The bassline becomes you on a level that’s impossible to define, so close are you’.

Indeed going back deeper into the historical literature of social dancing we can find euphoric descriptions from long before ecstasy had even been invented. Witness for instance Herman Hesse’s vision of a masqued ball in Steppenwolf, first published in 1927: ‘I was myself no longer. My personality was dissolved in the intoxication of the festivity like salt in water. I danced with this woman or that, but it was not only the one I had in my arms and whose hair brushed my face that belonged to me. All the other women who were dancing in the same room and the same dance and to the same music, and whose radiant faces floated past me like fantastic flowers, belonged to me, and I to them. All of us had a part in one another. And the men too. I was with them also. They, too, were no strangers to me…. Our feet moved in time to the music as though we were possessed, every couple touching, and once more we felt the great wave of bliss break over us’.

Communities of Sense

It might be useful here to consider Jacque Rancière’s notion of aesthetic communities to make sense of the kind of intense sensory sociality described in rave fiction. For Rancière (2009), it is precisely such common experiences that constitute community in the first place – community as a fact of people sharing space and interacting comes before any notion of the political community and its representation. What he writes about theatre surely also applies to the musical performance or party: it ‘involves an idea of community as self-presence, in contrast to the distance of representation… Theatre emerged as a form of aesthetic constitution – sensible constitution – of the community. By that I mean the community as a way of occupying a place and a time, as the body in action as opposed to a mere apparatus of laws; a set of perceptions, gestures and attitudes that precede and pre-form laws and political institutions’.

Rancière writes that ‘Human beings are tied together by a certain sensory fabric, a certain distribution of the sensible, which defines their way of being together; and politics itself is about the transformation of the sensory fabric of “being together”’. Collectivities formed around music or other cultural practices can be described, in Rancière’s term, as aesthetic communities: ‘An aesthetic community is not a community of aesthetes. It is a community of sense, or a sensus communis… a community of sense is simply a certain combination of sense data: forms, words, spaces, rhythms and so on’.

We can certainly see how different combinations of sense data – looks, sounds, smells etc – create different kinds of musical communities. When people talk about the ‘vibe’, ‘feel’ or ‘atmosphere’ of an event or scene, it is that ‘sensory fabric’ that is implicitly being referred to. By the time of the dance fiction boom in the 1990s, the initial acid house/rave moment had already fractured into a broad spectrum of social/musical milieus characterised by dancing to electronically and digitally generated beats and sounds, but with seemingly infinite combinations of tempo, rhythm, attitude, sexuality, drugs, and numerous other social, cultural, sonic and geographical variables.

The various fictional accounts reflect this diversity and describe some of these different post-rave ‘communities of sense’. There might be a sensory commonality across these scenes of music – smoke, ‘arms and hair, coming and going, illuminated and vanishing, crackling into view and disappearing’ in the strobe lighting (Dyer) – but there are also differences.

In Starfishing, Frankie Cavanagh visits a hard house night in Amsterdam: ‘the club was one of those huge places that used to be a warehouse. Despite its size, it was packed and sweaty; so humid it felt tropical. As I danced, the heat and moisture smothered and slowed me… Boys baring their chests, tanned girls in bikini tops and hot pants, glitter winking from their skin as the light hit’. This glammed-up post-disco clubbing is distinct from some of the moodier scenes portrayed in other accounts.

While the house scene is far from exclusively white, the jungle scene is blacker, and to an extent this represents the breaking up of the brief period of rave unity as described by Nicholas Blincoe in relation to Manchester: ‘recently the city had begun to redivide, like an amoeba that can’t flow in two directions without splitting its heart open. Techno and its derivatives, musical and chemical had got paler. Her friends, acid casuals and ravers, had begun to shun hip hop… When ragga re-ignited the dance halls, they left that alone too’ (Acid Casuals).

It is the Jungle scene and its bass-driven sounds that Two Fingers focuses on: ‘Bass is the vanishing point on the horizon where all black music disappears back to’. The narrator in Junglist reflects: “I was in it from the beginning… Back when jungle was still break-beat house or whatever the fuck you wanted to call it before it metamorphosed into Jungle. The one and only. Ragga Tekno, Jungle Techno, Ragga Jungle, Hardcore, Darkcore, The Dark Stuff, Ambient Jungle. All just labels to try and describe a feeling that transcends labels… It is the lifeblood of a city, an attitude, a way of life, a people. Jungle is and always will be a multi-cultural thing, but it is also about a black identity, black attitude, style, outlook’ (Junglist). In his story Puff he describes whistles, foghorns and ‘the Lighter Massive….the floor is a weaving mass of flames, which flicker out, then snap back into life, as thumbs spin the wheel’.

Come downs, cults and cultural pessimism

Rave fiction is not all about utopian spaces of desires and possibilities. There is the downside of come downs and casualties, not to mention a recognition of the underlying current of violence associated with the dodgy characters selling the drugs. Nicholas Briscoe’s Acid Casuals (1995) portrays the sometimes murderous conflict for control of dealing in Manchester nightlife, while Jake Arnott’s truecrime (2004) is partly a fictionalised account of the 1995 Rettendon murders, where three men involved in club security (including at South West London’s Club UK) and drug smuggling were found shot dead in a Range Rover in Essex. One of the characters declares: ‘It’s who runs the doors, Gaz. That’s what this thing is going to be all about. It doesn’t matter who runs the club, who promotes the event or whatever. It’s who’s in control of security, that’s going to be the thing. That way you decide who can bring in drugs and deal inside the place’.

The full moon party scene is likewise portrayed by Garland as being underpinned by police corruption and gangster activity, with drug dealing overseen by an older ‘beach guru’ who sets up a young helper to be arrested: ‘Police happy because they got their arrest. Dealers happy because the police were off their case. Travellers happy because they got their full moon party’.
There also concerns about the wider commercial exploitation of the scene: ‘Some essentially good vibe had been there at the outset…. But now the energy and karma of all these kids was just being siphoned out as cash by some businessmen. They had been sucked dry. Pure energy converted to pure marketing’ (Rushkoff, in Champion 1997)

The gathering together of large numbers of people to enter different states of consciousness has often prompted comparisons with religious experiences and rituals, indeed the naming of one trajectory from techno as ‘trance’ made this link explicit. On the psychedelic fringe of the trance scene there was a whole scale revival of 1960s/70s new age mysticism, and one of the more dystopian tropes of rave fiction imagines this current giving rise to spiritually-tinged exploitation or even cult control scenarios.

In Electrovoodoo (1997), Michael River imagines a club where somebody is regularly chosen to be electrocuted on stage in order to achieve some kind of cosmic breakthrough, while in Jonathan Brook’s Sangria (1997) a hypnotist hides subliminal messages under the music, manipulating ‘the blank-eyed tourist clubbers’ to drink: ‘Drug someone and condition them with repetitive perception stimulation and they will do what you want them to do’.

Jeff Noon’s DJNA (1997) features a totalitarian state which has banished ‘wild dancing’ to the devils ‘entwining repetitive beats’ through the ‘Law of Gentle Pop’, with clubs taken over by ‘Jesus Boom’ with its mixture of Christianity, sacramental drugs (‘Disco biscuit and Jesus blood’) and ‘nice’n’easy dance’ to subdue the populace. As well as satirising the British Government’s anti-rave Criminal Justice Act, the story may also have been inspired by allegations of sexual abuse at the Christian rave Nine O’Clock Service in Sheffield in the mid-1990s.

Rushkoff’s The Ecstasy Club (1997) is set in ‘an old abandoned piano factory in the warehouse district of Oakland’ (California) where the plans for an ‘industrial utopia’ party venue come ‘communal live in workshop’ degenerate into paranoid violence, corruption and full blown cult behaviour. The mastermind conceives of parties as ‘an ongoing pagan mass… Each party is a beat of the drum’. The aim is to challenge ‘consensus reality’ and ‘to evolve towards higher states of consciousness and social organisation’ with the help of ‘herbs, smart drugs, mind gym, music, lights, lasers’ and psychedelics, triggering global if not cosmic change. But ‘the next evolutionary level of the human species’ is founded on paying off corrupt cops and ripping off punters, not to mention underpinned by anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. There is competition between ‘Renn A. Sanz’ (seemingly a fictionalised Genesis P. Orridge) and ‘Dr Samuel Clearwater’ (Timothy Leary?) to steer the Ecstasy Club but it ends up being absorbed into the Scientology-like ‘Cosmotology’ cult as its youth project.

At times Rushcroft portrays the very communal basis of the party as something unhuman: ‘the dancing mass… pulsed up and down in time with the music. Like a sea creature, it waved its tentacles back and forth, revealing patterns… It made sounds, too, and shouted with glee from hundreds of
little mouths at once’ (Rushkoff).

There are echoes here of a deeper cultural pessimism about crowds and collective behaviour reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel about partying after the First World War: ’Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St John’s Wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming baths, tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris- all that succession and repetition of massed humanity… Those vile bodies’.

The Undefeated

The predominant tone in rave fiction is more celebratory, with some authors positing the party scene as a meaningful alternative to economic and political realities. In doing so they can’t help but sketch out an oblique political economy of the period, if only in describing the daily lives of those for whom going out dancing is such a potent escape.

Morvern Callar, the eponymous heroine of Alan Warner’s novel, has a dead end job in the supermarket of the Scottish port town where she has grown up: ‘The manager has you working all hours cash in hand, no insurance, so when fifteen or sixteen you go full-time at the start of the summer and never go back to school’. Her foster father Red Hanna bemoans: ‘heres you, twenty-one, a forty-hour week on slave wages for the rest of your life; even with the fortnight in a resort theres no much room for poetry there, eh?’. The pre-raving nightlife of her home town – The Mantrap club – is characterised by drunken violence, where ‘a boy asked her to dance and when she said No he pulled a flick-knife on her’. No wonder she runs away to the sun leaving a note saying ‘away raving. Don’t be worrying about me. Sell everything here’.

The hospital worker junglists in Irvine Welsh’s Lorraine goes to Livingston: a rave and regency romance have to deal not only with ‘the reality of eight-hour backshifts on geriatric wards’ but the lecherous behaviour of the hospital’s TV celebrity fundraiser and necrophiliac, Sir Freddy Royle – a transparent parody of BBC TV presenter Jimmy Saville, exposed years after Welsh’s novel as just such a character.
Against the hierarchy and alienation of work, going out partying offers some kind of community. One of the soldier narrators in de la Mer’s 4.a.m. enthuses about escaping from ‘That feeling of not belonging, that’s probably why I love the raving so much… The all-nighters, the pills, the smoky dance floors, the lasers, the bubbling and moving, the banging tunes, the smiley faces, the blissful highs – all them things bring us ravers together like one big happy family. Fuck the bond you’re supposed to get in the Army; it’s nothing like the bond you get when you’re hugging your mate on a crowded dance floor’ (de la Mer). Or as Welsh (1996) puts it ‘we are social, collective fucking animals and we need to be together and have a good time. It’s a basic state of being alive’.

Against the experience of police harassment, being together on the dancefloor offers a feeling of strength. There are police raids on parties, such as those in Blackburn described in Blincoe (1997) – ‘the sound of batons on the steel of the door’’ – and for young black people in particular the constant threat of being ‘pulled over for nothing ‘cept being black… Can’t look ‘em in the eye cause they’ll hook you up. Lie and hear the sirens rolling closer’ (Junglist). But inside the club there is respite: ‘Right now, right here, I’m dancing, I’m running on the spot, my lighter raised to the ceiling, letting it all hang out. I fear no man, beast or god, for the music surrounds me, makes me strong. Feel the blood thunder in my veins as I reach explosion point, the MC screaming for the rewind, our voices linked in unison with him. Of the same mind, linked, joined at the heart by the music. Jungle’.

Against getting by, scraping a living, making do, there is excess. Hills writes ‘For hundreds of years the likes of Danny and the likes of me and you, rarely experienced joy in their life. They grafted and they died early – from disease, childbirth, war and plain poverty’. To party hard is to refuse this life of mere survival, even if it is only a moment burning brightly.

In The Black Album, Shahid goes to a party in a squatted mansion: ‘The house had been squatted the previous evening after being claimed by the drummer of the Pennies from Hell, a window cleaner who’d spotted it on his rounds. Tonight it was overrun by hordes of boys and girls from south London. They had pageboy haircuts, skateboard tops, baseball caps, hoods, bright ponchos and twenty-inch denim flares. Deedee said that most had probably never been inside such a house before, unless they were delivering the groceries. Now they were having the time of their lives. By the end of the weekend the house would be ashes. ‘The kids too,’ she added’.

Irvine Welsh titles one of his stories in Ecstasy (1996) The Undefeated: an Acid House Romance, and in this work in particular there is a sense of partying as a refusal of defeat even in the aftermath of political and economic setbacks for working class people under Thatcher and her successors: ‘You had to party, you had to party harder than ever. It was the only way, It was your duty to show that you were still alive. Political sloganeering and posturing meant nothing, you had to celebrate the joy of life in the face of all those grey forces and dead spirits who controlled everything, who fucked with your head and your livelihood… it would all still be there when you stopped, but it was the best show in town right now’ .

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

To an extent, what is being portrayed in rave fiction is an updated version of the old working class weekender, as described by Alan Sillitoe in his Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958): ‘For it was Saturday night, the best and bingiest glad-time of the week, one of the fifty-two holidays in the slow-turning Big Wheel of the year, a violent preamble to a prostrate Sabbath. Piled-up passions were exploded on Saturday night, and the effect of a week’s mono-tonous graft in the factory was swilled out of your system in a burst of goodwill’.

The difference is that the old certainties, as well as the limitations of industrial working class culture have been exploded. In the rave/club, some social barriers are temporarily breached – there are ‘hoolies, homos and just plain hedonists’ (Hills), with temporarily blissed out football hooligans alongside soldiers, city traders, nurses, office workers and the unemployed. There are ‘gay kids and straight kids, cool kids and nerds, boys, girls, and transvestites, all dancing with one another’ (Rushcroft). At the Bristol free party in Spannered we encounter: ‘European techno-freaks who would follow a beat anywhere; Americans who spent their teens following the Grateful Dead; crazy Canadians on maxed out credit cards… the Old ’92 ravers out of retirement, house divas in fake fur, indie kids and students, travellers, punks and dreads’.

In his horror/conspiracy thriller Disturbia (1997), Christopher Fowler sets some of the action in a club ‘hollowed out inside the structure of Vauxhall’s vast red bricked railway bridges, with its sweeping roof underneath the track’. A character in the club reflects on the temporary and partial equality of nightlife: ‘After two’s a state of mind. Anything can happen between two and dawn can’t it? I mean, it’s the only time when everyone is equal. Look out on the streets, whores, junkies, career girls, rich businessmen. If they’re out after two, there’s no difference between them…. The barriers don’t go back up until daylight. Until then, you’re a free spirit’.

For Rancière, there can be a prefigurative aspect to experiences like this, with the aesthetic community anticipating possible alternative futures: ‘On the one hand, “the community of sense” woven together by artistic practice is a new set of vibrations of the human community in the present; on the other hand, it is a monument that stands as a mediation or a substitute for a people to come’. These new possibilities arise from an unsettling of fixed ways of being: ‘Aesthetic experience has a political effect to the extent that the loss of destination it presupposes disrupts the way in which bodies fit their functions and destinations… It is a multiplication of connections and disconnections that reframe the relation between bodies, the world they live in and the way in which they are ‘equipped’ to adapt to it. It is a multiplicity of folds and gaps in the fabric of common experience that change the cartography of the perceptible, the thinkable and the feasible’.

Some traditional leftists were confused by the social promiscuity of rave, the fact that the perhaps temporary dissolution of traditional class-bound subjectivities might undermine the radical project conceived of as an assertion of class identity through the labour movement. But in Rancière’s terms, it is precisely this that enables ‘a new experience of individual existences and capacities, wrested from the constraints of old bonds of community… a break with the ways of feeling, seeing and saying that characterised working-class identity in the old hierarchical order’.
Many of the characters in rave/dance fiction refuse to know their place and grasp at the opportunity to live differently, if only for a few hours or days. Morvern Callar says: ‘I hadn’t slept for three days so I could know every minute of that happiness that I never dared dream I had the right’. What from one perspective might appear as ephemeral is felt as a historical moment; as the DJ character puts it in Charlie Hall’s The Box: ‘There’s this feeling that these are days not to be missed. That something vital and memorable is happening, some sort of axis point and we are here’.

Of course, every night and every era must come to an end, just as David Nicholls (2009) describes the last moments of a night out at a railway arch in Brixton: ‘they dance for a while in the dry ice, grinning and nodding and exchanging that strange puckered frown, eyebrows knitted, but the nodding and grinning are less from elation now, more from a need for reassurance that they’re still having fun, that it isn’t all about to end… Someone nearby shouts ‘tune’ half-heartedly, but no-one’s convinced, there are no tunes. The enemy, self-consciousness, is creeping up on them and Gibbsy or Biggsy is first to crack, declaring that the music is shit and everyone stops dancing immediately as if a spell has been broken’.

But even if the moment passes and the spell breaks, its memory remains:   ‘Those moments, those movements, those sounds, those feelings – they all really happened. The afterglow from sharing those experiences with thousands of people – with hundreds of thousands of people over the years – can keep you warm for a long time, if you let it’ (Random, 2011).

Works referred to:

– Arnott, J. (2004), truecrime. London: Soho Press.
– Blincoe, N. (1995), Acid Casuals. London: Serpents Tail.
– Champion, S. (1997), Disco Biscuits: New Fiction from the Chemical Generation. London: Sceptre,
Aylett, S. (1997), Repeater.
Benson, M. (1997), Room Full Of Angels.
Blincoe, N. (1997). Ardwick Green.
Brook, J. (1997) Sangria.
Cavanagh, D. (1997), Mile High Meltdown.
De Abauita, M. (1997) Inbetween.
Garland, D. (1997), Blink And You Miss It.
Graham, B. (1997), Weekday Service.
Hall, C. (1997), The Box.
Hills, G. (1997), White Burger Danny.
Millar, M. (1997), How Sunshine Star-Trav eller Lost His Girlfriend.
Noon, J. (1997), DJNA.
River, M. (1997), Electrovoodoo.
Rushkoff, D. (1997), The Snow That Killed Manuel Jarrow.
Two Fingers (1997), Puff.
Warner, A. (1997), Bitter Salvage.
Welsh, I. (1997), The State Of The Party.
Williamson, K. (1997) Heart of the Bass.

– de la Mer, N. (2011), 4 a.m. Brighton. Myriad.
– Dyer, G (1988), Paris Trance: a Romance. London: Abacus.
– Fletcher, T. (2003), Hedonism. London: Omnibus.
– Fowler, C. (1997), Disturbia. London: Sphere.
– Hesse, H. (1927), Steppenwolf. Berlin: S.Fischer Verlag.
– Kureishi, H. (1996),The Black Album. London: Faber.
– Monaghan, S. (2008) Starfishing. London: Chatto & Windus.
– Nicholls, D. (2009), One Day. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
– Rancière, J. (2009), The Emancipated Spectator. London: Verso.
– Random, B. (2011), Spannered. Bristol: Spannered Books.
– Rushkoff, D. (1997), The Ecstasy Club. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
– Sillitoe, A. (1958), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. London: W.H. Allen.
– Two Fingers and Kirk, J.T. (1995), Junglist. London: Boxtree.
– Two Fingers (1996), Bass Instinct. London: Boxtree.
– Warner, A. (1995), Morvern Callar. London: Vintage.
– Waugh, E. (1930), Vile Bodies. London: Chapman & Hall.
– Welsh, I. Ecstasy (1996), Ecstasy. London: Jonathan Cape.



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