Transmission Party: Saving Rave in Dystopia

The rule of six reigned supreme. I sat with a group in a pre-booked pub. The mood was tense. Halloween was a week away, but looming over everyone’s desires for a blow-out was the threat of another lockdown.

Word rushed around our little table that a friend of a friend was throwing a squat rave and we were invited. My stomach dropped. I’ve never really been a raver, always been afraid of police, and I’d never been to a squat party. 

‘You’ll be fine,’ a friend said, ‘you’re not gonna have other plans anyway…’ The group laughed. I wasn’t convinced. And then, my closest mate schemed, ‘Come and take photos and just speak to people! You’ll get some crease shit.’ As an aspiring, and struggling, documentary photographer, I meekly agreed.

The rave day arrived. I tested – to attain a kernel of virtue – and came up negative. London was going into lockdown in 48 hours; life was about to be confined back to bedrooms. The frustration spurred me on to gather what I could at the event. To do something.

Our group whizzed off in an empty tube carriage. Above us, government adverts glared imperiously, flaunting fear and passing blame. We paid no notice. Our stop came and we scarpered off into a sprawling industrial estate.

After half an hour we started to notice more and more people loitering nearby, aimlessly waiting for the location to drop. Right on the mark of midnight everyone suddenly moved, as though drawn by a magnet, in the same direction. The exact address had been revealed.

After getting hustled into the venue, I went exploring. The location was mostly subterranean, made up of two huge adjacent railway arches lit harshly by strip lights. People congregated everywhere in circles. Suddenly someone ran through the growing crowd, causing a commotion and leaping onto an older woman. ‘What the fuck mum,’ she squealed, ‘I didn’t think you’d actually come!’ Everyone cheered.

I always thought squats were mainly for teenagers and students. I scanned the room and noticed that it was a mixed bag, with attendees in their early twenties to late-fifties. I asked someone next to me about the kind of crowd that comes to these raves. Enthusiastically, he replied: ‘Mate, it was always, like, kids. But ‘cos no one can go out now everyone’s coming here!’

He sparked a cig, continuing, ‘honestly, I know its shitty being here, but we’re here because it’s a community we’ve built. We see our friends, our family; we built this thing ourselves. It’s an escape from everyone controlling you.’

Someone else chimed in, ‘we wanna make sure this doesn’t die out – smaller parts of culture are fizzling out everywhere. A lot of DJs are out of a job and need to earn money somehow – no one is supporting the music industry.’

They then told me how you meet the best people here. And what makes someone the ‘best’?

‘Nice tits’ one said.

‘Good personality,’ said another. 

I sighed. They sniggered. ‘Look, there’s a reason we wanna dance,’ another member of the group added, exhaling berry vape, ‘there’s a reason we wanna stand here and have loads of people around and risk so much. We’ve been deprived of fucking everything.’

By now, the arches were absolutely packed. One of the DJs slipped over to us, remarking that one-thousand people were inside. Cutting off the rest of his sentence, a shout rolled through from the entrance… ‘Oi! Feds are here!’ The door got bolted. The strip lights went out and lasers began tracing expectant faces…

A bassline roared through the room, sending everyone into a frenzy. So much euphoria, so much pent-up rage, so much hurt, so much love; so many people screaming, gleaming, beaming fucking beautiful smiles in a moment of collective ecstasy.

With the door locked, and ventilation scarce, things got very hot, very fast. Clothes came flying off; skin touched skin. Sweat poured from every pore, the heat of the ravers began to form an ersatz tropical mist – later a fog – which condensed on the ceiling and rained back down on us.

I tried to light a cigarette but the gas wouldn’t work. I pulled out another lighter and it flickered blue before dying. I thought for a second. ‘The air’s run out!’ I shouted into my mate’s ear. He tried his lighter. ‘The air’s run out!’ He shouted too, but more amused. People nearby tried theirs, shrugged, and went back to munching pills.

‘Mate. Advice.’ Someone gurned into my ear. ‘No one will leave even if there is hardly any air. The second that door has to be opened the night’s over. If someone passes out people will take care of it. No one’s gonna die. And there’s a crack in the wall over there if you wanna light a cig.’ I bolted for it.

A small airstream whistled through a loose brick, surrounded by jittery partygoers. I smoked convivially beside a girl who airily spoke about her lockdown party experiences. ‘As a woman going to these raves you can feel vulnerable… There’s no enforced protection really until the police get in. It’s lawless. I guess, you know, people get robbed, girls get raped, molested.’ 

She rested a bare shoulder against the slimy wall. ‘But then there’s the community of these raves. I know from experience if something happens to me people will instantly fuck up the weirdo. You don’t get that help at legals.’

A wide-eyed brick-shithouse of a guy joined us smoking. He smoothly added: ‘At raves you do get a percentage of guys who are dickheads. You also get a way bigger percentage of guys who are looking out. If you ever saw any girl looking uncomfortable because of a guy he’d be getting his face kicked in…’ This same person took me behind the rigs to take photos. Just next to the decks a few people sat on mounds of jackets comforting the overly high, under-oxygenated ravers of the night.

The party pushed on. The drugs ran out. People thirsted and faltered. The energy slowly fell. And like that, a pulse of cold air swooped in from the back. The police were in. My mate grabbed the collar of my jacket and pulled. I was dragged straight to the exit, past the huge mass of police and down a back street. I didn’t know that if you hung about you’d be targeted as an organiser and swiftly nicked.

We staggered for miles before both slumping on a bench, taking in the lights of Canary Wharf warping on the surface of the Thames. We stared at the skyscrapers ahead and talked about a lot. With a thousand-yard-stare he opened up. ‘Mate, you know my room is a little box. It’s overwhelming to get stuck in there for weeks. I had to get out.’

He eyed the towers. ‘I feel so lied to. Where I live in central, I walk out my door, walk past The Shard, and I can see people who have just flown in with huge suitcases getting dropped off. Something just isn’t fucking right!’

The last round of drugs churned a synaptic soup in our heads and we fell silent. He started up again as we walked off, ‘I think a lot of the people who are deciding these rules are scared to die right now. They’re thinking “fuck… if I can just last five more years then I can go out on my yacht or retire to the Cotswolds, then I can die happy… but right now I cannot die; I’m not fucking happy.” The fuckers are going on secret holidays anyway. They should be afraid for when everyone finds out what they’re doing.’ We collapsed onto a bus, and the night ended.

On that date alone there were over eleven large scale unlicensed raves in London. The whole city turned spasmodic blue as the forces tried their best to tame them. Afterwards the media had a field day vilifying the young. The parties slowly became infamous under their new tagline: ‘Transmission Parties’.

Two years later everyone has redirected their hatred at those running the country. Nearly everyone, at some point, admitted to bending the rules in moments of despair and disillusion.

Looking back, what stories do you have to tell now we’re no longer lying?

LONDNR Diary is an anonymous storytelling project open to anyone. 

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