The rave-olution came and we were free, from "meaningful" lyrics, the serious artist, musicianship and the pathetic circus of the rock concert. Our music, which said bollocks to text (when voices did appear they were sampled or else all-too-human but full of hope), to the personality and to the spectacle, and was churned out on cheap keyboards and samplers, all simplistic riffs and recurring loops underpinned by the most important element, the omnipresent repetitive beat. We were in control of the means of production as well as reception (finding a space for our own dos), we were literally dancing change and didn't care that people thought the soundtrack sounded cheap, naive or optimistic. We were ascendant, the revolutionary people.
Now though, the whole idea of rave is up for grabs among the commentariat - including those like me who 'lived the dream' and others who just lived parasitically off it as the havin-it culture dissolved imperceptibly into the mainstream. Yes I am an ex-raver now, a non-dancer still interested in dance music but with as much relevance as some no-man buying a Ministry CD from a motorway services on his way to his mate's in Milton Keynes. But I and others like me can stake a claim for rave's ideals – better make sure this is no idle 'I was there' me-moir – while the youth are out, in clubs and warehouses, not thinking but raving, getting blitzed and maybe, just maybe, using that to think differently than heading down the booze-cash-career route.
It was never just about the music. As the culture simultaneously developed into niches and the lifestyle headed towards co-option, so the idea of communal hedonic release that took in the initial explosion of 87-88 and lasted through hardcore, techno, jungle and house (including handbag and variants) has not been seen as viable or desirable for some time. The temporary autonomous zone that the experience offered us is too often derided as mere escapism and and by extension just another consumer choice. Significantly, the 'kids' on the 'road' now talk about “going to a rave,” rather than “raving” – much less engagement is implied, the attendance (and the chance to blather about it in person, on line and down the phone) is enough. Still a more adventurous option, but not much different than going down the local flash bar, where the music will always be to watch the girls and the boys go by. Why oh why?
With it now so seemingly in the past, rave is haunted with notions of what might have been and the still-unsure impact of what it was, what social change, if anything, it wrought. My view is that it is important to play up its dialectical shift – though the music had links to disco, hip-hop and europop when it broke it broke big and like no other quickly attained mass appeal – and play down the revisionist aspect. Through the experience of it and the subsequent need to relate that back, it propelled more sectors of society into the media-led world and the 90s was full of that influence (not to say that like hippy, punk and others before it that the spirit was not fully assimilated in this area). Even just in terms of dancing, this wasn't like the scenes just precedent to it – the showy soul or funky rare groove warehouse scenes – still less like the slowdancing pish of Ritzys and Cinderallas, as it allowed the reserved individual to release themselves on the dancefloor without qualification. Now the accent is back on the individual and his style (even if that style in modern clubs is increasingly just about being a drugged-up twat), and that emphatically was not rave was about.
Sonically, it seems that no-one is interested in making those bold, optimistic strokes of sound, whether it be underpinned by a bouncy breakbeat or a four-four stomp. The house scene goes for synaptic digitalised techno or else an update of the disco blueprint. There’s music to reassure, like the warm blanket of indie rock, to challenge like that often promoted in Wire, but also to induce proper goose-pimpling joy, and it seems to be in short supply.
Rave hasn’t gone away – it’s just becoming twisted and reclaimed by newer scenes not fussy or precious about the late 80s or early 90s. There’s the NME-created new rave scene, not much to do with rave musically but scene bands like Klaxons seem keen to big up the dayglo neon-lit nature. Then there’s Bangface dos and regional/international variations of the not-quite-retro rave culture. Then note how all the late-night quiz shows that have sprung up like a smiley rash on terrestrial, freeview and cable/satellite all have some kind of generic happy-go-lucky rave dance bubbling away while the presenters talk inanely about cash prizes. And I heard some deep, deep house shit on permanent rotation at Clackett Lane services off the m25 the other day, while feeding the kids (see!).
Some nefarious reuse of the rave sound then, clearly. But while its big, long-term brother 'dance' may not make the bold, extroverted sound and give off less optimism that this is something really changing things, it still makes waves and draws people in, refugees from the tedious everyday around them. Indeed, a few rave spin-offs made it into Pitchfork's top 50.