This article will feature in Issue 36: Ideology & Faith (May 2020)
When Thatcher came to leadership on the 4th of May 1979, she said “where there is discord, may we bring harmony;” in her leadership speech. Although it wasn’t exactly the ‘harmony’ she had in mind, the British public grouped together to form their own, home-made ‘harmony’ in the form of illegal raves backdropped by the genre of acid house. Any pre-existing ‘discord’ present in the UK deepened immensely following Thatcher’s leadership. Once thriving areas became ghost towns, most notably Toxteth, where class relations came to a boiling point in the 1981 riots, in which the town was left to rot and burn. This economic and social upheaval led to a deprived, rejected, and poverty-stricken Britain. Amongst the political turmoil of the endless riots, the miners’ strikes of ‘84 and ‘85, the Battle of Orgreave in ‘84, a peak in football hooliganism, and mass unemployment, the British public were desperate to find a haven of happiness. This loss of national identity created a vacuum, one which was filled with the prospect of a burgeoning youth revolution, quietly blossoming amidst the mayhem.
The mid-80s saw the second Summer of Love blossom as the UK embraced, with open arms, a new hypnotic, trance-like genre of music wedded to fields, warehouses and basement locations. There was a reorientation of nightlife, from fights outside of pubs to a hub of peace and unity – and drugs. It was specifically the drugs that allowed for a new type of peace, as it disinhibited ravers from any ability to perform a violent or aggressive act. Instead, blows were swapped out for fraternal hugs, regardless of football allegiance.
Suits and heels were ditched for dungarees and trainers. Everyone was equal and conspicuous consumption was no longer necessary as class no longer mattered inside the raves. This equality allowed acid house and rave culture to transcend above, previously rigid, divisions based on the lines of black and white, north and south, rich and poor. It successfully united one ecstatic generation of young people whilst triggering a moral panic in the police, politicians and parents.
Although Thatcher infamously stated that there is “no such thing as society”, a warehouse filled with hundreds of people who could all come together, regardless of social background or position, in being treated poorly by the government, seems like a community to me. The raves had an inherent binding factor, acting as a bubble of unity in an otherwise hostile and divided social setting. Regardless of race, class, gender or football loyalty, the ravers embraced each other with an ecstasy-induced togetherness. Due to this unity amongst the ravers, media and press outlets found it increasingly difficult to tunnel-vision in on or condemn a singular scapegoat or demographic of society, as the sheer volume of ravers allowed for anonymity; they were an all-inclusive faceless mass.
The right-wing press didn’t seem interested in covering the war on unemployment, yet found sufficient time to hammer in on the war on acid. The right-wing press whipped up an anti-ecstasy hysteria, yet they were so far removed from the rave scene, their comments didn’t go beyond a moral condemnation, a call for an increased police force, and the complete ignorance over drug use and its effects. On the one hand, acid house culture saw a Thatcher-fuelled unity amongst ravers yet it simultaneously created a divide between the youth and the older generation, which had not been as prevalent since the Sexual Revolution in the 1960s.
Unlike its 1970s predecessor, Punk, Acid House was completely depoliticised in origins. Inversely, young people were trying to flee from the negativity and downward spiral of politics present at the time. Notions of political activism were initially redundant and superfluous, the raves were merely a commune for the pilled up public who were looking for a way out from the chaos around them. Yet, this social wave once rooted in pro-hedonist foundations quickly transformed into an anti-authority based political protest by the default of police brutality. Fun lovers and thrill-seekers looking for a place to dance and unite were treated as rioters, with state violence acting as the catalyst for converting a group of hedonists into heretics. Some of the last people in Britain who weren’t completely disenfranchised with politics, the white middle-class high on drugs, were eventually politically galvanised. A push back from Thatcherism was sparked, and every rave was a testament to the youth’s resistance. The battle between the blaring police sirens and the championing 120BPM music alone demonstrated the redundancy of the government.
Is it fair to say that rave culture was merely a vehicle for young people to engage in cheap thrills and exercise their teenage kicks? Or, can it be argued, that these raves were a defibrillator, bringing a unifying heartbeat back to the disparate and disenfranchised youth of Britain, who were otherwise struggling to find happiness amongst the degradation and decay brought about by the Thatcher government? Regardless of your stance, the Second Summer of Love and the Acid Rave Revolution pretty much revived youth culture in an otherwise bleak and uninspiring social climate. Its legacy has set up the joyful hedonism which we still indulge in and witness in contemporary British youth culture to this day.