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The term “rave” or “rave up” (when referring to parties) gained popularity in the 1950s and...
The term “rave” or “rave up” (when referring to parties) gained popularity in the 1950s and 60s among youth subcultures in the United Kingdom, particularly of the drug-using, rock ‘n’ roll variety. Yet raves as we know them today—large electronic dance parties—owe their beginnings more to the Chicago house and Detroit techno music genres spawned during the early to mid 1980s.
Though house and techno had thriving local club and party scenes in the US, they gained more mass appeal in the UK, even entering the pop charts on several occasions. In the mid to late 80s the UK acid house scene took off, developing a character all its own: after-hours clubs, drug taking—especially ecstasy (MDMA)—and an almost 1960s-inspired peaceful hedonism.
According to Peter Shapiro’s book Modulations: A History of Electronic Music, it was a combination of the explosion of electronic dance music (EDM) and the restrictive clubbing laws of the late 80s that gave birth to the rave scene in the UK. Police would raid illegal after-hours clubs so promoters began throwing large, unlicensed parties in warehouses. The trend caught on and the rave scene was born. Raves were held in venues ranging from large houses to industrial spaces to cow pastures.
In August of 1992, rave culture “peaked” in the UK with the Castlemorton Common Festival, a week-long free event in the hills of Worcestershire, England. Castlemorton attracted up to 40,000 attendees. The same year, the British government began cracking down on raves by enacting laws designed to limit the gatherings, forcing the scene to become more commercialised and hold licensed events.
The US rave scene began in the early 1990s after American house and techno DJ Frankie Bones played a rave in an aircraft hangar in the UK in 1989 and decided to try something similar in the States. New York’s Storm Raves and NASA parties went on to inspire rave events around the country—especially in California—held at venues including warehouses, basements, ski resorts, fair grounds and Indian reservations.
Raving followed house music and techno to different parts of the globe, including Japan, Australia, Mexico and many European countries. The South Indian state of Goa became an unlikely mecca for drug-soaked EDM parties, following on the heels of the expat hippy scene that flocked there in the 60s and 70s. The continental European rave scene had also been quietly growing, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, and it developed its own techno sounds like the chart-friendly happy hardcore and Rotterdam’s heavily distorted gabber sound. Berlin was home to the immensely popular Love Parade, an annual EDM festival that lasted from 1989 to 2003. The Love Parade was revived a few times, and in 2010 the crush of the crowd was so extreme at the event that 21 people suffocated to death and an estimated 500 were injured.
Though raves are still thrown today around the world following both the original, underground tradition and as commercialised events, their popularity has significantly fallen since the 1990s, leaving a more diehard subculture to carry the torch.