It came as no surprise when the European Commission recently disclosed that it had not been keeping tabs on the spate of underground raves and illegal festivities occuring across the EU during the coronavirus pandemic.
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Former French Minister and now right-wing MEP Thierry Mariani lamented that ‘secret parties’ had been taking place across France ever since the first lockdown – most notably a recent case in Brittany on new year’s eve, attended by around 2500 people and drawing international crowds.
As such, Mariani had wanted to know what the Commission had been doing to follow up on such illegal gatherings, and whether EU polices forces had been coordinating on the most efficient ways to combat these assemblies.
In short, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said that such items come under the competence of EU national authorities, and that, as far as the Commission’s knowledge extends, the issue had not yet been raised to relevant working parties in the Council of the EU.
This got me thinking: In what ways could the ‘ideology’ of the rave, historically borne out of the strife of post-war economic hardship and the desire to break down cultural silos, evolve to meet the new social discontent wrought by a semi-captive experience, living under the spectre of a global pandemic?
It was the subcultures of post-world war II Britain that proved fertile ground for the emergence of the ‘raver’. A hangover of ennui from the War coupled with a foreboding cynicism for a nascent consumerism that was gaining a foothold across the Atlantic, had begun to attract the country’s subcultures to a place of common revel, where experimentation and hedonism was in ample supply – a curative breaking of bread for Britain’s abandoned youth, in a world making itself anew.
After a brief affair with the mods in the 1960s, however, it wasn’t until the 1980s that rave culture across London’s illegal warehouse party scene truly took hold as a counter-reaction to hyper-consumerism, which had started to cartelize musical tastes. Young people sought diversion and difference in musical expression – free from dominant cultural norms. They had wanted to challenge the isolationary codes that had resigned musical preference to siloed demographics.
The rave was truly a broad church which appealed to the primal instincts of individuals to congregate in a judgment-free environment with people from all walks of life. Even in my own experience, I recall being somewhat taken aback by how this domain could be a place where previously disparate social classes and subcultures were able to come together in a form of degenerate harmony. My personal stomping grounds in the early post-millennial years in the ‘garden of England’ – the forests and fields of rural Kent, played host in the twilight hours to a contingent of goths, Indie kids, grungers, and wannabe jungle and drum-and-bass MCs.
The illegality of raves is an essential component to its authenticity. For whatever reason – trespassing, drugs, public disturbance – without the knowledge that the activity was in some fundamental way prohibited, there would have been a lack of sincerity and a large dose of hypocrisy for the denizens of the rave to stomach. For the rave’s populous, there drives through the veins an unbridled yearning to rebel against authority.
A similar force has struck many of Europe’s disenfranchised youth over the past year. Resigned to their own homes and denied any wider human contact, their existence has been reduced to predominantly cerebral landscapes, with little in the way of social interaction other than that playing across the vacuous terrains of social media. In the current context, with the restrictions that we now have, it has become so much easier to dissent – the rewards of freedom expand coterminously under new and more prohibitive regions of law and order.
So, during the pandemic – reports of twilight parties on Lisbon beaches, clandestine gatherings in Berlin parks, and revelries in English motorway underpasses, were, frankly, to be expected. Let’s not forget that even Belgium’s very own Prince Joachim couldn’t resist – attending an illegal gathering in Spain to which he came in for a €10,000 fine.
This week the Commission also unveiled its plans to roll out a Digital Green Pass – effectively a voluntary certificate that would allow the vaccinated and those tested negative for the coronavirus to travel across borders without hindrance. For its part, the Spanish party haven of Ibiza is eagerly waiting in the wings for this initiative to get off the ground.
In the meantime, half-hearted attempts to stage virtual raves just don’t cut the mustard – there lacks the fundamental communal coercion that throbs throughout the rave model. In a weird way, such virtual raves – where each participant logs into a live feed with a synthetic ‘nightclub’ background, only serve to exasperate further our profound isolation from one another – running in direct contrast to the principles of the rave dynamic.
Of course, I don’t condone in any way such illegalities, but I do hope that the coronavirus does not change the essential components of the rave. Perhaps that’s the point of it all: The rave shouldn’t in any way evolve but should remain tightly woven into its primal tapestries. Let’s hope the rave, for now, remains as it is, until we are once again let loose on the forests, nightclubs, and abandoned buildings of Europe.
BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels.If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.