The first of our three-part feature on the 30th anniversary of acid house and the beginnings of rave culture.
And before you think fish and chips, think again. The origins of rave didn’t have anything to do with the British at first, although popular belief and catchy headlines will proudly reminisce on how “Britain gave the world rave culture”.
The Summer of Love: 1988-89
The dawn of a new rave era in Britain came at the end of the 80s, a decade that had borne tough and hard upon the shoulders of many who had suffered greatly at the hands of Thatcherism. Trade unions had been dismantled, the mining industry annihilated, social housing auctioned off and an aggressive rhetoric that insisted “there is no such thing as society” lay blame for any hardships suffered with the individual. So it’s not surprising that during what became known as the Summer of Love of 1988-89, Britain’s youths united across geographic, class and race divides in an attempt to subvert the systems that had come to oppress them. Every weekend, bodies and souls in search of freedom, love and unity would come together in fields, clubs and warehouses and rise up to the sound of acid house.
Out of the UK acid house movement grew a rave subculture. It wasn’t the first time the word had been adopted, nor was it the last, later being whipped up into a frenzy of moral panic by politicians and overshadowed by the drugs that afforded it the freedom that it stood for. The first “official” rave was organised by Danny Rampling on the 3rd December 1987 in a fitness centre on Southwark Street. Carl Cox provided the sound system and ecstasy provided the party in a night that pulsated long into the next day. Danny Rampling was one of the “Ibiza four” who just five months earlier had flown through the doors of Amnesia and at the hands of DJ Alberto, had discovered the freedom, the music and the ecstasy that would become the foundation for the acid house movement. Within five months of their return, Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway and Jonny Walker had set up infamous clubs such as Shoom, Spectrum and the Trip. Every weekend they drew in thousands of young hopefuls looking for an escape, a release, for community and a bloody good time.
The original parties organised by Manchester’s Hacienda and London’s Mud Hut at the beginning of the 80s lay fertile ground for this movement and the house music pumping out of Chicago at the time was embraced with open arms. The philosophy of the acid house movement and the rave culture that it championed was perfectly encapsulated and enshrined on Shooms’ flyers with a yellow smiley face that was to become a globally-recognised symbol within the electronic music scene.
La Ruta de Bacalao: 1980
But let’s go back a bit, to the beginning of the 80s, where unbeknownst to many, rave culture had been alive and kicking in hearts and souls of young hedonists long before four English guys found themselves knee deep, or sky high, in the Ibizan dream. The islanders were the eternal dreamers but the real ravers were the Valencians, who had been leaving the house on a Friday and returning on a Sunday for almost an entire decade, searching for a similar kind of freedom on dance floors and in car parks along the Ruta de Bacalao.
The Ruta de Bacalao, quite literally the “Route of Cod”, consisted of a 30km circuit of a dozen or so clubs in Valencia that alternated their opening hours in order to provide 4 days of non-stop music, every weekend of the year. Whereas Ibiza would operate in seasons, closing up shop for the winter and opening again in the summer, the party in Valencia never stopped. The clubs were nestled amongst the sugarcane fields and rice paddies in the outskirts of the city, enjoying a certain level of privacy that allowed the owners to invent a new model of nightlife whose magic lay in the fact that a lot of the life was also lived during the day. Fuelled by a desire to break with the past and pioneer something totally transgressive and new, these clubs offered younger generations eternal weekends of discovery during which they could create their own norms and establish their own way of viewing the world.
Carlos Simó and Barraca
The explosion of this underground scene goes back to 1980, when Carlos Simó first took to the decks of Barraca club, one of the most important clubs on the route along with Chocolate, Espiral, Spook Factory, Puzzle, A.C.T.V and N.O.D. Inspired by his predecessor Juan Santamaria, Simó brought an end to the flamenco and slow music that had haunted the clubs of Valencia and flooded his dance floors with a colourful mix of post punk, new wave, synth pop, gothic rock, strongly influenced by what was coming out of England at the time. Ian Dury, Dire Straits, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, The Clash, The Jam – you would hear all of the most avante garde music on the dance floors of Valencia. As Lucas Soria reflects, “Nobody dared play the music that Barraca played” and at first, no one knew quite how to react, dance or even dress for it. Along with Carlos Simó, the first DJs in Spain were born, such as Toni “El Gitano”, Kike Jaén, Fran Lenaers and Juanito “Torpedo”.
Everything was visionary, not just the hours and the music but the way the sessions were interspersed with theatrical performances, dancers, light shows – everything doused in mischief and fun. Outside in the car parks people would form communities, as they popped boots, turned up stereos and even shared an paella to fuel the weekend’s marathon of dancing. Clubs like Chocolate would put on a concert at 2am and then again at 7am, a schedule that initially terrified the English bands that came to play until they soon relaxed into the hours with a helping of mescalina.
The mescalina motor
Just as petrol fuelled the cars that transported up to 50,000 people up and down the route every weekend at the beginning of the 90s, mescalina fuelled the bodies. As Luis Costa reflects, “Groups like Killing Joke or Play Dead played to audiences of up to 1000 people, all up to their eyeballs in mescalina and singing their songs as if they were hymn”. It was the drug of choice of the time and is even said to have torn Bez from Happy Mondays off the Ibizan island to Valencia in search of it. His band was one of many that graced the clubs of Valencia, along with the likes of Stone Roses, who gave their first concert in Spain in Barraca in 1989 – and for free. At the time, Barraca had strong links with Manchester’s Hacienda, but despite sharing a similarly forward-thinking artistic vision, it never seemed to get the same credit.
It is important to put all of this in context. Britain may have had Thatcher but Spain had suffered Franco’s 36 year dictatorship which ended with his death in 1975 and suddenly sent the country hurtling towards democracy. Although at the age of 82, the death of Franco was by no means sudden, the transition to democracy was. Led by Prince Juan Carlos, who had been designated by Franco as his predecessor in 1969 and had publicly supported his regime right up until his first speech as Head of State to the Spanish courts, the last thing people expected him to announce was a transition to democracy.
An abrupt end
The speed at which this all happened seemed to accelerate the movement, as people hastened to enjoy their newfound freedoms before they were snatched away again.“Given where we were coming from, a dictatorship, we thought it wasn’t going to last and we wanted to do it all quickly. We didn’t believe we were seeing what we were seeing, and thought that at any point it was all going to implode somewhere” reflects Quique Serrano, an important DJ from the movement. For the Ruta de Bacalao, this hyper-acceleration and chemical overstimulation was put behind the wheel of thousands of cars and brought many lives to an abrupt end, along with the movement itself. Gaining the name La Ruta Destroy and a lot of sensationalist press, it became more of a question of hours, kilometres and grams rather than freedom, love and unity. The culmination of all of these pressures came in the 1993 Canal+ documentary, Hasta que el cuerpo aguante (Until your body gives in), which caused great social moral panic around the movement and signalled the beginning of the end.
Even today, to speak of Bacalao is a delicate matter and often one avoided. It became so tainted by drugs and death that even by those that once pioneered the movement prefer to lay it to rest, as Luis Costa signals in his book, ¡Bacalao! Historia oral de la música de baile en Valencia, 198O-1995, (Bacalao! An oral history of dance music in Valencia, 1980-1995). A recommended read for anyone interested in electronic music and an important accolade to Spain’s forgotten rave movement.
Words by Amy Colville