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 newspaper and magazine headlines like The Spectator will proudly tell you that “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 proved tough, with great social unrest and deep deprivation at the hands of Thatcherism. But during what became known as the Summer of Love of 1988-89, Britain’s youths came together in fields, clubs and warehouses across geographic, class and race divides in an attempt to subvert the systems that had come to oppress them. It proved to be the most important youth culture movement since the 60s. Rooted in freedom, love and unity, this was the most important youth culture movement since the 60s and it sounded like acid house and it tasted like ecstasy.
It is important to note two important components behind this explosion of rave culture and acid house. Firstly, The Hacienda club in Manchester, who resident DJ Mike Pickering had been playing a visionary mix of house, hip hop and street soul since opening in 1982. And secondly, the “Ibiza four”, who during a holiday to the island in the summer of 1987 and a night on the tiles at the hands of DJ Alfredo, discovered the music, the drugs and the freedom that would form the basis of the acid house movement. Within five months of their return, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Jonny Walker, went on to set up clubs such as Shoom, Spectrum and the Trip that began to draw in thousands of young hopefuls every weekend looking to escape the hardships of daily working life and rise up together to the sound of acid house.
Danny Rampling organised the first Shoom rave in a fitness center on Southwark Street, with Carl Cox providing the soundsystem and ecstasy the party in a night that seemed to never end. The philosophy of the movement was encapsulated so simply and so perfectly on Shoom’s flyers, with a yellow smiley face which would become synonymous with the acid house movement that marked the development of electronic music across the whole of Europe and beyond.
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 the dancefloors and in car parks of 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 that alternated their opening hours to ensure that Valencia had 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. Fueled 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 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 boring slow music and flamenco that had haunted the clubs of Valencia and flooded his dancefloors 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 dancefloors 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. 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 sliced up with theatrical performances, dancers, light shows and different themes, 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 dancing marathon. Clubs like Chocolate famously programmed 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 at 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 intensity to which people sought to celebrate their newfound freedoms, which can be seen not just in Valencia but in the Movida Madrileña and the explosion of heroin across the country. “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 explode somewhere” reflects Quique Serrano, an important DJ from the movement. For the Ruta de Bacalao, this hyper-acceleration and chemical overstimulation found itself behind the wheel of thousands of cars that trekked the 30km route 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, kilometers 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 social moral panic and was the beginning of the end for the movement.
Even today, to speak of Bacalao today is a delicate and often painful subject, as it became so tainted by drugs and death that even by those that once pioneered the movement prefer to lay it to rest. Luis Costa has been battling against this while writing his book, ¡Bacalao! Historia oral de la música de baile en Valencia, 198O-1995, in which he commemorates Valencia´s momentous electronic music movement that has been so quickly forgotten. A recommended read for anyone interested in electronic music and an important accolade to Spain’s forgotten rave movement.