Archive for the ‘Book’ Category

Book Review: Exist To Resist by Matthew Smith

September 4, 2017


I’ve been waiting for the appearance of a book like this for decades. There’s hardly any published photographic record of the UK’s early 1990’s travelling, free party, free festival, and environmental protest scene, let alone books on the subject.*

Matthew Smith was actively involved in the scene he lovingly portrays. As the authorities started cracking down on travellers, ravers and dissenters of all sorts, the scenes became more inward-looking and more distrustful of mainstream media, cameras, and the people wielding them, whether professional or not. Insiders like Smith were thus in a position to record events in a way others couldn’t.

This long overdue volume of exciting photos that captures perfectly the feeling of being involved in protesting and partying in the early to mid 1990’s. It also covers some soundsystem-centred events from preceding years, like the Moss Side and Notting Hill Carnivals of 1989.

Some of the events photographed were pivotal. The Glastonbury Festival of 1989, for example, was “the year rave arrived at Glastonbury in a big way”. The first picture of the sequence is of a shirtless traveller toddler, with their home vehicle’s registration number and the field it was parked in scrawled on their chest. Behind the child is a tent with “DHSS World Tour” painted on it. This, together with the other images in the series, serves as an artefact of the pre-giant fence, pre-sanitised Glastonbury, an era when travellers were allowed in for free and police weren’t.

The excellent image on the cover is a fine example of the way Smith’s photography captures the energy of the protest movement while placing it in context. The roofs of The House of Commons loom through the heat haze. A truck, on top of which a woman dances and claps, is transporting a soundsystem up a busy street in central London. A man, leaning out of the truck with a microphone in one hand, gazes into the lens. It is unclear whether he’s driving, MC’ing, or both. The truck is framed by a row of police vans on the left and a cinema, showing Four Weddings And A Funeral, on the right.

I think I’m not alone in saying this: the Criminal Justice Act politicised me. Prior to the legislation, I simply wanted to rave, or help organise raves. The fact that these events were unlicensed couldn’t have interested me less. And in the period before the CJA, as long as no-one made any noise complaints, reasonable-sized parties were allowed to continue without much interference from the authorities. It wasn’t until the Criminal Justice Bill was actually on the cards that I personally realised I had to take to the streets, for the first time in my life, to try and prevent its passage through parliament. The day I was politicised constitutes the explosion that lies at the centre of Exist To Resist: the second anti-CJA demonstration in July 1994, which was characterised by thousands of ravers raving in the middle of the street in usually grey workaday Central London, grinning and dancing on the back of a truck as it drove past the Houses of Parliament, cavorting in the fountains and raving to a bicycle-powered soundsystem in Trafalgar Square. Politics was never so much fun, and Matthew Smith captures this sense of freedom and hope perfectly. Although it was mostly peaceful, the demo I attended didn’t pass without some unrest: as the parade made its way past Downing Street and some tried to force their way into the Prime Minister’s front garden. Smith suggests that there may have been agent provocateurs in the crowd. Whether this was the case or not, the resulting horse charge that my friends and I were caught up in was truly terrifying, preceded as it was by police threats to ‘sterilise the area’ if we didn’t move out of the way.

By the third march against the Criminal Justice Act, according to Smith, it was “too dangerous to not be wearing a police uniform” and it “felt like a harsh end to a beautiful dream”. The dream continues to be lived in a more low key fashion, but Smith’s wonderful images remind us of the moments when hope was brightest.


Order it here.




  • Alan Tash Lodge is one of my favourite photographers, indeed, the only one I knew about for many years, but he has never published a book of his own. Check out his site ’One Eye On The Road’ for some fantastic images. Alan Lodge was on site even before the birth of Acid House, and his intimate connection to the scenes and their people is evident from his images. In Molly Macindoe’s Out of Order, an honest and intimate portrait of the British warehouse party scene from 1997 to 2006, the photographer portrays a scene she was clearly a part of. It’s full of amazing photographs, but due to the period she covers it falls outside the period my blog is most interested in. Vinca Peterson’s No System portrays the continental European offshoot of the scene, covering the adventures of some of the British soundsystems after they took their noisy circuses to France and beyond. Again, not of direct interest to this site, but probably my favourite book on the travelling soundsystem scene. The book contains not just photographs, but also excerpts from Vinca Peterson’s diary.





Book review: Spannered

February 2, 2012
And about time too! I’d been waiting ages for someone to write an account of the free party scene in the UK. This is fiction but it paints a very vivid picture. ‘Spannered’ covers just one night at a Bristol warehouse party, but it’s a long and eventful one. It’s as if all the narrator’s free party experiences have been compiled into one marathon night. Personally speaking, I can remember tiny little fragments of lots of parties very well, but certainly not enough about any one particular party to fill even one chapter of a book, let alone a whole book.
Every chapter is named after a tune. I would suggest making a CD available with the book, however, this is a small publisher so cost is a factor. Besides, these days it couldn’t be easier to just cue up a load of Youtube videos and then play them as you read the book. I haven’t done this myself, but perhaps I should. [ As if by magic… The author just tipped us off about this youtube playlist: ]
The descriptions of music and drugs and people (and of the interaction between them) are brilliantly written. The acid house and rave scenes were an accidental synergy between a certain drug, a certain music, and certain people, and this is something the book portrays incredibly well.
There are perhaps too many characters for the reader to get a deep insight into anyone’s personality apart from the narrator. However this doesn’t matter, as the descriptions of the moments when the narrator is surrounded by people he knows and loves are very evocative and remind me of times when we put on free parties in a local barn, and, when I turned to look at the usually anonymous sea of faces I was accustomed to seeing at raves, I realized that I knew almost every person in my eyeline. Pretty much everyone else did too, and everyone was smiling at each other.
The book is mainly about the mid-nineties Bristol warehouse free party scene, but also refers to other events, including the legendary Castlemorton, which the narrator reminisces about. The drug-taking in the book is relentless but also realistic. Towards the end we realize that our hero has perhaps overdone it a bit. This is an honest portrayal of overenthusiastic youthful recreational drug-taking. There is no tabloid shock horror overdramatic overdose episode in this story, but we do realize near the end that the narrator could have stopped caning it several pages ago and still have had a whale of a time! I think a lot of us have been in the same situation. In the early ninetie, one pill was enough. Within a couple of years other substances began to be mixed in. I actually tried totting up the narrator’s drug consumption and it totalled two pills, half an MDMA wrap, one and a half trips, and a mug of mushroom tea. The ensuing paranoia, confusion, desperate need for the toilet, and losing/confusing what’s in his pockets is painfully true, frightening at times, and hysterically funny at others.
Annoying Ketamine users were already an unavoidable feature of free parties at the beginning of the nineties, and their portrayal in this book really made me chuckle. They drive their car onto the dancefloor in the morning and start honking their horn out of time to the music. It’s customary to blame the ‘darkening’ of the free party scene (especially the London squat party scene) on K-heads, but, even though he acknowledges what a pain in the arse they can be, the author doesn’t make this mistake.
This reviewer’s mother (who wasn’t involved in the rave or acid house scenes but was around for the  first Summer of Love in the 1960s) found herself having to skip several sections as they made her feel ‘dizzy’! I lent the book to her after I’d read it just because I was interested to know what an outsider would make of it. As my next experiment I’d like to administer a large dose of Spannered to someone who has no experience whatsoever of altered states and see what happens to them. I’ve a feeling that they probably wouldn’t respond to it in the same way as a hippy or a raver would.
The book includes illustrations by various different artists and features a few photos too. These enhance the book and also give a platform to a handful of talented young artists. There is an experimental approach to typography in some sections, with fonts growing and shrinking and bouncing all over the shop. This also helps to build a suitably unhinged vibe at certain points in the story.
This is an intense and accurate portrayal of the free party scene in the UK in the mid-90’s and contains some of the best depictions of raves that I’ve ever read. I hope we’re going to hear more from Bert Random in the future.

13th July 1991: DiY Free Party at Morton Lighthouse, Birkenhead, Merseyside

April 4, 2010

Here’s a flyer:

And a video-

Haven’t seen many videos of this era of free parties, which is sad, but the ones I have seen, like this one, are great! Credit for this one goes to youtube user robberbyker (who I suspect is one of the original Gaye Bykers On Acid, whose music soundtracks the video).

There are some mixes doing the rounds too, or at least there were, but I haven’t managed to locate them. Can anyone help???

Apparently this was the second party at this venue, the first one was some time in 1990, anyone know when/how many/which sound systems in attendance? Photos from the first do here: and here:

Here’s a quote from Jane Bussmann’s wonderful book ‘Once in a lifetime’- I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s about ‘The Crazy Days of Acid House and Afterwards’ as it says on the cover, and is full of stuff to make you reminisce, chuckle, and occasionally think “what the fuck!”….

And here’s what the book looks like, if you see it, buy it!

So, who was there? Got any memories? Doesn’t matter how hazy, just post a comment….

7th–9th August 1991– Spiral Tribe and Sweat soundsystems at Torpedo Town Festival at Bramshot Common, Hampshire

October 25, 2009

Updated- some of the Youtube links were broken.

We try and keep an eye out for broken links/deleted video/mixes etc but please let us know if anything seems wonky or missing 🙂

Please note: this covers the 1991 festival, here are links to the 1990 and 1992 festivals of the same name.

Here are (possibly different versions of) the tunes Tim Acid and Dunk mentioned hearing at this party (see comments):

And here’s something one commenter just mentioned:

Here’s a picture and some quotes from Andy Brown’s wonderful but hard to find book ‘Rave: The Spiritual Dimension’. If anyone else has anything to add about this, please send it in 🙂

In 1991, the festival was 5 miles further north along the A3 and the turnout was even higher at a cool 12,000… Torpedo Town 1991 mushroomed into existence on a Friday night, grew at a phenomenal rate for all of Saturday, sustained itself through Sunday and then, on account of an M.O.D. injunction, had completely disappeared by Tuesday, except of course for the burned out wreck of a coach which looked like a crashed spaceship. The land itself was I think a M.O.D. common, mainly scrub trees and grass with broken, disused tarmac roads. When we first arrived on the Friday night things were a bit quiet so we took it easy. We parked up in a lane thing and pitched our tents right near. To start off with there were hardly any tents but things didn’t stay that way for long. As more people arrived, a right of way formed through our piece or real estate. What had been a hardly used path through the ferns when we arrived, was now one of the main routes for ravers collecting firewood from the forest. What had happened was that the quiet suburbs which were quite near to the dancefloors had turned into prime sites. Anyway, we had a good spot so we weren’t bothered. At its peak, the city had streets, all heaving with bright eyed happy people, so many that sometimes the paths were so completely rammed with bodies that you couldn’t move at all. This festival really was a city and it even had its own booming economy. I don’t think I need to say what were the main commodities but just as in any established city, you could buy anything you wanted from food to clothes- even a haircut. I was so happy, I cannot stress that too much, really, really, really good times. The totally awesome atmosphere generated at these festivals can be overwhelming… It no exaggeration that once experienced, these festivals can change your life.

3rd–6th August 1990: Torpedo Town Free Festival at Chapel Common, Hampshire

October 7, 2008

Please note: this covers the 1990 festival, here are links to the 1991 and 1992 festivals of the same name.

I’ve just realised, this post is NOT about a party that happened between 1991 and 1994! Oh no!

Actually it doesn’t matter. The only reason I originally decided to limit this blog to the years 1991-1994 was that those were the years in which I experienced some fantastic parties. As this blog grows, and as I run out of stories to tell, I realise what a tiny drop in the ocean my own experiences are, and how great it is to hear other people’s stories.

This page includes some vague and amusing information about the 1990 festy: .Including this quote:

There was a bit of agro between travellers and the young free party goers, especially when it emerged that some young entrepreneurs where charging an entrance fee to unsuspecting arrivals in cars, the was a rumour that a couple of coaches arrived for a rave that they’d paid 25 quid for, whether this was really true I never found out.

This was pre-Spiral Tribe, so I don’t know which soundsystems were there, does anyone? ;P

Here’s an excerpt from a self-published book on the early nineties free party scene by someone called Andy Brown. It’s a fantastic book full of spaced out enthusiastic ramblings and great descriptions of free parties and festivals. The name says it all really: Rave: The Spiritual Dimension.I found this in the British Library, and have sadly never seen another copy. Andy Brown, if you’re out there, please get in touch, I feel guilty publishing this without your permission. There was an address in the book for contacting you but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s decades out of date!

The festival was triggered off in the early 1980’s as a protest against the development of a place called Brambles Farm into a torpedo factory… ever since Brambles Farm was developed, the festival has been held at a different site each year. Things really started to move in 1990 when some clued-up people took some scratching record decks and strobe lights to the the Torpedo Town event at Chapel Common near Rake. It is dark, you’ve just parked up in some lane and are climbing over the brow of a hill towards the flickering strobes and thumping bass. You think the authorities are going to bust the whole thing at any moment and the buzz that gets going is just too much. The beat goes right through you and an amazing feeling rises from your stomach. It feels so good, it is as if you are going to explode with pleasure… In daylight you could see the whole site of what must have been at least 200 acres. There were two encampments: Travellers and their buses on one side of the valley and Ravers on the other. That festival was definitely one of the most wonderful times of my life… Nowadays of course we’re lucky to get one-weekend festivals and a bonus at Chapel Common was that it lasted for more than two weeks and had two party weekends. As far as the authorities are concerned, once these events reach a certain size, a critical mass you could call it, they are far too hot to handle so they just let them burn themselves out.

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