DIY culture, Justice? and Exodus
An obvious progression from Acid House parties was to link up with the mobile sound systems of the free festival circuit that has toured Britain since the sixties. The summer of 1992 was the honeymoon period for the marriage of ravers and travellers. The culmination of these festi-raves was an event held at Castlemorton at the end of May. Estimates of the numbers present vary from 25,000 to 40,000; for many there it was the ultimate party. The media depiction, however, was of a marauding invasion and the public outrage sowed the seeds of the Criminal Justice Act 1994.
The tightening up of legislation aimed at stopping illegal parties has had three results. The first is that the new laws have successfully forced some people back into licensed events and nightclubs. The Government's action is justified as protecting people by only allowing them to dance in venues that comply with safety regulations, although in practice it is in the licensed venues where people die.
There has been a death here in Bedfordshire, says Glenn Jenkins of Exodus. Not at one of our 72 harmless dances, but in a club. It's one of those clubs that is supposed to hold 500 but they pack in 1000. A guy collapsed in there and he got barred people monging out are bad business. His mates had to take him to hospital in their car but got lost on the way. He died, but he hadn't taken Ecstasy, he'd had two wraps of speed.
They're saying E's killing people at raves - 'the dance of death'. I'm saying if it's E that kills then there'd be millions of people dead. It's the heat and environmental conditions that kills people - you can't blame Ecstasy. We have watched the harm creeping into the scene. I've stood on a dance floor and sweated without even moving. You don't have to be a scientist to know that's highly dangerous.
The second effect of the increase in legislation has been an emigration of sound systems. After Castlemorton ten members of the Spiral Tribe sound system were taken to court and charged with causing a public nuisance. The trial in 1994; cost £4 million176 yet the defendants were freed through lack of evidence, a local councillor admitted to me that because they had a high media profile they had been made scapegoats. Spiral Tribe and other sound systems have found a more cooperative response from foreign authorities. The free party scene now encompasses many parts of the world from Goa to the San Fransisco bay area.
The third effect became particularly noticeable with the passing of the Criminal Justice Act. People have been so outraged by the draconian powers to prevent parties that they appear to have become determined to create bigger and better events. It has also seen the politicisation of the scene with the Advance Party and United Systems voicing protests against the new laws and forging links with other groups affected. Gail, who organises illegal parties with the DIY collective Justice? in Brighton, describes how the Act has affected them:
Because of the CJA we are even more determined to have better parties, so we have to make them tightly organised. It's a lie that only licensed venues are safe. We don't turn the water off, it's always cheap and freely available. We make sure the venue is spacious, airy and well lit and that there is a chill-out area. People are free to walk in and out if they want to sit down, or take a breath of air. It may appear like it's disorganised but we have our own form of stewarding, we have nurses attending, we have fire extinguishers. We make sure that there are always people there who can cope if anything bad happened. I think there will be more parties but I don't know if it's a good idea to have them too large as it's not so easy to keep an eye on what's happening. I think we probably do take advantage of the E vibe that means people take care of each other.
DIY (Do It Yourself) culture is experiencing a renaissance. Cosmo from Justice? explained why:
In the eighties, a lot of people who were hacked off with the way we were living, or were just plain bored, got off their arses and did something about it. Free festivals, squat culture, the traveller movement and later Acid House parties pay testament to the energy and vision of people who decided it was now time to take their destinies into their own hands.
Now more and more people are getting exasperated with the way politicians are out of touch, and their frustration turns to action when the people at the top won't listen. This was especially true when the Criminal Justice Act tried to criminalise the very lifestyles I have mentioned.
DIY culture was born when people got together and realised that the only way forward was to do things for themselves. The term covers everything from taking direct action against a road that is being bulldozed through your area to campaigning for equal rights for the disabled. Ingenuity and imagination are the key ingredients.
Justice? was born out of a desire to raise public awareness about the Criminal Justice Act. One of their first high profile initiatives was to squat a disused courthouse and turn it into a thriving community centre. The squat was opened one Sunday night and by Monday a café, information centre and exhibition room were opened. Classes in Tai Chi, yoga and Shiatsu happened regularly, there was space for artists to work, a crèche, advice for squatters, a visiting hairdresser, music evenings. Justice? were evicted but have moved their community centre to another derelict building.
A sign in the courthouse summed up DIY philosophy:
1. This is going to be huge - realise it. Grow fins and swim
2. Listen to new people
3. Share responsibility
4. Nip egos and attitudes in the bud - no power struggle
5. Communications stop ructions - talk
6. If you are feeling stressed pass the job on and go!
7. Never laugh at fat bastards in clouds
A lot of money for renovating Justice?'s squatted courthouse was raised by collections at parties. Gail explained the link:
The CJA is the main reason why there¹s a strong link between DIY and the dance scene - there¹s lots of free parties and that's one obvious thing the CJA attacks. DIY culture is about people getting annoyed with the system and deciding to do it themselves, whether creating entertainment, food or energy. You don¹t wait for these things to be provided.
DIY culture relies on people doing things without payment. We operate with a different set of rules - most people put in work with the only reward being the personal satisfaction of seeing other people having a good time. You don't have to listen to rave music we have poets, all sorts. People from all walks of life all coming together, that¹s what it's about.
Desert Storm is another free party organisation based in Glasgow. As well as putting on parties in Scotland, notably at the protest against the M77 extension through Pollok Park, they spent New Year taking their brand of entertainment to war torn Bosnia. Desert Storm raised enough money to fund their trip and a new lorry their old one was painted in camouflage which they were afraid might lead to problems!
Desert Storm and the Full On Dance Squad from Nottingham drove in the aid convoy for 13 days arriving in Split in time to erect a makeshift nightclub and host a Christmas party for refugees, UN soldiers and NGO workers. Unlike Britain the Bosnian police insisted that Desert Storm turned the volume up for their New Year party in Tuzla. They were amazed by their warm reception from small children to elderly ladies in their dressing gowns crowding to dance where it was sometimes too dangerous to walk.
It seems strange that the Government is so opposed to what seems just 'a bit of harmless fun'. Perhaps it is because such fun is "economically unacceptable" as Jim Carey suggested in Squall, August 1994, or there may be deeper reasons. In an interview with Sunscreem we discussed the significance of their single 'Exodus': "It's saying come through the door - here we go. Come along with us, or don't - it's about making a change." Glenn Jenkins of Exodus agrees:
We called ourselves Exodus because what we were doing was knocking extortion out of our lives. Exodus indicates a large number of people moving from one lifestyle to another. Our inspiration came from Bob Marley who took his inspiration from the Bible. It's all about freedom of thought. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery - Bob Marley sings our anthems. He could see that if we could hold down racial divisions and so on, then there would be harmony. Harmony means heaven - heaven on earth is harmony on earth. We take the Rastamen to be our forefathers, they played a large part in our consciousness forming. Rastaman is a spiritual tag not just a black thing, it's a soul issue, not a skin issue. We¹re the Rastamen that Bob Marley inspired by coming here and making the album Exodus.
My first experience on MDMA was a really profound experience because overnight it put machismo, ego, pride, good looks, good clothes all into perspective. You get to realise the hollowness of all that and it rattles you. It's dangerous for a society that draws its kids into materialism, it's threatening. I think it goes a lot deeper than Ecstasy. It is a vision of a trouble-free yob-free society, but they feel threatened by these five million kids who they can't do anything with. Their tricks don't work any more. We've got the means for a celebration dance and they can't deny that there's a returned sense of community in what we do. Not just at raves - we're trying to spread it into the rest of our lives too, weekends are not enough.
Exodus began in June 1992. They have provided a roof for homeless people in a once derelict building, Haz Manor, and set up a community farm. Glenn described how the impact of Exodus on local people has been much more than simply providing parties:
We've got our own heart beat, we've got our own moral economy, it's much more moral than theirs because it's not about exploiting each other. Haz Manor has been built on the same principle. There might be trade but trade's different from exploitation making a living is different from making a killing. I don't know why they can't see we're their dream come true because we're not asking for handouts, we¹re saying we're able to help ourselves. I think they feel threatened by it simply because when you put a diamond in a pile of shit, you know it's shit.
We're not revolutionaries, we're freedom fighters. The Criminal Justice Act is about freedom to make profit, freedom to build roads without people interfering, freedom to siphon people into pubs and clubs rather than fields and churches. That is why it is heavily sponsored by the Tory party. Underlying it all, they fear rave culture because it's an anarchist culture.
When Exodus parties are running there is a 40% drop in trade in the town's pubs. Exodus is convinced the brewery's influence over the local newspapers has been the cause of the negative image they portray of the collective. Further than this, a public enquiry has been called into allegations of police misconduct. Journalist Tim Malyon wrote the following piece to demonstrate the extent the authorities are prepared to go in order to stop this revolution:
The Trials of Exodus
On New Year¹s eve 1992/3 Exodus held its largest party with ten thousand people present. Two weeks later it supported the squatted occupation of a derelict hotel and started channelling money from the collections and soft drink stalls at the dances into squat renovation. Exodus is a force for the good, bringing hope, joy and community where before there was desolation. But some police officers saw a different picture. Chief Inspector Mike Brown cooperated with Exodus in helping make venues safe and trying to locate legal venues, until his superiors at force headquarters blew the whistle.
A series of massive police operations ensued, costing over £103,000, on the squatted hotel, on Exodus' Long Meadow Community Farm, and on the pre-dance assembly point. Thirty one criminal charges arose out of these operations for which there was just one conviction, itself highly dubious. The charges served to paint a devilish picture of Exodus.
After the hotel eviction police officers are alleged to have copied into their notebooks crucial information written on a blackboard by a sergeant at Luton Police Station. This was used as evidence in order to procure public order convictions and convictions against collective members arrested for alleged violence and abuse. In another trial arising out of an earlier raid on the hotel, at least 13 police officers failed to produce their pocket notebooks after being ordered to do so by the trial judge, causing cases to be dismissed. Could it have been because they contained lies?
Then there was an alleged drugs find. During a raid by more than 100 officers on the Exodus farm, Ecstasy worth £2,200 was found in Paul Taylor's bag. Taylor is a prominent black member of the collective, one of those responsible for forging the black/white union which is the bedrock of Exodus' power for the good. The house had already been searched once by Luton Drugs Squad who had failed to find drugs in an obvious place for which Taylor could be held personally responsible. Police admit Taylor had ample forewarning of the raid, so could easily have removed the drugs if they were his. After Luton Drugs Squad had finished their search, an officer from force headquarters entered the darkened house, spent thirteen minutes inside it, then called in another officer and took two minutes to lead him to the drugs in the bag. At Taylor's trial, the defence barrister summed up, "This case stinks, it stinks of a plot." Taylor was found not guilty.
During the trial the head of Luton drugs squad admitted to a serious disciplinary complaint, involving mishandling of the drugs. It was also alleged that there was a rogue cache of drugs at Luton police station, origin and destiny unknown. The Bedfordshire Deputy Chief Constable, despite his reputation as a strict disciplinarian, failed to take action after any of the Exodus cases. Nobody has been disciplined, not for the 'missing' notebooks, not for the blackboard incident, not for the drugs.
All three political parties on Bedfordshire County Council, as well as the Police Authority have now voted for a public enquiry to be chaired by Michael Mansfield QC into "Bedfordshire Police and others' activities" against Exodus. A retired police inspector told me before he was gagged from talking to the press: "Licensed premises were experiencing a fair amount of loss of trade, loss of customers. Some licensees were starting to get into real financial trouble." He added not only that alcohol-related offences dropped when Exodus put on dances, but also that political pressure was being brought to bear on the police by local members of Parliament to get on the case.
Luton is a brewery town. Whitbread have dominated it for many years. Hopefully Mansfield's public inquiry will find out who was really responsible for trying to destroy this movement, a movement which is transforming the lives of thousands of Bedfordshire's youth.
©Mary Anna Wright from Ecstasy and the Dance Culture