1990, UK. The initial euphoria of the acid house orbital raves had waned after a government crack down on illegal ‘pay
parties’. The energy, creativity and radical promise of the ‘second summer of love” assimilated into clubland,or
commercial ‘rip off raves’ charging £50 a ticket or more.
With the recession beginning to bite, the dream seemed over.
But a new underground began to emerge with a radical idea to fill the void. Why not make these gatherings go beyond
weekend hedonism, instead rejecting the conventional transactional relationship between party go-er and organiser and
in the process, commercialism itself.
Why not make them - free parties?
Sound systems such as Tonka in Brighton, Nottingham’s anarchic collective DiY, with their ‘everyone welcome’ attitude
and London’s Spiral Tribe, with their secretive, cult-like image, started to appear across the country. Starting in small
squats and ‘broken’ warehouses, left abandoned by years of dying industry in Thatchers Britain, they aimed to create an
antidote to mainstream clubbing.
At the Glastonbury Festival in 1990, both Tonka and DiY decided to take their decks and records to try and get a gig,
only to end up playing for three nights to an entirely new audience in the ‘anything goes’ travellers field.
“We met these travellers at Glastonbury 1990, and it just … clicked’ - Harry DiYStory / Synopsis cont.
More and more sound systems began to venture out of the cities and into what was left of the free festival circuit, which,
although badly bruised after Thatchers attempts to destroy the travellers lifestyle at the Battle of the Beanfield, still
offered a glimpse of the freedom the urban ravers craved.
At first this meeting of travellers and ravers was problematic. Events dating back decades, where traveller families lived
‘on site’ in buses living an entirely nomadic alternative lifestyle, began to turn into 72 hour raves. The urban ravers had
little idea of the notion of ‘leaving no trace’ on the land, and the new music pounding through the night was a world away
from the acoustic and punk that had gone before. But gradually, the two tribes began to merge, and these free festival /
raves began growing in numbers, from hundreds, to thousands, to tens of thousands, through word of mouth alone
throughout the summer of 1991.
In the winter of 1991 the sound systems returned to the warehouses in the cities, but now with a growing following and
with Spiral Tribe in particular, a growing media interest. Each week ravers dialled into the ‘info line’ with excitement to
find out where the next party would be. But after after a series of larger urban events including the Roundhouse in
London, whose size seemed to take everyone by surprise, the police began cracking down using much more brutal
tactics, including a full scale assault on a Spiral Tribe party in Acton Lane, with Tactical Aid Group police attacking
ravers seemingly at random.
Despite the violence, the missionary zeal of the sound systems was undeterred, and as 1992 began the parties got
bigger and bigger, with more and more sound systems appearing including Bedlam, LSDiezil, Desert Storm and many
others. More and more ravers attended, attracted to the lifestyle and freedom the festivals offered away from the
humdrum of conventional life in recession hit Britain.Story / Synopsis cont.
A huge convoy began to travel around the country, with the media stories becoming increasingly alarmist, and
government discussions about how best to deal with this ‘band of medieval brigands’*. This ‘unholy alliance’ of ravers
and travellers provoked fear in the establishment as local police forces shunted it from county to county.
By a series of accidents, word of mouth and police collusion, this finally culminated at Castlemorton Common in May
1992. Headline TV news for a week, between 20-60,000 ravers and travellers partied for 7 days. For some this was
utopia, largely trouble free and self policed. But now the media had its new folk devils. The British establishment
cracked down heavily with both force and legislation, arresting various members of Spiral Tribe and other sound
systems and eventually changing the law with the draconian criminal justice act (CJA).The resulting trial lasted years,
and cost the tax payer millions, and despite Spiral Tribe’s eventual acquittal, the game was up.
Police oppression and violence, backed by the threat of the new laws forced the travellers, Spiral Tribe, Bedlam and
many other sound systems out to the newly established EU and around the world, where they took their buses and
sound systems on the road, inspiring a generation of local youth to create techno utopias of their own, including the
enormous ‘Teknivals’ in France and Czech. Living life on the road came with numerous personal consequences along
the way, but this quest for freedom was hard to quench.
The adventures on the road lasted a decade including Desert Storm sound system going to war-torn Bosnia and
Dance Conspiracy crossing into India overland. DiY meanwhile headed around the world, including linking up with
former Tonka sound system members in San Francisco, turning on a new generation in the US to the free party
lifestyle.Story / Synopsis cont.
30 years later, dance music and festival culture is the dominant youth medium, from Glastonbury to Coachella, Burning
man and even the hyper commercial disaster of the ‘Fyre’ Festival. Huge EDM events, using the template of the free
parties but on a huge commercial scale, criss-cross the US, raving, festivals and dance music now a huge
commercialised industry.
Was the free party dream itself consumed into the mainstream?
But with a rise in authoritarian regimes, endless austerity, as well as epoch defining global issues such as climate
breakdown, we see a resurgent radical culture, with its roots in the free parties of the 90s. With governments across the
world increasingly creating new laws restricting freedoms to gather, dance, protest, use common land and making
travelling lifestyles illegal, the story is more relevant than every before.
In the 30 years since the birth of the free party movement we find ourselves once again in an era of political turmoil,
where mainstream society’s norms are being questioned.
The 30th anniversary of the Criminal Justice Act in 2024 in the UK means the film has a significant contemporary
relevance as we look back to how we got to where we are.