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Photography Dan Carroll

Why modern rave culture isn’t dead yet

George Hull, the founder of Bloc, wrote an article damning today’s ravers, but how much truth is there to the claims we’re spineless and dull?

One week on from Bloc’s swansong in Minehead, I’ve just about readjusted. Thousands bade farewell to a weekend that, for almost a decade, successfully united sections of the dance music community to a syncopated beat. The ravers had annually set up camp at the Butlins resort: Detroit techno pumped from a carpet-walled room usually reserved for bingo and Neil Diamond tribute acts, and the beats of Egyptian Lover snaked down the waterslide with you at his pool party. Across three days in the big top, barely popping a head into our chalet, there was a beautiful sense of euphoria only an event like that can muster. I’ve spent the rest of my working week riding bleary-eyed on the Bloc wave, to arrive absolutely stumped by promoter George Hull’s recent Spectator article.

Hull, a founder of Bloc and London’s Autumn Street Studios, penned an article on why he’s out – done, totally over – today’s dance music. In particular, he’s tired of the hipster subculture that surrounds it, the young people are totally harshing his vibe. We’re too uptight, too meticulous to truly appreciate and elevate dance music to a higher level, as “they lack the sense of abandon that made raving so much fun”.

The level of disdain for the people lining the pockets of promoters is pretty disturbing – although what an honour that our generation is credited with bringing down a Spartan-like music genre and all its trappings. Sidelining the Bloc audience as ignorant hipsters pushes this argument into angry, bootleg jeaned old man territory – completely out of touch. Additionally, it’s completely out of step with what’s at the heart of the electronic community, which should be a welcoming, nonjudgmental space. So, it’s concerning to hear such arrogance from someone who curates the scene.

It’s interesting that they’re happy to sell tickets for luxury chalets at up to £240, but scolds ravers for planning these activities months in advance. If anyone is a problem it isn’t the hipsters – a truly contemptuous word co-opted by people who scoff at student protests and read right-wing rags like, say, the Spectator – it’s those at the top. The London superclubs, the festival bookers, label execs and curators. Those at the grass roots are not to blame for the supposed death of dance.

Bloc reaped the rewards of those who took up their discount offers, but Hull weeps at the loss of ‘spontaneity’. In reality, being ‘spur of the moment’ isn’t possible for those of us who spend three-quarters of our salary on our rent. But damn us for expecting a “level of service” for something we spend months saving for.

“Safe spaces can be criticised by someone who has had the privilege to have never felt that sexual leer boring into their back, a clammy, unwelcome hand on their hip or a fist to their face”

Hull maintains a bizarre nostalgia for raving days in the fields of the Home Counties – which, at 33-years-old, were something he didn't genuinely experience. His heydey, the early 2000s, gave him an advantage as a dropout who began promoting during the birth of the superclub. We’ve lost the “true Thatcherite spirit” that allowed ravers before us to experience the freedom and rebellion we have never tasted. It’s peculiar to yearn for days when unemployment was rife and the administration reacted so ominously to its youth. Rave culture was railing against the terrible shit everyone dealt with the other 90 per cent of the time. Hull’s contempt for volunteers eager for Wi-Fi to hand in coursework is inappropriate – given that student loans have skyrocketed since his golden age of rave.

Dance music culture is reactionary: the queer discos of Downtown New York in the 70s defied a government that ignored the plight of the LGBT community, and Chicago house offered an escape for young working class black men. The social and political climate has changed: we’re battling a housing crisis and the swelling wave of university graduates with no secure future, so we have adapted dance culture to suit our needs. And if that means a daytime party rather than 48 hours in a field once in a while, so be it. Because I’d consider a graduate job and a permanent address at a time when they’re damn near impossible to secure over a night at Fantasia, I’m easily dismissed.

Despite his dreamy reflections until this point, Hull scoffs aggressively at the idea of safe spaces, reducing them to “the opposite of fun”. It's frankly terrifying to hear that from someone who has the final say on some of the biggest nights out in the world. Hull remains wistful not for the collective, ecstasy-induced peace that perforated the second summer of love, but for the “unsafe” atmosphere. Because, you know, who doesn’t miss sexually assaulting someone on the dancefloor with no consequences?

Safe spaces can be criticised by someone who has had the privilege to have never felt that sexual leer boring into their back, a clammy, unwelcome hand on their hip or a fist to their face. Dance music has been built on the backs of the marginalised ­– the queer, people of colour – and its ultimate aim is that feeling of pleasure that should be accessible to everyone.

Bloc produces an astounding afterglow. Fresh from my first Bloc, it’s a festival where I felt the strongest sense of community. Where a stranger sweating waterfalls in the crowd would offer to fill your bottle up while you kept a space at Kowton, Steve Davis vibes boldly beside you at Objekt then proceeds to a pool showdown with Sunil Sharpe, a crowd baying at the touch of a cue ball. You can easily find yourself hand-in-hand with dozens of other anonymous ravers at Four Tet, as Kieran drops “Opus” for the hundredth time this year to a crowd who reacts like it’s the aural vision of their entrance into heaven. The festival comes from a long lineage of music events taking over the retro holiday camps, from the Northern Soul lock ins to 80s acid weekends.

Honestly, the state of electronic music right now could not be better. Despite our licencing laws we’re one of the top places to rave in the world, with mainstays like Fabric still going strong and after-hours club nights like Jaded at Corsica Studios enjoying continued success. Hull’s dismissal of ”overpaid circuit DJs” ignores the talent that deserves to be rewarded. Just looking at Bloc’s lineup would tell you that. The strength of Helena Hauff’s compelling techno sets, Omar-S’s pounding beats chilling thousands to the bone and Belfast boys Bicep pulling out banger after banger. 

George Hull’s article is a death rattle. It boils down an entire generation to a fallacy imposed by the bitter. Because all the shit pills we take these days mean we don’t have the brain cells to simultaneously care about Rødhåd’s set and what time we’re in for work tomorrow. But watching the Butlins’ big top get smaller in the car wing mirror as we exited Bloc, I believed our generation was raving well and good.