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Inside the return of illegal raves

With coronavirus lockdowns easing in many countries and nightclubs remaining closed, illegal raves are growing in popularity. Crowds are flocking to events organised on social media and messaging apps, despite risks and backlash.

The UK’s first socially distanced rave, Nitty. Source: Skiddle


As the birthplace of rave, it mightn’t be surprising that Great Britain has perhaps witnessed the largest gatherings across the country in recent months. People are once again heading to fields and woods across the country to dance, drink and take drugs at illegal raves. Further afield, Berliners are playing techno in forests decorated with neon lights, while Parisians are partying by ponds just outside the capital. When a New York Times reporter attended a rave in each city, using encrypted messaging apps to avoid police scrutiny, they found packed dance floors and no masks. And while it’s no Berlin, a beach rave even popped up in Far North Queensland recently. It’s fair to say the parties were pumping.

A party in Berlin organised via the messaging app Telegram.Credit...Gordon Welters for The New York Times


Some countries have tried bringing nightclubs back. In Switzerland, most regions let venues reopen in June, provided they kept attendees’ contact details. Both Spain and Italy, which were among the earliest and worst-hit countries by the virus, allowed clubs and venues to reopen in July, but shut again a few weeks later as the virus surged in the cities. Even for venue owners that can and do open, the stigma of a COVID-19 outbreak can be devastating for a sector already feeling the brunt of coronavirus. The landmark area of Itaewon in Korea is struggling to bounce back from a COVID-19 cluster and the area has become eerily empty long after the outbreak.

By the very nature of its origins though, rave culture is dynamic, and some industry figures are finding legal ways to rave responsibly. Take Nitty, a British promotor who organsied the country's first socially distanced rave for 40 people. Writes Vice, “they informed the council that they were organising the event for a film about socially distanced events – which they were – and the attendees were grouped together in nine separate "household" areas, four to five metres apart from each other. In Slovakia, attendees recently danced in taped-off personal party zones, while in Germany, drive-in raves and being tested.

There are very warranted concerns they could lead to a second wave of coronavirus infections and signify a fraying of the generational unity that got many countries through a first wave – so why are young people taking the risk? For some, wishy-washy government messages and poorly policed social distancing in shops and parks is to blame. Says one British raver, ‘There’s a sense of nihilism now, like: whatever will be, will be.” For others the reason is simple – months indoors away from friends and with no festivals or holidays in site these parties are way to let of steam. Perhaps, for a generation that missed rise of acid house and the heydays of Heaven nightclub, illegal raves offer the antithesis of the commercial club scenes of today.

Molly Bruce


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We stand in footsteps millennia old, may we acknowledge all traditional owners of this great brown land both past and present.