Facemasks and gloves are back – and so are ravers. Lockdown has precipitated a revival of 90s rave culture with middle-aged clubbers reliving their youth … albeit with less dancing and more armchairs.
Fortysomethings who wore Vicks-infused masks and white gloves to the illegal raves and warehouse parties of the 1990s have been rediscovering their musical past during lockdown.
It began with DJs livestreaming their sets on social media. From there, it was a short step to organised events like Moondance and Zoom Dance, with thousands tuning in from their sofas to listen and dance to jungle, old school hardcore and classic house.
Although illegal raves are also making a comeback with young people, the older generation is more sedentary. The first legal outdoor events to return have been socially distanced outdoor sit-down brunches dedicated to UK garage and drum’n’bass – pitched at over-30s. The whistle posse can make some noise again, as long as they consider the neighbours.
“I’ve long wanted a sit-down rave,” said Tom Latchem, a happy hardcore fan and TalkSport presenter who launched ROAR – the 90s rave podcast – earlier this month. Social media metrics show his entire audience so far is aged between 35 and 50.
“All the old-school events now are day raves, which tells you everything,” he said. “People are in their 40s, they can’t go out till 6am taking drugs. Most people aren’t dancing. They’re swaying about a bit with a pint.”
On the ones and twos (Technics SL-1200 turntables; younger readers can see one at the Science Museum) are the likes of Fabio and Grooverider, DJ Slipmatt and Nicky Blackmarket – names familiar to generations of jungle and drum’n’bass fans who once marched for the Freedom to Party.
The DJs believe the success of Moondance and Zoom Dance is largely because they have been rediscovered by older fans who had stopped clubbing and started paying mortgages and having children.
“You’ve got all these people who’ve got grown-up kids, now having their next youth,” said Nicky Blackmarket, named for the Soho record shop he ran for 24 years. “They’ve paid off their mortgages, they want to reminisce and have fun times again and recreate what they had.”
The DJ – real name Nicholas Andersson-Gylden – sold John Peel the first jungle tunes to be played on Peel’s Radio 1 show and was at the heart of the new breed of breakbeat music that emerged after acid house and the summer of love in 1988.
“The streams remind me of the old pirate radio days,” said Blackmarket, who hosted shows on Pulse FM. “I’ve done the majority of them in my music room – I’ve got my set-up, my microphone, and it just reminds me of back in the day.” The pirate hunters from the Department of Trade and Industry have been replaced by Facebook algorithms, which have taken down streams that don’t have copyright clearance.
The DJs are keen to stress they never went away – reunion events by LuvDup in Manchester and Labyrinth in London were held before the pandemic – and lockdown has hurt them as much as every other live performer.
DJ Slipmatt – famous for his 1992 hit On a Ragga Tip as part of SL2 – said he had more than 100 bookings by March. “Then lockdown happened and it was all gone,” he said.
Slipmatt – Matthew Nelson – said he was astonished by the response to his Moondance performances.
“We had 25,000 comments in an hour,” he said. “Lots of people were in the comments saying: ‘Bloody hell, I haven’t seen you for 20 years.’ Lots of people who wouldn’t go out any more – it’s really cool. It’s actually quite emotional at times, putting out messages for people who hadn’t been well or supporting the NHS. You can really feel the love all round.
“I was a bit shocked actually when someone told me there had been a couple of illegal raves,” Slipmatt added. “I almost felt like moaning about it, then I thought, hang on a minute, I can’t do that.”
Some DJs have tried to make streaming pay: Graeme Park, former resident DJ at Manchester’s Hacienda, who posts paid-for mixes alongside his free Long Live House show on Mixcloud, recently celebrated his 57th birthday on Beatstream with thousands of fans paying £5 a head.
Live events are making a comeback, though. The DnB Brunch and the UKG Brunch have emerged at Costa del Tottenham, an outside venue in The Cause in north London, which promoter Barry Sharp says normally attracts people “thirties plus”.
“Illegal things don’t really appeal to the older punter. They’re a bit more health conscious and cautious because of their families,” he said.
• This article was amended on 26 August 2020 to make clear that Graeme Park’s paid-for mixes are posted in addition to his free weekly show; furthermore they were launched in 2019, before lockdown.