The History of Rave Culture: From Style & Music To A Lifestyle
May 17, 20224 min read
According to data gathered by LowTone, 160,000,000 EDM festival tickets were sold in 2018 alone, while the audience of the events is mostly 18 to 35-year-old visitors. Given the fact that the origins of rave culture are rooted at the end of the Cold War, we can easily assume that the current generation of festival lovers is just different from the ones before it.
So, do the millions of modern ravers actually know the history and culture that backs up their favorite reality escape? Some of them - probably. Others - probably not.
Today, we are sketching a brief timeline of rave culture history and its evolution throughout the decades.
The Origins of Rave Culture, or the Underground 80’s
It all began in the early 1980s, which was a peak point for electronic music as a mainstream genre. In that period, European techno music and American house music were amazingly popular among middle-class youths who gathered for off-the-record acid house parties at hardly imaginable locations. That’s precisely when the first so-called “raves” came into existence as unlicensed outdoor parties across the U.K. and Germany.
These parties had virtually nothing to do with the organized EDM events that you can hit in 2022. Instead, they were held in deeply underground venues, such as urban outskirts, hangars and warehouses, private barns, and gay clubs. Information about them was shared in a secretive manner, and some even required a secret entrance pass, shared mouth to mouth on the day of the event.
No need to lie - these techno and house parties were associated with heavy drug and substance abuse, as this was the form of rebellion of the generation. Anyway, the rave subculture formed as a very complex system of values and beliefs - mostly focused on acceptance, inclusion, freedom of expression, and unity built around a shared experience.
Unsurprisingly - the trend began to gain popularity, and soon the underground parties were not so underground anymore.
The Massive Rave Expansion, or the Crazy 90’s
The top-secret U.K. barn parties of the ’80s went into an entirely new phase during the 1990s. That’s when the U.S. joined the show with its first own raves, held in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, in Europe, these events started gathering thousands of visitors who frantically danced to the rhythms of the beats for nights in a row.
Eventually, many current-time “entrepreneurs” began treating the raves commercially - promotions skyrocketed, dates were more and more often, and the restricted access concept was no longer the case. Organizers began charging entrance fees, and more and more performers were eager to lead the show from the stage.
The growing popularity of raves throughout Europe and the USA led to a series of events - from an increasing number of interests involved to rising attention towards their totally missing regulation. Their combined result was somewhat expected - authorities stepped in and tried to impose some kind of rules for people’s safety and convenience.
In & Out of Law, or the Game-Changing ’00s
The turning point has a name, and it’s called the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, introduced by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Under this act, the police were now empowered to step in and stop a rave in the open air when a hundred or more people were present.
The official reasons for introducing the act were noise control, civil disruption prevention, and countryside preservation. The unspoken reason, though, was that large-scale raves were often followed by a massive spike in emergency cases associated with drug abuse and intoxication.
This marked the beginning of an important shift. On the one hand, it depraved raves of their spontaneous spirit, rebellious nature, and anarchistic sentiment. But on the other hand, it introduced some essential safety prerequisites such as organizer identification, emergency medical service, and supplementary security positions on-site.
For better or worse, this was the only way for raves to avoid the ban, so they did. Or at least some of them, evil tongues say…
Did Rave Culture End, or the Heavily Commercial 21st Century?
As you may imagine, with the imposed restrictions and requirements for rave organizers, the party landscape underwent significant changes. Did authentic rave culture end at that point? No, not really. Did it evolve? Yes, it definitely did.
With the development of new technologies, new urban lifestyles, and new general understandings of safety, people’s expectations changed even faster than the rules did. Private underground parties remained a thing, but they were held in really small circles and were no longer the norm. Instead, big entertainment companies emerged that began taking organization very seriously - and we can still see this today.
During the 00s and the 2010s, electronic music events and festivals managed to become part of the cultural calendars on almost every continent. Many new performers stepped in, and as the rave culture shapeshifted, it remained an important part of the new generation’s lifestyle.
High-end EDM outfits were no longer exotics, ticket prices began rising, and the good old culture of inclusion and acceptance found its way into the new century - a bit wiser but still alternative enough to give the right kind of thrill.
Modern-Day Raves, or the Lifestyle Choice of the Free-Spirited
Four decades ago or today, one thing remains the same - electronic music parties are a fine way to unwind and allow yourself to be totally free, be it for just a weekend. The bold, vivid, colorful, and somewhat infantile style of rave lovers is a good hint - and it speaks tons about people’s striving to step away from the ordinary, just to return recharged and inspired.
As of 2022, EDM music festivals are more desired than ever - as a way to reconnect after the long pandemic isolation and as a way to recover the feeling of unity amidst the complicated political landscape of the day. After all, let us not forget that the Cold War was among the fundamental triggers of the original rave movement that aimed to leave prejudice behind and enjoy a feeling of mutual connection and support.
This being said, it’s no surprise that we are witnessing a literal rave renaissance right now. Right now - when raves became EDMs, but EDMs are still raves; when authenticity is widely promoted, but we still need a casual reminder of its significance.