rave: the hard sell
rave is big business
Turn on the tele and watch the 'yoof' adverts full of hallucinogenic imagery and post-acid bubbles. Listen to drum'n'bass blasting out as Giggsy sinks the ball in the top corner of the net on 'Match of the Day'.
Wander into a newsagent and see rave and drug imagery flogging tired old magazines and products. Pick up a can of high energy drink, the same old sugary fizzy shite that was selling to kiddies a few years ago, now raved-up, tarted-up and promoted as the perfect complement to a night's hard raving.
Yep - rave sure is getting to be big business in the UK, and the corporates are scrambling to help themselves to a healthy slice of this new marketing opportunity.
Seeing no contradiction between adopting the high moral ground and openly condemning drug culture while employing cunning design and marketing tricks to target their wares directly at the 'E Generation', the corporates are seizing on this new business opportunity with zeal.
Take the case of the alcohol industry. They were quick to respond to their falling share of the youth market as clubbers decided they had a different drug in mind for their night's entertainment. Realising that a frothy pint of 'Arkensall's Best' was not the thing to be seen with at a rave, they hurriedly brought out a new range of alcoholic fizzy drinks and 'designer' bottled lager covered in rave style graphics - and the clubbers swallowed the scam whole.
And of course, it's not just the alcohol industry that has found itself dancing gleefully to the sound of the techno cash tills ringing. Throughout the land, entrepreneurs have sprung up ready to give the kids what they want - for a price and at a nice profit to themselves of course. Bearing precious little regard or passion for the scene, these new club moguls will say and do anything to get a piece of that lucrative clubland action.
Rave is big business. And some.
M I N I S T R Y - O F - C A $ H
The clubs haven't been slow to cash in on the merchandising angle either, with James Palumbo, the rich-kid owner of the Ministry of $ound recently squealing, 'Clubbing is the new rock'n'roll' as he excitedly unfurled his designer range of T-shirts, baseball caps and bags. Tell that to the punters outside who have been turned away from his godawful club while wearing Ministry of Sound merchandise!
Like a lot of successful rave entrepreneurs, the Ministry has tried to keep their profile nice and squeaky clean by publicly distancing themselves from the obvious drug connotations of the techno/house scene whilst only being too happy to trade in on the iconography of rave culture in their flyers. They even went as far as declaring a firm no-drug policy and introduced a farcical 'snitch-line' where you could shop 'dealers' in the club. Unconfirmed rumours abounded that Palumbo had also sent out 'spies' to rival clubs with instructions to phone the police if they witnessed any drug dealing going on.
In 1998, Palumbo launched a new dance magazine, Ministry, predictably rammed full of the usual photos of saucy ladies flashing their tits and the usual feeble attempts to sound convincingly 'underground'.
Curiously, the magazine also comes stuffed full of tobacco adverts, even though Palumbo had declared that smoking "is a sign of weakness" and "my moral view on drugs is that I'm totally against them" (he was also quite happy to accept club nights sponsored by tobacco companies).
(The Independent, November 1997) .
But for a taste of the real hypocrisy of the club, get this: In May 1999 the Ministry Magazine ran a 6 page special on how to grow cannabis, obviously hoping to gain some reflected credibility by showing their 'liberal' stance on drugs. In March 2000, clubbers could enjoy a ten page drug special including lots of fun reports from people describing their 'most memorable drug experiences'
Strange then, that when toff Palumbo was at Eton College, he went out of his way to snitch up two junior pupils for growing cannabis in their window boxes, getting them expelled from the college while he still boasts of having a "moral duty to stop the organised dealing of drugs".
For all his puritanical talk of the evils of drugs and the 'weakness' of smokers, Palumbo apparently seems to suffer no moral dilemmas from owning a business that effectively thrives on a drug influenced music scene and accepting money from the tobacco industry he supposedly loathes.
T R I B A L - R I P - O F F
The Mean Fiddler, along with Universe, are now one of the main promoters of the rave scene in the UK.
Initially making their name on the rock/live music scene, they have recently started to monopolise many of the big outdoor events such as Tribal Gathering, the Reading Festival and Phoenix Festival.
Mean Fiddler were one of the first organisations to start charging support bands to play in London. If you wanted to play, you had to fork out 50 quid which you might never get to see again if you didn't bring in enough punters. Add to that the cost of the van, petrol, equipment hire etc - and the increasing monopoly that MF was rapidly acquiring on the main London venues - and you have one of main reasons why a lot of up and coming bands were squeezed out - and shit bands with loads of money got to play instead.
And it wasn't just the support bands that got a bum deal. Headlining bands were refused permission to bring water (or food) into the venue by the Mean Fiddler staff. Singers were expected to buy water from the bar in order to keep their vocal cords lubricated, an early preliminary to the 'taps off - expensive water' scenario that has come to characterise commercial rave venues.
Next up was the Phoenix Festival, set in a airfield in the middle of nowhere, with an attractive line-up of bands and a captive audience. Despite the name conjuring up all manner of 'new age' connotations, the paying punters who came to the first festival were in for an unpleasant - and most un-'new age' - experience....
Anyone who attended this disastrous rip-off soon learnt what the Mean Fiddler was really about. As usual, an in-house monopoly on food and drink was established and after the bands had finished, heavy handed crews were set on the campers, stamping out fires and turning off portable sound systems. There was almost a riot as disgruntled punters ripped down the fences of the main arena until the Mean Fiddler asked the sound systems to start up again in the camping area to diffuse the anger.
This attitude crossed over quite nicely when the Mean Fiddler eyed up the burgeoning rave culture and saw another opportunity for quick profit.
Shamelessly cashing in on anti-CJA squat rave culture, the 'Tribal Gathering' one day festival was born, grabbing a name that suggested links with the protest movement in the UK (many of the road protesters that had preceded this event went under 'tribal' names like the anti-roads Twyford Down 'Donga Tribe').
And it wasn't just the name that the MF wanted to cash in on. They then proceeded to release laughable press releases claiming that somehow they were anti-establishment and part of the underground protest culture.
Read this chestnut from Mean Fiddler's 1996 Press Release for the Tribal Gathering:
"With the passing of another lunar cycle all generations are once more invited to participate in the only true original outdoor tribal house party experience, as we dance together under the sun, moon and starts in spiritual communion with Mother Earth and in ritual shamanic celebration of life, love and the universe. Join with us on our epic onslaught as we strike back against the establishment and clubland's evil empire of mediocrity, commercialism, and the creeping corporate capitalisation of our cosmic counter culture"
People soon found out just how far their claimed battle against 'creeping corporate capitalisation' went as bottles of water were snatched out of their hands as they entered the arena (after having to pay for the 'courtesy bus' to the event), while inside insufficient free water distribution points ensured that the MF's tills rang to the sound of over priced water bottles.
People have died from water dehydration at raves and what does the Mean Fiddler do? - it takes water away from people just so they can squeeze a few more quid for themselves (and if you fancied a can of soft drink, they were knocking them out for an outrageous £2 a can!!!).
This wasn't the only case of the Mean Fiddler failing to deliver their expensive promises.
Many punters who forked out thirty quid for the Mean Fiddler's New Years Eve bash at Ally Pally were soon to experience the disappointment of one of their events. Many were left to queue up for hours - some outside in the cold - while the 'full up' signs went up in the cloakrooms at 10.30pm. Inside people complained that the water taps had been turned off in the toilets but - of course - the bar was open for business.
And they're still at it. In 1998 the Mean Fiddler were once again fantasising about their underground anti-establishment credentials in their glossy 16 page full colour flyer with nonsense like:
"as we approach the milestone of a decade of dancing in the face of ever more desperate establishment efforts to stamp out our basic freedoms to gather and party..." along with equally implausible claims that somehow Tribal Gathering is party to "the unification of the scattered tribes of dance"
The Mean Fiddler's contribution to fighting the establishment is - as it has always been - a fat zero, and one wonders how long it will be before people wise up to the fact that they're being conned.
And it goes on. For 1999's 'Homelands' festival (sponsored by Ericsson, Bacardi, Radio One, MTV, Bud Ice etc., etc.), the Mean Fiddler tried a different tack and started to get all philosophical, waffling on about their supposed contribution to social equality in the UK whilst waxing lyrical about how dance culture "crossed age, class, racial and sexual divides".
Shame their profit-led event didn't cross the cash divide with tickets weighing in at a hefty 50 quid each.
S U P E R S T A R - D J s
Riding on the crest of this lucrative wave are the big-name DJ's whose vast wages shove ticket prices sky high and whose vastly inflated egos mean that we only get to see them if we join the heaving crowds of the 'Enormo-Dome' concerts for big, fat bucks.
This new breed of 'superstar' DJ's have turned their backs on the very scene that spawned them and are only too happy to abandon the people and the principles that helped them on their way up to their new-found rock'n'roll lifestyle.
The true products of a Thatcherite generation, these money-grabbing DJs have shown no interest in displaying any stand of defiance or unity with the DJ's and sound systems who are finding things considerably harder since the CJA. These guys broke through out of the illegal rave/ warehouse parties scene - so why don't they give a bit back?
Laughably, some of these superstar DJs like to cling on to the dishonest notion that they are still 'underground'. Witness the Oct 2001 TV advertised adverts for the 'Underground Garage' mix album which boasted, "Real rough cut underground UK Garage, mixed by me, DJ E Z, containing all the underground club cuts.... Available now from all major Tesco stores"
H E R O E S
But all is not lost and there is something that we can do to fight the ever growing commercialisation of the rave scene - like not supporting the big money making promoters who have got nothing to do with the scene and are only interested in creaming off wads of cash from the punters. Every quid that goes into their fat pockets is a quid less to the underground scene...
Like supporting the sound systems that are risking it all to bring you free parties and festivals. They might not have the latest whizz-bang lasers and fuck-off lights, but they sure got commitment and soul. And the best atmosphere...
Thankfully there's still enough people out there doing it for love and not money - including ourselves! Check out our FREE monthly club events in Brixton, London
The Criminal Justice Act may have tried to kill off the free party spirit but instead a new underground culture has arisen, strong and proud and ready to have a good time - no matter what the Government says.
UPDATE FOR 2002
If any proof were needed of the corporate takeover of the scene, read this ghastly press release:
"GATECRASHER the award winning superclub and youth culture brand has confirmed it is to back respected media company SMG plc (formerly Scottish Media Group) in its bid for local radio licences for new radio brand LIQUID FM. LIQUID FM will be targeted at under 30s and will accurately reflect youth culture. GATECRASHER has committed to get involved in specialist dance programming, club broadcasts, live festival transmissions and global DJ mix sets."
And then check out the streetwise hepcats behind the SMG group here
'Nuff said, sadly.
Ten years on, the corporate rip offs continue, with the money grabbing fuckers at V Festival charging punters a tenner for glossy programmes - just to find out what time bands were on!
Bastard 'security staff' were confiscating booze off anyone not prepared to pay the wildly inflated prices inside.
If that wasn't bad enough, festival goers also reported that their water bottles were being snatched off them as they entered the arena, forcing them to shell out for the disgracefully hiked-up price of £2 for a bottle of water inside the site.
With people's beer supplies confiscated and only expensive bar prices inside, people had to queue at cash machines for three or four hours at a time, and once they'd got wedged up, they faced the prospect of two-hour long queues for tokens to buy beer.
And woe betide any low earner getting peckish, with the event charging a colossal £7 for burgers.
article: ©urban75 1996-2006
Has Glastonbury sold out? (Corporate Watch June 2002
Ethical Consumers 'Buyers' guide to beer, lager and cider' (Mar 02)
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