As moral panics go, Acid House was pretty enjoyable all round. On one side, the press, politicians and police were able to whip themselves up into a frenzy about thousands of young people taking drugs and losing all respect for the laws of private property. On the other side, thousands of young people took drugs and lost all respect for the laws of private property…
Here is not the place to get into a comprehensive history of Acid House, so let me just say it was invented by Afro-American DJs in Chicago in the late 1980s. It was popularised in London from 1987 onwards by clubs like Shoom in Bankside, Southwark and Trip in the West End.
The appeal of the music, and the culture of its parties, smiley face t-shirts and use of drugs like 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA aka Ecstasy) was such that the summer of 1988 was dubbed “the second summer of love”.
By September 1988, the anxiety about Acid House had reached Hackney, with the cops going into conniptions about “a wave of warehouse parties” they claimed were “dangerous drug dens”:
This first press cutting mentions a party in Commercial Road, Shoreditch – and an attempt by ravers to resist the police spoiling their fun. This sets the tone for the next few years, when rave organisers played cat and mouse with the cops – so clubbers were never certain if advertised events would actually take place or not, which some would say added to the underground illicit vibe…
It’s interesting that the event above was shut down before it started “thanks to a tip-off from a neighbour”. The tensions between illegal raves (and to a lesser extent, pirate radio stations) and the working class communities where they took place, is under-explored in the literature about the heroic history of the music.
For example, when photographer Dave Swindell spoke to the Gazette about his clubbing days he recalled that:
“…the area around Old Street and Hoxton was effectively “a desert” at the time, making it the best spot in London for warehouse parties, with plenty of suitable venues and barely any neighbours to upset.”
“Barely any” suggests that perhaps there were some – and I’m aware of several people living on estates in Hoxton and Shoreditch more recently who have been upset by clubbers making nuisances of themselves in the early hours. But that is London, really. Which of has hasn’t been woken up by a police helicopter, road rage, the neighbours having a wild one, or whatever…
By October, the police had used the Acid House hysteria to get funding for a task force “to break a suspected ring of drug pushers they believe are organising the illegal parties in Hackney” after “a surge” of events in the borough. Sounds fun!
The first victory for the task force would follow in November, when a curiously unspecified amount of drugs was seized in a car park in Wheler Street E1. 18 people were arrested, but it’s unclear what – if anything – they were charged with:
Once again, the piece above demonstrates the tenacity of the ravers in fighting for their right to party. Venue shut down? Screw it, let’s have a rave in this car park…
In a bizarre twist, by November the drugs squad were trying to play down the “hype” about Acid House in Hackney pointing out that there had been “no large scale seizures” of Ecstasy. It appeared that local residents were more bothered by smackheads in Haggerston than ravers.
This November clipping is also interesting because of the downplaying by the cops of the crack cocaine menace, which was also being hyped up in the press at the time. This is deeply ironic because Hackney police would soon become very familiar with crack:
In 1990, Hugh Prince was in a Dalston shebeen when it was raided by police. An officer ordered Prince into an empty, unlit room to be searched. When he refused, PCs Christopher Hart and James Havercroft threatened Prince with a sledgehammer and planted eight rocks of crack cocaine in his cigarette packet.
Danny Bailey is serving three-and-a-half years for intent to supply crack. He was planted with one rock by DC Peter Popham in Sandringham Road in 1991.
In 1992 Pearl Cameron would be sentenced to 5 years for conspiracy to supply crack cocaine. She revealed in court that she was supplied by a serving Stoke Newington police officer, later to be identified as DC Roy Lewandowski.
Maxine Edwards, who claims she was planted with crack by DC Beinard Gillan and PC Gerrard Carroll.
Cecil Forbes, who claims he was planted with crack by PC Chitty.
Val Howell, who claims she was planted with crack by DC Peter McCulloch.
Mohamadou Njie, who claims he was fitted up by PC Chitty and DC McCulloch for intent to supply crack.From hackney community defence association: community defence newsletter March 1993
By December, the cops were at pains to say that parties they had raided were not Acid House raves:
But little did the police know that this was only the beginning. The year would end with a bang…
Hackney wide-boy Wayne Anthony had taken Ecstasy while on holiday in Ibiza in 1987. He and his mates had then got the Acid House bug during a night at central London’s Heaven nightclub and set about organising their own parties in underused warehouses under the “Genesis” banner. These would be audacious occasions – some of the first large scale Acid House events. Their key dates were held in Hackney towards the end of 1988.
Anthony’s autobiography Class of 88: The True Acid House Experience is a wild ride that juxtaposes loved up ravers with a terrifying array of gangsters and ex-military security firms trying to muscle in on the action.
Discovering an empty warehouse with a capacity of 5,000 by the canal on Leaside Road E5, the crew set about preparing for a series of festive events. But things did not go smoothly:
The printer did us 500 flyers and we spent the whole weekend promoting the Christmas Eve gig. Then one morning, just as we were back in the warehouse slogging our guts out to get it finished in time, we were having a spliff break when the entrance door was booted in. It was the big skinhead bloke we’d met on our first visit there.
He had a sawn-off shotgun in his hand and was going berserk. ‘You nicked my venue, you cunts,’ he said. ‘Hold on a minute, mate. You either use that shooter or listen to what we have to say,’ I answered. ‘No, you fucking listen: this place is mine, do you understand?’ He walked up to me, pointing the gun at my head. ‘Look, calm down. You were meant to pay the deposit last week but never showed. What did you expect us to do?’ asked ANDY. ‘Where’s the owner?’ the skinhead said, lowering the gun. NUTT! I head-butted him square on the nose and grabbed the arm which held the shooter. Andy took a run and whacked him over the head with a lump of wood. He fell to the floor, dropping the shooter in the process.
Andy quickly picked it up and shoved it in his face. ‘Now you listen and you listen good. We don’t want any trouble. It’s your own fuckin’ fault you lost the gaff, not ours. If you want to see anyone about it see the guvnor.’ He nodded, and we slowly let him up. ‘You’re right, I’m sorry, mate. It’s just when I heard you were in here I thought you were taking the piss’ he said. ‘OK,’ I answered. ‘Look, you better go and not come back unless you want to start a war.’Wayne anthony – class of 88
The parties were by all accounts an amazing experience for clubbers. Genesis used thousands of old car tyres that littered the building to build a UV lit entrance tunnel and bar area. Other decor included a huge Christmas tree, parachutes, netting, inflatables & some new white canopies stolen from a nearby building site. Wayne Anthony admits in his book to playing fast and loose with fire regulations and some physical confrontations with local gangsters though.
You can’t stop the music: 1989 onwards
Above: Genesis flyers – NYE 1988, 7th Jan 1989 (both Leaside Road) and 14th Jan 1989 (Waterden Road, Hackney Wick).
Genesis continued to organise raves throughout 1989 and 1990, many of them in Hackney. Wayne’s book explains the increased hassle that the crew faced as they became more successful and well-known.
Other promoters also came to the fore, so here is a random selection of their flyers too:
And the cops continued to play their part in the unfolding drama…
Hackney played its part in the subsequent evolutions of Acid House music too.
Hackney’s reggae soudsystem artists combined with the rave and hip hop scenes through producers like Shut Up and Dance to form the new genre ‘Ardkore, which then mutated into Jungle. Dalston’s legendary reggae nightclub the Four Aces transformed into Labyrynth in 1990 – one of the most legendary rave venues.
Anarchist squat punks took an interest in the new electronic sounds and got on board with acid techno and the free party scene:
But these other stories need to be told at greater length at some other time. It all started in 1988…
All Hackney ravers are welcome to leave comments below if they have memories of those times.
Sources and further reading
Thanks to Mark Metcalf for the scans.
Wayne Anthony – Class of 88:The True Acid House Experience – read online
Wayne Anthony – classof88.co.uk – website with flyers, blog, merch etc.
This vidcast is an excellent and very detailed oral history of the Leaside Road raves:
This connection between anarcho-punk and techno is explained comprehensively in the expansive Crass Go Disco by Expletive Undeleted.
I’d also recommend Datacide magazine generally, for reading around the politics of dance music. Some good places to start would be: