The amazing world of UK Dance nostalgia

If you live in the UK and are a fan, composer or promoter of electronic music, you’ll know even a little bit about the achievements of those before you. The late 80s “second summer of love” where young people flooded to clubs like Shoom in London and the Osborne Theatre in Manchester, the legendary events managed by promoter Fantazia that attracted thousands of ravers to locations in the midlands. Even more recently with something like Eskimo Dance, a series of nights that are still seen as the first, official grime events. For any discerning promoter that favours a good time over profit, the legacies of these and many more events are held in an extremely high regard. Wherever you are in the UK, you will find artists and venues still feeding off of the residual energy left by the rave movement and what it gave birth to.

A few years ago a friend showed me videos of Fatboy Slim’s Brighton Beach Boutique 2. On a sultry day in July 2002, Norman Cook drew a crowd of 250,000 to the coastal location in scenes that would give anyone heart attack watching in the era of Covid-19. I remember how we both felt watching it. How beset we were with everything. The crowd, the music, the energy, the non-skinny jeans, the jaws! We spoke eagerly about putting feelers out in the comments section, desperate to create some sort of video or article in which attendees revisited their experience. There was something about it that seemed so timely, it radiated this aura so indicative of UK-based dance music of years gone by. A growing potential for immense change through music, of a powerful and vitalised youth culture.

Fatboy Slim is an incredibly commercialised example, especially nowadays. He is representative of a mainstream tip of an iceberg with a huge and more rewarding underside. The UK is effectively the home of genres like jungle, garage, dnb and happy hardcore. It lays claim to producers and DJs the likes of Goldie, Slipmatt, Shy FX, DJ Paulette and Peshay to name only a few. However, the more time trudges on, the more fantastic DJs, artists and raves are consigned to history. Through rampant commercialisation of underground music, coupled with the hawkish policing of events through the Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Act of 1990, the United Kingdom’s rave culture has been diluted somewhat. There are still an incredible amount of talented musicians and producers around, but it is fair to say that the glory days where events weren’t crippled by policing and commercialism are gone. 

So what happened to the ravers? What became of those two amazing people, dancing non-stop outside of the New Years Eve Fantazia event at Littlecote House in that now legendary video? What happened to those huddles of people that willingly scuttled into aircraft hangars in Essex and Stoke and scuttled out at 6am? What about that 7-foot lad talking into his wallet thinking it was his phone? Well, chances are you may find them in the annals of the youtube comment section of any good dance music. 

George started UK Rave Youtube Comments in May of 2020. Upon being furloughed from an office job on account of Covid-19, he found himself on youtube, trawling through videos looking to build a lockdown soundtrack that would keep him upbeat and distract him a little from the spiralling plughole of politics and current events on social media. Frequenting the impressive amounts of jungle and hardcore tracks available on the video streaming website, he started to notice something funny. A great deal of the videos were footnoted by funny comments from users who felt their need to express their love for the song playing.

Slowly it became apparent that you couldn’t follow the video streaming website’s algorithmic pathway through any type of UK dance music without being greeted with similarly amazing comments. The music seemed to inspire viewers to share their appreciation in fairly inventive ways…

And more visceral reactions as well…

Upon seeing the sheer volume of these sorts of comments, George began to catalogue them on a twitter account. Comment sections full of praise for a song or album is no new thing, what other message would someone leave under a song or music video? But there is something about the energy in comments under some techno, drum and bass, jungle and other dance music that is different. Especially the amount of anecdotal gold that can be found. Though these genres are enjoyed by young people of the modern day, it was those 20 or 30 years ago that experienced their power first-hand. The kids of the late-80s and 90s were there when now-legendary tracks were unleashed for the first time. When looking and listening back, it seems these people are rendered overcome by the nostalgia that besets them when hearing a track, desperate to share their memories.

Some of the memories are funny…

Some are even incriminating…

Some are deeply heartwarming and give a really interesting impression of a generation of young people in a Thatcherite Britain…

In an increasingly online world, the methods of solidifying and cataloguing the past become ever more digitised. Memories fade, especially those lacquered with the gloss of alcohol or hallucinogens. These youtube uploads can often feel like a song or album’s primary presence in this world, especially when it is the easiest place to access the music of your past when you’re a few beers down and feeling reminiscent. It feels as though the comments you can find on these videos are akin to palimpsestic scribblings on Jim Morrison’s gravestone. A prayer at the foot of the real entity. There is a refreshing honesty, people open themselves up, poke fun at themselves, admit to feeling sad and pine for simpler times. For someone that is perhaps just coming into contact with this sort of music, it can hit that little harder when you are reading through heartfelt eulogies to nights gone by.

A lot of the comments are similar. When asked for the most common sentiments, George shares with me that the wishes for a time machine are impressive in their amount. There are lots of comments on how the respective song should be shown to any extraterrestrial beings that pass our way. That the track playing is so freakish and incredible that aliens would be the only beings forward-thinking enough to understand. There is a fair amount of reminiscing over certain drugs, White Doves being one particular type of ecstasy many remember taking.

Surprisingly, there is an interesting stuffiness that seems to permeate some of the comments, not something you would readily associate with the type of music being celebrated. Sentiments that do nothing but prove that Golden Age Syndrome has its drawbacks and pitfalls. There is a great deal of people expressing they believe modern music is nothing compared to the music of those days. An interesting point to argue but one that is too often said dismissively and without extrapolation. George even shows comments of people fawning for the perceived safety of the olden days, illustrating the modern club scene as dangerous. 

These sorts of comments are easily associated with populist fallacies of dangerous cities and overcrowding. It can be hard to imagine anyone being involved in a scene filled with such love and freedom of expression would turn out hateful or even xenophobic. But this only serves as a testament to the amount of people that found a home in the scene. Thankfully George has catalogued a few incredible comments that showcase an overcoming of feelings of isolation and hatred through explorative experience.

Whether this comment is a joke or not, there is a certain truth enshrined within it. Music and certain mind-opening substances can have positive, life-changing effects on a person. If you come from the UK all you need to do is drop a couple of hints to an older relative you feel may have attended to some of these sorts of events. Regardless of their political or ideological leanings in the modern day, often you’ll be able watch their heart melt into a happy reminiscence. It is a kind-hearted remembrance, devoid of derision or anger.

One hopes that the stuffy and hate-filled sentiment is swamped by more positive and inclusive rhetoric, and thankfully this is true. It is safe to say that the majority of comments are well-meaning and kind-spirited. Most of the time politics and austere theories are trumped by hilarity, like this hypothesis on IDM music that is fairly hard to argue with:

Weird comments are the twitter account’s bread and butter. That combination of drugs and high-octane music is a surefire gateway into fantastical theories, like this one on the introduction of ketamine to the rave scene:

Or this one, showcasing someone that wanted to push the envelope that little further than your classic intoxication:

Or this revelation about the jungle-inspired theme tunes of old kids shows:

One cannot be surprised at the odd nature of some of the memories. George’s account showcases excerpts and notes from a crazy time, documented by those whose perceptive capability was singed by inebriates of all kinds, remembering something through retrospective, rose-tinted glasses. Plus, chuck that stereotypical, dry British humour and leaning towards self-deprecation. But the short punchiness of the comments serve up fantastic images of what it must have been like. Those not old enough to experience such events get this patchwork replication of the rave scene, colourful and warped and pure.

It’s not just those fabled raves from England that are represented in anecdotes either. There are legions of happy hardcore videos where scottish reminiscers make up the majority of comments. George also shares with me some brilliant ones from Wales:

These comments are incredibly important in representing a whole country in the midst of a movement. When looking back at scenes, we can often narrow them down to only existing in and around the centre point of England. But to do this is a major disservice to how much of the UK was gripped by that wonderful combination of music, illegal substances and good times. 

UK Rave YouTube Comments help us understand the importance of that special period where the term “underground” was imbued with meaning. But what also does is point the finger at those younger followers and ask them how they will remember their own era. George uses the great example of dubstep. The comment sections on the big, memorable dubstep tunes are already pure nostalgia. In the UK, there is the likelihood they will be more regionally based, with genres like donk and bassline being more popular in specific areas. What about the Sony Ericsson era of Dj Boonie? How will we look back? What songs will we find ourselves scrawling memories onto in the years to come?

George’s page represents how the tremors of those illegal parties and unique events can still be felt today. All some need is a sonic reference point, and they are ready to reminisce about fond memories of their own childhood, but also affirm their own place in a movement much, much bigger than themselves and their own experience. They revel in the first time a track was played, or a time they saw their most beloved DJ, and in turn enable younger generations to receive a first-hand account from a legendary event. The page helps illustrate the self-awareness that a modern, underground scene has to have to survive and be credible. It enables us to see that not everyone ends up understanding and supporting the notions that the movement they were part of represented, but also confirms that the power of music and togetherness can have a lasting effect on a person. 

Most importantly of all it showcases the value, the uniqueness and the legacy of UK dance music. That the risky actions of promoters like Fantazia and others were not in vain, and gifted a generation of wayward young people truly wonderful memories and life-affirming experiences.

Go and give the page a follow: www.twitter.com/UKRaveComments

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