What is a free party?


Let me make one thing very clear; free parties are fun, probably as much fun as you can have while keeping at least some of your clothes on. That's really the reason people go to them and it's why they have endured for so long and are now seeing a resurgence.

So to understand why there's a problem, we have to understand what a free party is and why we have the rather stupid situation of the government deploying vast amounts of resources trying to stop people dancing.

So what is a free party and what makes it something special?

What is a rave?

Rave: Definition by the Cambridge English Dictionary

"An event where young people dance to modern electronic music and sometimes take illegal drugs".

Oh dear. Let's see if I can do better.

Raving is dancing for extended periods of time, usually all night or longer, to electronic music of various types with people of a similar mindset. Some people take certain drugs that enhance the experience.

Are raves like nightclubs?

Not really. There used to be "underground" style nightclubs which came close, but increasing regulation and restrictions have all but killed them off. Most nightclubs usually close in the early hours and are little more than rip-off drinking places. They are a pale imitation of the real thing.

Are free parties raves?

Yes, but not all raves are free parties.

The first and most important point is that a commercial rave, legal or otherwise, is not a free party. It isn't just a matter of charging for entry which some free parties also do, it's to do with the way the event is organised and what happens in it.

So what is a free party?

The word "free" doesn't imply there is no admission charge, as I've said sometimes free parties do charge a small entrance fee to help cover costs.

"Free" means you are free of supervision, rules, regulations and exploitation when you're there. Free parties are in fact the free association of likeminded people, a principle a free society should cherish.

Are squat parties the same as free parties?

Sometimes, indeed probably mostly, but not always.

Why are some illegal raves not free parties?

Events do happen outside of legal regulation which are nonetheless commercial. These events are capable of earning huge amounts of money for some very shady people.

This, of course, involves exploitation of the punters and probably others.

Are free parties legal?

A few are, but the best ones aren't. That will take some explaining.

It is theoretically possible to organise a legal free party for up to 500 people with a TEN - A Temporary Events Notice (England and Wales), it only cost £21 and the event can run for up to seven days, which all sounds good except there are hoops to jump through, not least that the police or environmental health can object to it.

In practice this means that a real free party just can't be done legally in most places because the authorities will object. The main reason being the drug laws which place the responsibility for enforcing the prohibition laws onto the organisers.

The drugs laws:

The workings of the current drug laws have created a huge problem.

Recreational drug use other than alcohol and tobacco (and I suppose caffeine) comes up against the drugs policy of prohibition. Various laws introduced over the past 20 odd years have made it impossible to legally organise an event which would attract people who use prohibited drugs, even if the organisers are willing to take harm reduction measures.

These laws have resulted in the closing of many popular, responsible clubs as well as making legal free parties impossible to organise in anything like properly regulated places.

The upshot of this is that the government has created a conflict between socialising and law enforcement. The result being the whole scene has been driven "underground" and so the only way a free party can happen is illegally.

Underground cultures use the best form of publicity; word of mouth recommendation. It becomes as secret club which you have to follow to be a part of and that is a huge attraction..

Has anything like this happened before?

Yes, it's worth pointing out this is not at all a new thing.

Back in 1920's America during alcohol prohibition the same thing happened with the growth of the "Speakeasy".

It was illegal for a legal business to supply or allow alcohol to be consumed on their premises. The result was places opened up to do just that, hidden away out of sight.

The speakeasy had a lot of similarities to free parties, they were places where exciting music was played and people were free to enjoy themselves in an uninhibited way.

Of course, speakeasies were dangerous, These were hard drinking places; prohibition prevented large volume beer being sold and they were all supplied by organised crime (the mob) and sold strong, often contaminated alcohol such as moonshine or bathtub gin. There were no restrictions like age limits of course. Not only that but the places used were often dangerous with no fire exists and so on. Any medical casualty would be taken outside and left in the street. But these dangers did nothing to put the punters off.

The lesson we should have learned from the speakeasies is that people don't obey laws that seek to limit free association, they just become devious, organise through word of mouth and do it anyway. So it is with free parties today.

There is a big difference though. While there probably are some drug shifting outfits organising raves and making big money from it, genuine free parties are organised for the fun of having a rave by real enthusiasts, including building the sound rigs, playing and often creating the music. The motivation is pure unadulterated enjoyment of a genuine subculture.

Of course, the law and its enforcers the police make no distinction between those with dark commercial intent and those who are enthusiasts. That is the result of the prohibition policy, just one of the many unintended consequences that prohibition is so good at creating.

Something which is at its heart a creative example of cultural expression is criminalised and forced into the margins where there are real dangers and some nasty criminality. The government has deliberately made something which is done for fun as dangerous as it can possibly be.




What are the dangers of Free Parties?

It's important to emphasise that free parties are generally pretty safe events to attend. The reason for this is to do with the nature of the people who go to them. There is a very real sense of awareness, people do look after each other and violence of any sort is very, very rare and indeed, usually confined to the police if they raid.

However, because of the conditions created by the law, parties happen in remote places, often hard for emergency services to reach.

Although not always true by a long way, squat parties in cities can be more "dark side" and have been subjected to exploitation by criminal gangs in recent years. Apparently organisers have regrouped in an effort to distance themselves from the undesirable elements, which is part of the reason for the current revival of freeparties.

Derelict buildings are dangerous of course, there will probably be blocked fire exits, lots of broken glass and so on. All in all, this means they are great places to have fun in. Sorry, but that's how it is.

The biggest danger is caused by the drug laws. The sort of drugs used in raves are mostly stimulants like ecstasy and speed as well as psychedlices. Chemical drugs like ecstasy are made and distributed by unregulated illegal networks. Strength and purity vary greatly and outright fakes are widespread. Here in the UK The Loop offers this advice

Be careful with your dose. Start with a low dose and give the drug time to take effect before redosing (taking any more).

It's worth pointing out that these dangers are a deliberate aspect of the government's drugs policy. Harm maximisation is supposed to deter drug use, it doesn't.

The Loop also say:

If somebody collapses or becomes unresponsive after taking ecstasy put them in the recovery position and call for immediate medical assistance

An unconscious person can be moved, but never leave them alone.

Dancing for long periods, especially in hot places, means sweating a lot, so drink water from time to time and take a break to cool down. Don't drink large amounts of water though, that can cause other problems!

It's probably a good idea to learn some basic first aid, you never know when it might come in useful.

So who organises free parties?

Mostly they are organised by the sound system collectives. These are groups of friends who share a love of the music and who club together to build the sound systems. Most of the members are DJ's of course, but others will be responsible for getting the power together, building the sound rig, painting backdrops, etc. They have followers who spread the word of the parties. Each rig will have its own sound, on the whole playing a certain type of music.

So the systems are the driving force in organising raves and of course they know other people doing a similar thing, so they contact other systems who they will play with - and then look for suitable clubs if there are any, or warehouses and fields.

From time to time larger events are put together and several rigs will come along for a "multi rig" party, either lots of small rigs playing different stuff or several joined together to make a big one.

How do I find one?

There's an old saying about getting a job: The only way for an unemployed person to get a job is to already have one". Finding free parties is a bit like that, you have to be in the loop to hear about them. Actually that's not so hard to do, it's just a matter of finding people who are in the loop and getting to be friends with them. Once you get a few contacts, you'll soon get more.

What needs to happen?

Well, the war on drugs needs to end and we need a government with a better understanding of the real world.

It would help enormously if the restrictions on nightclubs were lifted. People do use drugs in these places and we should be dealing with the world as it really is, not creating the sort of environment where the only way to have fun is illegally. The licensing laws are the cause of the problem, with the drug laws being the underlying cause.

It needs to be possible to organise a free party legally because it's important that they can operate in places where emergency services can reach and so that the crews can co-operate with the police rather than treating them as the enemy.

Free parties don't want to happen in "entertainment zones", but likewise local people don't want them nearby blasting out hard techno all night. But it should be possible to cheaply hire places like railway arches or out of the way unused warehouses.

Essentially it is the job of government to make laws that protect people instead of stupid unworkable laws that try to ban things.