The 1992 gathering led to a wave of controversial legislation targeting free parties, Roma and New Age travellers.

  • 'It's like the Criminal Justice Act part two': How new UK protest laws echo the aftermath of seminal rave Castlemorton image
  • On the 30th anniversary of seminal UK rave Castlemorton, free party veterans have been drawing comparisons between the infamous Criminal Justice And Public Order Act 1994 (CJA) and new legislation targeting protests. From May 22nd through 29th, 1992, tens of thousands of people descended on Castlemorton Common in Worcestershire, England, for a rave that became the perfect pretext to ban the UK’s free party and festival movement. Harry Harrison, cofounder of the crew DiY, was preparing to leave for Castlemorton as the footage hit the news. “It was the biggest single advert for a free party ever, telling young people, ‘do not come to this massive rave in Castlemorton,'” he told Resident Advisor. Around the same time, a 14-year-old house music fanatic was standing on a roadside with his best friend, trying to hitch a lift to Castlemorton after reading about it in the newspapers. They didn’t make it. That teenager was Gideon Berger, a DJ and cofounder of rave-inspired art company Block9, renowned for its installations at Glastonbury Festival. Triggering a moral panic, Castlemorton inspired the government to pass the infamous CJA, which gave the police the power to ban outdoor gatherings with music “wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” They could also seize musical equipment, evict Roma and take intimate bodily samples such as blood and urine. In response to the CJA, countless sound systems and party crews—including Bedlam, LSD, Spiral Tribe, Circus Lunatics and DiY—fled to Europe and became part of a new diaspora. Berger spent his student loan on a rig, moved into a bus and disappeared into UK squat raves and teknivals in Europe. But Bedlam cofounder Steve “Bedlam” Stavrinides told RA that the legislation “wasn’t just about raves; but land usage.” This became apparent when he saw Roma and elderly ramblers queuing with ravers to protest the act at parliament. He said the privileged gentry wanted “commoners” off their land so they could “claim it as farmable and rinse the public purse for government subsidies.” Ravers and New Age travellers were being used as “a smokescreen to pass laws to stop Roma from existing,” added Stavrinidis. Today, he added, Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Police, Crime, Sentencing And Courts Act 2022 continues in the same vein. Harrison agreed: “They’re doing to protests what the CJA did to raving.” First introduced in 2021 and ratified earlier this year, the new and extensive act will give the police more power to curb static protests, such as those by environmental group Extinction Rebellion. The powers include setting noise limits, expanding stop-and-search laws and penalising anyone “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance.” The maximum penalty for protest-related offences is ten years in prison. Like the CJA, the 2022 bill also targets the Roma and Traveller communities, giving the police greater powers to disrupt, seize and fine people in what the government calls “unauthorised encampments.” The parallels between the 1994 and 2022 acts will be highlighted at this year’s Glastonbury Festival by free party veterans working in areas such as Block9, The Common, Shangri-La and The Unfairground. They’ll also pay homage to Castlemorton. For example, the decks at Block9’s Genosys stage will sit inside a ’70s Bedford coach, a vehicle popular with the free party community in the early ’90s. Filmmaker Aaron Trinder interviewed some of these veterans for his documentary Free Party: A Folk History, which is being screened at Bristol venue Lost Horizon this week. According to Trinder, the comparisons between the two pieces of legislation are clear. “It’s like CJA part two,” he told RA. “Even slogans like ‘Kill the Bill’—used at protests in ’94—re-appeared at recent demos.” But legislation banning outdoor raves wasn’t triggered by Castlemorton alone, Spiral Tribe (AKA SP23) cofounder Mark Angelo Harrison told RA. A litany of laws had been targeting Roma, New Age travellers and free festivals for at least a decade before. One of these was the 1986 Public Order Act, imposed after the Battle of The Beanfield when police stormed traveller vehicles and attacked pregnant women to stop them reaching Stonehenge Free Festival. This led to 537 arrests. There was no master plan behind Castlemorton, either. It happened because the police stopped a convoy of travellers heading to Avon Free Festival. This led to a swell of about 147 trucks, vans and lorries being diverted on the A38 road. According to Angelo Harrison, they were “forced” to stay on the road without stopping until Police Superintendent Clift allowed them onto Castlemorton Common to have their festival for “humanitarian reasons.” Photographer Alan “Tash” Lodge captured the moment Clift helped direct travellers onto the site. But when Spiral Tribe members tried to leave days later, they were arrested by plain-clothed police who “jumped” on their trucks, Angelo Harrison added. Clift refused to testify against Spiral Tribe and a two-year court case led to a not-guilty verdict. “At the committal hearing, Clift told me, ‘I just want you to know this has nothing to do with the police—you’re being politically stitched up,'” said Angelo Harrison. Despite the verdict, the judge was “purple with rage” at the Spiral Tribe members, who turned up to court in T-shirts with the words “Make Some Fuckin’ Noise” on the back. “He told us to take them off,” said Angelo Harrison. “The girls had nothing on underneath and he went an even deeper shade of purple, commanding we put them back on.” Bedlam and Spiral Tribe DJ Aztek escaped Castlemorton unscathed. “It was a coming together of free-thinking people making a stand for their rights,” he told RA. “But we’re shown now, just as we were then, that we’re not free—it’s a false economy.” Despite the CJA’s negative impact, something positive came from it, too. “It politicised people and inspired them to buy sound systems,” said Harrison. “Thanks to acid house, rigs became mobile and for the first time, parties and protests collided.” The spirit and experience of Castlemorton still lives on in the work and creative projects of many veterans. Harry Harrison wrote a book about DiY, Angelo Harrison is writing one about Spiral Tribe, and Stavrinidis, who helps run The Common at Glastonbury, cofounded Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais. “I reside between two worlds: hedonism at festivals and humanitarian aid,” said Stavrinidis. “There’s demanding artists [on] one side, trucks with supplies waiting days to reach Calais, [on] the other.” There’s also a new generation of free party people. Mobile sound systems such as Berger’s R3 Soundsystem (Revolt, Resist, Reject) have drawn thousands of young people to raves in protest of Brexit and Donald Trump. For Berger, the 2022 act is “a direct attack on the political fundamentals of dance music.” He added: “We need to ensure our music isn’t rendered impotent or depoliticised—this can’t happen because it was born from the struggle of Black and queer people.” But in light of tightened restrictions, what room have young people got left for activism and creativity today? How do they find new ways to party and protest like their ’90s predecessors? Resistance to the CJA “defined the politics of a generation and helped shape UK dance music,” said Berger. The current climate should be used as a springboard in the same way, he added. “It’s a call to action for today’s ravers.”
  • Listen to a mix by SP23’s Ixindamix celebrating 30 years since Castlemorton. Aztek has also compiled a playlist of Castlemorton classics. Bristol’s Lost Horizon is currently celebrating the free party movement with eight days of talks, films, parties and an exhibition. Find out more here. Photos: Alan “Tash” Lodge (Lead, Castlemorton, Superintendent Clift)
  • Spiral Tribe (Court hearing)

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