Keyflow Magazine

Misguided Battles – The War Against Acid House and Today's Rush to Demonise DIY Spaces

Thatcher’s gang versus the acid house movement, and today’s rush to demonise DIY spaces after the Ghost Ship fire.

Somewhere in the autumn of 1989 Margaret Thatcher, then well into her third dark reign as British Prime Minister, received a forwarded letter from MP Archie Hamilton. The letter, recently released under the Thirty-year rule, had been written by his elderly uncle Gerald Coke who’d been “very disturbed” that summer by an all night rave party near his property in Hampshire.

Mr Coke stressed his fear that some of the party goers were seeking confrontation with villagers and was alarmed by the possibility of “bloodshed”. This rave was one of 223 known acid house parties in what was then known as the Second Summer of Love.

Thatcher sent the letter on to the Home Office wondering what powers the police had to control such gatherings and replied with the words “Yes if this is a new ‘fashion’ we must be prepared for it and preferably prevent such things from starting.”

What followed was some laughably bad research involving the discovery of so called “ecstasy wrappers” and the “shocking” find that there was “surprisingly little alcohol” at the parties.

Another letter stated that “confiscating the profits” of the organisers could be a way to “discourage the craze,” ignoring the obvious fact that the biggest events were often run for free.

“Because a few people had the power to assemble thousands of young people with a phone call, the government thought there was a political angle to it when there wasn’t.”
Andrew Weatherall – English DJ, producer, and remixer.

Classic case of politicians trying to save the youth from something they didn’t need saving from. But of course, this much freedom couldn’t be tolerated for long. Nothing frightens the elite more than thousands of young people dancing in a field, united despite their very different backgrounds and races.

A year later legislation was passed to increase the penalties for unlicensed party organisers under the “Entertainments” (Increased Penalties) Act” which became known as the Acid House Bill.

A few years later, in 1994, the next Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, lashed out again with the absurd “Criminal Justice Bill”, which ruled open air gatherings “at which amplified music is played” illegal.

The bill also included a legendary line explaining that the government’s definition of music in this case was: “predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”

Early in their Warp careers, dark Electronic wizards Autechre reacted to this law by releasing the Anti EP sealed with a black sticker which contained the line: “Flutter has been programmed in such a way that no bars contain identical beats and can therefore be played under the proposed new law.”
The duo also released a statement to remark that
“Autechre is politically non-aligned. This is about personal freedom.”

In the decades since, there have, of course, been many equally inane examples of politicians interfering in music scenes they don’t understand in an effort to bring about some kind of control. The alarming reactions to the Ghost Ship fire in California are the most recent.

Ghost Ship was a live-work warehouse space in Oakland where 36 people lost their lives just over a month ago (December 2nd) when a fire took hold of a party taking place inside. Within days officials began investigating and, in some cases, evicting residents from DIY spaces all over America.

“It feels like a double dagger in our gut,” said Sarah Sexton, an Oakland-based music booker, talking to The Guardian. “First we lose our friends and then we lose the spaces that we’ve bonded with them in.”

Oakland’s Mayor instantly blamed the people running the space and the party’s organisers, ignoring the housing crisis in the area amongst other factors and giving the media an all too easy grasp of the situation. The Mayor of Richmond instantly labeled a local nightclub spot as “our own ‘Ghost Ship’”.

6 days after the fire, Denver was hit by the closure of sister venues Rhino and Glob, evicting the 11 people who lived there and the list of similar stories continues to grow.

The Rhino’s founder was quoted by Rolling Stone as saying “the landlord was fully aware that we were living in his property – we built rooms to code, made sure there was safe exit and maintained fire extinguishers.”

Furthermore, inspection documents obtained by local news outlet Denver7, show that the space passed their fire inspection last summer – as it had for the past 11 years.

Most of this is being acted upon under the guise of “protection” and no doubt partly driven by anxious parents, but something more sinister also appears to be playing a role.

A group of trolls active on the notoriously politically incorrect 4Chan thread /pol/ began filing complaints about similar spaces in their respective cities before the ground was even cold in Oakland.

They began posting names and addresses with one user writing “Flushing out these left-spaces sounds like a fun pre-inauguration project for /pol/. Even if we don’t actually do anything, we can easily create the appearance that we are, which will put a dent in these sordid pits of depravity.”

That’s one of the real fears here. With alt-right movements on the rise worldwide these cretins will use any excuse to crush the life out of “left-spaces” they see as a threat. Of course safety is an important issue but there is a real danger of a mass overreaction that would cause great harm and suffering to the communities in mourning right now.

Even many of those with liberal leanings consistently fail to see how crucial these spaces are for whole groups of people or to really grasp that… “it’s communities like these that grow the roots that allow a city to form its own artistic identity,” as Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale so perfectly put it recently in an essay called “The Paradox of Life Affirming Death Traps.”

Kimya Dawson, half of the band The Mouldy Peaches, remarked in a heartfelt Facebook post in response to the Oakland fire;
“If I hadn’t had people inviting me to their unconventional venues over the years I would have been dead a long long time ago. We’re not trying to put each other in danger. We are trying to save each other’s lives.”

In this worrying Trump era we all must stay alert to ensure those in power don’t take advantage of tragedies such as these and to defend the right for these movements and safe spaces to exist.

We must watch the watchmen now more than ever.

Text: Gavin Maycroft