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Jacques Peretti on clubbing: ‘Lockdown saw the return of the illegal underground rave – I could have cried’

·4 min read

The Guide only offered me the clubs column because they knew I hated clubs. And in 1993, there was plenty to loathe. Coke-encrusted super sheds, packed high with helmet hair-era David Beckhams, sweating lakes of Opium Pour Homme; Kathy Lloyd wannabes teetering on the edge of stiletto abyss, Sasha playing his phoned-in Lighthouse Family remix before jetting back to Hades.

Related: The Guide: Staying In – sign up for our home entertainment tips

It was an elitist snob’s dream to slag off. But secretly I loved the horror. The end-of-days, Rome-burning quality of the fact that millions of people in Britain were getting utterly shitfaced every weekend. Was it brilliant? Was it terrible? I was a snob because I’d been in on the “real” revolution – Ibiza 86, the “second summer of love” – prancing about like a tit imagining myself a Native American shaman, complete with culturally appropriated cornrows, in a basement in Vauxhall at 4am. No one called it aciiiiiieeed (someone in a PR agency did that invaluable job). By the time my column began, this revolution – the first genuine mass working-class youth movement Britain ever created (mod too small, punk too art-school posh) – was for everyone, and us early adopters didn’t like it.

Our generation of baggy ravers had – to misquote Danny the drug dealer from Withnail and I – failed to paint it black. By 1993, we even had our own version of Beatles wigs in Woolworths: schoolboys at Eton calling each other “mate”, an alleged photo of a saucer-eyed David Cameron at Sunrise. Ian Beale name-checking the Ragga Twins on EastEnders. Architects in rimless glasses redesigning corporate offices to look like beanbag-festooned chillout rooms (work was now “fun” and “creative”). Even toothbrushes and kettles were suddenly globular and trippy, down to some product creative who’d taken too much E. These days, the BBC probably has a “rave legacy” department to preserve all this.

The column was never about the penned-in horror of actual nightclubs (Dappy from N-Dubz holding a plastic flute of Cristal, demarcated by a red rope). It was about the joyful, ludicrous discombobulation of a spontaneous happening. The sheer unpredictability of people gathering together.

So I visited vintage car rallies, sat with pensioners drinking gin and tonic on a veranda, shared a hot tub with some meth-grizzled hillbillies I befriended in a pancake house, met Viking re-enactors drunk on homebrew mead. Ever since cavepersons decided to chew a leaf to see if it would get them off their heads, humans have fucked shit up for themselves in some profoundly shallow way, creating moments that can, on very rare occasions, turn out to be the most deeply meaningful of their lives.

That’s what I tried in my own ramshackle fashion to celebrate, accompanied by the fantastically dry-witted Andy Watt, who illustrated it all. The nights I remember fondly were often the worst experiences of my life. Trapped in a lift in a tower block, with only my distorted reflection for company. Or taking LSD and then going to Ikea. Visiting the Queen at Buckingham Palace at 5am and being told by a bemused policeman that “she isn’t in”. The gay disco in north Wales, You Spin Me Round … playing mournfully to an empty dancefloor; an old man at the bar pointing languidly at me and saying to his friend: “Oh look, he’s new.” Standing stone-cold sober on NYE as midnight chimed. An Iranian minicab driver saving the night with his falsetto a cappella of I Feel Love.

It’s these truly pathetic and comically disastrous turns of events I cherish. Not going to Tresor, Sound Factory or Shoom, “historically significant” clubs. Too slick and self-important to be, well, fun.

So now it’s 2021, the only E I have is poor reception on my phone. Teenagers are forced to listen to their parents relate boring ecstasy stories (like these). The excruciatingly dated tinny piano house of those long-dead superclubs is now played by Sophie Ellis-Bextor on Radio 2. Extinction Rebellion channels Spiral Tribe, dancing round a pink yacht at Oxford Circus.

More kids than ever are going to Ibiza. The wheel is reinvented every summer by hopeful teens dragging a giant suitcase out of the airport. Do they care about the cultural legacy of Acid Trax Vol 1? Nope, they care about getting obliterated on flaming shots and having sex on a pedalo. The primary economic drivers of the nightclub, hope and ruin, remain a constant.

Lockdown saw the return of the illegal underground rave – six people dancing round a traffic cone to some drill in a Peckham garage, the fascist state battering the door with a very big truncheon. I could have cried. It was like 1987 all over again.

Wherever there is boredom, some alcohol, a lightbulb in a basement and some music, there will be a party, and this, dear readers, is the truth. One I would put to the test myself, if only my back wasn’t playing up, and I didn’t have eight eps of Gardeners’ World to catch up on.

Jacques Peretti is a documentary-maker and writer

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