Inside the UK’s thriving free party scene

Inside the UK’s thriving free party scene

Covid is an interesting point in time to look at free parties. While the majority of people remained respectful of the rules to begin with, by the end of 2020, many felt the need for a social and physical outlet to maintain any sense of balanced mental health was much more important than the risk of catching Covid. Drum & bass headliner and contemporary rave trailblazer Mandidextrous was present at a famous warehouse party in Bristol, Halloween, 2020.

“Everyone had been so suppressed for so long. It was one of the most electric raves I’d been to. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it,” they reminisce. Although it’s not all rose-tinted nostalgia. This particular free party was powered by what is known as a ‘suicide rig’; an ownerless composite of speakers, amps, decks and a generator that everyone was happy to donate and lose to police confiscation. “Oh, the police were there from the word go,” continues Mandi, who not only found their sound playing at free parties and teknivals across Europe, but found their family and musical path in life. “They couldn’t shut it down when it was at its peak because it was so busy. But later in the night, a few people were hanging on and the police came in heavy-handed. A friend, who was pregnant at the time, was mauled by police dogs. It got violent and nasty, which is sad. If the police had gone about it in a different way then it would have been a very different scenario.”

The police reaction to free parties, and free parties’ reaction to police, is perhaps the biggest influence in any unauthorised rave. If the police come in heavy-handed, it’s likely to be reacted to with the same energy. When there’s an open-minded discussion and respect is shown towards both parties, a much more amicable agreement is made. Even if that agreement is to shut down the party. “I know it can be seen as anti-social behaviour and I understand that residents of small villages can find it intimidating,” says Mandi. “But almost every event I’ve been part of has been kept under control, been safe, and left the space without much of a trace. No one ever starts a party from a negative place.”

Given the time and space, crews do clean up as much as they can. K Super, a resident DJ of Manchester-based sound system Pick & Mix, recalls a time when they surprised the police with their diligence. “We did a free party a couple of years ago and it got shut down, so we started walking around with bin bags,” she explains. “The police asked what we were doing! Just because we’re doing an illegal party, we do respect the environment.”

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