By Dave MacIntyre
While I was sitting at the kitchen table last night, reading posts from friends about Orbital playing live at Biggest Weekend on BBC Four, and thinking about their upcoming Shiiine On Festival dates (Birmingham and Minehead) along with other electronic legends like Altern 8, I got to thinking about the glory days of rave music.
When it first emerged in Toronto in the late 80s, it was very niche. We that listened to it simply called it techno back then. Asking a nightclub DJ to “play some techno” either resulted in confused looks or “Pump Up The Jam” by Technotronic (go figure!) just before the lights went on and security cleared us out. As the music gathered momentum, some of the better clubs with proper sound systems dedicated a night to techno. Factory, our favourite, was the first to have a laser light system that would slice through the thickest dry ice fog just above reach (you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face when it really got pumping). Combined with bass bin towers in every corner of the room that hammered out a relentless stream of techno, the effect was nothing short of euphoric and we all agreed that one night a week wasn’t enough. Fridays, Saturdays, and sometimes Sundays were devoted to finding parties around the city that played techno from midnight until late into the morning. Warehouses, roller rinks, farm fields; if they were playing techno, we were there.
Sub-genres of techno emerged: Hardcore, Breakbeat, Rotterdam, Trance, Jungle, and then sub-sub-genres off of them. The scene began to change when that happened as did the growing negative image of rave culture from those on the outside looking in who viewed the parties as an excuse for young people to get off their heads on drugs.
How to control it? Commercialize it. Police were invited to work the parties, not break them up. Parties were no longer underground. No longer secret. Money went into flying DJs from around the world to spin music, but they were no better than our local talent. Toronto had, and still does have, some of the world’s best techno DJs. This was the era of vinyl, before CD mixers were the norm, and definitely before laptops with MP3s and BPM auto-matching software. I’ll never forget watching a Toronto DJ in a tiny and very dark room mix three turntables of the fastest, wickedest Jungle while he was having a conversation with a mate. Subtle finger caresses of the vinyl kept every beat matched. No headphones on, no BPM counter, no lights. To me, it was magic.
Once raves were out in the open, they became fashion shows. No more jeans and t-shirts. It was all about the florescents, crazy jester hats, baggy pants, and soothers. Those who came to the parties were there for the scene, not the music and with that, our love of the scene died. The current day EDM festivals, with headliner multi-millionaire “DJs” and bottle service VIP tents, are a byproduct of that commercialization. Few people care what they play, just who is playing it, and that they were there with a selfie to prove it.
Back at my kitchen table, it’s 2018 and I’ve gone down a YouTube worm hole searching for and compiling a playlist of what I consider to be 25 essential 90’s rave tunes. I wasn’t sure all of them would have the impact they did when I was a 20 year old techno freak, but it turns out they do. The music was (and is) incredibly unique and innovative. I welcome your feedback and any recommends on what needs to be added to the list as I’m sure 25 is just the tip of the iceberg.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions and YouTube links if you’ve got them.
And now, the playlist…