120pp, 12 B&W illustrations.
Youtube Playlist: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDD677C9031644439
“Here comes the noise. It creeps up on us, quietly at first, attracting people out of the shadows, inviting us to make this derelict space a dancefloor. The volume reaches a gratifyingly loud level and I realise that this really is going to happen, this really is going to go off.
The music has caught the masses. It sounds vaguely like a distant choir, like a snatch of sweet, sharp voices sampled and made strange, and as it flows into its simple rhythm the crowd begins to gather and sway…”
Youtube Playlist: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDD677C9031644439
We hear music.
It’s some distance away but it’s definitely there. A steady rhythmic thud drifts over the rooftops, drawing us towards it. Chumpee’s eyes are gleaming with mischief in the moonlight and we both start to go a little bit faster, unconsciously walking in time with the distant drum pattern. I hand him a spliff as two cars stuffed full of partyheads crawl past, while we cross a bridge above an inner-city motorway and continue on to a dejected part of town. Roof-less warehouses line the opposite bank of the canal, stars visible in the dark-blue sky through the broken windows.
I look back and see the straggling line of people who have come with us from our house in St Nicks to this no-mans land between a river and a drive-through. There are at least twenty of us, maybe thirty in all; Gonzo, Goon, Little My, Caspar, Helen, Acid Bob, Zak, Corrine, Dreads Dave, Harry, the Graces, Abdi, Ramona, loads more. People from all over the country and all over the world, who have landed in Bristol and been unable to leave. Survivors from the convoys; European techno-freaks who would follow a beat anywhere; Americans who spent their teens following the Grateful Dead; a crazy Canadian lady who just arrived, having maxed out her credit cards to get a plane on the strength on one mix-tape from a Bristol club night that somehow found its way to Vancouver; a proper bunch of randoms.
Most of us haven’t known each other long – a few months, a few years, a handful of longer friendships – but something has just clicked during nights and days on the dancefloor. We are tight.
Chumpee laughs to himself at nothing in particular, just happy to be out and about, feeling the concrete of his recently-adopted city beneath his feet. More cars bounce past us, tunes blaring, friends and strangers shouting hellos as they go by. They all take the next right, just up ahead, underneath a massive fly-over with its constant rumble of traffic.
“Here we go then,” shouts Chumpee.
We follow the steady stream of cars into the abandoned corner of a disused trading-estate that’s holding its breath, waiting to be demolished. The music is louder now; we’re nearly there. I can feel butterflies trying to take off in my stomach, a rush of adrenaline and excitement shivering through my body. It’s beginning to get crowded; there are badly parked cars everywhere along this dead-end street, people spilling out of them into the cold night air, their breath like dragons’, drifting away. The anticipation is palpable. It’s tickling my neck. You can feel the electricity as people congregate.
A wire fence surrounds a jumble of large crumbling buildings, a bottleneck has developed around the mesh double-gate. Eventually I glide through with Chumpee, Gonzo and Little My, as the group of us that walked here together is slowly absorbed into the greater mass. We will regroup in various forms throughout the night.
There are fucking loads of people here; at times it seems everyone I have ever known and more. We can’t walk further than a few feet without having to stop and hug someone hello; it takes us ages to get across the carpark. Half the pub’s here, all having heard the same rumour, seen the same handful of flyers. So are people I partied with back in 1990. And someone I met once at a festival four years ago and haven’t seen since. People I’ve worked with at various times, with varying degrees of success. There are old skaters from Dean Lane, a handful of exes, and even one or two people that I went to school with. Old ’92 ravers out of retirement, house divas in fake-fur, indie-kids and students, travellers, punks, and dreads. All laughing and chatting, stamping their feet in the chill of the clear May night, wondering if this is really going to happen. Nervous and drunk and speeding and straight and stoned and rushing and tripping in equal measure.
Double-doors loom before us, and inside the warehouse we can see a fire burning, cold party crew huddled around it. Hordes of people are flooding into the derelict building, looking around in expectation. The music that we heard on our way up the street seems to have been coming from some monster car stereo which is thumping away just outside the gate – it’s noisy inside the warehouse, but only with the hum of human chatter, and the clatter and crashing of people doing stuff. A yellow Bedford truck is parked with its backdoors open; a human chain is taking bits of kit from the van and disappearing into the darkness at the far end of the building – racks of amps, boxes full of wiring, the precious decks, speakers and finally the bassbins that take small gangs of people to carry. Everything we need is arriving because we’ve reached critical mass, we’ve got enough people here to get the soundsystem in and set up without the police coming and grabbing the lot. Too many of us for it to be worth their while kicking up a fuss. Safety in numbers.
We do a few deals as we wander around – sell a bit of weed, sort out some pills. I buy myself a few trips off of Old Owen, an indestructible sixties hippie who just refuses to slow down. In the early hours he can often be seen staggering and mumbling to himself, furtling in his many layers of clothes looking for another dose of his random drug of choice this week. Caspar sees me sorting myself out, trying not to drop the acid in the dark, making sure I know what stuff is in which pocket. (Fags, weed and solids, acids, rizlas, roach, lighter, cash. Front door key on a string round my neck. Everything where it should be.)
“What you got there?” he asks in his distinctive European accent, his teeth grinding through the speed.
“Acids,” I say. “Screaming Buddha’s. Meant to be good ones. Want to split one?”
“Go’wan then,” he smiles. “Can you get any more? I want to get properly focked up.”
I split one of the thick cardboard tabs with him, feeling that psychosomatic tingle as I swallow my half. Immediately I feel a little bit high. I lead Caspar to Old Owen, and leave them chatting. As I walk away Cas buys another couple of tabs, and chucks them straight down his neck. It’s the last I’ll see of him for a while.
My eyes slowly become accustomed to the shapes forming from the shadows as I wander, skinning up in my hand, getting a sense of the space. There’s shit everywhere, huge piles of bricks, pallets, debris from whatever this building was before it was left to rot. Most of it has been pushed into great mounds against the walls, but there is still plenty of crap on the floor to stumble over. The huge room is split by a line of columns holding up the corrugated roof. An exposed metal framework stretches across the ceiling and bare breezeblock walls stretch for a hundred-and-fifty metres or so in one direction, about half that wide. Two head-high black slabs of speaker-stack frame the decks at the far end. They loom silently over the space; currently a dead space, a nothing space, a space waiting to be changed. The activity behind the decks is frantic now, with wires and dreadlocks snaking everywhere in the half darkness. A few snatches of music burst through the system, screeching in from nowhere at such a volume that I jump and nearly spill the weed. Testing, testing, one, two, three. Not long now.
I look for a friendly face to share the spliff. In the half-light just inside the warehouse doors there’s the silhouette of a bloke with a huge bunch of balloons. He’s got a canister of gas next to him and a little production line going. The balloons are given to people passing by, or have flowers tied to the bottom of their string and are left to float almost forgotten above the crowd. Helen and Norm, who’s been dragged out to his first party at the age of forty-six, are having a lovely time, pissed up, inhaling helium and squeaking ‘I love you’ at each other. The Balloon-man grins to himself and just keeps on filling balloons. Gonzo is standing five feet away, laughing at the squeaking, so I pass him the spliff and we wander round the fire, talking about who we’ve seen, giggling at the absurdity of this many freaks gathering together in one place.
This is different; this isn’t a fifty people in the basement of a squat in St Pauls. This is hundreds, maybe thousands, of people from all over the place. It feels good, like something that’s been bubbling away for a while suddenly gained some momentum, suddenly became real again, here, now, around us.
I can taste it…