Reviews for SpanneredReviews for The Secret Life Of Freaks

Chris Liberator (Stay Up Forever Records):

“Finally it’s here, a vivid and lucid account of the urban squat party experience from the inside..

SPANNERED tells it how it is, so forget what you might of read in the Sun about urban raves, this is the real-deal as seen through the eyes of Libertarian squatter Bert and his hedonistic crew. Like a more pumped up and glorious U.K. version of Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ transported to downtown Bristol circa 1995, we are taken on a 48 hour odyssey of a weekend out ‘ ‘avin it ‘ to euphoric, pounding techno, in a dirty warehouse, fuelled by a potent cocktail of the strongest party drugs and psychedelics known to man. Through Bert we get to experience all the highs and lows of the rave, the spiritual and communal epiphanies experienced through the drugs and dancing, and that most mystifying and primal feeling of all, the effect of the relentless techno music, as intoxicating as the drugs, but combined with them, capable of transporting the raver to orgasmic levels…You want to know how that feels without actually being there there? Then read this!

At times hilarious, occasionally scary, this little novella captures succinctly the feelings of spirited rebelliousness, euphoric tenderness, and crazed abandon of the underground party scene, but also touches on what it’s like to be part of Britain’s constantly bubbling counter-culture, the squatters, travellers, ravers, artists, musicians and ‘types’ who exist outside the comfort zone of ‘normal’ society, a culture that, like the squat party scene itself, still continues to thrive today. This is the story of the real 90’s ecstasy revolution, the one that happened behind the backs of Mixmag and the Superclubs, but one that through dancing, drugs and a healthy dose of ‘FUCK YOU’, had a profound effect on a generation, and with recent urban squat parties like SCUMOWEEN again garnering national attention, worth a read if you want to seriously understand what all the fuss is about. ”

D.A.V.E. the Drummer (Hydraulix Records):

“Love it… It put me right back to the days when I was doing exactly the same thing in London 1995. A really fun read , with some great visual descriptions of the weirdest moments.”

DJ Simmer (Shimmy/Problem Child Records):

“This is the first book I have not put down till I finished it in a very long time. Absolutely f-ing marvellous! Totally gripped me and bang I was at the party. Totally nailed it… and an awesome soundtrack.”

‘Free Party Person’ (

“And about time too! I’d been waiting ages for someone to write an account of the free party scene in the UK. This is fiction but it paints a very vivid picture. ‘Spannered’ covers just one night at a Bristol warehouse party, but it’s a long and eventful one. It’s as if all the narrator’s free party experiences have been compiled into one marathon night. Personally speaking, I can remember tiny little fragments of lots of parties very well, but certainly not enough about any one particular party to fill even one chapter of a book, let alone a whole book.

Every chapter is named after a tune. I would suggest making a CD available with the book, however, this is a small publisher so cost is a factor. Besides, these days it couldn’t be easier to just cue up a load of Youtube videos and then play them as you read the book. I haven’t done this myself, but perhaps I should. ( As if by magic… The author just tipped us off about this youtube playlist: )

The descriptions of music and drugs and people (and of the interaction between them) are brilliantly written. The acid house and rave scenes were an accidental synergy between a certain drug, a certain music, and certain people, and this is something the book portrays incredibly well.

There are perhaps too many characters for the reader to get a deep insight into anyone’s personality apart from the narrator. However this doesn’t matter, as the descriptions of the moments when the narrator is surrounded by people he knows and loves are very evocative and remind me of times when we put on free parties in a local barn, and, when I turned to look at the usually anonymous sea of faces I was accustomed to seeing at raves, I realized that I knew almost every person in my eyeline. Pretty much everyone else did too, and everyone was smiling at each other.

The book is mainly about the mid-nineties Bristol warehouse free party scene, but also refers to other events, including the legendary Castlemorton, which the narrator reminisces about. The drug-taking in the book is relentless but also realistic. Towards the end we realize that our hero has perhaps overdone it a bit. This is an honest portrayal of overenthusiastic youthful recreational drug-taking. There is no tabloid shock horror over-dramatic overdose episode in this story, but we do realize near the end that the narrator could have stopped caning it several pages ago and still have had a whale of a time! I think a lot of us have been in the same situation. In the early nineties, one pill was enough. Within a couple of years other substances began to be mixed in. I actually tried totting up the narrator’s drug consumption and it totalled two pills, half an MDMA wrap, one and a half trips, and a mug of mushroom tea. The ensuing paranoia, confusion, desperate need for the toilet, and losing/confusing what’s in his pockets is painfully true, frightening at times, and hysterically funny at others.

Annoying Ketamine users were already an unavoidable feature of free parties at the beginning of the nineties, and their portrayal in this book really made me chuckle. They drive their car onto the dancefloor in the morning and start honking their horn out of time to the music. It’s customary to blame the ‘darkening’ of the free party scene (especially the London squat party scene) on K-heads, but, even though he acknowledges what a pain in the arse they can be, the author doesn’t make this mistake.

This reviewer’s mother (who wasn’t involved in the rave or acid house scenes but was around for the first Summer of Love in the 1960s) found herself having to skip several sections as they made her feel ‘dizzy’! I lent the book to her after I’d read it just because I was interested to know what an outsider would make of it. As my next experiment I’d like to administer a large dose of Spannered to someone who has no experience whatsoever of altered states and see what happens to them. I’ve a feeling that they probably wouldn’t respond to it in the same way as a hippy or a raver would.

The book includes illustrations by various different artists and features a few photos too. These enhance the book and also give a platform to a handful of talented young artists. There is an experimental approach to typography in some sections, with fonts growing and shrinking and bouncing all over the shop. This also helps to build a suitably unhinged vibe at certain points in the story.

This is an intense and accurate portrayal of the free party scene in the UK in the mid-90’s and contains some of the best depictions of raves that I’ve ever read. I hope we’re going to hear more from Bert Random in the future.”

Transpontine (

“‘Spannered’ is a new novel by Bert Random, published by Spannered Books, a new small press based in Bristol.

Described on the cover as ‘a book about free parties, friendship and dancing’, it is essentially an account of one weekend in Bristol in 1995 centred around a warehouse party, but its evocative descriptions will echo with anybody who has been to free parties anywhere or anytime then or since. It’s all there – the highs, the lows, the intense friendships, the casualties, the transformation of some derelict zone into a temporary playground… And of course the music.

The chapter headings are tracks from that period (e.g. The Pump Panel’s Ego Acid, Starpower’s Renegade 303 from the Chris Liberator/Dave the Drummer ‘Stay up Forever’ stable). Writing about music without lyrics is notoriously difficult, but the author has a real sense of the physical impact of a snare, a kick drum or a blast of 303 on the bodies of dancers. Especially the latter – it’s all about the acid, ‘Bristol-style techno – the hard, dense kick drums are circled by fine-tuned cymbals and snares, dirty, squelchy, sub-bass notes rumble under our feet, while sweeping strings and swirling acidlines collide up above. The duelling 303s churn away…’

As a historical document capturing the mood of a specific time and place this book is bang-on, but it also has some broader reflections on dancing. At one point on the dancefloor, the narrator feels ‘a link with something primeval, not just with my immediate environment, not just with the shit-hot party going on around me. A link with something deeper than that. I feel a connection to my own history of dancing… I’m possessed by everyone who has ever been moved by music. I feel a link to distant drums of warning and celebration, to the force of rhythm on our cerebral patterns and genetic muscle memories. I remember all this in a split second’.

If the author has felt compelled to write a novel 15 years after the events described, it is presumably because like many of us he recognises that one night can last a lifetime: ‘Those moments, those movements, those sounds, those feelngs – they all really happened. The afterglow from sharing those experiences with thousands of people – with hundreds of thousands of people over the years – can keep you warm for a long time, if you let it’.

The book also features some great illustrations by artists including Silent Hobo, Boswell, Nik III, Natalie Sandells and Rose Sanderson.

You can get the paperback for a mere £8.99 from the Spannered Shop, and there is also an e-book version. Ideal Christmas present for anybody who was there, wishes they were, or wonders what it was like (and indeed still is like in free parties today, although obviously some things have changed in the past decade and a half).”

Our favourite reader review on Amazon:

“Immersion is the best word I can think of to describe my experience with this book. The linearity, the setting, the lingo, the inescapable entropy of a weekend taking every possible turn while each repercussion takes its toll; the reader is stuck there with the narrator through thick and thin, sharing his fate.

The book isn’t at all what I expected. The reader is given no context nor much introduction to the protagonist or situation. The assumption is made for you that you belong in this universe and you are preordained to follow willingly. This is a welcome imposition, and the narrative’s unapologetic use of slurred colloquialisms and inside references serves only to submerge the reader in this very peculiar, very personal reality. It’s little more than a slice of life, full of revelations yet devoid of any singular moral, which is perhaps a moral in and of itself. “Be here now” is all the author demands of his reader.

I pecked at this book, reading a few pages here and there, not understanding where it was going nor why I should care about the narrator’s travails. Then something happened to me. Just like the protagonist I simply accepted this reality and allowed myself to “go with it”. At that moment I found this story inescapable. I blasted through the remaining two thirds in one evening, compelled by fascination to continue. By the end I was astonished, exhausted, and thrilled by its vivid depiction of this illegal underground rave. Bert Random has a real gift of extolling beauty and wonder even in the grimiest decrepit urban ruins of England. This author has the power to take condemned buildings and slimy puddles and make them glow.

Despite its harsh settings and detailed descriptions of repulsive activities Spannered left me with feelings of overwhelming optimism and positivity. This is very much a story of love thy neighbour, and it’s refreshing to read about the warmth and generosity of the common man (or perhaps common outlaw is a more accurate term). Kudos to the author for this unconventional narrative that rolls and peaks like a Hardfloor acid bassline, gripping and soothing in waves of tension and pleasure. The unity of the music, people, mood, intoxication, prose, and illustrations exhibit a unique parallelism of harmony and interdependence like a multidimensional tapestry.

Bert Random, thanks for a good, long smile.”

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