Rave to the Grave: Cardiff’s Dying Music Scene

Everything I’ve learnt from a life of late night raves

Packed out nights and strobe-lit lights, smoke-filled rooms with head pounding tunes, this was how we spent our weekends. When they wore black dresses, we wore neon glitter and psychedelic wings. They wore buttoned up shirts, while we tore the dress code to pieces. It wasn’t like any other night out; live lounge could never compare.

If you couldn’t tell from the title, I’m taking about raves. Big, dirty, stinkin’ raves. And, I’m sure, if you’ve ever had the absolute pleasure of attending one, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say there’s an undeniable community in this scene.

Because there’s not many DNB / techno venues – which is probably one of the saddest tragedies in Cardiff – you’ll start to recognise familiar faces through the gloriously suffocating smoke and the strobe-lit lights. After one or two aligning events you’ll form ‘lifelong’ relationships, gripping onto one another, saying “I’ll never leave your side!”. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a stranger in the morning, it meant something in that moment.

It’s true when I say this music is like our religion; the DNB and techno is almost hypnotic, catatonic. I’ve seen my generation spending the best times of their lives clinging onto bars, swinging left to right: an animalistic frenzy gripping them as they shake.

So, when I found out about these event locations in first year, I was – naturally – ecstatic. No more groundhog nights spent listening to the same monotonous music and obsessive pop culture, no more 3am conversations in the smoking area where the lad you’ve just met assures you he “isn’t like the other blokes” whilst wearing skinny blue jeans and a Jack Wills shirt – his bravado aftershave charmingly mixed with the aroma of a blue VK.

Don’t get me wrong, people still try to pull at raves but it will always come after the music. Everyone is there for one reason and one reason only: to let everything go, have a fucking good time and dance.

I say ‘Cardiff’s dying music scene’ with tragedy in my voice. The truth is, techno venues are dying out quicker than the time dubstep was a respected genre. From an economic perspective, it makes sense. A night out for us ravers doesn’t cost the world; the tickets are cheap (often free), no one really goes to get drunk, and for the local events we often know the DJ’s – meaning spare tickets. It’s not difficult to imagine why venues like this may not be making as much money as places like the SU, where a large amount of the income is received from students’ need to binge drink VKs.

With already so few EDM venues in Cardiff, you can imagine the uproar when Undertone – Cardiff’s most wonderfully notorious sesh pit – got turned into flats. Some blame it on gentrification, others blame it on a lack of interest in the Cardiff DNB and techno rave scene, and the grim stigma that comes with it. But the movie human trafficking wasn’t set in Cardiff without good reason! It used to be, and I believe has the potential to be, the UK’s number one underground rave scene.

Undertone isn’t the only venue shutting down. Just over the river, Bristol’s legendary ‘nightclub’ Lakota has been confirmed to be knocked down and made into… you guessed it, flats. Lakota holds a warm place in my heart, it was the first DNB venue I ever went to using a fake ID. My best mate at the time took me for a weekend away in Bristol and I spend the whole train ride up memorising my new identity. For the rest of that evening my name was Gabbie, and I went from the ripe age of seventeen to twenty-seven years old.

It seems, from the perspective of any raver living in the UK, the scene will never truly be as good as the nineties. From what I’ve gathered, it comes down to a lack of dedication to the music’s powerful movement. Not enough is known of it’s illegal rave history, nor is the drug-fuelled stigma looked past to focus on the most important aspect: the music. Since the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was passed in 1994, it allowed police to clamp down on unlicensed rave parties, and greater penalties for certain ‘anti-social’ behaviours. It was almost considered the end of an era for the rave movement and, because of this, the few legal raves allowed left a sour taste in people mouths.

But I wouldn’t worry because although there aren’t half as many raves as there used to be, keep your eyes and ears to the ground and if you’re looking hard enough, you’ll find one.

I will forever be grateful for finding genres such as DNB and Techno, although vastly different they’ve both given myself and millions of people more than we thought music ever could. Whether you’re into it or not, it’s a scene that can never really die. It will continue to thrive in random warehouses, illegal set ups, or after hours pubs. If you haven’t yet delved into the seemingly dark and dingy local DNB and techno events, I urge you to. If not, you can always start with a bit of jump up.

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