Raves In The '90s Were Dramatically Different Than Whatever Is Going On At EDC Today

For those "of a certain age," raves in the '90s were a blast: rollicking dance parties set to trippy tunes in a mellow, stigma-free, slightly psychedelic atmosphere. But raves didn't end with the close of the century. In fact, raves are making a comeback in the 20-teens as a whole new generation discovers these one-of-a-kind gatherings.

So, when did raves start? Their history begins in the 1980s. With the emergence of house music, groups of mostly young people were hungry for a place to get together, enjoy the new musical sounds, and have a fun, peaceful experience in a positive setting. The first raves were underground events that spread by word of mouth and avoided any connections with the mainstream. With the Cold War heavily dampening the global mood, these parties were an antidote to the staidness and greediness of the era. A sort of neo-hippie environment where the children and sounds of the '80s met the ideals of the '60s.

Read on to learn more about raves then and now and the unique contributions these events have made to the worlds of music and culture.

  • The First Raves Took Place In Europe During The Cold War

    The First Raves Took Place In Europe During The Cold War
    Photo: Ildar Sagdejev / Creative Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Raves were inspired by the party-like atmosphere, peace-and-love energy, and musical trends popular on the Spanish island of Ibiza. In the mid-1980s, Ibiza-influenced parties popped up primarily in the United Kingdom and Germany, but they weren't necessarily organized events. Shoom, one of the first raves to garner wider attention, was first held in 1987 at a fitness complex in London. Acid house music was just becoming popular, and a new drug called ecstasy was all the rage. British DJ Pete Tong described the scene like this:

    "It was all one love, everyone together. Anyone can dance all of a sudden, freedom of expression. Dress down, not up. Converse trainers, smiley t-shirts — a sort of tribalism took over. Everyone was happy to be the same."

  • American Raves Began In New York City And San Francisco

    American Raves Began In New York City And San Francisco
    Photo: Matthew Spong / Creative Commons / CC BY 2.0

    In the late 1980s and early 1990s, raves made the leap over the pond to the United States. The first American parties were held in San Francisco and New York City, where DJ Scotto was an instrumental voice in establishing these popular, underground festivals. He held New York's first-ever rave at the Ritz, the former home of Studio 54; Moby was among the live performers at that event. DJ Frankie Bones soon launched his own raves around New York City, increasing their exposure and drawing bigger crowds. On the west coast, the Bay Area was a rave hub for years.

  • Raves Are All About PLUR

    Raves Are All About PLUR
    Photo: Mixtribe Photo / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Once, during a fight at a rave party, DJ Frankie Bones said something meant to end the dispute — something he likely heard in early internet chatroom, something that would eventually become the driving force behind rave culture. "If you don’t start showing some peace, love, and unity, I’ll break your faces!" he shouted. Peace, love, and unity; add respect into the fold, and you get the acronym PLUR. PLUR became of the biggest reasons people started flocking to raves — they were chill places where what you wore and what you looked like didn't matter. All that mattered was the music. And the fun.

  • Kandi Bracelets Are The Unofficial Accessory Of Raves

    Kandi Bracelets Are The Unofficial Accessory Of Raves
    Photo: danielle_blue / Creative Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Raves are colorful events in more ways than one. Many attendees wear kandi bracelets and other kandi accessories. "Kandi" is a term that refers to the brightly colored beads that make up these unique pieces of jewelry. And kandi itself is a whole subculture within the larger subculture of raves. Kandi accessories all have a specific meaning to ravers; one DJ told LA Weekly:

    "Each kandi trade represents a memory of the person who traded it to you. In a sense, when a raver wears kandi on their arm, they are wearing their past memories and experiences with their fellow ravers."

  • Raves Are Small Societies Unto Themselves

    Raves Are Small Societies Unto Themselves
    Photo: S.Camelot / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Raves have developed a culture that is all their own. They are much closer to the free-love, peace-and-happiness vibe of '60s counterculture than they are to the sleek and slick world of nightclubs and rock concerts. The environment at most raves is one of acceptance and joy, with racism — and judgment of any kind — strictly forbidden. Nancy Borrego explained:

    "Imagine yourself being part of a world with no boundaries, no racism, no prejudice, no sexism, no rules, no guns, and no hatred- simply a world filled with peace, love, unity, and respect. A world where you can express yourself in any way you feel comfortable; a place where you feel no fear, just a place where you only feel love and joy from everyone around you. This is how I can best describe the culture of a rave and its people."

  • Raves Are Back En Vogue, But In Brighter Colors

    Raves Are Back En Vogue, But In Brighter Colors
    Photo: A-Glass-Darkly / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    After a brief hiatus, rave culture is "in" again. Both in the US and Europe, raves are seeing a noticeable uptick in interest and attendees. Some parties are underground events, others are hosted by huge production companies. In a way, it's easy to see why people are turning to raves once more. With Trump in the White House, anti-PLUR policies implemented around the globe, and the threat of nuclear war growing by the day, the relaxed, judgment-free zone of a rave is an escape most of us could use.