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.
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."
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.
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.
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."