1990 saw the publication of Ear To The Ground, a short-lived fanzine focused on the outdoor rave party scene based in the North-west of England.
Until then, all over the region, nightclubs often still required a shirt and tie and trousers for admission. The playlists were dominated by pop (frequently Stock, Aitken and Waterman productions). Fights and kebabs were obligatory; smiles and hugs were in short supply.
Cue the arrival of acid house and the emergence of entrepreneurial types cognisant of empty lock-ups and abandoned warehouses nearby. Soon the M6, M25 and other motorways would be congested at 2am on a weekend; cars packed with friends and strangers, who were unwilling to call it a night, blindly following a like-minded convoy high on hope. The next day some of them were still so jubilant they spread the word to others through the combined mediums of photocopiers, stationery, stencils and youthful enthusiasm:
Hardcore Uproar – the team presumed to be behind this publication – were a prominent name at this time due to the Top 20 single by Together which borrowed their name for the title of their release after the duo had attended a rave in Nelson, Pendle, which saw thousands descend on an industrial estate to dance.
One eye-witness told me at the time there were hundreds of folk detained and strip-searched at the local police station…
Although the outdoor party scene was perhaps never as notorious/high-profile or indeed as successful afterwards, people were now defining themselves as ‘clubbers’ (for the majority of them the first time they’d taken on that identity).
It became integral to coo over lasers and primitive roboscans whilst kicking up a cloud of concrete dust in a vast hanger filled with whiffs of amyl nitrate and beer fumes, strawberry dry ice and Red Leb weed. The huggers who had taken Ecstasy mingled with older speed heads glad to have music with a suitably fast BPM and (often) black musical content that wasn’t Northern Soul; the single and double-dipping acid heads lapped up the Bart Simpsons, Ohms, and Strawberry tabs. Tarmackers, roofers, brickies, reprobates and students under one roof united in the groove.
Even at the time, the pseudo hippy vibe of the content came over as cloying and a little artificial, but there was no denying the sense of change and novelty apparent in DIY publications like this and others, echoing the atmosphere witnessed in nightclubs night after night: Angels, Legends, Quadrant Park, Monroes, Shelleys and so on.
Leaving aside the derivative Timothy Leary-isms, there’s something very English, proudly Northern and quintessentially 90s about the content of Ear To The Ground. Amongst the endearing guff over ‘a new dawn’ of music and culture and some buoyant baiting of ineffective police forces, there’s some decent content on politics, the Strangeways prison riots and a forthright and heart-felt piece on animal rights. And this:
… a board game which mirrored the process of leaving the club, waiting for a convoy of cars to drive off in search of a party, avoiding the police and roadblocks before reaching the hallowed destination. Who knows the number of spliff-filled hours that were spent on this?
Nearly thirty years later, everything just listed above has inevitably changed: music, technology, society, partying. And the drugs presumably.
Those piano tunes were +8d enough to form a constituent part of hardcore and early breakbeat. Back at home, babies were born and decks were consigned to the attic or spare room; once-prized vinyl withered alone. Club culture emerged: ditching the Kickers shoes and ‘curtains’ hair styles for neon-bright fancy dress, horse tranquilisers and day-glo sticks. In a distant land EDM was christened as the new movement and Paul Oakenfold ‘played’ Stonehenge. It seemed something had been lost both socially and individually.
It’s doubtful that anyone would spend their leisure time making a board game or patching together an A4 paper zine when you can sit at home and check an (often admittedly quality) Boiler Room set on your phone. Indeed, there is now an excellent on-line bank of nostalgia for aged clubbers keen to reminisce over the time they dropped their Lucozade when Sasha dropped Last Rhythm as his ‘end of night’ tune.
But the recent rage of Londoners and others over nightclub closures in the capital and further afield in the UK; the mass protests concerning Brexshit and the call for another referendum combining intelligent and assertive confrontation with wry, humorous expression; the recent worldwide debate over BDS and anti-Israeli boycotts; continuing debate at all levels of British society concerning issues such as fracking, the British identity and the crippling austerity drive of the last few years… perhaps there is still that same defiance and individuality present within us, ready to be united in a single cause, to come out en-masse and express ourselves?