The Free Party concept was born in the UK. It was the result of a synergy between New Age travelers (an alternative movement of nomads), squatters encouraged by Thatcher's repression to leave the cities, along with clubbers frustrated by the closure of clubs.
However, few would contest that the drug Ecstasy was a major catalyst for what quickly grew into a strong social movement. Ecstasy (MDMA being the active compound) was first introduced to the UK in the mid-1980s. It’s use soon became endemic in the UK's nightclub circuit and, fuelled by this new social lubricant, huge parties began to take place outdoors and in unlicensed premises, often attracting many thousands of travelers at a time. The term 'Rave' was born.
Between 1988 and 1990, acid house becomes ever more popular and clubs are targeted for repression. The first rave sound-systems leave the cities and their raver-followers meet the travelers at the big summer festivals. The first collaboration takes place at the Glastonbury festival in 1989.
Although at the time they were the crew to receive the most public attention and recognition for their free party activities, the faceless collective known as Spiral Tribe were shrouded in mystery (in fact, they still are today). The group spearheaded the movement in the early 1990s, with their mantra emblazoned on their music recordings: 'free party, free people, free future'. Following the infamous Castlemorten festival (see below), for which they admitted accountability, the Tribe were 'run out of town' by the authorities, with many members relocating abroad spreading the free-party movement across Europe. (in ’94 they founded the label Network 23 ).
Spiral Tribe were just one piece of the chaotic jigsaw. At the same time Nottingham's DiY collective were running huge outdoor parties in the Nottingham and Derbyshire countryside, with their policy of playing house music providing a contrasting angle to the militant techno stance of Spiral Tribe. Other pioneers at the time included London's Bedlam and Liberator crews, Luton's Exodus and Scotland's Desert Storm. Desert Storm, who created nodes of resistance in Glasgow, Manchester and Nottingham, became well-known in the underground media, having taken their sound system - along with aid - to war-torn Bosnia. The Exodus collective, formed in Luton in 1992, encapsulated the community ethos of the scene directly by not only putting on massive free parties locally but also kick-starting social initiatives in the area, such as shelter for the homeless and community farming projects.
In May 1992 a week-long free festival at Castlemorten in Worcestershire became a pivotal point in the history of the free party movement. Later to be dubbed the first ever Teknival, 25,000 people partied at the foot of the Malvern Hills, hitting the headlines and driving the whole counterculture into the consciousness of the populace. The ramifications of the gathering soon became apparent: responding to complaints from residents and landowners both in the Castlemorten area and other places that had played host to similar events, the government passed legislative action in the form of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act (CJA).
Civil liberties groups were outraged as the bill was being passed - legislation that not only outlawed the practise of throwing free parties with modern, amplified music, but also severely quashed the rights of travellers and squatters. The act made history by effectively banning unlicensed public amplification of music 'wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats', with sections 63-65 giving police powers to break up small gatherings of people they believed to be preparing for, waiting for or attending a rave.
Post implementation of the CJA, sound system culture spread like wildfire to the continent, with many pioneering party crews uprooting to Europe. In Britain the scene was driven deeper underground, as debatably heavy-handed tactics and the adoption of 'zero tolerance' policies from the police and authorities made putting on a party more difficult. Subsequently, many sound system members took to putting on events in nightclubs, raves crossed right over into the mainstream and the term 'raver' was surreptitiously replaced by 'clubber' (thanks to the commercially-led media). Festivals like Glastonbury - once strongholds of counterculture, and a significant factor in the party scene's evolution - became sanitised by the intervention of the media and corporate entities. A scene defined through breaking down the stereotype became bogged-down in inverse snobbery ('hey, you, with your nice new trainers') and elitism.
Throughout the last decade the free party scene continued to expand across Europe, with teknivals becoming annual events in places including Czech Republic, Holland and France.
Spiral Tribe was a free party soundsystem which existed in the first half of the 1990s. The group originated in west London and later travelled across Europe and North America. According to one member, the name came to him when he was at work, staring at a poster of the inter-connecting spirals in an ammonite shell. The group had a huge influence on the emerging free tekno subculture. Members of the collective released seminal records on their label,
Spiral Tribe was responsible for numerous parties in squatted locations and around the South of England including:
- October 1990 - first party organised by Spiral Tribe.
- July 1991 - displaced Stonehenge Solstice Free festival at Longstock
- August Bank holiday 1991 - a rave (the White Goddess festival) for 2 weeks on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, where they combined their sound system with Circus Normal (to achieve a sound system of over 25,000 watts RMS) receiving complaints from over 14 miles away. Despite police pressure they partied on until all of the partygoers went home. The event was organised along with a number of other soundsystems including Bedlam, Circus Warp and DIY.
- Christmas and New Years Eve 1991 - The Camden Round House, North London.
- February 1992 - Numbers Farm, Kings Langley, Hertfordshire.
- The Uni-Chem warehouse party Uxbridge - the police had to enter through the wall using a JCB digger as all the doors were locked at 9am Sunday morning to allow the party to continue for as long as possible. This was one of the stories contributing to their fame as a sound system.
- May 1992 - Castlemorton Common Festival free party.
- June 4 1992 - Party in Canada Square, next to Canary Wharf, London. About 1,000 people manage to dance for a little over an hour before 300 police seal off roads and move in to make arrests.
Twenty three members of the group were arrested immediately after the Castlemorton event and were subsequently charged under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Their trial became one of the longest running and most expensive cases in legal history, lasting four months and costing the UK tax payer £4 million.
In March 1994, after being acquitted of all charges relating to Castlemorton, the group moved to Europe, doing parties in cities such as Rotterdam, Paris and Berlin. Over the next few year, the collective organised parties and teknivals throughout Europe, then it slowly dispersed with some members taking up residence in Germany and Holland and releasing work on Labworks and many other techno labels. Individual members of the collective joined other sound systems, did squat art events or pursued other interests.
From the summer of 1994 a number of free parties were organised by Spiral Tribe members throughout Europe. When the parties were large festivals with an open invitation to other sound systems and artists to participate, they came to be known as teknivals. In tribute to this collective, the type of music predominately played at early teknivals came to be known as spiral tekno.Parties included the following:
- Montpellier, France. May 1, 1993.
- Paris, France. June 19, 1993.
- Berlin, German. June 26, 1993.
- Berlin, Germany. December 31, 1993 at the Tacheles squat.
- Hostomice, Czech Republic. July 28, 1994. First year of festival later known as CzechTek.
- Vienna, Austria. August 27, 1994.
- Vienna, Austria. December 31, 1994.
- CzechTek, Czech Republic. July 26, 1995.
- Rome, Italy. December 31, 1995.
- Milan, Italy. May 11, 1996.
- CzechTek, Czech Republic. July 26, 1996.
- Vienna, Austria. September 14, 1996.
- Prague, Czech Republic. November 30, 1996 at the Cibulka squat.
- Vienna, Austria. April 11, 1998.
- United States of America
Some members of Spiral Tribe toured the United States of America in 1997.
The number 23
From its inception, the group was obsessed by the number 23. Images for musical releases, posters, backdrops and flyers featured the number 23. Parties were often organised on the twenty third day of the month. Members sometimes recorded under the moniker of SP23 and of course the record label itself was called Network 23.
In 1992, some members of the collective signed to the major label Big Life, as a result of the publicity generated from their involvement in the organisation of the Castlemorton Common Festival. Three EPs were released and two albums, one merely a compilation of the tracks from the EPs, the other a full album entitledTekno Terra.
Members of Spiral Tribe also released records on their own highly influential label Network 23.
In 1997, Network 23 brokered a deal with Techno Import, a commercial distributor. A CD entitled Spiral Tribe The Sound of Teknival was advertised on television and sold at least 30,000 copies. This deal was not approved by members of Spiral Tribe, who made a statement which began ‘’F**k Techno Import’’ and had to take quick action to ensure the name Spiral Tribe was not copyrighted by Techno Import.
* It is our purpose to destroy the inertia that has been responsible for the demise of the life force on our planet. It's time to wake the planet up! (from Tekno Terra)
* Make some f**kin' noise! (from Breach the Peace)
* Spiral Tribe in the area (from numerous flyers)
* You might stop the party but you can't stop the future (from Forward the Revolution).
A DVD has been released called World Traveller Adventures in an echo of a track (World Traveller Adventurer) on an early Spiral Tribe record, Forward the Revolution. One of the four films, 23 Minute Warning (the name again taken from an early Spiral Tribe record, this time Breach The Peace features interviews with several members of the collective
In 2005, the label Network 23 Repress was set up to rerelease sought-after and still-played tracks from the Spiral Tribe back catalogue. Six records have so far been brought out in the series.
Teknivals (the word is a portmanteau of the words tekno and festival), are illegal free parties which take place in locations across Europe every summer. They vary in size depending on factors such as accessibility and reputation, with most increasing in fame (and therefore size) every year. The parties normally take place in venues far away from residential areas such as squatted warehouses, empty military bases, forests or fields. The teknival phenomenon is a grassroots movement which has grown out of the rave scene and spawned an entire subculture.
Teknival was started by the Spiral Tribe in the summer of ‘93, the first being held on the 23rd of July at Beauvais in northern France. The idea behind it , as the name suggests, is an independent free festival of techno music & art. The out-door - no door-policy means an open invitation for all to participate. As you would expect such a party principle proves very popular & the concept has spread Europe-wide, escalating on all fronts. Now across the summer you can find (if you know where to look) large numbers of sound systems hidden in the wilds, from Holland to Portugal, Wales to Czech.
Now as in the future, with the EEC’s new monolithic burocracy poised to take control & the power drunk capitalist system holding the world to ransom, Teknival has become something of a haven and testing ground for new ideas. It is a source of originality & potential as well as much needed point of multi-racial contact. Hounded by right-wing governmental policies it has, so far, survived, conceiving & nurturing many creative directions, Teknival is one of the very few free spaces left.
The teknival is a good example of what Hakim Bey has termed the Temporary Autonomous Zone. Anyone is welcome to enter the site, there is no ticket or fee. Normally any artist who turns up is encouraged to participate. Over the course of a few days the site can grow into a confusing village of sound systems, cafes, tents and vehicles.
Recreational drug use is common but by no means a prerequisite for entry. Drugs used include marijuana (weed, joints, chronic), ketamine, MDMA (esctasy), alcohol, amphetamine (speed), LSD and magic mushrooms.
At the teknival site one finds a mixed group of young people which may include students, tekno travellers, squatters and hippies, bonded together by their love for listening to free tekno 'sous les etoiles' (translation: 'under the stars') - as an early flyer proclaimed.
There is no coherent politics or philosophical stance represented by the teknival subculture, mainly due to the fact that emphasis is placed on individual freedom. Many young teknival goers are disillusioned with mainstream politics. Nevertheless, the parties themselves can be seen as a political statement and clashes with the police have mobilised some people to action. In April 2006 there was a march followed by a small teknival in Strasbourg, France to protest against police repression generally and more specifically against the closure of Czechtek in 2005.
As is normal in any subculture, a dress code has developed. This 'underground look' involves dark, baggy clothing (often ex-military) and extreme haircuts, such as dyed hair, dreadlocks or a shaved head (or a combination of the above). Body piercings and tattoos are common. People often buy large vehicles second-hand such as decommissioned , coaches or trucks. The vehicles are often primarily homes, lived in permanently or for a few months while travelling (see Irish Traveller). They are also used to transport sound equipment. The tekno traveller is also known as a New Age traveller.
As the teknival movement has grown bigger, attention from the police has increased. Teknivals will sometimes be stopped; each country has different attitudes and laws concerning teknivals. To stop a teknival, police will usually begin by asking the organisers to move on but they can resort to measures such as using tear gas and impounding sound systems, for example at Czechtek in 2005.
Teknivals still happen in Canada, Italy, Spain,Portugal, Poland, Bulgaria, Austria and Slovakia. In France amendments to a Public Safety bill were passed in 2001 giving the police similar powers to those exercised by the police in the United Kingdom under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 but the large size of the free tekno movement compels the government to permit three large teknivals every year: Paris (May), West (July) and South (August). Organisers have also used innovative tactics to allow the party to proceed, such as organising the party just over the border into other countries.