Raving (worldwide)

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Raving (worldwide) 🌍
Location: Worldwide
World map.png
Definition: Attending an unauthorised all-night dance party (a rave), featuring electronic music and consumption of psychedelic drugs
secret shadow economy drugs entertainment social media leisure music evasion non-conformism cultural resistance
Author: Aljona Altuhhova
Affiliation: Alumna of School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

By Aljona Altuhhova, Alumna of School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

Raving refers to attending an unauthorised all-night dance party (a rave), featuring electronic music and consumption of psychedelic drugs. Rave is a shortened version of ‘rave-up’, a term for a wild party.

The practice of raving emerged during the conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the USA in the 1980s (Anderson and Kavanaugh 2007: 501). Since then, the idea of gathering free from restrictions has spread internationally. Rave parties take place in urban and rural settings, typically in abandoned warehouses or open fields and forests (Vice staff 2016). Locations of raves are kept in secret, as the venues are unlicensed and their organisation is highly informal. In the 1990s, raves were made illegal in the UK, and the organisation of such events, as well as participation in them, may result in criminal charges (HM Government 1994).

As a leisure activity, raving is similar to clubbing and attending Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festivals (Mugan 2012). EDM events and rave parties have a lot in common: the musical genre, its massive attendance, the open-air or countryside location and the emphasis on decorations such as elaborate visual media (e.g. graphic projections and laser shows) and paraphernalia like UV lamps, glow sticks and LED-embedded gloves, intended to enhance the partygoers’ experience (Weinel 2018: 131-4). However, EDM festivals and night clubs are authorised to run their events and operate within the limits of legality. They are publicly promoted and taxed according to the laws on entrepreneurial activity. Raves, to the contrary, are non-authorised initiatives and the earnings, associated with them, belong to the realm of the shadow economy.

Keeping locations of raves secret allows the organisers to avoid police intervention. Early raves were promoted via flyers and word-of-mouth. Today, information on upcoming raves is circulated on Facebook and other social media (Rosca 2014). This method enables the organisers to estimate the number of attendees and supply sufficient amount of alcohol and balloons filled with nitrous oxide (‘laughing gas’) (Rosca 2014). When inhaled, the gas induces a short-lasting euphoria. Large canisters from which the drug is dispensed are typically stolen from medical facilities (Perry 2017). Raves are also associated with the use of drugs like MDMA ('ecstasy') that amplify the sensorial experience and boost energy levels. The close connection of rave culture with drug consumption is the most controversial issue associated with raves in public debates, particularly in the light of accidental deaths from overdose, dehydration, or intake of impure drugs. In the UK, the moral panic around the practice of raving was driven by the tabloid media since the 1980s with an explicitly negative coverage of the issues and misleading headlines (Critcher 2000: 148-9), for example ‘A new threat to British Youth: Acid house is a façade for dealing drugs of the worst sort on a massive scale’ from the Daily Mail (Colin 2009).

The most drastic legal measures against raving were taken in the UK, where raves were criminalised by being included in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994. The act provides police with powers to disrupt and dismantle raves and contains a definition of music normally played at raves as ‘sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of repetitive beats’ (HM Government 1994). In the US, raves were criminalised indirectly on the federal level with the introduction of Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act in 2003 (Congress 2003) and are more specifically regulated at local level through ordinances (Tepper 2009: 287). In Toronto, Canada, a ban on raves in 2000 led to street protests which helped lift the ban shortly after (CBC news 2000). In many countries raves are not regulated specifically, but several areas of legislation, for instance drug trafficking or noise nuisance, apply to raves. Even though raves are not explicitly illegal in Russia, rave organisers choose remote forest locations for the events to avoid confrontations with the police (Afisha Daily 2015). In Iran electronic music is considered Western and was banned in 2005 (Deutsche Welle 2016), so small raves take place in remote desert locations.

At least two disciplines have given attention to raving. Public health studies have focused on the consumption of drugs and its quantitative analysis (Mohr et al. 2015; Adlaf and Smart 1997). Cultural studies have emphasised the cultural aspects of raving such as ethos, experience and its role in marking identity (Anderson and Kavanaugh 2007: 501). Issues associates with raving are easy to articulate but challenging to research due to the worldwide spread and clandestine nature of the phenomenon.


Adlaf, E. and Smart, R. 1997. ‘Party Subculture or Dens of Doom? An Epidemiological Study of Rave Attendance and Drug Use Patterns Among Adolescent Students’, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 29 (2): 193-8

Afisha Daily. 2015. ‘Svora, Sisto, PZDC i drugie: kto, kak i zachem delaet nelegal’nye reivy’, Afisha Daily, 23 January, https://daily.afisha.ru/archive/volna/context/svora-systo-pzdc-i-drugie-kto-kak-i-zachem-delaet-nelegalnye-reyvy/

Anderson, T. and Kavanaugh, P. 2007. ‘A “Rave” Review: Conceptual Interests and analytical Shifts in Research on Rave Culture’, Sociology Compass, 1 (2): 499-519

CBC News. 2000. ‘Party on Toronto lifts ban on raves’, CBC News, 3 August

Collin, M. 2009. Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House. London: Serpent’s Tail

Critcher, C. 2000. ‘”Still Raving”: Social Reaction to Ecstasy’, Leisure Studies, 19 (3): 145-62

Deutsche Welle. 2016. ‘How a German filmmaker secretly captured Iran’s illegal techno scene’, Deutsche Welle, 22 September, http://www.dw.com/en/how-a-german-filmmaker-secretly-captured-irans-illegal-techno-scene/a-19563632

HM Government. 1994. Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 c.33 Part V s.63, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1994/33/part/V/crossheading/powers-in-relation-to-raves

Mohr, A. et al. 2015. ‘Recreational drug use trends and emerging analytes identified in blood, urine, and/or oral fluid from attendees at an electronic dance music festival’, Center for Forensic Science Research & Education, https://www.forensicscienceeducation.org/forensic-research/toxicology/novel-psychoactive-drugs/

Mugan, C. 2012. ‘Rave On: The rave culture of the late Eighties still affects clubbing today’, The Independent, 20 August

Perry, K. 2017. ‘Inside the Criminal Trend of Stealing Laughing Gas from Hospitals’, Vice, 8 February, https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/vvzpd9/inside-the-criminal-trend-of-stealing-laughing-gas-from-hospitals

Rosca, M. 2014. ‘Illegal raves: social media messages bring in a new generation of partygoers’, The Guardian, 16 April

Congress. 2003. S-226 – Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003, https://www.congress.gov/bill/108th-congress/senate-bill/226/text

Vice staff. 2016. ‘Britain’s Illegal Rave Renaissance: LOCKED OFF’, Vice, 23 May, https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/mvkqqv/locked-off

Weinel, J. 2018. Inner Sound: Altered States of Consciousness in Electronic Music and Audio-Visual Media. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Further Reading

McKay, G. (ed.) 1998. DiY Culture: Party & Protest in Nineties Britain. London: Verso

O’Grady, A. 2012. ‘Spaces of Play: The Spatial Dimensions of Underground Club Culture and Locating the Subjunctive’, Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, 4(1): 86-106

Ott, B. and Herman, B. 2003. ‘Mixed Messages: Resistance and Reappropriation in Rave Culture’, Western Journal of Communication, 67(3): 249-70

Riley, S., More, Y. and Griffin, C. 2010. ‘The “pleasure citizen” Analyzing partying as a form of social and political participation’, Young, 18(1): 33-54

Tepper, S. ‘Stop the Beat: Quiet Regulation and Cultural Conflict’, Sociological Forum, 24 (2): 276-306