Well hello there! Rave memories, fuck. I kind of don’t remember what it’s like to be in a club anymore, although actually thinking about it, raves have always been such an alien realm, so separate from the rest of the world that it’s hard to perceive those memories with any clarity when a week has passed, let alone a year.
I’ve spent a lot of 2021 thinking about the next rave, wondering when it might be, daydreaming about what the music might be like, fueled by Joe Muggs’s oral history of soundsystem culture, Bass, Mids, Tops;
‘Those long, deep vibrations of air delineate a space in three dimensions, creating one of the most basic dividers between being within and without a musical experience… “if your chest ain’t rattling, it ain’t happening” used to be the slogan of Bristol club Subloaded.’
This consistent drifting of my thoughts toward future raves, this habit isn’t new for me; the intensity has increased or decreased at points, but raves have occupied a central space in my mind since the summer of 2014.
I had been to festivals and clubs before that summer, but it wasn’t until I turned 19 that I started to experience ‘proper’ raves. This was a bit late; from the age of 18 I studied in Bristol, one of the UK’s dance music capitols, but I was held back by a desire to – for once in my life – be good at a sport. I chose the one sport that a dyspraxic, uncoordinated, tall guy like me could excel in; rowing. I would later realize that the real reason I wanted to do this was to prove that I was a boy, to silence the bullies in my past and join the same culture that had previously shunned me, hence my willingness to devote enormous amounts of time to this sport. It was a whole thang.
Once that year was over I quit rowing, moved into a house with 4 girls and one guy, and started raving every weekend or so. It was glorious. The highlights of that first year dancing in Bristol included Nightslugs, Koan Sound, Ryan Hemsworth, Joker, Breakage and Justin Martin. There was a single night at London’s fabric where I saw Deadboy, JME & Skepta (absolutely perfect), alongside Moxie and Barely Legal, the first of many times I would be blown away by the latter DJs, as both have carved out their niche in the years since. It was so great, so vibrant. One of my favourite things about those nights was the natural friendships formed with people I barely knew beforehand, people I’d automatically hang out with once in the club, despite arriving with different groups. These friendships gradually spilled into the outside world, to the extent that in 2022 I will be officiating the wedding between two of these friends.
The most important club by far in this whole process was Motion, the enormous multi-room warehouse whose cavernous main room is about 3 or 4 stories tall. I loved the high stakes of that main room, watching DJs playing to a thousand odd people on the main dancefloor, looking down at the pulsating throng from its balcony. When I wasn’t in the club, my fantasies were clarified by Andrew Holleran’s Dancer From The Dance, a novel about gay 1970s New York, written by a member of said scene, a frequenter of the bath-houses where young black DJs created the beginnings of House music. The book’s descriptions of sensuous, classless dancefloors intertwined with my Motion memories, memories of gazing down from that balcony;
Their true lives began when they walked through this door – and were baptized into a deeper faith, as if brought to life by miraculous immersion.
So yeah, I had a lot of fun, an embarrassment of riches. I had these massive, super-comfy over-ear studio headphones that I wore all the time, not much bass but massive, immersive detail, which contributed towards me finding ‘my’ DJs; Shanti Celeste, Benji B, Moxie, and most importantly Annie Mac. Annie wasn’t my club DJ, she was my radio DJ, her Sunday night Radio 1 show was essential in clarifying my tastes, setting me up to coin the term ‘Out Of Body Pop’ to describe the music I love most.
Anyway, this has all been building towards one rave memory that I knew I had to share, a single DJ set that stood head and shoulders above the rest; Bonobo, playing room 1 in Motion, for 2 hours.
Bonobo isn’t one of my favourite DJs I’ll occasionally fall for a particular track from one of his mixes (eg this utter beauty by Tsha), but he’s sometimes a liiiittle too placid for me. However, this set was absolutely priceless, an absolute emotional journey through brittle drums, soft chords and intense dovetail of both sadness and euphoria. My favourite moments were tracks that I had already heard before, and yet totally caught me off guard in how much sense they made, perfect apexes in a richly textured sea of noise.
The biggest moment was doubtlessly Looped by Kiasmos, I can still see my mate’s joyous eyes when we realized what it was. We had seen Kiasmos live at Sonar festival the previous year, their signature dark cloud animations slid in through our memories and that intense, melancholy track, softening Motion’s grand, dramatic main room, encouraging us to look back on the dancefloor with fresh eyes, to really appreciate the company of these other vulnerable dancers. Looking back on it now, it reminds me of the Annie Mac Presents 2014 compilation my brother bought me for Christmas, whose last pair of tracks is Falling Short by Lapsley, which gradually transitions into Can’t Do Without You by Caribou after 2 minutes of resounding sadness. I’ve always loved beautiful depressing music, in fact I wrote an article about it when I was 18, using London Grammar as my primary example, so naturally hearing Bonobo play out his remix of Hey Now activated my innermost emotions. Still waiting for someone to do a UKG Phoebe Bridgers remix, come on brethren let’s sort it out.
But yeah it wasn’t all wide eyes and thoughts of exes, there was plenty of straight up dans dans. I got to hear my beloved Nuits Sonores by Floating Points, though my second favourite moment of the night was Piano Weapon (instrumental) by Shadow Child & Doorly, a very simple, direct piece of euphoric House music, very few elements but perfectly measured out to make for a perfect, groundshaking peak-time moment. Oh also Nyiduonge Drums by Owiny Sigoma Band, I think that was early on in the set, another rave track with one foot in the synthetic (rude garage bassline, creeping submarine pulses) and one in the organic (playful hand-drum samples). Perfect.
And that's what I remember of it, the tunes that I had on repeat afterwards. Googling images for this article lead to me a review, which told me that the set opened with Bonobo's own Kiara, also including his at-the-time unreleased Outlier, and Zed Bias' Ye. So there you go. A beautiful night.