Much has been written and debated over the years about just why the concept of a ‘free’ party was so important. Much more than simply the absence of an entrance cost, the ‘free’ prefix alluded to the whole history of alternative philosophies, a summary of events stretching back to pre-history where the constraints of a modern, regulated society did not apply. Resuscitated in the age of hippydom, ‘free festivals’ indicated liberation, temporary elusion from the binds of convention and commercialism. A ‘free party’ became so much more than simply a rave without a ticket price, it lay outside the legal reach of the police or the local authorities, it allowed individuals to trade for no profit and permitted them to interact in a radical collectivist way, wandering through fields at dawn with time to really talk. In the many debates over what constituted the first real free party, some have suggested conventional club nights or events for which no payment was demanded but I think that this is perhaps to miss the point; such an event may be free of charge but still fits within the infrastructure of four walls, security, licensing laws or a two o’clock finish.
However one defines a free party, we were definitely now doing them regularly and had all the ingredients necessary to continue, which we did with relish. For the remainder of the summer of 1991, we were aware of free festivals happening across the south of England but decided we preferred to party in Derbyshire; we few, we happy few, we band of brothers and sisters. On reflection, Moreton Lighthouse had spiralled so out of control and freaked so many people out that big festivals began to feel more like growing collective madness where there was a strong possibility of either getting mugged or arrested, where vehicles and sound systems might get trashed or impounded and, worst of all, the party might not happen. Over the next few months, free festivals occurred in Bala (Happy Daze), Cornwall (White Goddess), Hampshire (Torpedo Town) and big free parties mushroomed across London, mostly featuring Spiral Tribe and Bedlam, the two best known of the emerging techno free party rigs. DiY, however, were locked into our own growing scene, it just felt incredibly special and fresh, getting away with parties every weekend and relieved not to have to book another Luton van and head south with all our kit into unknown madness. Driving through police roadblocks had undeniably been fun but I’d rather not have to do it every weekend. That was until we took a call from Dangerous Dave, informing us that the Free Party People had discovered a choice site near Wedmore in Somerset and would we like to bring Black Box and DJ’s down over the bank holiday weekend? Well, yes, of course we would.
Held over the long weekend of the last Saturday in August, 1991, the Wedmore party was probably the most archetypal and classic free party we ever did. As ever, the FPP had done a fabulous job on the infrastructure. A perfect marquee was in place when my carload arrived on the Saturday evening, again with tank nettings, backdrops and endless banners flying in the glorious Somerset sun. A truly amazing lightshow was in place thanks to Dave and Moffball, Rob would bring more, there may even have been a laser. There was still a real innocence to free parties at that point, it all seemed so full of possibility and beauty and, as with all innovative scenes, it truly felt like this would go on forever. Who could not love this synthesis of house music, ecstasy and the timeless wonder of the English countryside. As I recall, Jack and Simon had arrived ready to DJ. I watched in awe as Dave wrestled a malfunctioning generator, in flames, to the floor before it kicked itself out of his grip and jumped insanely across the grass, for all the world like a petrol-driven bronco spitting fire, which explained clearly to me how he had earned the soubriquet ‘Dangerous’.
In those halcyon days we always seemed to have the gods, the old ones, behind us and soon another generator was found. Everything ready for the perfect rave except one thing. The Luton van, driven by Rick and containing our somewhat essential sound system, was nowhere to be seen.