Jessica Bateman, IP1 Magazine, Issue 22, 2007
‘Rave’ culture hit the headlines again last summer when a party in East Anglia came to a head over the bank holiday weekend amidst violent clashes with police. News reports stated that officers were deployed from four forces to break up the party and 35 arrests were made. Predictably, much media coverage fell into the old tut-tutting, hand-wringing trap; focusing on the disturbance and moralising about the actions of wayward youngsters. Indeed, the whole scene has attracted a bad reputation thanks to media associations with heavy drug use, police crackdowns and reports that parties disturb local residents and damage the countryside. The Criminal Justice Act and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, as well as the legendary police raids of the 1990s, mean that the voices of those who organise and attend such events are labelled as ‘troublemakers’ and have their voices silenced.
Many involved in the scene, far from wanting to cause disturbance, believe illegal gatherings provide an essential space for experimentation in music, art and creativity that is unavailable in much of mainstream society. Even the word ‘rave’ has been rejected by some due to its dodgy connotations and the term ‘free party’ adopted instead. This does not necessarily mean they are free to attend, as small donations are often asked for, but refers to the fact that these events are ‘free’ from the restrictions of regular nightclubs and venues. The fact remains that, no matter how pure promoters’ and artists’ intentions, any event held in a licensed venue will be subject to commercial interests. A venue owner’s top priority is how many people the night will bring through the door, how much alcohol will be sold and how much money they will make. Any promoter trying to take a few risks with their night may find themselves up against a brick wall in a small town like Ipswich, where venue owners shy away from anything other than the same tried-&-tested formula. In contrast, free parties provide a space where money has little influence over the festivities. Organisers have the freedom to experiment with their line-ups and showcase an eclectic range of music and genres without worrying about how many wads are going into the landlord’s grubby pockets. It is also not uncommon for these events to also feature visual art, performances and film, either in separate ‘gallery’ spaces or combined with the music. These unmonitored, not-for-profit spaces provide an environment where creative individuals can experiment and evolve away from the restrictions that would normally be imposed on them.
One group of individuals hoping to bring some of the free party ethos to the area are Bad Sekta. Technically a record label, they operate more as a collective than a business venture, meaning that money is secondary to the cause and everyone helps out and contributes in many ways. Will, Bad Sekta’s founder, started up the project a few years ago when he was going to a lot of free parties and gigs in London, where he met lots of people making great tunes that no one ever heard. “I was buying lots of records by ‘name’ people every week and thought a lot of them weren’t as good as my mate’s tracks”, he says. “Seeing as I enjoy working on anything creative (it keeps me out of trouble for a start!) I thought ‘fuck it’ and decided to start Bad Sekta.”
Bad Sekta showcases experimental electronic music from genres that have grown and developed out of the free party scene. Fusing elements of Drum’n’Bass, Techno, Hardcore and Industrial, as well as a hefty dose of experimentation; non-commercial styles of music have been able to flourish in the free party environment and Will aims to bring some of these artists to the ear of those who’d normally pass them by. In keeping with the DIY ethos of the free party scene, Will and some others created 600 CDRs by hand of their Various Autists 2 release. They also released a DVD earlier this year, with plans for some more in the future, and this Easter will put out their first proper album by the artist Stitch.
Unsurprisingly, the musical democracy of the Internet has played a large part in the label’s development, with the website hosting music, videos and various artwork. They also host regular web radio broadcasts on illfm.net. With many of Bad Sekta’s crew originating from around Colchester and Ipswich, they are planning a series of events to bring their sound here from the capital. Expect to see appearances from artists such as Machinochrist, DJ Richard Hillman, Stitch, Lastboss and Zeropointenergy, as well as a whole host of others (see: www.badsekta.com for up-to-date info). Any prospective attendees needn’t worry about any brushes with the law – even though they are rooted in the free party scene, these parties will be strictly by the book.
With recent events such as The Big Vent electronica festival a going off with a bang, can we expect to see Ipswich embracing more diverse styles of live music? “There doesn’t seem to be much of a ‘scene’ around here at the moment” says Will “but we hope to help build one.”