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Behind the Decks: Unpacking the Gentrification of Rave Culture and Youth Entrepreneurship

Photo by Angelina Bengady

Rave culture used to be about music and community, and served as an accessible leisure that was unpoliced, unadulterated and undiluted. Now, the scene has changed. 

Today, the rise in DJs and ‘rave collectives’ run by young people has created a shift towards an environment very similar to clubbing just with more EDM and ketamine. So why the sudden change? Why are young people turning to DJing and running raves? In an effort to genuinely get to the bottom of the gentrification of rave culture, I’ve talked to and been amongst the underground scene from within. Even though becoming a successful DJ and creating my own rave collective to see what it’s like would probably produce a better article, not everyone is fortunate enough to have a trust fund they can dip into for a fun night out.

The inception of raves originally began in the 1980s with the arrival of electronic music such as techno and house music, coupled by the rise of illegal drugs such as MDMA. This hedonistic period soon became dubbed the ‘Second Summer of Love’, becoming like a sanctuary for many working-class youths to temporarily escape reality. Later, these illegal free parties would mostly be replaced with legal club nights such as Ministry of Sound hosting DnB nights. 

But now a slight in-between of these has emerged, with young people hosting ‘raves’ but instead of free parties that typically squatted and were classed as free from the regulations of the clubbing scene, they are more like club nights with paid tickets, advertising in advance, bars and hosted in club venues where rules still apply. These raves are hosted by rave collectives or a group of young people who come together and fully fund and organise these nights, becoming much like small business owners. Often expensive to host, these events are usually planned by the children of the upper middle class who can afford to pay upfront for various DJs, venues and other fees and because rave collectives are usually promoted through social media and friends, the attendees are usually part of the same social circles. 

This shift in scene, whilst not necessarily a negative, does make you wonder if you can still define it as a rave when the only thing that remains is the music. It's unclear why people would choose to put in so much work just for a few nights and without much financial gain but it seems to be the case that maybe because they have no real worry of financial loss, they can simply enjoy gaining the skills of hosting an event and feeling like an artist does when hosting a concert. Similarly, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieau’s biting theory suggests that taste, rather than being natural or innate, is constructed and consolidated through class relations: “middle-class taste is the product of material conditions of existence defined by the distance from necessity itself”. Music is in many ways like a necessity that everyone should in some way have access to, yet is more easily accessible to some; and those who have access to it have the power to create different means to experience it in a more materialistic fashion. Through this interference, the original spirit of rave culture, which used to be a pure way of doing things where profit isn’t involved, seems more distant now.

The rise in rave collectives goes hand in hand with the rise of DJing. Given that the market for DJs has become so densely saturated and competition to become a successful DJ in Britain is difficult, why has everyone suddenly picked up this hobby? Indeed, it’s an accessible and easy hobby to start in your room that allows anyone with decks to become a one-person party. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity for DJs to create an experience and environment for others, much like the owners of these rave collectives. When you play just the right mix and the crowd (even if it’s mostly your whole Instagram following list) goes crazy, it feels like you’ve accomplished something. That DJing electronic music no longer exists just in the rave community transcends its borders to festivals and major events. People have begun going to these events to see specific DJs much like they would with concerts, with popular Boiler room events featuring the likes of Nia Archives and Sammy Virji playing at various festivals such as Reading 2023. The commodification of rave culture through the making of DJs into artists takes away from its original purpose to bring people together, in a place with fewer regulations and different music. 

From a less cynical perspective, however, the element of networking amongst creatives continues to be a key part of rave culture, offering a fun way for like-minded people to unite through their love of music and the arts. Recently I attended a rave in an old bank vault run by PMAD, which had an interesting concept of having separate areas for showcasing installation art, a communication space and the main room playing techno and trance. This meant people could interact with each other and create connections in between enjoying the musical aspect as well which provides a glimmer of hope for the future. 

Overall, the evolution of the rave scene from its origins as a music and community-driven subculture to its current state characterised by commercialisation reflects broader shifts within society. The emergence of rave collectives and the increase in DJing amongst young people signify a desire for creative expression and a feeling of ownership over nightlife experiences. However, this transformation also raises questions about the authenticity and accessibility of contemporary rave culture as it becomes increasingly materialistic and exclusive. While the spirit of raving continues through a shared love of music, the dynamics of contemporary raves highlight the complex relationship between individual creativity and financial privilege paired with the commercialisation of underground movements.


Edited by Akane Hayashi, Music Editor


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