Acid House restrictions in Britain in the late 1980s/early 90s (1991)


While Censorship raged through America at the end of the last decade, restrictions of a different kind were being enforced here in Britain. Private parties were being raided by police, and it is believed that two hundred people were being arrested every weekend for nothing more than … dancing! One example of this was New Year’s Eve 1990 when young Germans gathered at the ruins of the Berlin Wall to celebrate a new decade of freedom. Young people in London doing the same thing were prevented by police and politicians.

The Birth of Acid House

The root of this clampdown can be traced back to 1987 when Chicago duo Phuture released an album called Acid Trax creating a new culture known as Acid House, defined as “Cheap synthesizer sounds, fluctuating basslines and minimal vocals. The fashion caught on, creating a market boom in Acid House music, T-shirts, badges etc. People danced to it in specialist nightclubs, it filled the pop charts, and the Second Summer of Love got underway in the wake of the new lifestyle, attitude and culture that had been established. At this time over a third of 15-19 year olds claimed their favourite music to be Acid House and £3 million was being spent every month on House albums. And then it all went wrong.

The Media Intervenes

The press decided that Acid House culture was a repeat of the drug-crazed ideas of the Sixties and that the Trance Dance characteristic of Acid House was drug-induced. Misconceptions were aroused that the term “Acid” actually referred to a drug, despite the words from D-Mob’s acid house anthem We Call It Acieeed that go

If you thought it was a drug
Now you know you’re wrong
You hear it in Phuture, Shoom and Spectrum.
We call it Acieeed.

Phuture, Shoom and Spectrum were three London nightclubs where Acid House began. The drug called Ecstasy began to be linked to the scene, and following an ill-informed education from the media, the government began its attack on Acid House, and people’s right to dance.

Laws were passed restricting the right to party, clubs had to close at embarrassingly early hours, T-shirts were banned from Top Shop, party organisers were persecuted by the police, and Radio One and Top of the Pops, the main sources of radio and TV airplay, refused to play certain Acid House tracks.

Legal Battles

On November 4th 1988 the police raided two separate boat parties in Greenwich, making eighteen arrests. Nine were charged or convicted, including Clive Reynolds, who was found in possession of 58 tabs of Ecstasy. The organisers of the parties were worse off than him, Robert Darby and Leslie Thomas sentenced to ten and six years respectively for ”conspiring to manage premises where drugs were supplied.” On January 9th 1990, the man in charge of the convictions, Det. Chief Inspector Albert Patrick appeared on TV’s ”Thames Report” saying that it was an excellent result, and was the first of its kind in this country. But there is room to doubt this statement. Was Robert Darby’s crime greater than that of the drug dealers, or even the rapists, muggers and child molesters who often get leaner sentences?

Since the Greenwich incident, police presence has been more frequent especially throughout 1990. They have been known to set up roadblocks on motorway turnoffs to prevent both party goers and families returning from holidays from passing through. They have also been known to drag security men and party organisers from their cars at home, none of whom can be legally arrested before an illegal party has taken place. Parties have continued to go ahead, just as the police have continued to attend and arrest.

Diary of Events 1990

March 1990 – A riot broke out at a warehouse in Nelson, Lancashire when police raided a party of 4000. One or two people were arrested, many were taken to hospital. Less than three months later, 231 people were arrested and 700 more were questioned by police at a party under the M1 motorway near Wakefield. None were charged.

22nd July – 836 people were arrested at a party near Leeds. Three policemen and just as many partygoers were admitted to hospital. Eight people were charged and complaints were filed against the police for brutality.

29th July – 5th August   – Parties were stopped at Leeds, Wakefield, Garforth and other places around the country. A total of eight people were arrested.

12th August – 27 people were arrested at a stopped party in Chester, 25 in Carlisle. The Sun runs an article ”ACID YOBS IN RIOT.”

It has become evident that the police have no authority to erect roadblocks to prevent partygoers, and mass arrest is acceptable only when there is reasonable suspicion that a criminal offence is being committed. Many of these Acid House ravers believe that the police’s priority should be the policing of violent crimes and burglary etc. and not of people trying to enjoy themselves. But party people are not bowing to pressure. The Freedom to Party Movement has been established and is taken particularly seriously in the North. Martin Lever says that “We won’t be denied the right to dance. I’m going to go again. They’re not going to stop me. If I want to walk into a warehouse and dance, I will!”

“This is a democracy!”

The fight for the right to party goes on.

Further listening

Further reading

  • “Music Censorship “- Tony Fletcher (From SKY Magazine November 1990)
  • “Whose Law?” – Dominique Harvey(From RAVE-The Dancefloor Magazine 11th September 1990)
  • “Party Politics ” – Sherryl Garratt And Chris Taggart (From The Face February 1990)
  • “HOUSE” – Sherryl Garratt (From The Face September 1988)
  • “Bombs Away ” – Robin Smith (From Record Mirror 2nd February 1991)
  • Class of 88: The True Acid House Experience – Wayne Anthony
  • Extracts from Playboy, In Bed With Madonna and MTV‘s Year in Rock 1990