Perhaps no other decade has shaped our current lives in Britain as much as the 1980s. It was the era where the United Kingdom truly became divided – those living in London led completely different lives to those living in Yorkshire. Young men fresh out of university were scarcely seen without their mobile phones and briefcases in the capital, whereas those in the North were devastated by Margaret Thatcher’s ramshackle policies of deindustrialisation.
This imaginary line separating the country represented two polarising experiences for young people in Britain: one end was flush with cash, – the other was worse-off than they had ever been before. Britain had triumphed individual prosperity above all other principles, and one young man’s golden age was another’s worst nightmare.
There just wasn’t much to do in large parts of the country. Many people were out of work and out of money – and feeling of boredom festered itself deep within the minds of young people. Needing release, those with nothing but time on their hands needed catharsis.
Football hooliganism served as an outlet for many. After all, the country was strongly divided politically, and the fighting gave many an avenue to express their anger towards society. In 1985, English teams were banned from European competition after an incident at Heysel Stadium where 39 Juventus fans were killed during a riot. The government was powerless containing the fights – and no amount of security personnel or government legislation seemed to have any effect. The decade would be dominated by the degeneracy of the national sport – fights were seemingly happening every week. Hooligan firms such as West Ham’s Inner City Firm and Hibernian’s Capital City Service were at their zenith, and football would not clean up its image until well into the next decade.
Whilst the football world was busy knocking each others’ teeth out – the pop music landscape of the time told a much different story. Jason Donovan was the biggest selling artist of 1989, selling out concerts in a heartbeat to his screaming teenage fans. He had the machine behind him, as he perfectly captured the family image, and his sanitized, non-threatening discography made him a favorite of corporate record labels. Kylie Minogue was another favorite – and the two starred in the sitcom Neighbours which was pulling in millions of viewers a week.
Underground, however, there was a secret new scene brewing. This scene was unknown to the record charts – and was, at the time, the nation’s best-kept secret. House music had arrived from Chicago some years before and had acquired a substantial following. At 120 beats-per-minute, it served as perfect dance material- especially when Ecstasy was taken along with it. Like the psychedelic rock and LSD from twenty years before, the music (and drug) had captured the imaginations of young people – call it Mandy, Molly, MDMA, Vitamin E, X or any other name, the effects of the drug were universally appreciated. For a few, lip-biting, eye-rolling hours, the music seemed to come alive – it didn’t matter whether you were a Chelsea fan or an Arsenal fan, or a Tory voter or a Labour voter, the experience of Ecstasy was always one that built itself and unity and acceptance. Much like their once-Hippie parents, young people were founding a musical and chemical revolution. By the summer of 1989, a new, unprecedented movement was underway right under the nation’s feet.
The Second Summer of Love
The flowers at the Chelsea Flower Show wilted in the heat. A perpetual blue sky reigned over the United Kingdom, upon which shone a bright, beaming sun. It was one of the warmest summers on record – kicked off by the hottest May in 300 years. There was a new, unseen phenomenon taking place behind the glossy facade of British music, attracting with it an army of sweat-drenched, saucer-eyed enthusiasts. Behind a dazzling and maniacal light show laid the next big thing – Acid House.
The world around it was changing. Millions of people in Eastern Europe had begun peacefully protesting the perils of Communism, those in Germany were campaigning to have the Berlin Wall knocked down – and the Eastern Block was beginning to embrace a new democratic way of life. Britain was undergoing its own paradigm shift, and Thatcher’s oppressive, polarising government provided the perfect soil for this new movement to fester in. Directionless, bored young people now had a purpose – and for the first time in their lives, they felt like they belonged somewhere. This was a new, peaceful movement – scored by a new and unfamiliar soundtrack.
”Coming home at noon with a tie-dyed top on, dripping with sweat, or walking into a petrol station in bare feet, you really did feel like an outsider.”
All-night events were absolutely not allowed in the UK, so the gatherings, or raves, were being held in clandestine locations – often empty airport hangars or free fields. Many ravers simply got in their cars and followed the music. The mania of Acid House seemed to spread like a cold, infecting anyone who came into contact with it and converting them into followers of the new movement. Ecstasy and dancing were the bread and wine – and the drug reached astounding levels of popularity. The usually rowdy football hooligans dropped their respective issues and began embracing each other. As one Acid House follower said, ”MDMA did more for multiculturalism than anything the government has ever done.” Thatcher’s children had now grown up, and their imprint on society was beginning to be felt.
It’s images like this that proved the world was changing – for the better. People around the globe were standing up against the governments that had kept them down for so long. The pendulum was beginning to swing in favour of the everyday citizen, and it was against this backdrop of societal change that the Acid House movement exploded.
By mid-summer, illegal raves were popping up across the country. A game of cat-and-mouse was underway between police and rave promoters – decoy locations were given out to mislead the police, and promoters would hold their venues elsewhere. Decoy vehicles were sent out with the sole purpose of getting pulled over, whilst the actual van containing the Soundsystems and lighting setups drove past the distracted. Police were getting infuriated as they were being outsmarted by (the often very young) promoters every weekend. The recently opened M25 motorway served as the perfect highway for ravers, much to Thatcher’s chagrin. She had proclaimed that the motorway would be “a road of which we can all be proud” – and couldn’t have imagined that it would instead be synonymous with illegal raves. It seemed like the authorities were being defeated at every corner in their fight to suppress the spread of Acid House. Resistance was futile – Acid House, for a while, seemed unstoppable. Thousands of young people were invading rural England and turning in to their own party utopia every weekend – and there was not a damn thing anybody could do about it.
Well, almost anybody. Undercover journalists attended one Berkshire rave – and let the cat out of the bag for the whole public to see. Conservative England went ballistic at the discovery – saying that the Acid House movement undermined everything the Prime Minister stood for. Soon, every tabloid in the country was reporting on the story. Britain’s new moral panic had been identified, and the police started to crack down on illegal raves with extreme force.
The Summer of 1989 was beginning its comedown. It had already passed its dizzying peak – and, now the public was aware, it had only one direction to go in. The last true hurrah came with the Longwick Festival on the 12th of August, which attracted over 200,000 people and is considered by many who went to it as the best party of all time.
If the summer of 1989 had ended then and there, then things would have been perfect. This ‘moral panic’ had not caused any deaths, vandalism or any other kind of societal harm. The summer had to end eventually, despite how much its participants wished it didn’t. However, the Second Summer of Love was in for a cruel twist of fate before its final curtain.
Just one week after the triumph at Longwick, a collision between two vessels on the Thames killed 51 young people. Although not connected directly to the rave scene, the diaster served as the rainstorm that extinguished the raging inferno of the summer. Perhaps young people weren’t invincible, and the Marchioness disaster served as a brutal reality check for many. Autumn was on its way, and as the Rave scene grew, the morality of its promoters regressed. Soon, nefarious promoters had jumped on the Acid House bandwagon, and had hijacked it for their own personal gain.
The grey skies of September had set in – and the once-buzzing fields of England lay empty once again. Although the Second Summer of Love was over and had ended in tragedy, the legacy of those few months left a lasting impression on the country. The attitude of a generation had shifted from selfishness and apathy into a much more open and accepting one. City centres that were previously deserted in the wee hours soon adapted late-night trade – and, furthermore, Acid House dominated the charts at the end of 1989. Black Box’s Ride on Time became the biggest-selling single of the year, signaling the new change in tastes of the country.
‘People who worked in dead-end jobs and hated their lives, it opened them up: ‘I don’t have to live my life this way’. People who wanted to do something creative but didn’t know anyone that did that, it opened up a space for them to do something different. In that sense, it changed a lot of lives.” – JD Twitch
The Berlin Wall came crashing down in November, signaling the end of a year in which both politics and society had changed entirely. The beginning of the summer saw the first cracks appearing in society, and by the year’s end, the world had turned on its axis completely.
Whilst the Second Summer of Love is well-over, its legacy continues to shine down on society and warm the hearts of all who were involved in it.
The quotes in this article were taken from here – https://mixmag.net/feature/summer-of-love-cover-feature –
Edit – This post does not advocate or glorify drug-taking and is only presenting them in a historical context.