In the United Kingdom, circa the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the rave culture had grown to its peak manifestation.
From the party-goers’ perspective, ravers were mostly young people having a good time. But from the viewpoint of the local and national governments it wasn’t quite such a simple picture.
The Rave Problem of the 80’s & 90’s UK
To the law enforcement officers, politicians, elderly, and conservative members of society, what they were witnessing were massive droves of 100’s to 1000’s of degenerate punks trespassing anywhere they could in order to have a gathering of like minds and loud music.
But this drew other undesirable activities for quiet towns and law-abiding cities.
Nearly every night of the week, whether in an abandoned warehouse, someone’s farm land, or hosted in a giant privately-owned home, these rowdy music lovers would set up loud speakers and subwoofers and rave the night away.
This was far from simply creating noise pollution problems while the more productive members of society attempted to sleep.
Even if you ignored the breaking down of doors, cutting of fences, using vans to smash through barricades, that didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the illicit substance abuse and other salacious crimes.
All of that was the core problem. And the solutions were already in place. Trespassing was already a civil matter to be pursued. Breaking and entering was already illegal. Drug use and sex services were also illegal. There were even noise curfews to prohibit people from playing loud music late at night.
And that’s what made the United Kingdom Parliament’s next move silly. And silly always produces trolls and entertaining fiascos.
The Criminal Justice & Public Order Act of 1994
On November the 3rd, 1994, Parliament passed the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act. Michael Howard, the home secretary of Prime Minister John Major’s Conservative Party introduced the bill in response to the Castlemorton Common Festival in 1992.
This festival was a free, weeklong event presenting some of the more popular electronic dance music artists of the time, who’s music was projected out across the crowd by the largest sound systems companies available at the time.
An estimated 20 to 40 thousand people partied for a week straight, with many incoming partiers being re-routed elsewhere or blocked by local police, attracted by the media’s increasing coverage of the event and other rave-related exaggerations.
The media framed the event as worrisome, suggesting that the party may simply move to another location and begin again immediately, disrupting any town it arrives in, and drag your innocent babies into a cult.
This act passed new laws restricting the surviving rights of partiers while increasing the penalties for what were being called anti-social behaviors. Among these changes were some to the right to remain silent, meaning the police could interpret silence as an agreement or confirmation of guilt.
They also allowed the police more leeway on the ability to take bodily and fluid samples and retain them for longer, allowed for unsupervised stop and frisk or search. In order to hurt raves, they even removed the duty and grant aid offered to gypsy and traveller camp sites.
But the changes that led to the fun part of this story are those within Part V of the act. Tucked in among rules regulating collective trespass and nuisance on land was a section targeted less broadly, which is to say more specifically, at raves directly.
The “Powers in relation to raves” section attempted to define a rave as a gathering of 100 people or more while playing amplified music […] This definition then went on to define a specific type of music in relation to raves.
The Emission of a Succession of Repetitive Beats
The problem here was the need to suck the fun out of raves so it wasn’t even tempting to attend them, let alone be caught at one and reap the legal troubles.
To do this, the lawmakers decided to attack electronic dance music. In order to pull this off, they had to find a way to target it verbally in a general fashion without restricting the activities associated with other less problematic genres.
In what legal experts ultimately categorized as ‘bizarre,’ the law settled on a definition. Rave music was defined as:
“amplified music wholly or predominantly characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”
The opposition to this bill and successive act was to claim that conservatives were caught up in a “clear moral panic” and wanted to “suppress the activities of certain strands of alternative culture.”
An author of several books about youth culture in the UK wrote that this was “about politicians making laws on the basis of judging people’s lifestyles, and that’s no way to make laws.”
Autechre’s Flutter & Other Bands Hit Back
Bands like Dreadzone, The Prodigy, Pop Will Eat Itself, The Streets, Zion Train, and many more began releasing singles and tracks on their albums mocking or resisting the the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act of 1994.
Their lyrics and artwork on their albums had wise and tough words to say, but none brought the heat like Autechre.
Autechre’s members Rob Brown and Sean Booth, both from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, formulated a masterplan.
Though their releases included work in the electronic, hip hop, and techno genres, and even experimental music, they had become associated with what was being called “intelligent dance music.” Either way, this was electronic and dance music and thus the bill impacted them regardless.
Brown and Booth quickly released a three track extended play record called Anti EP. It’s the only explicitly political release they’ve written. It managed to peak at number 90 on the UK Singles Chart as a whole and at number 39 for the UK Dance Singles Chart specifically. The EP featured three tracks:
Each track was in excess of 7 minutes, with Flutter coming in only three seconds below the 10 minute mark. The political statement could be condensed into a statement on the packaging for the album as well as the song Flutter itself.
A sticker was applied to the album with a disclaimer, warning the purchaser that the tracks Lost and Djarum featured repetitive beats. This sticker acted as a seal that confirmed the buyer read it before opening the record. Notice what was missing on the sticker?
Here is what the disclaimer sticker said in full:
Warning: Lost and Djarum contain repetitive beats. We advise you not to play these tracks if the Criminal Justice Bill becomes law. Flutter has been programmed in such a way that no bars contain identical beats and can therefore be played at 45 or 33 revolutions under the proposed law.
However we advise DJs to have a lawyer and musicologist present at all times to confirm the non-repetitive nature of the music in the event of police harrassment.
Important: By breaking this seal, you accept full responsibilty for any consequential action resulting from the product’s use, as playing the music contained within these recordings may be interpreted as oppostion to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.
Autechre donated the profits from Anti EP to the political pressure group Liberty while reinforcing that this wasn’t a political stance so much as one in defense of music and freedom with the statement “Autechre is politically non-aligned. This is about personal freedom.”
Click to Stream “Flutter”:
Flutter is just under 10 minutes long at a fairly high beats per minute (BPM), which makes its production an act of incredible attention to detail and persistence since no single bar contains the same pattern of kick drums and other percussive elements as any other.
That’s quite the task to write and cross-reference, and one way to make sure you don’t have boring beats.
Autechre Outsmarts With a Loophole
It’s not clear that this act went on to have much of an impact other than to force the electronic dance music movement and rave parties further underground into clubs and dance halls.
However, the police did randomly pull it out of the archives in 2009, citing Section 63 of the Act as a reason to shut down a birthday party, where 15 friends and family had gathered on privately-owned property to host a barbecue cookout.