In this new series we ask different people to travel back in time and choose the historical place, time or event that they would have liked to have witnessed. Here, editor Richard McFahn shares his thoughts.
As a younger history nerd, I was always really taken by seismic events. History that made the ground shake and shudder. Times when change was in the air, and so apparent that people could almost smell it and touch it.
During my O Levels (yes, that ages me), I was obsessed with the Russian Revolution. I read up on Lenin and Trotsky and was wowed by the revolutionary changes they introduced. I was almost naively impressed with their vision for that equal future, ignoring the egg breaking.
Whilst studying A-Levels I was drawn deeply into the history of the French Revolution. It was such a vibrant topic to study, so full of interesting characters, sideshows and shocking stories. It was like reading a page-turner of a novel.
So, my ‘where in history’ just has to be of the revolutionary ilk. Sorry to be so parochial, but English too. And, being really boring, mine is an event and time that I did actually experience first hand. That’s probably cheating, isn’t it?
In his introduction to the Conquest episode of A History of Britain, Simon Schama tells us that there is something about England’s history, ‘like our climate and our landscape that is naturally moderate – not much given to earthquakes and revolutions…’
Well sorry to disappoint you Simon, but you need to open your eyes a little. As we know, there are many different types of revolution, not just political. Mine is of the cultural variety. But was it revolutionary?
Well, conceptual artist Jeremy Deller AND, Spectator journalist James Delingpole described the birth of Acid House as a revolution that changed Britain forever. That’s a potentially left-leaning creative type and a Conservative-leaning columnist.
I was lucky enough to be an eye-witness and a keen participant in this revolutionary era in its early years.
Alright, technically, I wasn’t there at its inception in 1988 – I arrived at the revolution a little later. I was a young undergraduate in Manchester in 1989. I did worship regularly at the altar of the Cathedral to Acid House, a night club called The Hacienda, in the early 1990s.
To be honest with you, at the time, I was more interested in music, friendship and clubs than I was in academic study.
Alongside brilliant groups of diverse friends, I also ventured to a whole host of rave clubs that re-drew the map of England for Britain’s youth at the time.
Towns were now identified to us by the name of the club and not by its history or reputation. We went to Shelley’s and Entrope in Stoke, Venus in Nottingham, Turnmills in London, Lakota in Bristol, The Warehouse in Plymouth and numerous outdoor events in the English countryside.
Seizing the means of production
The thing that struck me about all of these events and this period, was the atmosphere. It was overwhelmingly friendly.
Prior to this, going to a club involved dressing up in chinos and a shirt and tie. It also involved listening to whatever dreadful music had been created by those in control of the record industry. This normally meant some Stock, Aitken and Waterman over-produced rubbish. And, it also involved unfriendliness. You were just a spilt pint or a look away from violence.
These new rave clubs were completely different. Music production had been taken away from the rich record company moguls, like Pete Waterman. It was now produced in Chicago or Detroit by black independent artists. Inspired by European electronic acts like Kraftwerk, they made this new sound, using the affordable means of production available to them: the synthesiser and drum machine.
English youngsters too began experimenting and making this new music, which eventually found its way into the charts. And, many years later it took over America under its new name Electronic Dance Music (EDM).
This was a time before the widespread use of mobile phones and about 15 years before the invention of social media. For 5 or so hours in these clubs there was no judgement and people just lost themselves in the music and in the positive atmosphere. Nearly everyone was friendly.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing
At the time, I had an inkling that this was a pretty special scene. My last year ‘studying’ in Manchester, regularly saw between 20-40 good friends going to the same clubs, sharing the same experience. We spent hours afterwards together, talking and reminiscing about our brilliant shared evening.
However, it was only nearly 30 years later, when I watched Jeremy Deller’s brilliant, Everybody in the Place – An incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992, that it struck me that I just might have been a tiny part of a historical revolution. Without even realising it.