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Free party

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A free party in 2003
Pasquatek 2009

A free party is a party "free" from the restrictions of the legal club scene, similar to the free festival movement. It typically involves a sound system playing electronic dance music from late at night until the time when the organisers decide to go home. A free party can be composed of just one system or of many and if the party becomes a festival, it becomes a teknival. This typically means that drugs are readily available. The word free in this context is used both to describe the entry fee and the lack of restrictions and law enforcement.

Motivations for organisers range from political protest to simply wanting to have fun. An example of free parties as political protest was their prominence during the M11 link road protest. At most parties no money is asked for entrance since the aim is not to make profit. However, at some (most often indoor) events it is requested at the door to make a donation to cover costs. Typically organisers make little profit or make a loss setting them up. The term free party is used more widely in Europe than in the US. In Canada and some parts of Europe they are also referred to as Freetekno parties. A free party might have once been described as a rave, and the origins of the two are similar. Since the birth of nightclubs in town centres in Europe the use of the word rave had largely fallen out of fashion; however, in recent times it is increasingly being used again.

The term squat party defines the free parties with secret indoor locations. The address is obtained on the day of the event personally from organizers as the buildings are squatted. The parties often last over 24 hours.


May 2005, UK Tek a large outdoor free party in Wales[1]

After the emergence of the Acid House parties in the late 1980s up to 4,000[2] people were known to attend a rave. These events happened almost every weekend. The noise and disturbance of thousands of people appearing at parties in rural locations, such as Genesis '88, caused outrage in the national media. The British government made the fine for holding an illegal party £20,000 and six months in prison.[2]

Police crackdowns on these often-illegal parties drove the scene into the countryside. These weekend parties occurred at various locations outside the M25 Orbital motorway and attracted up to 25 000.[2] Sound systems from this time include Spiral Tribe and DiY.[citation needed]

The flyer advertising the Total Recall free party on Pepperbox Hill, 25 August 1990. Original artwork by David Stooke.

In August and September 1990 a series of unlicensed free parties took place on Pepperbox Hill, just outside Salisbury, in South Wiltshire. The parties were organised by a loose collective of new age travellers, squatters and anarchists based in the Salisbury area. They used different pseudonyms, including Inner Temple, The Fools On The Hill and The Leyline Lunatics, but ultimately became known as the People From Pepperbox or PFP. Initially small scale affairs, the parties grew in size during August as word spread to clubbers in Bournemouth and Southampton. By the end of August, people were attending from across the UK. The final party on Pepperbox Hill was held on 1 September 1990.[3][4] with Wiltshire Constabulary closing the site off from public access the following weekend. The People From Pepperbox then went on to organise three subsequent events in 1990, at Barton Stacey airfield in Hampshire, a disused RAF airbase at Sopley in Dorset, and at a squatted former pub in Salisbury, deploying guerilla tactics to stay ahead of the police and ensure the parties remained undetected until they were too large to be stopped by the authorities. On 13 April 1991 one further PFP party was held at a new age travellers' site at Pitton, near Salisbury. The party ended in violence, and led to parliamentary debate discussing new age traveller sites. The Pepperbox free parties are regarded as being the first of their kind, as they represented the first time that the concepts of raves and free festivals combined to create a new cultural entity: the free party.[5] DJs at these pioneering events included Pepperbox organisers DJ Oli and DJ ETC, Bournemouth DJs Justin Harris and Nigel Casey (known as North and South), and latterly, Simon DK and DJ Jack from Nottingham's DiY soundsystem.

In the 1990s raves began to expand into a global phenomenon. Around 1989-1992[2] people who had travelled to attend the first raves began setting up promotion companies in each region to organize their own parties. This happened on a grassroots basis.[citation needed] By the mid-1990s, major corporations were sponsoring events and adopting the scene's music and fashion for their advertising.[citation needed]

After sensational coverage in the tabloids, culminating in a particularly large rave (near Castlemorton) in May 1992, the government acted on what was depicted as a growing menace. In 1994, the United Kingdom's Criminal Justice Bill passed as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which contained several sections designed to suppress the growing free party and anti-road protest movements (sometimes embodied by ravers and travellers).

By the early 2000s, the term "rave" had fallen out of favour among some people in the electronic dance music community, particularly in Europe. Although the terme "rave" is still used quite a bit in North America to describe EDM events. The Freetekno movement is not nearly as present in North America, except some parts of Quebec. [citation needed] Many Europeans identify themselves as "clubbers" rather than ravers. The term 'free party' has been used for sometime and can be seen on the Spiral Tribe video 'Forward the Revolution' in 1992. It tried to disconnect raves from big commercial events of the early nineties to a more anarchist version of a party.

Some communities preferred the term "festival", while others simply referred to "parties". With less constrictive laws allowing raves to continue long after the United Kingdom tried to ban them, more anarchic raves continue to occur in Central Europe and France, where the law says there can be only 4 teknivals per year (2 in the south, 2 in the north). In France the larger teknivals can attract up to 30 000[6] people in a three-day period. The terms free party and squat party have become the predominant terms used to describe an illegal party.[citation needed]

Free parties tend to be on the boundaries of law and are discouraged by government authorities, occasionally using aggressive police tactics.[7]

Liza 'N' Eliaz was considered a "spiritual leader" in the free party movement in France.[8]

Typical party[edit]

Free parties are much like other rave parties, their main distinction being that the venue is free to use. The result is that they are often held in isolated outdoor venues or abandoned buildings, where they are also known as squat parties. If the building has a power source that is used but if not then the organisers will use generators.

Often free parties involve a lot of (mostly illegal) dance drug use. The music played at free parties is very bass heavy. It is for this reason that they are usually held in isolated venues or places where police interference is unlikely, such as protected squatting residences (particularly in the UK, where police used not to be able to enter a squat easily[9]).

The types of music played are usually various forms of dance music with fast repetitive beats. Each sound system has its own music policy, following and entourage. The breakcore, gabba, psy-trance, freetekno, Acid Tekno, Hard Trance and Electro House/Techno, Drum & Bass/Jungle, Hardtek, Tribe, Tribecore, Tekstep genres are all played. It is important to deferentiate the techno played in clubs and that is nowadays mainstream, from the tekno with a ´´K´´played in freeparties. Some parties in England, but also across Europe such as in the Netherlands, now incorporate elements of performance art ("synthetic circus") as well as electronic dance music.[citation needed]

Due to the lack of licensing restrictions, these parties often start after midnight and continue through the night until morning, often longer. Parties lasting several days are not uncommon; some large teknivals can go on for a week.[citation needed]

Squat parties have an overt or implied radical left-wing stance.[citation needed] The squat party community embraces autonomous, anarchistic principles by refusing to recognize the right of any third-party authority to decide when and how people should congregate. Squat party organizers also eschew capitalistic values by putting on parties which benefit the community and its artists instead of to turn a profit.[citation needed]

Occasionally, squat parties act as ad-hoc information points where political pamphlets are distributed or petitions signed in order to raise awareness about a variety of causes, usually of a left-wing nature. London's Reclaim the Streets movement, which brought traffic and commerce to a standstill once a year in an attempt to draw public attention to inner city problems, was itself a highly visible and politicized affiliate of the U.K. squat party scene.[citation needed]

Squat parties are occasionally held for the sole purpose of fund-raising, usually for humanitarian causes.[citation needed]

Law and police[edit]

Missing laws regulating free parties outside the UK, see Talk:Free party


Police out in force at CzechTek 2005

Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994[10] the definition of music played at a rave was given as:

"music" includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.

— Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

Sections 63, 64 & 65 of the Act targeted electronic dance music played at raves. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act empowered police to stop a rave in the open air during any period of time, day or night when a hundred or more people are attending, or where two or more are making preparations for a rave. Section 65 allows any uniformed constable who believes a person is on their way to a rave within a five-mile radius to stop them and direct them away from the area; non-compliant citizens may be subject to a maximum fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (£1000). The Act was ostensibly introduced because of the noise and disruption caused by all night parties to nearby residents, and to protect the countryside. It has also been claimed[2] that it was introduced to kill a popular youth movement that was taking many drinkers out of town centres drinking taxable alcohol and into fields to take untaxed drugs.

The number of people attending and organising such an event for it to be deemed illegal were altered in the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003[9] section 58 to cover indoor parties and outdoor parties of more than 20 people. It is also a crime if, within 24 hours of being told by a police officer to leave a rave, a person makes preparations to attend a rave.

More recently in the United Kingdom, anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) have been used against unlicensed rave organisers if the police receive repeated complaints about noise and littering from locals.

Despite these laws, free parties continue to exist. They do so in a number of ways. They can be small (with fewer than 100 people) and remote so that they are unlikely to cause distress to the local residents. If the police find out about the party and turn up, it is rarely worth the use of resources to attempt to arrest people and seize equipment. The people at the rave would then have to leave without having time to tidy up and potentially still incapable of driving safely. The other way free parties continue is to be large enough to make breaking them up difficult. When there are more than 500 or so people then there is a potential for a riot.[11] A typical police response to why a rave was not stopped is: "officers had decided not to stop the rave because they had only received one complaint about noise and the amount of resources needed to stop it would not be justified."[12]

In August 2006, an unlicensed party organised by united sounds – Aztek, LowKey, One Love, Mission, Illicit, Monolith & Brains-Kan Sound Systems in Essex, England was broken up after 24 hours resulting in approx 60 injuries from both sides and over 50 arrests. This was one of the largest confrontations between police and ravers that had occurred at an unlicensed event for many years. The Chief Superintendent in charge of the police operation said "These sorts of raves are quite unheard of in this county - I have not seen this sort of violence since the old days of acid house."[13]

Squat party[edit]

A squat party is a party that takes place either in a disused building (broken into and secured for the party) or in an already existing squat.

Squat parties are usually advertised either by word of mouth, postings on internet bulletin boards, flyers handed out at other similar events and through phone lines set up by the sound system(s) organising the event. This is for security reasons, since the organisers do not want the authorities finding out about them and trying to stop them. Other events might be much smaller acoustic nights run more like a cafe. Squatted buildings are often used as social centres and creative spaces for people to use.

Most squat parties usually run for 12 to 24 hours, finishing when the organisers have had enough or if they are shut down by police. Most large cities in the UK have a squat party scene with London considered the most active location in the country. The majority of London squat parties occur in mainly industrial sectors e.g. East London, as abandoned warehouses make ideal venues and a smaller chance of residential noise complaints. The London squat party scene of recent years has seen an influx of European travellers, largely from the East, where there is also a large rave culture, for example events such as CzechTek.

Squat parties are typically either free or charge a small donation on the door. Typically the organisers also try to make additional money through selling alcohol inside.

Squat 'eviction' parties occur when the squatters residing in a building have been given a final date for their eviction, and as a final act of resistance organise a large scale party and protest in order to try to withstand the police or bailiffs.


Drugs sale and use is long standing and accepted, most commonly MDMA (ecstasy), amphetamine, cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, cannabis, nitrous oxide, and ketamine.[citation needed] Drugs are easily available at almost all free parties and people often use stimulants to reduce the fatigue resulting from dancing for many hours, as well as for the recreational effects. While psychedelics are often used to achieve altered states of consciousness, especially in psy trance festivals.

In early years MDMA was the most common drug taken at parties; however, over the last ten years there has been a steady increase in the popularity of ketamine in Europe, most noticeably in the London scene, where ketamine has a massive presence.

In many free-parties, the organisers will have some sort of risk-reduction in place. Often offering earplugs, nose and eye drops, condoms and paper straws for sniffing. They will do this knowing that people will consume drugs anyways, so they decide to prevent issues like Hepatitis or deafness. In some cases they will also have a tent to tend to people in need, who have either consumed too many drugs or are tired from dancing for extended periods of time.[14] Since 2000 ketamine has crossed over from being almost entirely a drug found in the free party scene to one commonly found in mainstream clubs as well.[15]


Due to the drug culture and unregulated environment, security has become a problem for many party organisers. Some free party sound systems hire private security at events but security is only an issue in squat parties or very urban outdoor events. Outdoor parties have very little trouble.[2]

Parties become autonomous zones, with self-policing and control being established by all attendance. If people make trouble calling the police is not an option so sometimes the music is stopped and the trouble makers are simply told by all the party goers to leave.[16]


Typical parties in the London scene range from small parties with a couple of hundred people up to huge multi-riggers involving a thousand or more people. The number of sound systems involved also varies – small parties may have just one or two sound systems, larger parties may have anything up to 20 or more, including several "link-ups" where two or more sound systems will combine their rigs into a single large system.

Although London is the central location for squat parties[citation needed], they exist outside the capital and places such as Three Counties Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire & Cambridgeshire also Buckinghamshire have popular scenes dating pre 1995.[citation needed] Modern parties are usually hosted in Bedford, Norfolk, or London; but Cambridgeshire, Northampton and Suffolk still have a contemporary underground scene, along with Derbyshire, South Yorkshire and South Wales.[citation needed] Outdoor parties are popular all over Wales and the South West and can attract up to a thousand people.[citation needed] Outdoor parties are organised so that noise pollution is not a factor. If the local residents complain then the party is much more at risk of being stopped. In most big cities there is an underground counterculture centred around free parties which are predominantly outdoor parties in the summer and squat parties when it is too cold. Most organisers will try to secure a warehouse, if not they will look for a wooded area to hide themselves and try and soften the music and enjoy the outdoor environment also to avoid being discovered by the authorities.[citation needed]

List of free parties[edit]

The following is an incomplete list of notable free parties:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Illegal weekend rave breaks up". BBC News. 31 May 2005. Retrieved 17 January 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Timeline and numbers Reynolds, Simon (1998). Energy Flash. Picador. ISBN 0-330-35056-0.
  3. ^ "1st September 1990: People From Pepperbox's Ley Line Lunatics Free Party at Pepperbox Hill, Wiltshire". freepartypeople.wordpress.com. 10 March 2023. Retrieved 1 April 2024.
  4. ^ Harrison, Harry (2022). Dreaming in yellow : the story of DiY Sound System. Bristol. pp. 104–105. ISBN 978-1-913231-14-9. OCLC 1295100308.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. ^ Harrison, Harry (2022). Dreaming in yellow : the story of DiY Sound System. Bristol. pp. 103–105. ISBN 978-1-913231-14-9. OCLC 1295100308.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ "French ravers force police to retreat". BBC. 16 August 2002. Retrieved 24 June 2006.
  7. ^ "Czech PM defends rave crackdown". BBC. 2 August 2005.
  8. ^ James, Martin (15 June 2022). French Connections: Daft Punk, Air, Super Discount & the Birth of French Touch. Velocity Press. ISBN 978-1-913231-30-9.
  9. ^ a b "Public Order and Trespass section 58 Raves". Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Retrieved 17 January 2006.
  10. ^ "Public Order: Collective Trespass or Nuisance on Land - Powers in relation to raves". Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. 1994. Retrieved 17 January 2006.
  11. ^ "Police back off after rave threat". BBC. 5 August 2005.
  12. ^ "Hundreds attend illegal city rave". BBC. 1 January 2006.
  13. ^ Lewis, Paul (28 August 2006). "200 riot police break up illegal rave". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 3 November 2006.
  14. ^ "ketamine killing the rave scene and don't you know it". Taken from Party Vibe internet forum. 18 July 2002. Archived from the original on 4 November 2007. Retrieved 23 April 2006.
  15. ^ "New drugs survey reveals emerging ketamine market". DrugScope. 6 October 2005. Archived from the original on 10 December 2005. Retrieved 23 April 2006.
  16. ^ "The Free Party How To Guide". partyvibe.com. 1 January 2001. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 21 May 2007.
  17. ^ "Four people hospitalised following 1000-strong illegal rave in South Wales". Mixmag. Retrieved 11 July 2023.
  18. ^ "UK Tek 2023 showed why free party culture will never die". Mixmag. Retrieved 11 July 2023.

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