13 December 2017 | Community

Reviving rave culture: Does the fashion industry need to back off?

As rave culture comes full circle, we consider the fashion industry's obsession with rave style

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Written by Rosie Dodds

The philosophy behind rave culture, however reckless and drug-fueled society might perceive that philosophy to be, is based on the values of freedom, rebellion, and community. At the onset of the 90s, acid house and electronic dance music alike served to alleviate the bitter taste left by Thatcherism, and a thrilling sense of resistance was thus born in the abandoned warehouses and fields that hosted the hedonistic pursuits of a generation united by disillusion.

However, as the 1994 Criminal Justice Act gave the law power to “remove persons attending or preparing for a rave”, and the world entered an era of increasing surveillance, the magical essence of rave culture could no longer survive. Licensed nightclubs replaced squats and open woodlands, and the unregulated parties of the early 90s were quickly plunged into mythology.

"A pocket of resistance with the values of rave culture at its core has founded itself in the subterranean channels of the UK’s electronic music scene."

Fast forward to 2017, and rave culture has come creeping back. As our world becomes more and more complicit with a version of itself that most would rather forget, as entertainment venues close and young people’s opinions are increasingly disregarded, a pocket of resistance with the values of rave culture at its core has founded itself in the subterranean channels of the UK’s electronic music scene.

Armed with the power of social media and a nifty insight into the loopholes of the UK’s squatting laws, the respective leaders of this movement have been throwing illegal raves all around the country. “There are no rules here,” says one of London’s most prominent organisers in an episode made for Vice’s Big Night Out series. “You can do whatever you want.” And isn’t that, to some degree, what we all want? Is there anyone who wouldn’t love to be able to do whatever the hell they wanted?

The resurgence of the rave promises that, for one short night, those in attendance to any given party can enjoy an unmonitored existence once again, and as British popular culture adjusts itself to match up with the seditious values associated with rave culture, it’s apparent that the fashion industry is at the forefront of our burgeoning obsession with all things rave.

That’s right, in case you hadn't noticed already, everyone from H&M’s tweens to the gods of high fashion are busy regurgitating 21st century approved versions of the baggy trousers, camo-print sportswear, and NAFNAF jackets that are better acquainted with the hills of Malvern.

This summer saw fashion’s appropriation of rave culture reach its peak. There were neon tutus at Molly Goddard’s show, flag face masks at Christopher Shannon, and Comme des Garçons even staged their very own raving catwalk to host their SS18 menswear collection. As British designer Charles Jeffrey said of his own rave wear inspired collection, “It’s not enough to stay woke – we need to be alive.”

But let’s break this down a bit, as, in truth, the commercial obsession with rave culture is somewhat problematic. By creating these garbs, the designer identifies themselves, and their following for that matter, with rave’s rebellion. Perhaps not in practise, but at least by association. And what if those leading rave's resurgence don’t want to identified with by the general public? For, when it comes to a phenomenon like the culture surrounding raves and squat parties, the raver’s relevance relies on the fact that they are misunderstood by the rest of the world; it revolves around the idea that they are part of something that can’t be monitored or regulated.

It’s all too clear that fashion and the resurgence of rave culture are somewhat opposing forces. As one of the organisers from Vice’s documentary says, “people come here because they feel free.” “Try and govern this!” shouts another.

"The fashion industry is seemingly obsessed with the underdog. It strives to capture the essence of what makes something unique and claim it as its own."

A large part of fashion’s 'fashionableness' boils down to the simple art of ‘getting there first’. Successful designers are seen as trailblazers, and those designers mark the movement of doing something different until, in the words of Miranda Priestly, their pieces are “filtered down through department stores”, before they ultimately end up in the wardrobes of people who couldn’t care less.

Thus, when a group of youngsters are striving to do something that questions the reality that is forced upon them, when a group is seen to be marching to the beat of their own drum - albeit in the spirit of the rave culture that was born in the 90s - it is the fashion industry that is suddenly chasing the lead, and a dichotomy between the two parties is stridently obvious as a result.  

In all honestly, none of this information is really that surprising. Designers of the western world are some of the biggest culture vultures around. Look at Riccardo Tisci's "Victorian Cholas" from 2015, Marc Jacob’s use of dreadlocks in 2016, or even just the simple fact that garments you could buy at bootleg markets ten years ago are now being marveled at on the catwalk in 2017.

Of course, by no means can you compare stealing style tips from rave culture to issues like that of cultural appropriation, but what can be said is that the fashion industry is seemingly obsessed with the underdog. It strives to capture the essence of what makes something unique and claim it as its own, and that mentality is something that we should start being warier of.