Castlemorton 1992: Photographing the illegal rave that forever changed British dance music

It all started on a particularly sunny Bank Holiday weekend, May 22, 1992. A ramshackle convoy of vehicles, which served as the tattered homes of a contingent of peaceful New Age travellers, meandered through Gloucestershire. In the summer, this nomadic community traveled from DIY festival to DIY festival. But they had just been denied access to a site they had planned to use for their annual free Avon Festival – a small event for around 400 people that they had been running successfully for a few years.

Having not only been socially marginalized but brutalized in the most barbaric way by Margaret Thatcher’s police force in the past (see: The Battle of the Bean Field), the travelers moved. They were also moved by police from the neighboring county. Eventually, they all ended up on Castlemorton Common: where the week-long, now almost mythical party began.

The sun went down and news of a free festival started spreading like wildfire. Acid house is still in its honeymoon and the ravers are starting to rally their troops. Collectives like Spiral Tribe, the DiY Sound System, Bedlam, Armageddon and Circus Warp arrived and set up platforms on the common. An answering machine was set up: “Well, listen to the revelers. It’s happening now and for the rest of the weekend, so get out of the house and head to Castlemorton Common… Be there, all weekend, hardcore.

As the site began to swell, the press arrived. It had all the elements of a great story – hippies against the establishment, a new youth movement launched, people with fun ideas about society and drugs! The press jumped on the story like a pack of filthy hyenas swooping down on a piece of rotten meat. James Dalrymple of The Times wrote that the people converging on the common “had established a mini-city with full catering facilities, a large-scale drug distribution system, and their own internal police force”. It has also been reported in the press as ravers fired flares at a police helicopter and rumors swirled that others cooked and ate a horse injured by one of the trucks. No evidence has been produced to support either of these reports. The report inadvertently served a dual purpose: it sparked a moral panic (which was part of the plan because it sells newspapers) but it also served as extraordinary publicity for the event, which drew an estimated 20,000 people.

The implications of this free, week-long festival still linger today: it culminated in the introduction of the infamous Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, a carefully crafted law designed to smash the culture of acid house. In section 63(1)(b), it prohibited gatherings of people listening to music “characterized primarily by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”. Unlicensed raves have been banned forever.

Photographer Alan Lodge, now 68, was traveling there that week. After giving up his career as a paramedic in the 1970s, he had abandoned conventional society and come to life on the road – often using his camera to document the horrific abuse his traveling companions suffered at the hands of the police. Eventually, this was expanded to also document the culture, lifestyle, and tribal identity of New Age and acid house subcultures. He recently spoke to DJ Mag about his life back then and that crazy week 30 years ago.

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