Ravers are prepared to risk fines during lockdown as they adopt new tactics to defy Covid-19 restrictions at illegal parties.
Unlicensed music events attracting hundreds of people are still taking place despite a warning from police chiefs that they will take a tougher approach on those breaching the rules.
One tactic being used by organisers is breaking down sound system equipment into ‘suicide rigs’ – cheap, portable PA equipment – to reduce potential losses, including fines of up to £10,000, if the kit is seized.
They have reduced their presence on social media, in contrast to summer when some ‘secret rave’ events, which were either illegal or borderline, were being openly advertised on sites including Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
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On Halloween, before lockdown began, hundreds of people crammed into a disused warehouse in Yate, near Bristol, for a party which lasted almost 24 hours.
The Government told Metro.co.uk today that such parties risked lives and it is ‘vital’ people abide by restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
Despite police being attacked as they arrived at the event, the rave has become a cause for celebration in the free party circle, with an ‘aftermath mix’ of footage and a clip of one reveller crowd-surfing being posted online.
The ban on households mixing socially and other restrictions have only pushed the scene ‘further and further’ underground, according to one promoter of legal events who has a background in the underground scene.
The party organiser, who did not want to be named, told Metro.co.uk: ‘I don’t think the fines will deter a lot of free party organisers.
‘I know of a party that took place in October and they had a £10,000 fine or a summons to court. They have no intention of paying it or letting it deter them.
‘People are advertising for “suicide rigs” which are cheap rigs that they don’t care as to whether they are seized by police or not.
‘Also more and more people are dropping off social media, which makes it pretty difficult to determine who the “organisers” are, especially if it’s a multi-crew link up.
‘It’s all just getting pushed further and further underground and the longer the lockdown goes on the more people will want to party and to be honest I think will take the risk.’
The organiser of the Yate rave has been given the maximum £10,000 fine by Avon and Somerset Police for holding an unlicensed music event.
Police forces in the north west also warned at the start of the current lockdown that they would take a tougher stance on people organising parties and unlicensed music events.
But the promoter told of how it has only led to a switch in tactics by those determined to dance despite the prospect of spreading coronavirus.
‘Promoters are organising “meet ups” where basically everyone meets at a designated point and travels to the party location together,’ she said.
‘That way, as was with the Yate party, even if the police turn up early and cordon things off, there’s a few hundred there anyway and it generally won’t be shut down as the police don’t have the numbers. The police in my experience are normally pretty sound and let it run its course.’
Rave scene will become more remote to avoid detection
The organiser said she knew of two DJs who received emails from the police before an event they were due to appear at, warning them they risked fines and a criminal record if they played.
‘It was advertised privately on Facebook but they had no idea where the police got their details from,’ she said.
‘They didn’t play in the end but all the others did. They had all received the same letters but didn’t care.’
Another person involved in the free party scene in the south west, who also wanted to remain anonymous, was adamant that the police would not curtail illegal events.
‘The party scene will never die,’ he said. ‘There’s too many people that own a rig. It’s either separate small ones or they come together for huge ones.
‘One person having a £10,000 fine won’t stop everyone else.
‘The locations will just become more remote.’
Jack, who runs the drum and bass channel DnB Rollers on Instagram, believes the continued shut-down of nightclubs and dance music events since March has played a role in driving the scene underground.
‘The harsh restrictions have led to an undeniable increase in people going to these parties,’ he said.
‘The live music sector has had little to no support at all and it was only in mid-October that they announced an arts and cultural recovery fund, which didn’t provide a solution for everybody.
Shutdown is driving people underground
‘The few music venues that were able to open had to do so with a massively reduced capacity and with all the other restrictions to make them Covid-secure. It left people with no outlet and drove them to underground, illegal parties, where there are no masks or safety precautions, there’s nothing.’
One nightclub, Lab11, was fined £10,000 after being found to be in breach of Covid-19 rules by holding an event in a marquee classed as ‘outdoors’ by police. The venue in Birmingham has said it is contesting the fine and has launched a crowdfunding appeal to cover legal fees and staff costs.
Jack, who asked to be known by his first name, has been contacted by people searching online for illegal raves to go to, despite not being involved in the scene. ‘The free parties were happening before Covid but they have never had as many people attending them as there are now,’ he said.
‘There were big parties in London and Bristol on Halloween, people were saying there were up to four thousand people at the one in Bristol.
‘It’s got to the point where I heard security was hired at an event in London and there was talk that there was an entry fee at Bristol in case the owners got fined, it’s not clear whether it was a money-making ruse someone had at an entrance, but some people did pay to get in.
‘A lot of people who weren’t aware of free parties before are now searching online to try and find out how to go to them.’
The Government has launched an unprecedented £1.57billion Culture Recovery Fund, which includes support for music venues such as the Cavern Club in Liverpool and Fabric in London.
But the legitimate dance floors remain empty.
‘If the Government provided a bit more advice, support or even a bit of leniency to existing venues overall it would be more beneficial than having people packed in these venues,’ Jack said.
Under legislation introduced in the summer, organisers of illegal raves, unlicensed music events or any other unlawful gathering of more than 30 people face fines of up to £10,000.
Those attending can be fined £200, which is doubled if they repeat the offence up to a maximum of £6,400.
Dangerous disregard for others
Police forces are understood to be gathering and sharing intelligence to disrupt iillegal music events organised at short notice to avoid detection.
A Government spokesperson said: ‘In these unprecedented circumstances, any gathering risks spreading the disease, leading to more deaths, so it is vital we all play our part in controlling the virus.
‘Organisers of large gatherings of over 30 people – including unlicensed music events – can be subject to fines of £10,000.
‘As they have done throughout the pandemic, the police and local authorities will engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules before moving on to enforce the law.’
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