Acid House and Rave: the Story and its Legacy

Originating in the Chicago club scene of the mid-1980s, Acid house music was introduced into Britain by London Records in 1986 with the first volume of The House Sound of Chicago, which was promoted by bringing journalists to Chicago (Sarah Thornton, Club Cultures, 2006, pp.156-157). Around about the same time, Graeme Park and Mike Pickering imported Chicago house records into Britain and in 1987 Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling and Nicky Holloway visited Ibiza and sampled and brought back to Britain with them the music that became known as Balearic Sound.

Rave by tuxthepenguin at

From the earliest days of Acid House in Britain, the musical high was almost inextricably linked with a chemical high, although the term ‘Acid House’ came, apparently, not from reference to LSD, but from the Phuture Chicago 1987 single, Acid Trax. In the words of DJ Nick Holloway, who opened a club called Trip in June 1988, ‘The ecstasy and the music came together. It was all part of the package. People who hadn’t done ecstasy didn’t really get it, and as soon as they did an E they got it. That may sound a little sad, but there’s no way acid house would have taken off the way it did without ecstasy.’

The popularity of Acid House and the associated club scene grew rapidly. In the words of Danny Rampling of Shoom fame, ‘You will always get people saying ‘My mate played “acid house” back in 1984,’ and some of the records had been around for a couple of years, but it wasn’t until 1988 that it exploded and took the whole country by storm.’

Initially seen as harmless and a good news story (or at least portrayed as such), newspapers such as the Sun soon turned on the nascent Acid house scene and in particular its connection with drug-taking. Not all reporting was sensationalist or in the category of ‘moral panic’ and a 1988 World in Action report would probably be considered as quite balanced by most people.

The first ecstacy-related death in Britain, that of 16 year-old Claire Leighton, at the Hacienda club in Manchester on 14 July 1989, brought the issue of drug use at Acid House events to even greater prominence and the movement came under increasing scrutiny from the police, politicians and the media. In 1990 the police were given increased powers under the Entertainment (increased penalties) Bill, where fines for holding unlicensed events were increased from £200 to £20,000 and six months imprisonment. The Broadcasting Act 1990 also made it illegal to advertise on pirate radio stations, which were closely linked with the Acid House and nascent illegal rave scene.

The Criminal Justice Act of 1994, which gave police wide-ranging powers to suppress illegal raves, coupled with the death of Leah Betts, the daughter of a police officer, in an ecstacy-related death, placed even more pressure on the beleaguered rave culture. Henceforth, there was a move to legal venues such as The Ministry of Sound and Cream.

It is difficult to evaluate the full legacy of Acid House and rave. From a legal perspective, a number of pieces of legislation that some might regard as draconian were brought onto the statute books. In terms of the issue of the spread of illegal drug use in Britain and elsewhere, to which the movement undoubtedly contributed, it is much more difficult to quantify. Some believe that the widespread use of LSD in the 1960s had a positive effect on human creativity, while others might point to the negative psychological or societal consequences. Similar questions could be posed about the effects of  Acid house and rave culture , with the widespread drug-taking that accompanied it, as have been asked about hippie culture and LSD,  but definitive answers would be just as difficult to come by.

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