This is what London looked like on Freedom Weekend

 Photography: Aiyush Pachnanda

To celebrate the first weekend of raving the UK has seen in 18 months, UKF editor Dave Jenkins and photographer Aiyush Pachnanda spent three days partying in London to document this unique and historical moment in time.  

Rip it up and start again…

A new chapter is being written in UK dance music culture right now. Whether your raving career commenced weeks, years or even decades before the pandemic, we are all back on the starters blocks. We are fully charged up from 18 months of restrictions and lockdowns. We are all feeling the same unique sensation of nerves, excitement and anticipation.

Everything afresh. Even buying the tickets came with that heady teenage rush you felt when you were preparing to go to your first concert or got your first fake ID. It’s a special feeling you’d expect to only go through once in your life. But with so much time away from large crowds and live music, we’ve been given a rare chance to wind the clocks back and capture that pure energy that brough us all to that point in the first place.

But beyond that, the build-up to this weekend didn’t have that great electrifying gung-ho feeling of freedom many of us had fantasized about during lockdown. With covid case numbers still a concern (arguably due to the last month of crowds gathering at various major sporting events) there remains a strong feeling of caution about safety among many ravers, artists and industry professionals.

Throw in the painfully toxic divide being created by vaccine opinions and the vaccine passport discussion, there was no unanimous feeling of freedom or that the coronanightmare we’ve all experienced is over. With some people taking exception to having to provide negative lateral flow tests before entering many venues, it’s clear that while we might all be on the same starters blocks, we’re not all on the same page with many issues right now…

Until we hit the dancefloor.

That moment you dance again without security telling you to sit down. That moment you hear those speakers booming without officials telling the DJ to turn it down. That moment you see smiling faces bouncing about all around you. That’s the moment when all our differences that seem so heightened online fade away. The goosebumps. The cheesy grins. The endless fistbumps, epic cheers and gunfingers. The MCs egging the crowd on like they’ve not been able to for so long. The DJs armed to the teeth with both raw newness and precision-selected classics you used to think were overplayed and now you’re singing along to every word.

It doesn’t matter what your opinions are when you’re tearing it up together on the dancefloor. In that moment we are all kindred spirits. That’s the unifying beauty of this music and rave culture in the first place. One of the world’s most ultimate social levellers between all colours, classes, genders, ages and backgrounds. It’s what happened back in 1988 under an oppressive Tory government. And it’s happening again now as we all begin to savour of first raves post-lockdown.

It’s been happening since midnight July 19 as some clubs opened the minute freedom day began. Aiyush, a London photographer who’s been documenting the many protests, marches and events in the city during lockdown, was taking pictures of NYE-sized queues at venues such as Fabric, Heaven, Pickle Factory and Ministry Of Sound that snaked right round the block, crammed full of UK party people all eager to get back amongst it the moment they could. The enthusiasm and craving for raving hasn’t been this high in decades. Everything we’ve taken for granted over the years now holds so much more value and has so much more an allure. And that’s exactly what we felt as we took to the dancefloor ourselves.

Between Thursday July 22 and Sat July 24 we took in three events: World’s Collide at The Cause (a venue that’s been a pillar of the London scene during sit down events throughout lockdown), Goldie’s opening XOYO residency night (which wasn’t actually at XOYO in the end but still an absolutely wild night) and Rupture at Fold (which has a no camera policy so Aiyush left his camera at home) Three of countless parties happening in the UK capital, and hundreds more events happening around the country, these were up there with the very best raves I’ve experienced since I started my own raving career in 19longtime.

Each rave was unique in its vibe and approach, but they all packed that same incredible feeling of heightened excitement and unabandoned pleasure of being free to rave, dance, hug, chat nonsense to strangers, kick right off to gully bangers and occasionally hurl a hearty ‘fuck off’ or two at the DJ. Things we did all the time before without a second’s contemplation all now feel so much more special, empowering, fun and worth savouring. Each dancefloor felt far livelier than they’d been in years with people bouncing higher, shouting louder and dancing even harder to every single tune. Even the idiots who push in at the bar, spill drinks on you on the dancefloor, barge you out of the way or MC incessantly in your ear or pinch your Rizlas didn’t seem anywhere near as annoying or as high in numbers as they once were.

This is raving 2.0

A new super-charged energy and dancefloor enthusiasm that will hopefully influence the culture for many years to come and take a very long time to fade. No more jadedness. No more moaning or entitlement. This has been taken away from us for too long for its return not to be truly appreciated on a whole new level. Naturally it’s the same heightened apprecition for DJs and MCs, too. After having their livelihood and strongest passion in life taken away for so long, they too are fuelled by that same fire we felt on the dancefloor this weekend. In fact many DJs were on the dancefloor themselves. Another parallel with the foundations days when DJs would regularly pass through different dances to check out their peers and hear their dubs, every event we went to we bumped in off-duty DJs in pure raving mode. Trex and Trimer at The Cause, Kenny Ken and SCAR’s Mike Script at Goldie’s dance, Digital and Nomine at Rupture. Benny L literally everywhere we went. All of them bopping with the same mad grins on their face. All of them appreciating the moment and this newfound freedom… And all aware that it can be taken at any moment.

We’re not out of the woods yet. Looking at what’s happened in The Netherlands, where raves opened for two weeks before being closed down again, lockdowns can come back into place at any minute and shut things back down again. There’s also a strong worry that club and festival culture might be used as a scapegoat if a third peak in covid cases rises again. For that reason, UKF fully endorses self-testing ahead of any rave (even if the venue doesn’t have a policy about that), being responsible and not attending any event if you have a positive test.

That said, we also fully endorse going absolutely loco on the dancefloor, raving to the very end of the night, screaming as loudly as you can when those really special tunes come in the mix and embracing every single detail of this lifestyle we’ve missed so much.  Aspects of the lifestyle you can see in these images. This is just a snapshot of London this weekend. It’s a weekend that tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of us were all doing up and down the country. Look at any DJ’s or event organiser’s social media posts and you’ll see the same feeling of hyper enthusiasm, total relief, immense pleasure and just a little messiness was felt unanimously throughout the UK.

This was a biblical weekend and it set a vibe that will continue throughout the summer as more and more people start to feel safe raving again across the country, and across the world. Welcome back everyone. Rave safely but heartily. Relish every single minute. Long may this moment last.

Scroll on for more crucial candid moments from Aiyush…