Acid comment: the moral panic about acid house parties - The Red Menace

Article looking at the media hysteria surrounding the Acid House music subculture of the late 1980s.

Submitted by Spassmaschine on August 4, 2009

In the last couple of months the ‘acid house’ scene has eclipsed even "lager louts" and football hooligans as the media’s favourite Threat to Civilisation As We Know It. From all the talk about "Crazed Acid House Mobs" and "Drugged Disco Parties", it would seem that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are about to descend on humanity dressed in bandanas and Smiley tee-shirts.

The reality is, of course, quite banal. "Acid House" is simply a popular fashionable type of dance music based on the "House" sounds that emerged from the Chicago black and gay scenes a couple of years ago. And yes, just like some people in all sorts of nightclubs, homes and workplaces, some people at Acid parties take drugs.

Hang the DJ
At first glance, the commandeering of emtpy warehouses and factories in order to have a good time might seem subversive. But the motive is very different from the 1986 New Years Eve party in plush Bishop’s Avenue, London, when hundreds of party-goers invaded a millionaire’s empty house to see the New Year in (smashing it up in the process). Most "Warehouse parties" are run by DJs looking for cheap premises to run profitable nightclubs in. The exclusivity of the word-of-mouth invitations, and the minor risks of being in illegal premises, all add to the excitement. But behind this veneer of radicalism is the same indifference to the punters’ safety as that which sank the "Herald of Free Enterprise" at Zeebrugge and destroyed the Piper Alpha oil-rig and part of King’s Cross tube-station. In the search for profit, the provision of sufficient exits, fire precautions etc., play no part. Like for the other illicit Thatcherites in the drug-dealing world, profit is the name of the game for these free-market entrepreneurs.

Coppers in the house
The fuss about "Acid House" subculture has got little to do with any real or imaginary threat it poses to anybody. What this "moral panic" (and others about under-age drinking, rural violence, etc,) is all about is creating an atmosphere in which more law-and-order measures can be presented as necessary to deal with the "threat" and therefore as legitimate. In this way it is hoped to win support for such measures as increased video surveillance of town centres, compulsory identity cards (whose computer-readable strips would allow a cop who stopped you to know more than just your identity), and perhaps a widespread use of electronic tagging (i.e. a selective curfew).

The police, for whom all unofficial gatherings of large numbers of people pose a "problem" of "control", have not been slow to use their powers to crack down on "Acid House" parties. On the weekend of November 4th/5th 1988, for instance, police raided three such parties in London, Kent and Essex. When police with dogs broke up a party in a derelict house in Sevenoaks, party-goers were attacked with truncheons, torches and an iron bar. Fortunately this vicious assault - described by somebody there as being "just like an SAS raid"-- was met with resistance and several policemen were injured, one needing ten stitches to a head wound.

Meanwhile in the trendier parts of clubland, interest in Acid House is already on the wane. We can be sure though that new shock-horror threats to civilisation will be invented and identified as suitable cases for treatment -- as quickly as fashions change.

The Red Menace, number one, February 1989. Taken from the Practical History website.