Dancing apart on the narrow ground

The explosion of Dance Culture,  fuelled by rave music and Ecstasy, is often credited with being one of the causes for the reduction in football hooliganism in England and Scotland in the late 80s, early 90s.

If you follow the popular mythology, then hooligan outfits such as West Ham’s ICF and Millwall’s Bushwackers, overnight swapped their “hatchets and hammers” for tie-dyed t shirts, Deep House imports from Chicago and group hugs-  Primal Scream’s “Come Together” took over “Come and have a go if you think yer ‘ard enough!” as the theme song of the Casual gangs.

Like any myth, there is an element of truth in it. Post the “Second Summer of Love”, trouble inside football grounds did diminish but that had as much to do with the jailing of several prominent “faces”, CCTV, all-seater stadiums and midday kick-offs.  Drugs did do their job to an extent (going on the rampage in a foreign city is much more difficult after a couple of spliffs as opposed to eight pints) but metaphorically, as well as literally, there was one hell of a come-down from their effect  quite shortly after. On a personal, human levelthe amount of serious casualties soon started mounting and predictably the hooligan gangs quickly spotted the “business” opportunities with the inevitable mayhem and, quite often, murder following.

Belfast has never had serious trouble with organised hooliganism… OK, let me rephrase that. Belfast has never had much of a problem with organised football hooliganism but the myth of the unifying power of the  “rave” has also been propagated here with regards to bringing together youngsters from our different “warring factions”.

And as with the situation in England and Scotland (and as in an earlier generation locally with punk) there was an element of truth in it- E’d up, dancing together under the thumping bass, the religion or community of the person dancing beside you wasn’t really crucial but the people involved still woke up the next day (or the day after!)  in a divided society with all that entailed.

This film was originally made for the BBC by Desmond Bell but they later refused to show it, allegedly because of the language but as one of those involved with the project points out in the comments, perhaps it was the subject matter they weren’t really comfortable with.

Bell did his darnest to bring together two different crews; one from Lenadoon, the other from Orangefield but in the end societal divisions proved much more real than what was (in retrospect) the false united consciousness experienced in places like Kelly’s and the various ourdoor locations where the (usually) illegal raves took place.

I found it quite a sad piece actually and not just because two of the Orangefield lads featured have apparently since died.

Rave and Ecstasy did not ultimately change attitudes; the explosion of drugs onto the Belfast scene has wrecked many a life post 1995. More pertinently, for many youngsters in Belfast, the clear evidence is that separation is now as firmly wired into the psyche as it ever has been.

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