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This film was originally made for the BBC by Desmond Bell but they later refused to show it, allegedly because of the language but as one of those involved with the project points out in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.

  • jthree

    ‘Rave and Ecstasy did not ultimately change attitudes; the explosion of drugs onto the Belfast scene has wrecked many a life post 1995.’

    Well true…but there are many well-adjusted, productive adults who had their lives positively enriched by getting pilled off their margins at Hellraiser (or Sugarsweet if you were a bit more upmarket.)

    I’m confident that no Slugger readers were ever at either of these events.

    Has anyone (sociology phd student for example) ever attempted to document this era in Belfast social history?

  • Neil

    Well true…but there are many well-adjusted, productive adults who had their lives positively enriched by getting pilled off their margins at Hellraiser (or Sugarsweet if you were a bit more upmarket.)

    Them was the days.

  • requiem777

    I was a bit too young for that scene (plus raving wouldn’t have been my thing), but as a naive Bangor Boy I used to get my eyes open heading to Giros for the Punk and Goth gigs. It really was a different world and there was a definite crossing of the divide for some people involved.

    It dispelled any preconviced notions I may have had (which weren’t all that many truth be told) of working class Protestants & Catholics, frankly many of my family members had them tarred as savages looking for any excuse to beat each other. Imagine my surprise when I foun they just wanted to get drunk and have a dance the same as me.

    It was always my perception that the real trouble was at Raves and nightclubs where boys were thanked up looking for fights, but that may just have been the influence of the papers and television. As I understand it, Rave Culture was seen as a direct threat by the Establishment in the early 90’s

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I’m not posing as a massive dance fan but a lot of my mates are / were and the summer or 94 was for me a summer of unlikely clubbing (and let’s just say recreational dance drugs were widely available in the venues we went to). For those of us who lived through that transition from the heavily booze-fuelled Belfast social life of the 80s to what was happening by the mid 90s, it was a remarkable change both in activities and attitudes – and generally one for the better in terms of the atmosphere about the place.

    Maybe it couldn’t bring everyone together, but I suspect that it did have an influence on the end of the Troubles. Belfast started to feel like a less aggressive place on Saturday nights in the early 90s than it had been – people were excited about the clubs which were still quite a new thing. The pub became a fairly minor precursor to the club night, when before it was just somewhere to keep drinking after the pubs closed.

    Personally, I was always much more of a pub person and had mixed feelings about the cultural shift – but it was heady stuff for sure. And the club scene seemed to foster a kind of openness and warmth that, I felt at the time, changed the way people thought for the better.

    I’d like to see an academic sociological study of what happened but I think a lot of us felt that the political changes at the time were surely not unlinked to the dramatically changed mood among young people at that time. Not necessarily that ethnic division ceased to matter, but just feeling like there are more important things in life – and associating sectarian attitudes with the old boozy culture.

    Now I sound old, but then I am. I’ll take a look at the film too when I get a chance.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    In 2nd para, I meant the *club* had previously been seen as a place to keep drinking (sorry that was badly worded) – not the pub of course

  • ForkHandles

    “I’m confident that no Slugger readers were ever at either of these events.”

    Hehe, im sure you mean the opposite! I loved going to Kelly’s Harmony nights, Hell Raiser in the Ulster Hall, and Sugar Sweet in the Art College back in 1992-93. Loved up on Es every weekend, unbelievably amazing times 🙂 Sure there were loads of spides about, but that only made the nights even madder!

    Watching old clips like the ones in this video are great fun. But by 1995 the Kellys crowd was really made up of serious smickers, as can be seen in the video! Most clubbers had moved on to other clubs a year or so before. It was the tail end of the Rave years. In 1996 Kellys turned into “Lush” and the music was a more clubby house sound with a more dressed up crowd. I started going back to Lush for a few more years. The nights were also amazing, but nothing ever touched the atmosphere of the NI Rave scene in 92-93.

    As far as the protestant catholic thing goes, yes of course everyone who had their eyes and minds opened up by ecstasy, or the chemical called MDMA, realized that disliking someone because of their religion was the stupidest thing ever. Having a prejudice that does not have a logical reason is automatically washed away as nonsense when you are in the mentally expanded state of mind that ecstasy brings.
    A very large portion of NI society was part of the Rave and club scene in the 90s. We all took E and all experienced the same positive feelings and thoughts. I’m sure many of the people on slugger who ridicule the ranters and sectarian nutters on this site, have had some E experiences in the 90s.

    Unfortunately documentaries like this video tend to focus on the extremes and ignore the majority of people who weren’t from the ‘bad areas’. Most people do not have such bitter attitudes. Many people had protestant and catholic friends at the time, and still do and think nothing of it.

    The origins of MDMA and the initial medical use in the early 80s is all shown in this excellent US documentary from 1985

  • ForkHandles

    “myth of the unifying power of the “rave”

    its not a myth. it actually happened in those environments. Orbital actually named a track “Belfast” after their experience seeing Protestants and Catholics mixing as normal in the rave scene here.

    the demise of football hooligans in England is covered in this documentary with interviews from the leaders of some London groups.

    “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.”

    If you look at the life and times surveys you will see that more and more young people have friends from different religions etc. certainly in the extreme areas people are still full of hate, but the trend in young people is away from that towards a normal society were they don’t care what religion their friends are.

  • andnowwhat

    I worked as a bouncer in Northern Ireland’s supposedly foremost underground dance club. E abounded and there was never any hassle save for obvious dealers and people drinking who didn’t get the deal. Great kids, having fun and really in to their music.

    Contrasting that with a very, very well known pub with a disco that I worked in and it is a whole other story. I remember they opened the disco area on a Sunday to show Arsenal versus United in a FA semi final but a Celtic, Ransgers Match followed and they kept things going. You can all guess the rest.

    We need a Dutch model on recreational drugs to ensure kids get good quality drugs and stop putting our heads in the sand.

  • BluesJazz

    After my time, but the plurality of relationships was evident in Lavery’s early 80’s. Followed by the Plaza/Delta bring your own beer thing.
    There were some drugs on offer, crap dope, crap ‘speed’ and other amphetimines.
    Politics was sneered at.
    I remember everyone in Laverys had a tenner on ‘Roll a Joint’ in the Scottish Grand national 198?. It won at 10/1 and there was ‘tebles all round’
    The Plaza and Delta were defo mixed, in all senses of the word. Good times all round.

    Re: the ‘Dutch model’ it’s being sandbagged by the government there. Uruguay has taken up the baton of legalising soft drugs.

  • qwerty12345

    Thanks for the laugh Forkhandles.

    Pity all those loved up attitudes didnt extend to many of those behind the flow of the drugs. Good old loyalist paramilitaries eh liberating the middle classes from their prejudice.

  • ForkHandles

    Paramilitaries being involved was the down side alright. Maybe if E was legal then we could get a few pills along with a couple of beers in the local offy. Mr Taxman could benefit also.
    Unfortunately since about 1999 pills have been full of crap chemicals and not mdma. A regulated market is required.

  • Dont Drink Bleach

    I don’t think it was Loyalists caught red-handed in the jungle cocaine factories of Colombia a few years back…

  • qwerty12345

    Your right there bleach, the loyalists were too busy getting busted here at home, but since most of them worked for or with the “police” surprisingly few ever served time for polluting the place with drugs.

    Since a high number seemed to be sampling the merchandise its not much of a vote of confidence for the transformative effect of chemicals.Mind you I guess to get psychedelic you need some psyche to start with.

    On the other side, in my own area the IRA were busy threatening anyone even dabbling in a bit of recreational drug use. Those doing the threatening often being amusingly big boozers.

    Each to their own, but imho, drugs are bad mmmmmmkay.

  • Mark

    ” Since about 1999 the pills have been full of crap chemicals ” …….

    Rumour has it that the chemist that produced the iconic ” love doves ” took his receipe to jail when he was banged up in the early 90s . This led to pills like ” mad bastards ” appearing on the scene which left the user with a terrible come down to contend with .

    While heroin was a no no in the North in the early days , dealers in the south sold party bags containing 2 pills , 1 gramme of speed and a bag of gear ( smack ) to help their client deal the dreaded come down . This reignited the heroin problem in Dublin .

    The dance scene was so big that festivals like Glastonbury , Reading etc where ” super bands ” like the Stones / the Who were replaced with DJs like Fat Boy Slim / Pete Tong etc .

    With regard to community relations …….on the few occasions we travelled up to Kellys , we were never asked where we came from . Clubbers from all over the North travelled down to party in Dublin Clubs like Sides and the Asylum and Sir Henrys in Cork .

    I wonder if we’ll ever see a serotonin replacement therapy like they have a hormone replacement therapy for all those athletes who took steroids down the years .

    Like Forkhandles , I’d be extremely surprised if some slugger readers weren’t part of that evil no good dance scene .

    I can just picture Willie Frazier in his orange dungarees , covered in poppers raving way in a field in Armagh . Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah … or no no no no no !

  • Desmond Bell took things as they were, and not how they could be.
    The lives destroyed by the rotten society, via alcohol and other drugs, is there on film relentlessly.
    The young girl Karen was the most significant in showing the potential of the youth. Her boyfriend(?) the most tragic.
    Bell’s approach is the usual one – and superficial, of ‘bringing together’ the ‘two sides’.

  • Johnny Boy

    I watched this last night, and recognised a lot of the characters as I knocked about Orangefield in the early 90’s. It paints a bleak picture that I don’t recognise from my time though. Getting involved in drugs, drink, and running with a group is pretty typical teenage behaviour all over. Most people drift away from that scene and have relatively normal unspectacular lives.