Editor’s comment: ‘Unlawful’ use of pubic space merits analysis

PUBLISHED: 08:00 08 November 2018

A rave in Hackney Wick woodland organised by Keep On Going. Picture:  YouTube

A rave in Hackney Wick woodland organised by Keep On Going. Picture: YouTube


To my near daily regret, I’m not old enough to have taken part in the rave music explosion of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I did, however, spend a year breathlessly researching and writing about it at the conclusion of my degree, some of the results of which you can see online (but you really shouldn’t – I revisited my writing about rave culture recently only to find I couldn’t understand it in the slightest).

The reason for this extended intro is to explain my reticence about the council’s ban on loud music at Hackney Wick Woodland in an attempt to dissuade vandalism.

Music as a strategy to influence people’s behaviours is, of course, well known in the form of supermarket radio or orchestral classics being piped into dingy, blue-lit Tube stations late at night.

But it’s also a sore point that the government in 1994 attempted to stop raves by banning “repetitive beats” from being played at, I think, outdoor gatherings of any size. Some wry attempts were made to circumvent this by producing absurdly complex dance music that changed subtly with every bar and so could not properly be described as “repetitive”, although the matter of people in suits trying clumsily to legislate against fun was rather less of a laughing matter.

I have no doubt loud, anti-social behaviour is a total headache (in more ways than one) for neighbours of the Woodland, and of course for the people who use it respectfully and are dismayed to see it damaged and desecrated.

But we should be cautious before assuming that all people who take part in outdoor parties are responsible, or that banning the practice outright is a proportionate or even realistic aim. The eviction of Jay Filipowicz, whose two years at the canal underpass have apparently served largely to clean it up and make it more accessible, is an example of there being more than one side to a story about the “unlawful” use of a public space; recall that squatters often make abandoned or underused buildings (both public and private) not only useful but also safe and clean.

Banning raves from the Woodland may in fact turn out to be a proportionate measure. But plenty of people use public spaces at the fringes of the law without being de facto troublemakers. Hackney Council, like the ravers, should tread carefully.

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