A brief history of the Amsterdam rave culture

April 23, 2018

It’s Saturday night, and you’re hanging out in the kitchen of one your friends, having a beer and a cigarette. “Shouldn't the location be online already?” says a girl, chewing gum as if her life depends on it. You decide to ignore her and light up another cigarette. Suddenly a friend runs in, excited like a child on christmas morning, yelling: “I just got the location! Get your shit together!” You drop the cigarette, throw a six pack in your backpack,  and grab your bicycle. Tonight is not the night you’re going to spend convincing a bouncer to let you in, twerking in the club, and drinking fancy cocktails. Tonight, you are going to an illegal rave party.




For the people that can't relate to the story they’ve just read, an illegal rave party is a party without a permit. Their locations range from parks and fields, to big warehouses and abandoned office buildings. The music ranges from drum ‘n bass to techno and from psytrance to house. There are illegal parties all over the world, but they have a special place in the history of the Dutch party scene.


Illegal raves have been a part of the Dutch party scene for quite a while. It all started in the sixties and seventies. People started to hang out in houses, in the public spaces, and they started squatting buildings. People were listening to music, conversing, and using illegal narcotics. These were the writers, the artists, the students, and the musicians. For a lot of these people it was a way to stick it to the establishment.


In the late eighties house music and MDMA came to the Netherlands. Amsterdam was just coming out of a big depression (Blue Monday striked harder than Suicide Tuesday would in the end) and people wanted to celebrate. Because of the recession lots of buildings in the western harbour of Amsterdam were abodented, so people decided to organize gigantic illegale house parties. The cops were not informed about these parties and the size of the crowds made them hard to shut down.


In the late nineties the underground house scene hit a rough batch. Because of the popularity of the parties, the use of MDMA, the lack of knowledge about drug use, and poor safety measures, major accidents happened. During this period some people lost their lives due to drug use at illegale parties. Event organisers and partygoers understood this and a change needed to be made. Besides, young people didn't want to fight the establishment anymore, like they did in the eighties. They just wanted to party! The illegal party organizers started to organize big legal festivals like Mysteryland, Dance Valley, etc. They communicated with the cops, firefighters, and medical services, hired security personnel, and the illegale rave scene soon became less active.


Later in the new millennium everything started shifting again. Pressured by a more conservative government, festivals and clubs started to have stricter rules on drugs use. Cops started to show up more and more at events, and sound restrictions became stricter. This gave rise to a new generation of ravers. This new generation is one with more technological help to organise their events, but essentially it's still just a soundsystem in an abandoned building or far-away forest.


Some people have never been to an illegal rave and might never go there, while for others it's a part of their normal party routine. Illegal raves offer a lot for the people that enjoy them, it’s a chance to party without having to buy a ticket. Beers are usually a lot cheaper and people don't really care if you bring your own. That said, sometimes finding the location can be hard, and there is no guarantee the cops won't show up. Also, you should not expect a clean bathroom. But for those who don't care about all of that, illegal raves can be just what you need after a long week of work. Even if it is not your cup of tea, everyone can agree that without the illegal rave culture, the Dutch party scene would have been a lot more tame.


Source: Ton Nabben “Het onstaan van een uitgaansgeneratie” - https://vimeo.com/67950404


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