HOW did free and ‘illegal’ raves begin? The Olive Press traces back the history of the curious parties to 1990s England.
They swooped down on southern Spain en masse and ended up partying for six full days over the New Year period.
Yet, incredibly the 8,000 or so ravers who danced until dawn, managed to do it almost completely unimpeded.
Despite squatting a private racetrack, setting up dozens of stalls and stages without a licence, and selling thousands of items undeclared to the tax authorities, only 100 of them ended up with any sort of fine or sanction.
Indeed, it is nothing short of remarkable that the illegal rave in Fuente Alamo, Murcia – known as Big F**cking Party – was able to take place in modern Europe.
But it turns out it not only happens every new year, but it is only one of dozens of such free festivals to take place in Spain each year.
The country, it emerges, has a pedigree for them.
Without invitations or publicity, the location of such raves – or ‘alternative’ festivals – are only given via word of mouth, closed Facebook groups and clandestine message boards.
Within hours, ravers ranging from New Age travellers to hippies and tourists to hedonists swarm down to the agreed location in their motorhomes, converted buses and vans.
The usually deserted areas soon resemble small villages, complete with stages, food trucks and stalls to keep attendees going.
A ‘free party’, events like this have no start or end time, no entry fee and no line-up. Dancing goes on 24/7 and police only occasionally patrol the entrances.
And in the case of Big F**cking Party (our asterisks), the organisers – believed to be French – arranged a similar party a year ago with 5,000 people at La Peza, in Granada.
Such events became popular in the late 1990s, with the best known, such as Andalucia’s Dragon Fest, regularly attracting well over 10,000 people at their peak.
“At any given moment, there will be a free party going on somewhere in Spain,” Fluor Nation, a UV paint and clothing company, told the Olive Press.
The Sevilla-based business makes almost all of its income from attending free parties, but how did Spain become a hotspot for these illegal events?
To understand this, we need to go back to 1990s England.
In the spring of 1992, some 20,000 people attended the largest unauthorised rave in history in Castlemorton, in rural Worcestershire.
Lasting seven days, the seminal party only ended when the dancing stopped, the generators ran out and police began arresting those involved.
The unfairly-maligned festival sparked a nationwide debate about free parties, culminating in the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.
The infamous legislation criminalised any gathering of 20 or more people where music using ‘a succession of repetitive beats’ was being played, effectively banning illegal raves.
In Britain, the party was effectively over, forcing many sound systems to move to mainland Europe.
Among them was Spiral Tribe, 13 members of which had been arrested for organising the legendary Castlemorton festival. They were eventually acquitted of all charges.
Not long after arriving in Spain they started a series of events here, including allegedly the country’s first ‘free festival’, held in Valencia in 1993.
Either way, that giant event (that lasted for nearly a week) sparked an interest in free festivals around the country with many Spaniards joining in… and today, there are dozens of similar events taking place with reportedly over 200 ‘sound systems’ (groups who provide the music technology and DJs) running them.
It is perhaps, no surprise, that the parties are concentrated in Catalunya, Andalucia and Valencia, areas with high numbers of foreigners and the parties are usually organised at locations which will cause the least disturbance to locals.
In fact, residents of Fuente Alamo, the nearest town to this year’s Big F**cking Party, said they ‘didn’t mind’ the festival, as long as they ‘picked up their rubbish’. It was exactly the same at La Peza last year.
According to Fluor Nation: “Festivals are always held far away from where anyone lives, we don’t want to bother anyone. We’re also very aware of the environment and take away all our litter. The atmosphere is friendly, everyone helps and has fun.”
Despite this, many claim free festivals are by their very nature dangerous as the ‘unofficial’ events are not bound by normal safety procedures.
It’s a fact that a number of serious issues (some reported by the Olive Press) occurred at the annual Dragon festival that took place primarily near Orgiva for two decades until 2019.
There were 57 people fined for drug driving as they left the recent event in Murcia, 14 of them for ‘dangerous driving’.
However, one regular expat raver, who asked not to be named, insisted organisers carefully self-police the events and ‘almost nothing bad ever happens’.
She continued: “Fences and security is not for safety. It’s just to get people to pay. People are just there to enjoy themselves.”
She insisted the ‘hedonistic free-spirit’ is the driving force behind the parties, adding: “Free festivals are collaborative, there’s no one in control. That’s why they work so well.”
Fluor Nation agreed: “It’s an altruistic movement that provides an alternative and affordable way to enjoy music without conditions,” she insisted.
Free festivals are also often linked with alternative communities and political struggle.
Golshanak, creator of Chapi’Teuf, a circus performer, said: “I’m from Iran and have seen my people deprived of cultural events. My parents organised many underground music events in the 90s and I am following in their footsteps here in Europe where some musical movements are still illegal.
“I joined the movement for freedom of expression. We are a big family and our economy sits outside the normal ‘system’ and I respect that a lot.
“It is powerful and necessary in a world where everything is being controlled by governments.”
With no specific law tackling the parties, free parties seem one thing the Spanish government cannot control, at least for now.