Rave on: students drive revival of illegal party craze

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Images of police clashing with 1,000 revellers in a farmer's field at the weekend appeared to be a flashback to the rave scene of the late 1980s and 1990s.

It was a series of similar confrontations that 12 years ago led to the Conservative government introducing new laws aimed at crushing the hedonistic dance and drug culture. Zero-tolerance policing and legislation that banned gatherings of more than 10 people listening to "music characterised by a succession of repetitive beats" drove many abroad, to dance hot spots such as Ibiza.

In short, it was assumed that the rave scene, if not dead, was down to its last few ecstasy tablets.

But it now appears that a new form of illegal rave is thriving. Police forces in the south of England have been logging growing evidence of the re-emergence of the rave.

The most recent detected was on Saturday night in a cornfield next to the village of Ickleton, near Saffron Walden in Essex. Two hundred riot police from five counties used CS gas, dogs and batons to disperse the 1,000 party goers. During the clashes a police car was set on fire and nine officers were wounded, with injuries to police including a suspected broken collarbone and a severed finger. At least two revellers were also injured. Thirty people were arrested and released on bail.

Elsewhere, in Gloucestershire, two officers were injured and several people were arrested when police broke up an illegal party at a business park early on Saturday.

Police also sealed off a farm near Heston, Cornwall, on Sunday after receiving information that the site was to be used for a rave.

Forces admit there has been a surge in similar illegal raves, including one party in north Cornwall that was attended by more than 5,000 revellers over the May bank holiday this year.

But according to party organisers, the new style raves differ from the dance scene that reached its zenith in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Most of the new gatherings involve much smaller numbers than in the past, with just several dozen or a few hundred people. This contrasts with the estimated 25,000 revellers who turned up to a week-long rave at Castlemorton, a traveller camp on common land in Hereford in May 1992. The mass gathering is considered to have brought about the end of the rave and heralded a series of police laws that include the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, and the Anti Social Behaviour Act of 2003.

The revival of the rave is apparently being pioneered by a new young generation, who possess their own "rigs" - portable sound systems with amplifiers, speakers and turntables.

The DJs use MP3 players as well as record turntables. They take them out to woods, quarries, fields and beaches with a small group of friends and dance all night.

Today's raves are no longer dominated by travellers, squatters and alternative cultures. Instead the new wave of free raves is being led by students and ordinary teenagers, who want an alternative to mainstream music and the alcohol-related violence, according to party organisers.

Unlike the 1980s, it is not trying to make any political statements, but is seen as a rejection of the current expensive and commercial pub and club culture.

More sophisticated technology has also helped party goers to dodge the police and organised secret gatherings. Ravers are equipped with global positioning systems to find remote events, and text messaging and a network of websites make it easy to get the word out about a gathering.

To promote the growing industry, club promoters and DJs are also using networking websites such as MySpace to advertise shows and parties.

The main drug of choice remains ecstasy tablets, although cannabis, ketamine, GHB and LSD are also popular among the revellers.

A relatively new method of getting high is from nitrous oxide (laughing gas), which is sold at some raves at £1 to £2 a balloon. It's not currently an offence to ingest the dental anaesthetic, once likened to the "air of heaven".