The discerning punter has grown out of Ecstasy in wet fields, reports Hester Lacey
THE RAVE is dead, long live the party. The strict new rules of the Criminal Justice Bill sounded the rave's final death knell; but a new generation of clubbers with high standards and money to spend had already decided that stumbling, out of their heads, round a bleak and nasty field was not a great way to spend a weekend.

"You don't get raves any more," explains Daniel Terry of the Flying Squad, the London firm that distributes around 95 per cent of publicity material and flyers for parties and clubs. "Things have moved on, everyone's grown up and got wiser. There are weekly clubs, and one-off parties at venues like stately homes and studios. Tickets cost around £35, but you certainly get your money's worth when you think that they cost serious money to put on - a top DJ can cost £1,000 an hour. Parties attract a better crowd - at raves you got 16 to 20-year-olds, but these crowds tend to be 21- plus, and everyone is glammed up and fashionable - we've come on a long way."

One person who is no fan of such events is the Earl of Cardigan. He hired out his Palladian mansion in the Savernake Forest, for a black-tie Spring Fling, which was to take place last week. When he found at the eleventh hour that sufficient insurance had not been taken out, he closed the ancestral portals and took up a position at the end of the drive to explain to £15- a-head ticket-holders that the ball was off. The calibre of the thwarted party-goers shocked him - especially when they started hurling bottles and bricks, and one of them threw up at his feet. "Virtually nobody was in a black tie," he complained. "Most were drunk, abusive and scruff- ily dressed."

A spokesman for the party organisers, Premier Events of Stroud, later called the Earl a "stuck-up party pooper". But in fact, pukka party organisers are keen to distance themselves from events that turn into drunken fiascos. Geoff Oakes of Renaissance, a Staffordshire-based company, is staging a string of parties in five stately homes, kicking off on 27 May at Ragley Hall, Warwickshire.

"We base everything we do on quality," explains Mr Oakes. "We hire a professional design team to decorate each venue, and we break new ground in terms of dcor, visuals and artists. We can arrange hotel accommodation and even helicopter flights from hotel to venue for £15 a head. Our clients are really cool people - they're professionals aged between 18 and 26, they like to dress well and they have quite a big disposable income. This is really an antidote to the rave scene - we started out three years ago because there was a void in the dance music scene, a gap to bring quality back, and it's really taken off." Up to 3,500 people are expected at the Renaissance parties, which will run from 8.30 in the evening to six the next morning. Tickets are £35 - and bad behaviour is not expected. Even the ubiquitous Ecstasy, claims Oakes, is being ditched in favour of alcohol in moderate amounts. "People are spending a lot of money, they don't want to spoil it by getting drunk and falling over."

Adrian Wiley, who deals with the marketing of several stately homes, is collaborating with Renaissance. "We are very careful," he says. "These are extremely up-market affairs, costing about £100,000 each to stage. There are far too many amateurs about - there is no room in this business for drunken orgies." Renaissance is insured to the hilt, and has negotiated with the police, fire and ambulance services. Wiley is proud of the punters he attracts. "When you go to a hunt ball, often the behaviour is bordering on ... well ..." He delicately clears his throat. "But there is no rowdiness at these parties, they are very peaceful."

A non-peaceful party can be an alarming spectacle. Richard Dickinson, a solicitor, recalls with a shudder: "A friend had got a whole bunch of tickets for one of these dos up in a big house near Gloucester somewhere, for his birthday. We all went up together, in our black ties and ball gowns. It was fine at first, but as it went on, people were getting so pissed they couldn't stand. We thought it was funny to begin with, but this slob threw up down my girlfriend's back, and couples were screwing under the hedges in the garden.

"These particularly obnoxious and stupid Hoorays thought it was funny to de-bag each other and piss in pint glasses and throw it at each other. It was like a mix of every spoilt jelly-throwing kids party and student piss-up you've ever been to, only worse. I wouldn't have liked to see the cleaning bill."

Dedicated clubber Ellie disdains such activities. Along with 1,800 others, she went to the Renaissance Birthday Party, held at Birmingham's Que Club in March. "One-offs like this are great. You get a unique experience. It's worth every penny. It was packed, but there was no trouble. There never is because people have more sense than they get credit for. Pissed- up students and Hoorays are the most obnoxious people on the planet, but luckily there aren't many of them around. Parties are so cool - they are the future." But with no glassing, de-bagging or spewing? "Absolutely not. As for me, I don't even drink."