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Ravers return to underground: Councils can face big problems during the nights of the party season as they try to ensure safe raves and happy neighbours

BESIDE the dance floor at The Venue, a club in Whitworth Street, Manchester, three boys sipped pints of water and listened to the music with bored expressions on their faces. They wore the baseball caps, the baggy trousers and the necklaces - but instead of hugging and dancing ecstatically they looked morose. 'We are chilling out,' they said. Then, tilting his head in disgust at the Smiths fans on the dance floor, one said: 'What else is there to do? The rave scene has moved to the edge.'

In the last month, Manchester's rave scene has shuffled to the outskirts of the city. Hardcore ravers are abandoning the mainstream clubs in favour of illegal parties. The move follows a concerted campaign by the city council to clean up the scene.

Since 1989, at least five people have died from dance floor dehydration and heatstroke, often brought on after consumption of the rave drug ecstasy, allied with crowded conditions and bad ventilation. To try to combat this, the city council has issued a 'safer dancing code of conduct'. Clubs must have plenty of free drinking water and a 'chill out' room where dancers can sit in comparative cool and quiet. Club owners risk losing their licences if they fail to conform.

But the owners say the code has come too late. The world-famous Hacienda club began its campaign months before the council, and has taken it further. On Friday and Saturday nights it employs an outreach worker to identify people suffering from dehydration and to feed them sugared water and send them home in a taxi, or to hospital.

Amer Nazir, 23, proprietor of the Limit club, said: 'In the last year club owners have learnt a great deal about the dangers of dehydration. The practice of turning off water taps and forcing teenagers to pay pounds 2 for a bottle of water has been curtailed. The problems now lie with the illegal raves held in a tent in the middle of nowhere. That is what the council should be targeting.'

Peter Dutton, 34, promotions manager for Rockworlds, says the code of conduct is losing club owners their business. Hardcore ravers have been bought off by illegal venues, while fledgeling ravers have been scared off by the attention of inspectors, press and police. For many clubs, the only profits are in all-nighters that work against the ethos of the code - to last the distance, some ravers want several doses of ecstasy.

(Photograph omitted)