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by Gary Grimes

This year marks the 30th anniversary of what was perhaps the most notorious rave in UK history.

The Castlemorton Common Festival began its life as a relatively low-key free festival organised by new age travellers in 1992 but would eventually shapeshift into the biggest illegal rave the country has ever seen. A raucous seven-night rager, the Castlemorton rave ultimately resulted in the passing of the original Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which limited the power of people to protest against government policy. This wide-ranging Act outlawed outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people listening to music at night and specifically prohibited the playing of music which incorporates “sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” – in layman’s terms, strictly no techno or house music.

This year Block9, Glastonbury’s legendary queer nightlife corner, took the festival’s 50th anniversary as an opportunity to pay tribute to staunch partygoers responsible for this pivotal moment in UK rave culture. Nestled in the heart of the festival’s South East corner, Block9’s Genosys Soundsystem was this year installed into a vintage coach as a nod to the hundreds of vehicles which transported nearly 40,000 ravers to Castlemorton Common in May 1922.

Over five nights at Worthy Farm the coach played host to a line-up of top-tier electronic music acts including Berghain resident Sedef Adasi, South London techno heroine OK Williams, and Block9 veteran Brawther. All the artists on the Genosys line-up were chosen by Block9 as they felt the artists uphold the same political principles at the core of dance music both in 1992 and 2022.

“[The] Genosys Soundsystem is about the legacy of those early musical and political pioneers and how their influence is found in music today,” explained Stephen Gallagher, co-founder of Block9.  “This year, and for one year only, we replaced the huge Genosys machine; stripping it back to the essentials – a DJ in a vintage coach, a soundsystem and a field full of ravers. Back to basics and taking it back to how it all started.”

It’s not just the attitudes of the Castlemorton ravers which inspired Gallagher and fellow co-founder Gideon Berger’s pursuits with Block9, who are also well known for producing Dua Lipa’s critically acclaimed Covid-era livestream Studio 2054. The pair consider themselves to be direct descendants of the attendees of this cornerstone rave. “There are so many ties between Castlemorton and Block9 and Glastonbury,” Gallagher explained to us. “Castlemorton was a defining moment in the UK both culturally and politically, and the media interest in it caused it to have even greater reach and impact. The NYC Downlow and Block9 at Glastonbury were created in the wake of all that.”

“In terms of personal connection, I was a 14-year-old house music fanatic when I read about Castlemorton in the paper,” Berger added. “I tried to hitch a lift with my best friend by standing on the roadside but sadly we didn’t make it there. This is Block9 ’tipping our hats’ to the Castlemorton ravers. “Genosys Soundsystem honoured all the people who got together with their mates, found a field and threw a party. It also featured amplified music wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”

Remembrance of Castlemorton feels particularly timely given that recently the power to gather and protest has been further eroded with the introduction of the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which effectively bans music, or any significant noise, from peaceful protests altogether. “Having reviewed the evidence, our conclusion is that the police do not strike the right balance on every occasion,” said Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary in 2021. “The balance may tip too readily in favour of protesters when – as is often the case – the police do not accurately assess the level of disruption caused, or likely to be caused, by a protest.”

This new Act is the antithesis to everything Block9 and Genosys represent, Berger says. “We all have a right to make ourselves heard and our feelings known. Using music and art as tools of protest is a democratic right.” Berger and Gallagher hope that this tribute to Castlemorton will remind people that the fight for our right to protest has never been so imperative. “It’s not about Castlemorton but more about the way that the government at the time was reacting to what was happening culturally,” Berger said. “The fact that we find ourselves in a similar situation 30 years later, with the government once again placing restrictions on our rights to gather and protest, beggars belief.

“We all have a right to make ourselves heard and our feelings known….to make some noise.”

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