Edinburgh raves played their part in Irvine Welsh film

Irvine Welsh pictured on the set of the film Filth
Irvine Welsh pictured on the set of the film Filth
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NO author has captured the spirit of the early-1990s rave scene better than Irvine Welsh.

But ahead of this weekend’s long-awaited film adaptation of the Leith author’s book Ecstasy being given its UK premiere, just how true to life are Welsh’s graphic depictions?

Rave culture was experienced by the likes of DJ Brainstorm

Rave culture was experienced by the likes of DJ Brainstorm

Could the plot – which follows dissatisfied housewife Heather and ageing clubber Lloyd as they explore a chemical romance and discover whether their love for one another is real – have been played out on the streets of the Capital?

There’s no doubt Edinburgh had a booming rave scene back then, with throngs of thrill-seeking youngsters going hard to the beats in abandoned warehouses, remote fields and other out-of-the-way-places.

Raves began in the late 80s as feel-good dancefests, attended by large numbers of youths. Without the internet or mobile phones, news of a one-off event would spread via word-of-mouth, and ravers would meet in car parks before travelling in convoy to the destination.

For Graeme Nisbet, a public sector worker who used to regularly attend raves in his teens, that was all part of the excitement. “I started becoming aware of the raves when I was about 13 or 14, about 1989 or 90,” he says. “Later I’d go to raves all over Britain, but the Edinburgh ones I remember best were the quarry parties. They were legendary.

“They could be practically anywhere away from prying eyes – often out Penicuik way – and it was usually the ‘crusties’ [punks or hippies whose lifestyle involved travelling and squatting] who organised them.

“It was all very last minute,” he goes on. “You’d find out from a friend of a friend where you were going, jump in the car, drive out to the quarry, and you’d be there until the police came or petrol ran out of the generator or until you’d had too much.”

What Nisbet liked most about these unlicensed parties was the atmosphere, which he describes as “absolutely amazing”.

“Because it was all underground you weren’t getting much in the way of health and safety, but the biggest plus was that there was no trouble at all. There were no football casuals, no idiots . . . it was just people there for the music.

“The organisers weren’t interested in making money either, so there was no one trying to rip you off. It was simply about giving a party for people who wanted to be there. It really was all about the music.”

But when the events became bigger and more frequent, things changed and there were a series of violent clashes between ravers the police.

One chatroom poster claims that police once turned up to a rave at Cammo Woods west of Edinburgh with “loads of dogs and loads of cops in mini-bus vans, dressed in their riot gear”, but another poster remembers things differently, saying the police were mostly friendly and more often than not would simply ask for the noise to be turned down.

White gloves, glo-sticks and T-shirts with smiley faces all became associated with raves. But it was also associated with drugs – primarily Ecstasy.

Danny Taylor*, who was popping pils regularly at raves in the early 90s, says Ecstasy and rave culture went hand in glove.

“I remember when we used to neck pills at raves and we always took those Vicks nasal inhaler things, which used to bring you up when you sniffed them,” he says. “No doubt there will have been some people at raves not doing E, but they were in the minority.”

As a result of this, the tabloid press latched on to raves in a big way, with countless column inches warning parents of the “Evil of Ecstasy”. And when the Government passed the Criminal Justice Act to ban raves in 1994, events started spilling into the regular clubs across the city.

At the likes of Pure and Burger Queen, local DJs like Twitch, Brainstorm and Huggy played an eclectic selection of dance music which turned weekends into a ritual that reached quasi-religious proportions.

“Pure was more than a club, it was a way of life,” says Brainstorm, real name Andrew Watson. “You’d be walking along Calton Road trying to see how big the queue was and you could already feel the vibe resonating from the walls of the club.

“Standing in the queue for at least 20 minutes was normal most weekends, but you’d always know someone in the crowd,” he continues. “The steam would be pouring out the door, the beats would be shaking you about, and all you’d want to do is get inside – via bouncers with bad attitudes.”

As well as the clubs, high-profile events were organised to meet the demand for dance music.

In August 1993, the first outdoor Rezerection, simply titled “The Event”, was staged at the Royal Highland Showground, with 5000 in attendance. ‘The Event 2’ was staged at the same venue the following year, and proved to be bigger and better organised than the first, with an attendance of around 16,000 hardcore ravers from all over the UK and beyond.

But not everyone liked the big commercial events that were being staged. “It was all about making money,” says Nisbet. “To many people, it just wasn’t the same any more, because everything was so commercial. All these big parties that were being held, like Rezerection, they had taken over and the rave scene finished.”

As new musical styles – such as Britpop – took hold, the subculture faded into memory.

Recently, however, there has been talk of a return to rave culture, fulled by the recession and Facebook.

But things have changed enormously in the last 20 years.

Perhaps the biggest change has been the rise of the internet and mobile phones. Together, they make it impossible to keep the whereabouts of illegal raves secret – and therefore equally impossible to recreate the feeling among ravers of being in a privileged group.

For now then, and no doubt to the relief of authorities, the rave scene will be confined to the silver screen. Ecstasy has its international premiere tomorrow at the Glasgow Film Festival and will be released around the country in April.

* Name has been changed to protect identity