The song that changed my life…kinda.

Rafael Epstein has a segment on his radio show on 774 ABC Melbourne where people talk about the song that changed their life, and every time I think about it, there is one song that really stands out: ‘Red 2‘ by Dave Clark. But it’s not because it heralded the onset of some amazing time in my life, more that it marked the end of one.

The rave scene in the early 90’s

If this were a news report or documentary, this is the part where you cut to the footage of people dancing with glow sticks in a massive club while a light show explodes around them. But in truth this is not where this story starts. In year 11 and 12 ¬†at school (1992-93) I started listening to techno music. Back then it was called ‘trance’ and it was still well and truly outside of the mainstream. DJ’s who would eventually play at parties for 10,000s of people like Will e Tell and Richie Rich were still playing the back room at Insanity at the Chevron to a transient group of about 20 punters.

Community radio was the only place to find it. There was one show that I listened to religiously called ‘Beat in the street‘ (that later became ‘Transmission’) on RRR-FM hosted by Kate Bathgate. I used to tape every show, and then listen to the tape on my walkman again, and again and again at school over the next week.
Going to a private all-boys school meant that listening to anything other than MMM or Fox-FM was basically like walking into a steakhouse and just ordering a salad, it simply wasn’t done. So listening to these tapes in the common room at school had a sort of forbidden pleasure element to it.
I started going to dance parties (or in the parlance of 1994 ‘raves’) regularly when I started Uni and it was a total revelation. The venues were usually shitty warehouses with one toilet. The sound systems were prone to blowing just as everyone was going apeshit (Thomas Heckman, I’m looking in your direction) and the people attending them were the offcuts from society. There were tall and lanky guys and short squat women. They had their own dresscode (highly coloured clothes, with very wide pants and very tight tops). They didn’t drink and there was none of the agro that hung over the club scene like a fog as soon as the clock hit 2am. And the music…well it was like nothing I had ever heard! There was the big 4/4 beat driving it along, but there were also floating basslines and awesome melody lines that I just loved. If you can imagine my music up until this point being basically nothing but guitars and the occasional hip-hop track… then suddenly hearing this or this you can get an idea of just how big a change it was.
It was a very friendly and welcoming scene, and like so many sub-cultures, part of the pleasure was sharing an experience with a whole lot of like minded people. I would head to these parties at about midnight and then dance until the early morning…then catch the first train home. Some how I managed to also accommodate my exhausting 8 contact hours a week of uni. I was living the dream.

Cometh the drugs, cometh the pretty people…endeth the party

By the mid 90’s the parties were getting bigger and better, with the Hardware and Every Picture Tells a Story parties attracting thousands of people…and with that I started to notice more and more people from clubland appearing at the raves. It started with a slow trickle of muscly men in white t-shirts and their blonde bombshells…and eventually became a monsoon of pretty people armed with whistles, glow sticks and talcum powder. But of course these people weren’t here for the music…they were there because someone had told them that it was cool to go to raves and do drugs.
Now of course drugs had always been a big part of the rave scene, but suddenly people were no longer going to listen to the music and maybe do some drugs…they were going to do some drugs and maybe listen to some music. So the music slowly began to morph away from the flowing melodies and soaring chords, towards something that said ‘look, you’ve spent a lot of money on those two pills and that gram of speed…let’s give you something that you can just grind your teeth to all night’. To me Red 2 was the tipping point. It was so sparse, so mechanical, and so minimal that I felt no connection with it…and as the crowds around me generally lost their shit to it…I realised that I had no real connection with them either. And suddenly the spell was broken. I could no longer see my future self still going the these parties when I was 40 (I had earnestly announced this to people in the past), I couldn’t even see myself going to these parties in 6 months time. The dance was over.
Like any naive person in a subculture, I wanted the mainstream to see how amazing this scene was and to experience what I was experiencing. I was convinced that if the mainstream could just attend these parties, then the world would be a better place…but when the mainstream decided to drop by, they were like a drunken gatecrasher. They turned up at my house, made a pass at my girlfriend then vomited on the cat. In short they pretty much ruined everything, and Red 2 was the soundtrack they did it to.

That was 20 years ago. All of the flyers I used to have stuck on my bedroom walls are gone, the recordings I listened to religiously are on redundant technology and it takes weeks weeks to organise someone to look after the kids if I was to go out on a Saturday night…and even then, I’d have to be home by 1am because otherwise I’d be too tired for the next day. But while writing this I jumped on YouTube and started listening to some of the tracks I used to love, and suddenly I was back in a warehouse in Footscray, at 4am, dancing my heart out with a room of people who were having the best night of their lives…and I’m so glad that I got to experience that.