“No one is wading through a marsh tonight”, DT reassures us as we crowd around his phone, anxiously attempting to determine which blurry stretch of land we would be navigating through in the coming hour.
At that point in the night, wine drunk and positively radiating restless energy, I probably could have been convinced to trudge through a marsh in pursuit of a decent party. Finding a good rave is like finding love – you supposedly only find it once you stop looking. After weeks of scouring Instagram hashtags of London and Oxford, I’d just about stopped looking when my friend sent me a discrete ticketing link to this event, sporting a date, time, and the sparsest of descriptions that only served to pique my intrigue.
In the Warehouse was a techno rave hosted jointly by two local London-based party collectives, as the biggest event that they had put on to date. From the start, it was clear that the event organizers were decidedly channeling all the energy of the 90s that they could muster into the ethos of this night. Everything, from the trippy art and wavy lettering on the social media adverts, to the promises of a secret location that would only be revealed to ticket-holders on the night of the event, brought back traces of the covert and liberating nostalgia intrinsic to rave culture.
Four of us left Oxford on a train to London early Friday evening, with a plan to meet up with four more friends in London. We came prepared, equipped with enough layers to keep warm, comfortable shoes, an assortment of rave essentials, and open minds.
DT, sporting his Mitski shirt and signature leather jacket, had brought a full backpack, claiming that he was well-equipped for the night’s events (he was) AND to do work on the train back the next morning (he wasn’t). JF and I brought our funkiest sunglasses and portable phone chargers, the pair of which had the combined capacity to charge about 75% of one phone. JG had his trusty black bum-bag, a perfect accent to his stylish light-washed-denim outfit, and I carried a hip flask full of water and my impractically shoe-shaped crossbody which I’d overstuffed with protein bars, chewing gum, and the contents of a first aid kit.
The eight of us had a range of experiences with raves. While many in my group were seasoned rave-goers, with some having attended many a warehouse spree and forest bacchanal, tonight’s festivities would give me my first taste of the London warehouse rave scene. I was stoked. I wanted to dance, and I wanted to see what I’d been missing.
Eventually, our crew of eight ended up at a friend’s East London apartment for pre-drinks, waiting to receive more information about the secret location advertised on the event page, which had been intentionally hidden by the organizers until the night of the event. At a quarter past 10 PM, we received what we were waiting for: an unceremonious set of Google coordinates marking the event location, texted to our phones along with a suggested drop-off point for rideshares. At first glance, the location seemed totally nondescript – an industrial development block bordering a wide stretch of marshy grass – but we toggled map settings to gain a bird’s eye view of the cluster of abandoned buildings, among which our warehouse was nestled. BLESS satellite view!
Once our Uber dropped us off, getting to the venue was straightforward. As we waited for the rest of our group to arrive, we exchanged nods with several groups of fellow rave-goers walking past us, up a shadowy bend. We soon followed, and artfully hopping over stretches of mud, were met by the faint sounds of techno beats coming from one of the warehouses ahead. Despite the midnight darkness, the faint reflections of pulsing lights were more than enough to guide us to the entrance. After a surprisingly short entry queue and a surprisingly orderly coat check process, we were in.
Our venue, an abandoned warehouse, bordered an open field. The front room was divided into a small lounge area, a coat check, and a security line, in which an exasperated bouncer forced JG to chug the contents of my smuggled hip flask on the spot. This was, no doubt, to nudge us toward the makeshift bar in the main room, which was absolutely minting money via selling overpriced bottles of ice water, balloons, and criminally marked-up drinks. Next to the bar was another, larger lounge lined with make-shift seating. Over the course of the night, this space grew increasingly crowded. Guests would sink onto the couches, undoubtedly intending to have a quick break and smoke, and inevitably ended up staying for much longer, falling asleep or else getting sucked into the throes of their pharmaceutical trances where they sat. Subtly illuminated in the red lights, the scene evoked my naive conception of an opium den.
The main dance floor in front of the DJ set made for an impressive setup. The stage was flanked by speakers and the entire room was illuminated by red and blue laser lights that flashed in manic perfection, keeping time with the music. The effect of the lights reduced the throngs of people to a mirage of dancing silhouettes, making it effortless to lose oneself in the crowd and focus on being present with the music.
One of the things I love most about raves is the ability to “choose your own adventure”. Even arriving in a group, it’s almost guaranteed that each person will have a vastly different experience of the night. JF and DT quickly retreated from the floor to huddle together in the lounge area, occasionally resurfacing to dance intensely for 40-minute bursts. Our friend N, seemed to be nowhere and everywhere, spiraling through the swampy dance floor while also pursuing a series of side adventures like sneaking out to catch the sunrise.
For most of the night, I was surviving off of pure vibes, as JG and JF loved to remind me. The wine I’d had prior to arriving wore off quickly but was aptly replaced by the affective power of the atmosphere I was in. Surrounded by soul-shaking octane beats and transfixed by the patterns of iridescent lights, I welcomed the feeling of dancing alone in a crowd as I slid in and out of touch with reality at leisure.
The depths of the warehouse felt like a post-apocalyptic world apart, electrically charged and frenzied. I hesitantly, then completely embraced the anarchic entropy of losing myself and then haphazardly colliding back into my friends, all while encountering a barrage of new faces over the course of the night. I vanished from the floor to chat with the light technician, Luca, who let me try my hand at harmonizing the lights with the beats (a feat much harder than it seemed). At half-past three, having danced ourselves into a haze, the four of us crashed in the lounge as a temporary respite from the swamp of frenetic substance-fueled dancers, implicitly synced in our exhaustion. JF and I spent a full set by the stage, swaying and observing the surrounding crowd surge at moment’s notice in response to the DJ’s synth-pop remix of Toxic accentuated by the flares of a neon–green light show. JG and I periodically recuperated in the front room, people-watching and posing for Polaroids with a couple of sculpture students we’d met ten minutes earlier.
The lounge was an experience unto itself. From the wiry dealer waving a card reader from behind the makeshift stall, selling god-knows-what out of his impeccably organized backpack stash, to the clusters of people staring off into the distance at whatever chemically-induced chimera their brains had conjured up, to the chatty girls befriending strangers occupying their wavelength, everyone there seemed keen on embracing the inclusive rave ethos and reveling in the experience with others. Stone-cold sober, I remember snatches of my confessional, disconcertingly lucid 4 AM conversation with the girl next to me, our words melting seamlessly into the grating beats. The night was chaotic, vacillating between adrenaline-fueled spells of dancing, and intermittent exchanges that felt strangely vulnerable yet made me cringe in the same semi-coherent stride. The walls were oozing dampness, the air, laced with the smoky smells of sweat and tobacco, felt oppressively humid, and I loved every second of it. Maybe I WAS in the marsh after all.
At 6:30 AM, the four of us found ourselves directly in front of the DJ’s table, having outlasted those who had previously monopolized this coveted spot. Feet blistered and dazed, I realized that I was finally ready to close out the night. Taking inspiration from the thinning crowd, JG and I gathered ourselves and prepared to leave. To our utter amazement, JF, DT and the rest of our crew were still going hard, fueled off a combination of influence and adrenaline, and really feeling the performance that the night’s final DJ was putting on. After we said goodbye to the rest of our friends and stepped out of the darkness of the warehouse, I was taken aback to see the midnight sky completely substituted by the early morning glow, a stark reminder of the seven hours of reality that we’d flouted. With my eyes adjusting to take in the surrounding fields and my ears still reverberating with residual bass, I couldn’t help but notice how unassuming the outside of our warehouse – interstitial home of the previous night – now looked. As we stepped out of the twilight zone and collapsed into the waiting Uber, laughing and shivering from the combined high of fatigue and sleep deprivation, I felt euphoric, knowing that we had both pulled off and successfully gotten away with the escapades of our liminal night out.
Rating: 12/10. Amazing setup, better company. To many more.