Fyshwick is dark and empty, far too late for the daylight businesses, much too early for the gentleman’s clubs to be in full swing. The Uber driver quietly follows the prompts from Google Maps, curious about the out-of-the-way nature of this fare. He pulls up outside a warehouse on Townsville Street, surprised to see the little groups of people milling about on the footpath. The front windows glow blue and rattle with the muted thud of a kickdrum.
“What’s going on?” the driver asks his passengers.
A warehouse party, they explain.
“Oh,” he nods. “Cool.”
The revellers might as well be going to a picnic. They carry cooler bags and eskies, some big enough to need two people to lift, laden with beer cans, wine casks, and plastic bottles full of pre-mixed sprits. The BYO policy is liberal – glass containers notwithstanding – and open to interpretation, so an ecstatic dude stops to bump some cocaine before disappearing down an alleyway to the warehouse entrance.
The February 19 event is sold as being a rave, a callback to an era where abandoned industrial spaces became temporary party venues, hidden away from the scrutiny of authorities. Decades later, with electronic dance music now well and truly part of mainstream musical culture, the need for clandestine parties has all but disappeared. It’s a presentation choice rather than a practical necessity, but it makes for a novel setting. Event promoters Escape Ferocity have put on an impressive show, transforming the sterile warehouse into a colourful cave, a stage backdrop of painted screens, white walls covered in bright projections, the roof humming with rolling techno basslines. Even though it’s an above-board event, the promoters withhold the precise location until a couple of hours before the doors open. “In the interest of a sweet party, please don’t put this address online, inc. social media,” they plead in the advisory email: “Let’s avoid crashers and nubes with no idea.” The idea is doubtless to further invoke the secretive spirit of old raves, but perhaps also to minimise forewarning to law enforcement.
Sure enough, the police show up anyway – and early, just over an hour after the party commences. It’s a single patrol, three officers in fluoro vests. One of the promoters comes out to meet them, assures them the requisite paperwork is done, points out the copious amount of private security on hand, their concerted efforts to contain revellers within the warehouse fenceline. The police want to see for themselves, however, and push through the dancefloor, flashing accusatory torchlight on any squirrely hand movements. Collars, collars everywhere, bumping against the cops with mistimed dance moves! Such is the bizarre cognitive dissonance dynamic at work in the modern rave scene – the police could arbitrarily select 20 people, pat them down, and the majority would be carrying an illicit substance. They know this, the security guards know this, the promoters know this, and the people on the dancefloor know this. But for now it’s an awkward truce, and the police presence is about visibility rather than outright enforcement.
That balance is in danger of shifting, however, when a young guy drops to the concrete floor, overwhelmed with chemicals. He’s placed in the recovery position, and although conscious and responsive, is taken away in an ambulance. The police return and complete another lap by torchlight, doubtless delivering some stern ultimatums to the promoters. But the party goes on, the warehouse filling out by midnight and rapidly raising the temperature, sweat condensing and dripping down the windows. A shirtless, long haired guy smiles broadly and nods along to the music as he navigates the dancefloor, holding up a goon bag and offering it around to strangers. His gesture epitomises the happy and communal vibe, which relishes in the novelty of the setting and the DJs on offer, a pure celebration of electronic dance music.
“How good is this!” enthuses a girl who, for her part, is sharing around a tall can of beer. “An actual, proper techno rave in Canberra, this would never have happened a few years ago. This is so amazing!”
The two headline DJs are stripped-back techno types from Germany, and have probably already played their fair share of industrial venues (legally or otherwise). Nevertheless, the crowd’s enthusiasm is infectious. Ann Clue is the first international to take the decks, chain-smoking as she delivers a rolling set full of euphoric melodies, extending her arms out to embrace the crowd’s adulation. (Clue later remarks on Facebook, “I’m still speechless about last nights warehouse party in Canberra [monkey emoji] that was so super cool!!!). Boris Brejcha, who produces for (and runs) the FCKNG SERIOUS label, takes over a couple of hours later, slipping on an elaborate harlequin mask as he gets underway. Brejcha takes the driving techno into darker territory, but retains the melodic underpinnings established by Ann Clue, who makes frequent cameos to dance on stage, cigarette in hand.
The Germans eventually share the stage for a back-to-back set, pushing the party through until after sunrise. But for those revellers not charging on illicit energy, that’s a bit of a tall order after a long Friday at work. Instead, they request another Uber; while they wait on the street, they strike up conversation with a drunk guy who’s just tripped over a speedbump in the alleyway. He remembers the venue from when it actually served as a warehouse.
“We used to come flying through this alleyway during our lunchbreak, absolutely fanging it, and we’d hammer over these speedbumps,” he says. “Then we’d chuck smoke bombs in at the guys who were working there.” He laughs. “Did it heaps of times, that was great fun. Good use of a Commonwealth car, hey?”
The Commonwealth might be looking to get its revenge tonight, however, with another AFP patrol showing up during Brejcha’s set. There’s more of them now, more flashlights, more scrutiny. But the rave goes on, as it has always done. And the revellers love it, with glowing Facebook reviews popping up throughout Saturday: “such a killer party. Good vibes all round!” and “one of the best nights I’ve ever experienced in Canberra,” and “That was nothing short of phenomenal!…Canberra has the most wonderful group of good eggs. Feel blessed to know so many wonderful souls and cannot wait to share some boot scooting again soon!” Escape Ferocity struck a winning formula with their warehouse rave, and will surely want to repeat the event’s success in the near future. Word of mouth will be strong, however, so it will be interesting to see how the promoters continue to walk the complex line between exclusivity, accessibility…and those other guests in fluoro, the police.