Remembering Margaret Thatcher’s War on Acid House
First she came for the milk. Then she came for the mines. Then she ran out of things to come for, so she went after the soccer fans and acid house.
It might sound unlikely in an age where there are a pair of TV screens showing Sky Sports in every pub in the UK, but if you wanted to go toe-to-toe with the establishment at the tail end of the Thatcher years, the fast track to getting a beat down from the police was to watch soccer or listen to a series of repetitive records with the intention of dancing.
If you were looking for a measure of how the country has adjusted since Thatcher’s reign, you could do worse than consider how two constants of the modern mainstream—soccer and electronic music—were once painted as folk devils by a regime fast running out of new things to point its police horses at.
Granted, soccer fans had been under few illusions about where they stood in the perceived scheme of things since the 70s, and anyone with industrial or union connections would have been aware of Tory policy well before Thatcher came to power in ‘79. But for young people, the harshness of the establishment’s war on the twin evils of soccer and dance music came as something of a surprise.
Photo by Gavin Watson
It wasn’t till I fled a party in Dalston in 1989 that I felt it firsthand. The motivation for my hasty departure was the sudden entrance of a group of cops based at Stoke Newington Police Station who were notorious in the area for their thuggery. They’d come in, take the numbers off their uniforms, and break things up about as violently as they could without firearms, swinging at male and female ravers alike. Say what you like about violence—and this is what the state often forgets when it chooses to apply it—but it sure focuses the mind. If you were looking for a way to galvanise some of the last non-pissed off people in the country (white, middle-class men on euphoric drugs, in my case) then sending the Territorial Support Group onto the dance floor was an efficient way to go about it.
However, until the boys in blue actually turned up to do the truncheon dance, you’d be hard-pressed to find many ravers in attendance who genuinely cared about the government’s policies towards dance music (there’s little time to talk about politics when there’s sweating and jerking to get done). The photographer Gavin Watson—whose book Raving ‘89 documented acid-house raves in the late 80s and early 90s—agreed, telling me, “Politics became superfluous during rave. All of the bullshit that Thatcher was coming out with started to fall on deaf ears, because we were so wrapped up in the culture that we just didn’t have time to care about politics.”