Illegal raves are booming in lockdown Britain. Can authorities stop a third Summer of Love?

A rave in 1989, during the UK's "Second Summer of Love."

London (CNN)After three months of confinement, the footage seemed otherworldly: bucket hats, balloons, a heavy techno beat, and a few thousand young people crammed into a small clearing in the woods.

But the signage by the DJ deck gave a cheeky nod to the new world in which the party was being thrown. This was a "quarantine rave," it read; one of several taking place each weekend around the United Kingdom, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
The event, which occurred near Manchester in the north of England last Saturday, has caught the eye of Britain's news media in recent days after police reported that several thousand attended. Three stabbings, a rape and an overdose death were also reported between that rave and another nearby, police said, and officials are investigating footage of attendees wielding weapons.
    Across the country, authorities are struggling to keep up with hastily organized, dangerous parties being held on short notice in quiet nature spots. "We can't say for certain that we can prevent all such events from taking place," Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham admitted in a statement on Friday. "(But) there is no question of us turning a blind eye or adopting a permissive approach."
      The parties are alarming health officials too, with the reproductive rate of the virus in the UK hovering just below one and the country only tentatively easing its lockdown restrictions in the hope of returning to normality. Large gatherings are still banned in Britain, and there is little hope of social distancing at these events.
        They're also condemned by the established members of Britain's illegal rave scene -- even if their existence isn't a complete surprise. "This is a result of the situation that we're in right now," says DJ Mandi Gordon, who played illegal raves until the pandemic struck, under the stage name Mandidextrous. "People are frustrated, people want to be able to get out right now."
        A combination of strict licensing laws, the closure of clubs and the high cost of living in British cities had already led to a boom in underground raves, industry insiders say.
          But so prevalent are reports of the new pop-up events that much of the UK media is now predicting a re-run of the Second Summer of Love -- the short-lived explosion of colorful, MDMA-fueled illegal raves that rippled through Britain in 1988 and 1989.
          For those two years, ravers would play cat and mouse with police as they ducked from woodland to field to abandoned warehouse, blasting acid house from their stereos before returning to the monotony of the working week.
          "Everybody in society just had this pressure on them, which you didn't even notice until you stood in a field and took your first E [ecstasy] and realized, 'Oh my god, I've been living like an idiot,'" recalls Gavin Watson, a skinhead-turned-raver whose photographs and books from the time helped immortalize the Second Summer of Love -- named in homage to the first psychedelic celebration of "flower power" in 1967.
          "That was it. This is what my life's going to be like," he remembers thinking at his first event in 1988. "Everything was built around the rave for two years."
          Is a repeat really possible? Much of modern Britain chimes with that period -- financial toil, unemployment, the closure of clubs and a decade of Conservative rule -- but much is different, too, and the grandees of that long summer are skeptical it can ever truly be repeated.
          Still, they agree with today's DJs, party-goers and disapproving authorities that a fresh wave of rave is around the corner -- and the pandemic is only likely to make it louder.
          "I've had the busiest year that I've had, and that's all been destroyed by the Covid-19 situation," says Gordon. "Things will get lifted and there is going to be a big resurgence of rave. It's on the cards, 100%.
          "History doesn't repeat itself, it rhymes," adds Watson. "Something's happening, similar to what there was 30 years ago. I can't put my finger on it."

          'A strange new cult'

          Sunil Pawar was 15 when he went to his first illegal rave, just as the culture was bubbling in late 1980s Britain.
          "I was controlling the laser gun up in a massive abandoned warehouse in East London," he recalls. "The DJ cut the music and dropped 'Everybody loves the Sunshine' by Roy Ayers, and the place went wild. Next thing I knew, I was outside in the cold being bundled into the back of a car, covered in blood.
          "I'd fallen from the lighting scaffold a few flights up and must have blacked out. I couldn't go to casualty because they would ask too many questions, so the promoters took me home and dumped me in the house," he laughs.
          Pawar's brutal introduction to rave culture didn't dampen his enthusiasm, and he wasn't alone.
          Ravers arrive at a free party during the Second Summer of Love.
          Every weekend thousands of partiers of all classes and backgrounds would fly under the radar of local authorities, gathering at service stations off British motorways to hear the details of that night's party. Some would be told about the events on pirate radio stations; others would pick up cryptic fliers in record stores or bars.
          "It really did seem like a strange religious cult, a frenzy, that had taken over the younger generation -- everything about it felt new and deranging, from the acid house and techno music to the clothes to the crazed dancing," says music writer Simon Reynolds, who compiled a history of the period in 1999 named "Generation Ecstasy."
          "The whole yuppie scene was destroyed," adds Watson. "Being a skinhead I was always a rebel, but rave turned everyone into that ... people left their BMWs on the side of the motorway. Ex-football hooligans teamed up with lords.
          "People would just find warehouses or a plot of land and call it on," remembers Bryan Gee, who frequented plenty and now promotes legal club nights and DJs at illegal raves in Britain. "At 2, 3 in the morning we're all on the motorway, waiting for the next pager to tell you what junction off the M1 to take.
          "You'd look at someone at the petrol station and you could tell just by the clothes they're wearing that they were going to the same place as you," he says. "You'd hear rumors that the police have found it -- sometimes the police did find it, and it would get busted before it happens.
          "Then at 4 or 5 o'clock, you finally end up at some farm in the West Country."
          Today's illegal ravers aren't sent on the same wild goose chases -- but the events are just as secretive, organized under the cover of private WhatsApp and Snapchat groups, with locations revealed just as the party begins.