Loving the dance music

After twenty years, our memories of rave culture are somewhat hazy

Acid House: the Next Generation (24 June, 10.30pm-11.30pm, Radio 2) cast an eye over twenty years of raving and clubbing in Manchester and beyond for the launch of a big season of programmes dedicated to the origins and reach of dance music. Yet, though perfectly amiable, it came over pretty woolly. Nobody interviewed found quite the right words, rather like someone trying to describe good sex ("Erm, it was incredible . . . he did this thing and it was, I mean, you know").

Having spent the late Eighties rolling around the floor of the Hacienda in a 500-person embrace, I can assure you it was everything it's cracked up to have been, but all that in-the-beginning-there-was-the-Hacienda kind of stuff never fails to sound like a bunch of crap, so I'll spare you, like people should have the decency to do whenever they feel the urge to talk about punk (get over it).

Nobody ever says anything interesting about the Hacienda. We were on drugs. Everybody was especially sociable. We were on a metaphorical pilgrimage to the promised land of SH-101-rendered democracy that stadium rock had cynically sneered at, and it was indescribably ace, until I got this paranoid schizophrenia that now prevents me from taking so much as an Amoxil without immediately seeing six Viking horses in the doorway. Feel free to come up with something more Joan Baez, please.

New Order's Peter Hook, mind you, was typically entertaining: "I used to think that DJs were the biggest arseholes who walk the earth because all they do is play other people's music. Twenty years later and I'm a DJ and I find out it's true, which kind of cheers me up." Someone said that to work in a record shop in 1989 was to be a detective, dealing with people coming in on Monday mornings and singing half-remembered fragments of tunes at them ("Zchzzzzz txzzzz zh zh zh zhuh da da dadada. And then something about being full of stars." "U-huh. 'Space Face'. Sub Sub. Sold out.") There was also a sweet interview with a nice German, queuing outside a London club ("For eight years I am loving the dance music"). But still, there was the overwhelming sense that we were supping at bones.

Towards the end someone made the point that it would be impossible for the whole underground rave thing to happen today - the meeting at service stations, the driving in convoy around Pickmere looking for fields to trash. MySpace would have put a stop to that. The scalding propulsion of modern life would have conjured and then saturated the scene in a single weekend. And you know, scalding propulsion properly sucks, because only three days ago my neighbours and I were trying to organise a (not strictly legal but very nice, I assure you, officer) party when somebody (can I draw your attention, officer, to the pretty lights and finger buffet?) posted it on Facebook and the whole thing was literally banned before we'd even had a whip-round for a generator. So we all stayed in and watched four new mothers attempting to identify their own babies' poo via smell alone on Brainiac: Science Abuse instead (Sky 1 and Sky 3, check it out, Jeez). The trick is to move with the times, dearests.

Pick of the week

What’s So Great About . . . Bob Dylan?
28 June, 10.30am, Radio 4
Lenny Henry (why?) asks notables including Andrew Motion and Bryan Ferry to share their views.

Sunday Feature – Ideas: the British Version
Starts 29 June, 10.10pm, Radio 3
Tristram Hunt presents a new series exploring the origins of the British intellectual.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Thou shalt not hug