All over England--and now, the rest of Europe as well--in open fields and cavernous clubs, in two-bedroom terrace houses and airplane hangars, dance mania has broken loose. Kids who weren't even born during the psychedelic '60s are slipping into paisley skirts and bell-bottom jeans and heading for updated love-ins known as "raves." Scrubbed and mellow and often stoned out of their gourds, their Monkeys haircuts bobbing and their bright, baggy clothes flopping, they dance until dawn to the untiring pulse of drum machines. "We're all happy people now. We all love each other and dancing," says Danny Kelly, deputy editor of the London-based rock-and-roll weekly New Musical Express. "This is the most important music since punk."
The sound of this newest of new waves blends the high-tech dance beat of the '80s with '60s psychedelia. Punk was menacing; the new music is buoyant, almost goofy. The fashion grafts British football gear onto American hippie glad rags--with a soupcon of the Jetsons' futurism. The philosophy is simplistic, the politics nil. And the whole package, still nameless and leaderless, was created in Manchester, England. The kids call it Madchester.
This dank industrial center, 185 miles north of London, was once known for high unemployment and sandwiches made of french fries and butter. Now Manchester's workingclass kids have become missionaries of a movement whose influence is felt from Norway to Greece and, especially, on Ibiza, in Spain's Balearic Islands, which has become a Dancing Disneyland in the summer months. Neither the music nor the style has had much impact in the United States so far, though mini-raves have recently been reported in Los Angeles. "Mancunians are the new Euro-citizens," says Steve Redhead, a public-culture professor at Manchester Polytechnic. "They see Manchester as a center of popular culture and they are distributing it across Europe." But these kids are hardly the Athenians of the '9Os: their ethos amounts to little more than dancing. drugging and hugging in places with liberal curfews. "If there is any idea at all," says Anthony Wilson, head of Manchester-based Factory Records and patron saint of the dance movement, "it is about community and collective strength. There is power in people being lovely to each other."
Mancunians will tell you that if the Beatles hadn't been from Liverpool, they could have come from Manchester. But during Beatlemania, hometown boosters could point only to Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman's Hermits and the Hollies as local boys who made good. Not until the Sex Pistols came to town in June 1976 did Manchester find a hand it could take to heart. "They were singing about being unemployed," says Mancunian Johnny Marr, guitarist for the influential '80s band the Smiths. "In Manchester that really meant something." In the Sex Pistols' wake, Manchester produced some of England's best punk and postpunk bands-the Smiths, the Buzzcocks, Joy Division.
With the Madchester Sound, the city now has a homegrown musical movement all its own. Like English bands of the '60s, they range in style from black American to bubblegum; what they have in common is the beat. And its better-known bands are poised for yet another British Invasion of the United States. The quasi-folky, Byrds-like Stone Roses, the premiere Manchester group, plan an American tour in the fall; so do the neopsychedelic Inspiral Carpets, whose EP "Cool as F---" has sold 25,000 copies here with minimal airplay. The high-tech dance band 808 State performs this week at New York's New Music Seminar, and the dense-textured, trance-inducing Happy Mondays are now on a seven-city U.S. tour.
It all started at the Hacienda, a huge dance emporium built by Wilson and the band Joy Division in 1982. The stark, modern club with its sprawling dance floor and black lights became Manchester's music laboratory. Around 1986 its disc jockeys began playing Chicagoand Detroit-based "house music," a sort of updated disco. The machine-generated, rapid-beat rhythms and computer-sampled soundbites revolutionized the local scene. Anybody, it seemed, could make the music--if they couldn't play guitar, they could push a button-- and nobody worried about the ethics of appropriating riffs. "There is an anarchic nature to this," says Radio 1 disc jockey John Peel. "It doesn't matter where the music comes from. Just get on with it and dance."
When Manchester deejays, like many working-class Britons, went to Ibiza on holiday they found clubs promoting dance marathons and discovered the missing links of the Madchester movement: Balearic Beat music and the designer drug Ecstasy. The music--lightweight Euro-pop with a thundering baseline--meshed well with the mechanized house sound. Ecstasy, a touchy-feely variant of amphetamine, made it possible (preferable, even) to dance all night. When the deejays returned home they mixed a cocktail of house and Balearic and served it up to Ecstasized clubgoers in the winter of 1988. Manchester has never been the same.
Outlaw edge: Soon Mancunian deejays were taking their shows on the road, filling clubs all over England. When warm weather came, these events evolved into raves, nightlong dance marathons held in fields and airplane hangars, fueled by Ecstacy and the high-glucose soft drink Lucozade. To veterans of the '60s this may sound like deja vu, but for this generation it's revolution--replete with the requisite outlaw edge. Citing drug use and public annoyance, British police are prepared to raid or prevent raves in this third "Summer of Love." An anti-rave bill has been introduced in Parliament and seems likely to be passed. Even in Ibiza, a haven of hedonism, open-air clubs have had to build pyramid roofs to meet new noise-pollution laws.
Meanwhile, back in Manchester, several clubs--including the now legendary Hacienda--are scheduled to go to court this month to fight closure. Still, Leo Stanley owner of a local clothing store specializing in the colorful baggy gear that's as crucial to the scene as Ecstasy, insists that "there will always be a rave." And in a place like Manchester, he's probably right. "If you're working in a factory day in and day out," says guitarist Johnny Marr, "and you've got one night a week off and two shillings to spend on yourself, then maybe you want to go out and dance all night because you got work again on Monday morning."
PHOTO (COLOR): 'New Eurocitizens' at play: In Ibiza sprinkles go on at 6 a.m.