Uncovering London’s Underground Raves

Fashion Art 8 min read
Overview of a rave hosted by Genesys

During the fall, I studied abroad at the University of the Arts London. I was eager to engage with the community, specifically the aspiring creatives in the fashion scene. With a recent interest in experimental sounds, I began immersing myself in the underground party and techno scene. The spaces these raves provide allow students from London’s art universities – mostly kids from UAL, the Royal College of Art, and Goldsmiths – to congregate and express themselves without the fear of judgment.

Towards the end of October, I encountered my first London rave: CircleⓀ. The name originates from the convenience store chain in America and Hong Kong, emphasizing the spot as a bridge between the organizers’ cultures.

I was initially drawn to the quirky CircleⓀ promotions on Instagram, which contain elements of hyper-commercialism and post-internet aesthetics. Similar fast-paced visuals were projected at the event; they complimented the rapid strobe lights, unexplainable sounds, and unexpected remixes to familiar songs.

Visuals from CircleⓀ

The fashion at CircleⓀ is just as exciting. Many attendants are students at Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion. Consequently, their outfits are unique and whimsical, from graphic motifs, to colored hair and lots of jewelry, they’re difficult to categorize – maybe a mix between FRUiTS magazine, bimbocore, and post-irony?

“Rave culture means something different to everyone – but for us in London, it offers an escape, a community, and incredible catharsis. Attracting a crowd of outsiders and creative youth, raving has created this whirlpool in which contemporary culture is subverted, and normality is flushed down the drain. Many events become a safe space for self-expression, so, naturally, countless trends in music, dress, and pop culture can be traced back to the dance floor.” - Carissa Wong and Réka Götz, founders of CircleⓀ

Furthermore, CircleⓀ is so stimulating because of its unpredictability. The space allows creatives to express themselves in a collective environment (outside the studio) and experiment with visuals, sounds, and fashion.

As I commuted to class and explored the city, hearing “mind the gap” on the underground became a mantric part of my routine. The rave group, Mindthegap, alludes to this phrase as a mainstay in London culture.

The founder, Daniel Park, began events in Seoul to witness people dance to his taste in music. Printed t-shirts were handed out at the first rave to get 100 people to wear the same top and dance together, similar to the work of photographer Spencer Tunick. Since then, Mindthegap has developed a new theme for each of its events, collaborating with visual artists to create striking posters and graphics.

I've always believed there's a strong relationship between music and art. For example, I enjoy listening to music with a cool album cover; sometimes, if the cover is not my style, I might not even listen to the song. I think the same applies to raves as well. That's why we are striving to create strong visuals. I mainly focus on [the] strength of visual creator[s], allowing the creator's strengths to merge into the Mindthegap concept and visuals.” - Daniel Park

Over the course of the night, the venue transformed from mild sound listening to a swarm of people dancing to hard techno and dnb/dub electronic music. I stood at the front, moving as freely as I possibly could. The music was so good that I had my phone ready, in hand, to record at a moment’s notice.

Somehow, Mindthegap manages to not only attract such a large audience of London’s youth, but keep them energized all night. People moshed around the stage, danced in cages, and occupied the backroom. The crowd was in unison, waiting for the beat to drop.

The fashion at MindtheGap included conventional clubbing outfits: jeans, tank tops, and graphic tees. Others were more adventurous by sporting intricate prints, Y2K-inspired looks, or masks. I even witnessed someone reading manga within the crowd.

The next day, I unwound and prepared for a second night of raving, this time at Maxxing. The name originates from online incel communities, referring to boosting one's sexual stock value. Furthermore, raves are currently the last communal outpost for the brain-rot generation. Maxxing events respond to this phenomenon by merging abrasive, experimental, and high-energy music of faster BPMs with the sensuality and romanticism of slower BPM music.

Retrospectively speaking, I think Maxxing was born in a really strange period of raving. Our generation’s “coming of age” story happened in the years before, during, and after the pandemic - putting us in three significant “eras” of how parties function. Some of our most informative experiences were born out of the prohibition of parties. Like other prohibitions, a new outlook of possibility festers and is finally released when the tides change. We’re part of that festering optimism.” - Ralf Hersborg, founder of Maxxing

As I waited to enter, the cold air revealed winter approaching. Still, those of us in line wore few layers; the weather would not interfere with our style. Outfits at Maxxing are definitely inspired by London streetwear, from the Jaded London look to city memorabilia. Still, there is room for personalization. I was captivated by someone’s quilted leg warmers and neon Balenciaga defenders.

The environment inside was mad, contributing to the generational theme. A mannequin torso and cake made its way into the crowd. The room was dark with flashing lights. Digital graphics flickered, attempting to fry our synapses. Friends of the DJs danced behind the booth, giving us a spectacle to accompany the music. People tried to slither or push through to the front. Phones recorded the pulsating beats and remastering of old Russian songs. At one point, my friend and I stepped out. Kids were chatting and smoking, taking fit pics, or attempting to sit within the crowded space. The small kitchen making pizza seemed cordial amongst the chaos. As I devoured three pies, we looked around and admired people’s outfits, pointing out our favorite pieces.

Two weeks later, I visited The Cause for my fourth rave, Borough.

“The story behind the creation of borough, what that I believed that there was not an ample platform that allowed deserving artists to showcase their talents and push their agendas/messages to the people who would appreciate them the most. I felt like within London everything was very collectivist rather than individualistic, therefore I wanted to create a space where everyone can be themselves and mainly create/showcase the best talent within London without having to appease certain crowds in order to gain popularity.” - Jonathan Parathan, founder of Borough

The location was more remote than previous events, featuring a large central yard with picnic tables. Crowds of people sat and stood outside. As I passed through, I instantly noticed a unifying style: mostly black, fur hoods, leather jackets, jeans, studded belts.

“Honestly I’ve been seeing a lot of Japanese brands being worn at raves recently- in touch with the ‘Death Note’ Shinigami look but also shows influence from emo/goth scene and ofc Playboi Carti’s collective of Opium. Brands such as LGB, Hysteric Glamour. Also a lot of Rick Owens + new rocks.”

The room was filled with smoke, nearly zero visibility. Others around me began appearing as I walked closer to the music. Similarly, Borough is a hotspot for emerging artists. Each performer introduced a different genre or their own twist, somewhere in trap, grime, techno, or synth. This, fused with the alternative fashion, makes Borough home to the underground.

Finally, I planned to attend the next London rave: Genesys. The founders, Paritos Tamang and Rain Mueller were students at CSM and DJs who wanted to create high-quality, experience-driven events in London. Their first rave catered to 200 people in Brixton. Now, Genesys events are attended by possibly 1000s, with notable performers like Ecco2k and Mowalola.

CSM is always spitting out iconic things. Genesys hopes to be remembered as one of them. We think we speak for most art students when we say that we are desperate to externalise our internal worlds. Events are one of the best ways to get hundreds of people to get into a room and interact with your vision. Most of us at CSM grew up having tastes that weren't popular amongst our peers, now we’re all amongst like-minded people, for many, for the first time in their lives. - Paritos Tamang and Rain Mueller, Founders of Genesys

Furthermore, Genesys was inspired by the postmodern dystopia that we inhabit and all of the eldritch magick that is born of it. Their visual inspirations include Neon Genesis Evangelion and other Seinen of the period, William Gibson’s universe, and Hideo Kojima video games. These influences are found in Genesys’ hardcore music - terror, industrial, raw, acid, trance, and reverse bass.

The Genesys theme is also apparent in people’s fashion. Futuristic and apocalyptic outfits feature technical fabrics, distressed denim, fur hats, dark make-up, or no shirts at all. Recently, Paritos and Rain released skin vests – a perfect solution for your Genesys outfit – as part of their plan to expand beyond raves.

After each event, I navigated the streets of London back home. My hearing was distorted from the heavy bass. Meanwhile, the brisk air and silence at 5 am made the rave feel surreal. I was in awe of the sounds I heard, the outfits I witnessed, and the notion of enjoying the moment with so many other creatives.

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