On the late-May bank holiday weekend, convoys of at least 500 vehicles from all over the UK converged on a hidden away spot in South Dorset for this year’s UK Tek. Despite phone lines being compromised and a last-minute change of venue, some 3,000 made it through the night to make another massive banger in the history of free party culture. Snaking through countless sleepy rural villages without attracting the attention of a soul, the endless line of headlights slipped onto site just after midnight last Saturday.
A couple of hours after arriving in a dark field in the dead of night, the rigs were up and running and the first tunes echoed out under the stars of a beautiful summer’s evening. Just how many rigs came together in the spirit of community cohesion and collaboration is difficult to put a number on, with some massive link ups made by mutual cooperation from many different crews.
The rave was dominated by a massive joining of forces from Odyssey and Desert Storm and a hooning monster from RDG Collective, fuelling impeccable party vibes and top notch audio production. Redtek, Digital Disturbance, IRD and R.M.S were also on hand to bring vibes to the rave. As the sun rose on Sunday morning it was easy to see why free parties are as popular now as they have ever been. No tickets, no entry fees, no super expensive headliners — just a nationwide community of like-minded people providing community entertainment for free to all who want to come along and join the dance
Read this next: Matthew Smith's rave photography documents the loss of freedom
Free parties are and always have been an incredibly valuable social phenomena that have immense worth in these times when freedom is under real threat from a hostile government and its never-ending invention of oppressive legislation. In a successful society, the ideas of altruism, philanthropy, friendship and community that underpin free party culture would be valued and nurtured, not vilified and harassed. If the culture wasn’t so powerful, attractive and popular it would never have been outlawed. Law is a product produced with a purpose, and more than ever it is evident that those who create it do not have the common good in mind at all.
It is nearly three decades since free parties became illegal raves and still people want to produce them and go to them in great numbers. People are willing to put in hard work and take enormous risks to perpetuate a part of our culture that represents a small nod towards real freedom in times where the oppressive nature of government is all too evident.
That proof is in the manufacturing of serious disruption to our economy. It is in the cost of living crisis. It is in the ongoing destruction of the NHS. It is in the erosion of the social contract, and it is in the complete contempt shown by our political management for everybody’s right to voice public dissent about their failure. Governments are targeting free speech and freedom itself. Those are inherent human rights that exist outside the control of whatever regime holds the reins of power.
Read this next: How oppressive policing has eroded rave culture
There is a reason a speaker is called a speaker, and that’s because it speaks the language of freedom. Freedom to celebrate, freedom to dance, freedom to gather, freedom to play. There is a reason that those who rave together stay together. Music creates strong social bonds of mutual care and appreciation of the common humanity of those around you, especially when you are faced with the possibility of aggression from the state and its quasi-military forces.
UK Tek was gearing up for a massive Sunday night of fun but sadly that was not to be. It began with a couple of police checking out the site and asking people to shut down and leave. When that didn’t work the tactics subtly shifted and a team of five officers returned to threaten as many people as they could with a couple of years in jail and a few grand fine. It could have been worse but thankfully it wasn’t.
At no time did they mention what law they were quoting, but it did cause serious distress to a lot of wobbly loved up people. It also didn’t make sense to try and intimidate people who were unfit to drive into leaving and making the highways potentially unsafe. Then the helicopter arrived and hovered low over the rigs, blaring a siren with some unintelligible gobbledegook announcement that couldn’t be made out due the volume of the music and noise of the chopper. It was a tactic clearly designed to psyche out the happy ravers and disturb the vibe of the party.
The helicopter disappeared eventually but was soon replaced by a drone that hovered over the rigs from many different angles, shooting surveillance footage that could be run through face recognition and ANPR software for intelligence purposes. It sounded like an oversize angry robot wasp and was possibly more creepy. At the same time, portaloos and water were delivered to the site, which on the face of it was kind. Finally, an agreement was coerced that the generators would go off at 6:PM and there would be no Sunday night music, despite the beautiful evening beckoning ahead.
That lasted about 20 minutes before someone decided the police could go fuck themselves and turned the generator back on and the volume of the music up. It didn’t take long for a team of officers to turn up at the generator. Clearly that was provocative and things got a bit lairy as a crowd of people arrived to protect it. In turn, that escalated into a riot crew, who’d been waiting in the background, getting called in to ‘protect’ their colleagues and push a few people around.
That was that. Common sense prevailed. Conflict was avoided. The police clearly didn’t have the manpower or the will to impound such a quantity of equipment or deal with the civil unrest that course of action would create. UK Tek 2023 was over. So after a bit of packing down, everyone played football and the rigs got to leave safely. For now, at least.
Matthew Smith AKA mattko is photographer and rave documentarian, follow him on Instagram.
View more of his photos from the free party below