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Remembering the fleeting explosion of New Rave

Over the years, music and culture have seen many scenes come and go. Be it psychedelia, punk, Madchester or nu-metal, there have been many movements, or fads, that for a short period of time, retained such a degree of cultural potency that everything else that’s going on around them fades into the background like a dead soul. 

One of the strangest and most recent cultural booms was the New Rave scene of the 2000s. Made up of Klaxons, CSS, Shitdisco, Erol Alkan, Hadouken!, Late of the Pier, Test Icicles and more, it came as quickly as it went, and many of the bands that were once touted as the hottest outfits around have been forgotten, as the quality of their work is inextricably tied to a period 16 years ago, with all its outdated clothing, technology and attitudes. 

It’s safe to say that the idea for the scene first originated with Jamie Reynolds of Klaxons and Joe Daniel, the co-founder of Angular Recording Corporation. The pair shared a rehearsal space and, in it, they had a tape deck with a live set recorded by Daniel when he was 12 of Fantazia Ratpack Castle Donington. They both loved the tape and would listen to it repeatedly, and at some point, Reynolds started thinking about how you could mesh that early rave sound with that of a guitar band. 

Reynolds told Vice: “We wanted guitars, but for it to be completely tinged with early-90s rave. I saw that as an untapped area. The plan was to work in that rave element and pepper it with mysticism and esoterica. But first and foremost, we wanted to be a successful pop band. We wanted to sign to a major, do big tours… we wanted to be a pop group. That was our mantra.”

The term ‘New Rave’ also originated with Klaxons. Wanting to market their music as something entirely unique, it also doubled up as a handy tool for peddling their music to audiences, press and record labels. In many ways, what Klaxons were doing was just the London manifestation of a movement that was already happening globally. The new scene that Klaxons spearheaded took its cues from DFA in New York, Ed Banger in Paris, Soulwax in Belgium, Death From Above 1979 and MSTRKRFT in Toronto. 

This new – and very British scene – just imbued these influences with the fun and absurdities that the British do so well; think rave and Madchester mixed with the sentiment of The Fall and XTC. Reflecting on the music, Rory Atwell of Test Icicles once recalled: “What we were doing was quite confusing to people who took music very seriously. Those kinds of people actively disliked us”.

One fundamental thing to remember about New Rave was that it was a reaction. Those in the prominent bands of the scene were musically and culturally antithetical to the indie that was ubiquitous of the day and hated the way that The Libertines were so revered, regarding Pete Doherty and Co. as contrived, lacking any real personality or charm. The ghost of The Libertines had permeated British music since they combusted in 2004, and the leading proponents of New Rave were sick of it. They wanted something fresh and innovative, and for a time, they delivered it.

James Smith of Hadouken remembered just how refreshing the New Rave scene was when it first broke out, recalling: “Seeing stuff like Dev in Test Icicles rocking hot pink guitars in beaten up converse, and adding synths into the fray, suddenly made The Fratellis or whoever look like a bunch of embarrassing uncles. It was music for Top Gear CDs you buy in garages. Something had to give”.

Klaxons spearheaded the New Wave movement. (Credit: Klaxons)

Even the garish fashion of the music was a rejection of the skinny-jeaned, trilby-wearing austerity of the indie scene. It brought more feminine aesthetic choices to the fore, such as pink Hello Kitty guitar straps and neon pinks, greens and yellows. Musically, aesthetically, and through an uncompromising attitude, New Rave was able to wage its war on the supremacy of Libertines-esque sycophants with verve and trounce them resoundingly. 

One notable element of New Rave, it has to be said, was how it was constructed. Although much emphasis has been placed on how the NME drove it through sensationalism, as they had done with the indie guitar scene, New Rave was actually steered by those who created it. Famously, Klaxons would tell their friends what to wear during shows, giving them whistles and glowsticks to make outsiders who were new to the band feel that something authentic was going on. An ingenious ploy. 

Even before the band had put out a record, they were cultivating a buzz which resulted in a growing audience, as people had heard about how exciting their gigs were, mainly due to the antics of the crowd. Showing just how quickly things moved for New Rave, there was only a year between the publication of Klaxons’ first interview and their debut record, 2007’s Myths of the Near Future, being flung into the mainstream. 

The most culturally significant moment in the whole period was the moment Klaxons hit stratospheric heights, performing a mash-up with megastar Rihanna at the 2008 Brit Awards. Reflecting just how heady the time was, Jamie Reynolds claims that he took ecstasy the night the band formed in 2005, right up until the Rihanna show. 

Unsurprisingly, drugs played a big role in the rise and fall of New Rave. It wasn’t just ecstasy as in the original days of rave, either. It was ketamine, cocaine and the dreaded M-CAT, which even mentioning today sends a shiver running down the spine, as the stench of that confounding and once legal substance is something that you never truly forget. 

Although not everyone in the scene were taking drugs, it certainly had an impact on Jamie Reynolds and Klaxons, and like with young person showered with massive fame, and with the absence of someone to tell them “no”, what happened to the band was a reflection of what was happening to the scene, and without them, it was nothing. As Klaxons and other groups were wrestling with out of control drug habits and the question of where to go next with their second album, the days were numbered for New Rave. 

So when did New Rave actually take place? By all accounts, it was from 2005 to 2009. Those were there place considerable weight on the summer of 2006 being where it was really at its zenith, right on the edge of the mainstream explosion that would both certify its significance and signal its end. It’s clear that by early 2009 the scene was over, as EDM was in the ascendancy, and we were moving into a new decade, with advances in technology, aesthetics and attitudes guiding our transition out of the brief New Rave period into something much different. 

All other factors aside, the question of the second record was the final nail in the coffin for New Rave. The way in which the bands struggled to create a meaningful and culturally relevant sophomore album showed that New Rave was nothing but a product of its time and that audiences’ proclivities had changed. The fact that it took Klaxons three years to produce a follow up showed to everyone that the scene was done. It’s a shame, but time waits for no man. By the time Klaxons released their second effort, Surfing the Void in 2010, New Rave was just a distant memory. 

By this point, the heady summer of 2006 was long gone, the new decade was here, and a couple of years later, the new generation of British music consumers were to get their own time-relevant scene, one that was centred around Birmingham. It, too, would come as quickly as it went and quickly fade into the background of our memories. 

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