From the KLF to the KGB, Kirk Field’s adventures through Acid House culture have brought him into contact with various individuals, from the ingenious and infamous. Rave New World is Kirk’s new book, collecting his experiences as Mixmag’s raving reporter in the nineties all in one place. Velocity’s man on the ground, Rob Smith, chatted to Kirk about the upcoming title and his favourite reads.
How did you first become immersed in rave culture?
I worked behind the bar at the orbital raves, selling Ribena and water for my mate’s mobile bar service in return for him letting me sleep on my sofa. We thought the booking was for a wrap party for the Batman movie being filmed at the time as the organisers couldn’t tell us it was an EVIL ACID HOUSE PARTY, as other mobile bars had turned them down.
Did you gradually realise you wanted to chronicle acid house culture as it started happening? Or was there a sudden epiphany you wanted to be a raving reporter a few years in?
It was a knee-jerk reaction to reading the tabloids coverage of the wonder I witnessed. I had no journalistic training, couldn’t type and didn’t have a typewriter! All I had was two fingers and the truth. When Mixmag published my feature, it was the very first coverage of raves in the mag, and the response led to Dave Seaman (editor at the time) asking me to cover the next party – Sunrise, in June ‘89. From there, I became known as their ‘raving reporter’ and did the first interviews with The Orb, KLF, The Grid, The Shamen and reports from Glastonbury and a small island off the coast of Spain.
Out in the field, how did you balance losing yourself in the rave and being present enough to report on what was happening?
Good question! I was primarily there to party. I never used a dictaphone or pen and paper. I’d make mental notes about which tunes hit the spot and write it up the next day in an instinctive stream-of-consciousness manner. My editors used to say they could smell the smoke machine on my copy! They also said it took ages to proof as my punctuation and grammar wasn’t too polished. Punk rock taught me that dexterity wasn’t that important; if you had passion and made the right noise, it would more than make up for it. There are some funny stories in the book about the mistakes I made because I was experiencing these raves in altered states…the audiobook and spoken word show tell a great one about DJ Roofrack.
Do you still see yourself as a raving reporter? Have you ever had to take a step away from reporting on raves?
The book covers from 89-99, my raving/reporting years. In 2001 I formed the UK’s first independently-owned travel company catering exclusively for clubbers. I spent twenty years taking people to Amsterdam, Ibiza, Austria and across the North Sea on weekend clubbing cruises (this is book two, incidentally).
What do you think we can still learn anything from rave memoirs? Why should we still be talking about the 90s?
Because it’s social history and is worthy of recording…and because rave culture was, for a generation, the closest they came to carefree depression, community and changing society and the status quo.
Any old records or music writing books that you rediscovered when writing Rave New World?
Tunes, no, as they’ve been constant companions. I deliberately avoided reading any other books on the subject as I wanted it to be my story. The only references I used were my old Mixmag features, which Scott Brady at tracklistings.co.uk kindly scanned and sent me. I was thrilled to re-discover I’d spent a weekend in Ibiza in June 1990 with Norman Cook and Brigitte Nielsen, which I’d completely forgotten about (this is one of my favourite chapters, incidentally). I was driven around by the bloke who drove Bob Marley when he visited Ibiza in 1978. He told me Bob’s “rastaman” believed if Bob stopped washing, his cancer would disappear. So Bob avoided soap for six months. In the end, the odour was so bad he was persuaded to use soap – and within a week, was dead.
Join the Future writer Matt Anniss recently pointed out how many of dance music’s origin stories contain misconceptions and have become canonised mythology. When writing and researching for the book, did you bust any dance music history myths?
In the book, I disprove that kids as young as 12 were at the orbital raves, as claimed by the tabloids and demonstrate how the cult of the DJ didn’t exist until the early 90s when the scene moved into the clubs. The book also contains the fruits of the FIO (Freedom of Information) requests I made – some of which have never appeared in print. One set of documents took me three months to get released – I was passed back and forth from the National Archives to the Home Office; neither admitted to holding the documents in question. When I did get to view them, some documents had been removed. I explain the reason for the secrecy in my book.
Is there such a thing as Acid House spirit? If so, how would you describe it?
It’s similar to the spirit of punk; do it yourself, question authority, Look after each other and everyone is equal. There were no VIP areas back then.
Where do you plan on taking Acid House Storytelling? Where can people hear you read/perform?
I’m doing Glastonbury, Wilderness, Camp Bestival and several smaller festivals. The list of dates is on my website.
Any reading recommendations? Music writing books or otherwise?
Since finishing the book (in 2021), I’ve enjoyed Harold Heath’s book Long Relationships, which possesses the same self-deprecation and passion for the scene. Alan McGee’s memoir, Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Record Label and James Brown’s book Animal House about his time running Loaded magazine. I’m afraid to say I’ve been disappointed with the superstar DJ memoirs; they feel constrained and censored. I waited 30 years to write my book and was determined to tell the truth; my mistakes, idiocies and failures, as well as my victories.
The book wasn’t written to be published. It was a lockdown project I thought would be read by my kids one day on a memory stick to find out who their Dad was before he became that person who limits their screen time or picks them up from army cadets and singing lessons. After sending it to some industry mates, I was persuaded to send it to publishers. As I hadn’t earned any money for nearly three years (clubbing travel was the last thing to restart after Covid), I needed an advance the major publishers offered. Otherwise, Rave New World would’ve been on Velocity.
What was the last party you went to?
I put together pop-up parties at Snowbombomg and had Groove Armada playing in a butcher’s shop and Patrick Topping playing in a blizzard at the top of a mountain in Austria in April. He was great, just wanted to play somewhere different and bring the party.
Rave New World also describes your adventures as a promoter and attempts at being a popstar…
Yes, in addition to doing press and marketing for the World’s first legal rave organiser Raindance (the story of the Bullring rave in Marbella is finally told!), I ran nights at the Milkbar with Oaky and Sasha and helped launch London’s busiest Saturday nighter in the late 90s, Freedom @ Bagleys (Chapter: Letting the Cat out of the Bagleys).
As for the popstar stuff, I fronted La Luna (To the Beat of the Drum) for Patric Prins and toured with Hyper Go-Go for a few years. My ambition of getting on ‘Top Of The Pops’ is the focus of a chapter called Pop: My Greatest Misses. Whether I succeeded or not is revealed!
Have you read Brave New World?
I did it for ‘O’ Level GCSE, I think. The eternal debate rages; are we living in Brave New World or Animal Farm? Are we controlled by contentment or fear? Up until Covid, I’d say the former. Now it’s obvious Orwell is the direction. Rave New World was chosen as a play on words rather than a reference to Huxley, mirroring a theme in the book. Others include The Unbearable Lightness of E-ing, Animal Pharm and Homage to Catatonia. Humour is often overlooked in rave-era books. I hope Rave New World makes people laugh. ‘Cos along with the great music, spiritual awakening, fashion, questioning civil liberty and freedom of movement, raving was a right laugh, it really was.