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‘Art and Disruption’

Disruption by Opportunity and by Design: The London Squat Party Scene

Ruptures spontanées ou préméditées : la scène de la Squat Party londonienne
Stéphane Sadoux


Cet article s’intéresse à la scène « squat party » londonienne, laquelle émerge au début des années 1990, époque à laquelle le tissu urbain de la ville avait été profondément modifié par le déclin industriel. La scène s’est développée dans des quartiers où le nombre de logements et de bâtiments industriels abandonnés ont permis à des artistes et à leur public de reconquérir une partie de la ville : l’occupation illégale d’édifices vacants donnent l’occasion aux membres de cette communauté de trouver un logement et d’organiser des soirées. Mais cette appropriation des espaces n’était pas une simple réaction à l’opportunité générée par une interruption du cycle de croissance économique de la ville : il s’agissait également d’un acte politique et d’une expression du droit à la ville.

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1The London squat party scene emerged in the early 1990s, when large parts of the city’s urban fabric had been radically altered by deindustrialisation. The scene flourished in areas where the widespread availability of abandoned residential units and industrial warehouses allowed a number of electronic music artists and their followers to reclaim parts of the city: the illegal occupancy of empty buildings enabled members of this nascent community to find homes and venues for their parties. This appropriation of space was not only a reaction to the opportunity generated by an interruption in the urban economic growth cycle and the transition to the post-industrial city: it was also a deliberate political and cultural act, an expression of the right to the city. Whilst a number of scholars have mentioned the London squat party scene in their work (such as Tessier  2003), it has yet to be addressed as an object of research per se. This article aims to fill part of the gap in literature and suggests that as a concept, disruption can contribute to shedding light on the origins, modus operandi and attitudes of confidential yet influential scene.

2Duff has argued that in the 1980s, artists strongly reacted against Margaret Thatcher’s policies and enacted an ‘artistic front, a creative resistance’. She also contended that the location of these networks can be pinpointed, in places such as run-down council flats or squats. Most importantly, she argues that ‘their absence from the official heritage maps, despite the very real impact they have on culture and history, further spatializes the struggle between Thatcherite policies and the individual in the city’ (Duff 50). Although the birth and development of the squat party scene cannot solely be considered as a reaction against the conservative policies of the 1980s, repression was indeed a triggering factor.

3The article will first set out a number of methodological issues arising from the study of the squat party scene, particularly in terms of accessing archival material. It will then suggest that the squat party scene should be viewed as a social network and hub of creativity, which pays particular heed to the do-it-yourself ethos. It then argues that squat parties can be considered as a disruption of the nightclub business model and that the nature of these events involves operating invisibly. It concludes by suggesting that the simultaneous involvement of the squat party community in illegal and legal events shows that disruption does not necessarily mean destruction.

Uncovering the Archives

  • 1 The first research project, “Plans for tonight”: A comparative study of subcultural resistance in L (...)
  • 2 This echoes Dee’s claim that squatters in London have not particularly sought to document their mov (...)
  • 3 An info line provides information about a party, usually a meeting point rather than the specific l (...)
  • 4 The oral history archives used for this research are not accessible to the public.

4The research underpinning this article was carried out between 2018 and 2021 as part of two distinct yet related research projects involving interviews of a number of artists who have been or still are active in the London squat party scene.1 Central to this research was the view that an inquiry into this community should primarily rely on the examination of first-hand accounts. Yet the marginal and confidential nature of the scene has meant that evidence of its emergence and operation is scarce, or at best, difficult to locate and access.2 A number of factors have contributed to the scarcity of material. First and foremost, the illegal nature of squat parties has meant that organisers and the public have traditionally operated in ways that seek to minimise visibility: communication is kept to a minimum and evidence of parties being organised are usually limited to flyers and an info line number.3 A second factor has regard to the fact that the emergence of the scene predates the widespread use of digital media, in particular phone cameras, as well as social media. The subsequent apparition of such devices and communication channels did not necessarily facilitate the documentation of events: members of the scene have always been somewhat reluctant to capture events through photos or videos. Research focusing on the squat party community necessarily involves a search for primary sources that allow to shed light on the complexity of the network and its operation. Such an inquiry can in particular aim to uncover privately held archives and to produce new primary sources. This article draws from three distinct sets of interviews4 and is exclusively grounded in oral history. It deliberately focuses on the discourse of a number of DJs, music producers and party organisers who have been involved in the emergence and development of the scene: in other words, it reflects upon the points of view of those whose attitudes and actions can be seen as catalysts of disruption.

5The first set of interviews used for this research are those carried out in by the author as part of the two above-mentioned research projects: this material was thus produced in an academic context. The second set of interviews are of a different nature: they were held and recorded by artists themselves, who sought to discuss and document the history of the scene they have contributed to shape. Arguably, these recordings demonstrate that some pioneers are aware of the need to provide first-hand accounts that would shed light on the formation and operation of this confidential community. The material used here comprises three recordings of Chris Liberator, a figurehead of the London squat party scene, being interviewed by D.A.V.E. the Drummer, whose contribution to the scene has also been significant. These recordings, dated 2013, have not previously been used in academic research and are not publicly available. The third archive used here was an interview of D.A.V.E. the Drummer by film-makers Jonny Stearn and Theo Goble, recorded in 2013. This interview was organised as part of the preliminary work required for a film focusing on the London underground techno scene. Although this discussion between the film-makers and the artist did not specifically focus on squat parties, the transcript includes a number of invaluable insights into the scene.

  • 5 Fabric’s license was revoked in September 2016, following two drug-related deaths in June and Augus (...)

6The importance of providing a range of interpretations of past events has been stressed by a number of scholars and the increasingly widespread use of oral history reflects the view that the past should also be documented from the bottom up, with ‘memories and personal commentaries of historical significance through recorded interviews’ (Richie 19). The provision of bottom-up and insider narratives can contribute to furthering our knowledge of the squat party scene and wider rave culture by offering views that counterbalance the dominant discourse, which has tended to focus on nuisance and drug use. Notwithstanding the veracity of the facts that underpin such a view, its prevalence has indisputably overshadowed other culturally-significant aspects of the scene. Recent tragic events have proved that squat parties are still stigmatised. In 2016, London’s iconic club Fabric was temporarily closed following drug-related deaths: its licence was suspended by the London Borough of Islington. This decision generated a great deal of controversy and Islington Council received numerous letters and emails, some of which have been made available to the public. One such message argued that ‘ . . . drug consumption will not go down if Fabric closes. It will move to the flats, to the streets, the squats, the illegal raves and overly loud house parties that cause considerable nuisance.’5 In similar vein, responses received by the Ministry of Justice following the publication of a consultation paper on squatting further demonstrate that squat parties are primarily viewed as a risk and a nuisance: a commercial property group pointed out that it can take up to two months for an eviction to be enforced and that this period of time is conducive to the organisation of squat parties, which impact profit and insurance costs for land an property owners (Ministry of Justice 2011 14).

7This article does not aim to refute such arguments. Rather, it was written to offer an alternative narrative of the history London squat party community, by drawing attention to its underlying philosophy, namely a desire for freedom and a reaction against dominant trends. It provides one bottom-up narrative: although its content draws from the experience and recollections of a number of artists whose role in shaping this community was instrumental, the squat party scene in London has arguably been too diverse for anyone to provide an authoritative and overarching historical account. This piece can therefore be seen as an invitation to other scholars to further knowledge of the scene by providing other, alternative accounts grounded in the analysis of primary sources and in interactions with different artists.

The Squat as a Hub: Networks of Disruption

8British cities have a long history of squatting: although the 1970s and 1980s are often quoted as important periods for the movement, evidence shows that this practice was already widespread in the aftermath of the Second World War (Pruijt 2003). By the mid-nineties, there were approximately 60,000 squatters in Britain (Gardiner 1997). Studies of squatting have focused on a range of British cities and London has of course been no exception (Finchett-Maddock 2004). On occasions, the squat party scene is mentioned—one such example is Dee’s article in which he pointed out that ‘London also has a thriving squat party scene, in which large office blocks or warehouses are occupied for underground dance parties, normally on industrial estates’ (Dee 112). Dee’s allusion to the squat party scene highlights a key aspect of squatting: as Martinez Lopez has pointed out, it can refer to the occupation of buildings for social activities as well as housing needs (Martinez Lopez 2013). In London, the disruptive nature of actions undertaken by the squat party scene not only aimed at housing provision: they were also and perhaps most importantly about fostering and strengthening cultural and social ties.

  • 6 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021

9Interviews carried out for this research confirm that the squat party scene should first and foremost be considered as a social network and that squats became hubs for the community. Zebedee, who was involved in the scene from the early days, explains that squatting reflected a ‘big design to bring old buildings into use, to bring the community back into them’. He contends that these places were occupied because squatters ‘wanted them to be given back to the people.’ Central to his argument is the view that the high levels of building vacancy in the nineties was, in his own words, an ‘utter wastage’.6 In this context, squatting becomes a way to reclaim resources (buildings) which had been left fallow due to market imperfections. The transition from industrial to post-industrial cities was not only accompanied by radical shifts in economics and the labour market: it had a long-lasting physical impact on British cities. Arguably, this transition could be viewed as the disruption of a production model by a new one: in this process, the city, as a built environment, was slow to adapt. Squatting, as a political act, a practical answer to the lack of affordable housing and thus as a movement that sought to use available resources, was a disruptive answer to a disruptive context. Smolin and Lubitow have been right to point out that the social sciences tend to view brownfields as spaces that ‘disrupt the social fabric of a community and negatively impact the maintenance of social networks and community ties’ (Smolin and Lubitow 563). Yet this somewhat narrow yet widespread view fails to take into account a range of uses of vacant spaces in the city and grassroots attempts at turning brownfields into hubs of sociability.

  • 7 Interview of Chris Liberator by D.A.V.E. the Drummer, 29 September 2013
  • 8 The Liberator DJs have been figureheads of the London squat party scene. They are also considered a (...)
  • 9 Interview of Chris Liberator by D.A.V.E. the Drummer, 29 September 2013.
  • 10 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.

10In the early nineties, numerous squats became places where like-minded people met and shared their passion, particularly for culture and music. Chris Liberator, a former punk squatter and pioneer of the London acid techno and squat party scene explained that before reconnecting with the squat scene, he felt he ‘had no one to rave with’.7 The extensive and close-knit networks of squatters that formed throughout the city allowed him to meet individuals and groups with similar interests and tastes and ultimately to form the Liberator DJs with Aaron and Julian, who were also squatting in the early nineties.8 Squats were therefore more than mere housing units: they were also cultural and creative nuclei, from which the squat party scene emerged. The significance of cultural activities in these networks is evident in all interviews. When describing his time as a squatter in the King’s Cross neighbourhood, Chris Liberator explained that although the area around the train station was at the time run-down, the abundance of empty warehouses contributed to its transformation into a hub for the nascent electronic music scene and squat party community: ‘every week-end . . . there would be people packing speakers into trucks . . . There were four or five rigs in the area.’9 Producing and playing music and organising parties was more than a mere activity, it was a way of life. According to Zebedee, squatting was ‘a way of continuing a lifestyle . . . You may have had a job, but at that time, you didn’t want to be working, you wanted to be raving. That sums up the early nineties. You lived for the weekend.’10

Squat and the DIY Culture: Doing It and Disrupting It Yourself

  • 11 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.
  • 12 Transcript of interview of D.A.V.E. the Drummer by Jonny Stearn and Theo Goble, 2013.

11This attraction to enjoyment should however not overshadow the considerable effort and time squatters put into this way of life: the community was also bound by a shared value, which most members refer to as the do-it-yourself attitude or ethos. Occupying abandoned houses for living involved carrying out extensive repair and adaptation work. Zebedee thus explains that one of the houses he moved into was entirely ‘wrecked’ and that he invested a lot of time into a range of essential works, such as plumbing and electricity.11 In similar vein, D.A.V.E. the Drummer recalls moving to a squat on Valley Road, which he described as ‘two huge [three-floor] Victorian houses and [a building like] a village hall . . ., a community centre . . .’. The squatters, including himself, sought to transform these buildings in order to adapt them to their needs: ‘We took all the fences out, knocked the three of them into one . . .’.12

  • 13 Author’s interview with Aaron Liberator, 27 June 2019.
  • 14 Author’s interview with Gordie, 21 December 2019.
  • 15 Interview of Chris Liberator by D.A.V.E. the Drummer, 29 September 2013

12The do-it-yourself ethos was however not only applied to the improvement of housing: it also became central to the methods underpinning the organisation of squat parties. When asked how to define these types of events, Aaron Liberator first replied that it is an illegal even held in a disused building, ideally away from a populated area. Yet he also stressed that this type of event is a ‘do-it-yourself opportunity to make a party as you would like to have it.13 Gordie, a pioneer of the scene, reflected upon the complex process that allowed parties to occur: ‘When a party went ahead, it meant that someone had slept in that building for three days that week, doing all the wiring and all . . . When you go to a club, it’s all wired. In a squat party, hundreds of people are going to be scooting about, you need to tape everything. . . . You need to secure the building, find where to get the electricity supply from: a lamp post, the factory next door, a generator’.14 In other words, merely equating a squat party to an event involving the illegal occupation of a building ignores the fact that these events reflect a more complex social and cultural attitude. The London squat party scene can in many respects be seen as an incubator and its history shows that experiments in this community acted as demonstrators of what could be done. D.A.V.E. the Drummer thus argues that ‘the ideas filter down. . . . when one person does it, everyone else thinks “ha, right, we can do that, let’s go and do it.” . . . Somebody has forged the way ahead . . .’15 As this artist pointed out, the prevalence of a do-it-yourself approach in this community is also identifiable in the music production process: he stresses that that techno started from people making stuff at home, rather than in studios.

13It would of course be wrong to assume that the squat party scene is unique in favouring a do-it-yourself approach. Turrini’s research has highlighted the importance of such an ethic in the punk community (Turrini). This finding is however far from insignificant: a number of pioneers of the London squat party scene were and still are also involved in the punk community. Notable examples include Chris Liberator and Geezer, who are still members of a punk band. Amongst other methods, Turrini argues that the organisation of shows, the launch and running of record labels and the production of flyers for events can be seen as evidence of the do-it-yourself ethos. All are evident in the London squat party scene: most if not all artists involved in it have actively been organising events and have over the years launched one if not several record labels.

Disrupting a Business Model: The Squat Party as a Free Party

  • 16 Author’s interview with Aaron Liberator, 1 November 2021.

14According to Aaron Liberator, a key aspect of a squat party is that it is affordable to run and to attend: he argues that ‘this is important as it allows many people to be there, who could not afford or want to go to a club’16. To some extent, squat parties can thus be seen as an alternative to commercial clubs and as a disruption of the dominant business model.

  • 17 Author’s interview with Gordie, 21 December 2019.
  • 18 Author’s interview with Darc Marc, 6 August 2019.

15In many respects, this argument echoes Gordie’s view: ‘the problem with clubs is that they can’t sell cheap drinks. At squat parties, it’s the right price, you could afford everything . . . Clubs got a bit too greedy, youngsters go to them and get ripped off . . .’17 Squat parties, at the height of the scene, were extremely popular. Darc Marc, who has been involved in this community since its early days, explained that ‘for a long time, the squat parties were so good that you didn’t need to go to a legal venue. Occasionally people would put stuff on in a club, but there was no need: why would you pay for a venue when you could break into an empty building, use it for free and for as long as you wanted until you got kicked out?’18

  • 19 Author’s interview with Gordie, 21 December 2019.
  • 20 Author’s interview with Aaron Liberator, 1 November 2021.
  • 21 Author’s interview with Darc Marc, 6 August 2019.

16Yet interviews reveal that the financial argument should be understood as part of a wider debate which has regards to a fight for what some refer to as civil liberties. Reflecting up current debates in Britain, Acid Steve thus argues that ‘if we don’t fight to stop the National Health Service being sold off, in another generation it will seem normal to pay for your healthcare. It’s the same for parties, it will seem normal to pay fifty quid for an event’.19 The expression ‘free party’, which is often used to refer to a wide range of events, including squat parties, can be misleading and is in fact polysemous. Zebedee explains that the emergence of squat parties should not merely be approached from a financial perspective: it first and foremost reflects a desire for freedom and a feeling of exclusion. This point of view is widely shared in the community. Aaron Liberator saw the then commercial scene as exclusive: ‘You had to dress like this, you had to behave like this. We didn’t feel welcome. You had to change yourself to fit in. In a squat party, we could be who we wanted to be, we could play the music as loud as we wanted, without having to consider what people thought.’20 In similar vein, Zebedee, described the atmosphere at the first squat party he attended at the Roundhouse in Camden in 1991: ‘no one really judged you in any way, it didn’t matter what you looked like, everyone seemed the same. . . . I felt alright in this environment’. As Darc Marc summed up, this culture allowed to break previous segregation patterns: ‘all different walks of life came together’.21 Members of the squat party community have always been diverse, yet Zebedee describes them as like-minded people: ‘We are oddballs in this society, their society. And this is our society . . .’

  • 22 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.
  • 23 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.
  • 24 Author’s interview with Jeff Amadeus, 6 November 2021.

17Events organised by members of this alternative society may be referred to as ‘free parties’, but they do rely on donations. According to Zebedee, this system is designed to ‘help people and their dedication, it is a support mechanism’.22 The true sense of the word ‘free’, used in the expression ‘free party’, has regard to freedom rather than cost. Zebedee comments: ‘It’s a free party as in, you are free, I’m free to do what I want.’23 This comment, of course, also applies to the DJs. Jeff Amadeus, who has always been involved in the London squat party scene and founded Squat Records, explains that an important characteristic of a squat party is that DJs are not constrained by a club’s music policy.24 These events are organised by those and for those who resist the dominant culture and order. From this perspective, the concept of free space appears to be particularly useful, not least because of its ability to challenge the view that those who do not hold political or institutional power accept their domination. As Poletta has pointed out, free spaces allow these groups ‘to overturn hegemonic beliefs’: people are involved in them on a voluntary basis and these spaces are conducive to the generation of ‘cultural challenge’ (Poletta 1, 3). In her article, Poletta refers to Evans and Boyte (1986), whose work has suggested that free spaces are indicators of the resources which oppressed groups can draw together and use. These spaces are a way of pooling resources and providing activist networks and knowledge that contributes to initiating a movement. Free spaces are therefore conceptual and physical. When applied to the squat party scene, this duality is evident: illegally occupied houses and warehouses are physical spaces in which a specific community engages in a range of actions aiming to counter the dominant culture.

(In)visible Disruption

  • 25 Author’s interview with Sterling Moss, 28 June 2019.
  • 26 Author’s interview with Chris Liberator, 20 December 2019.

18The squat party scene is thus a reflection of underground culture, which artists involved in this community have described as inclusive, tolerant and close-knit. The underground involved a rejection of the mainstream, mass consumption and homogenisation, particularly of culture. Sterling Moss argues that it provides an arena in which one can live without conforming to the structures that are laid on you by the general society’.25 The squat party scene is also a cultural expression of political discontent. It reflects a rejection of existing social, economic and political structures that are believed to be unfair and destructive (Sadoux 2021). This aspect of the scene is not only evident in the provocative nature of squat parties: it is also apparent through the music that is played during these events. Chris Liberator thus explains that he does not appreciate music that doesn’t have a political reference and is not tied into a cultural stream of resistance, even though it does not need to be overtly political. He adds: ‘it is the same for literature. When writing, Jane Austen was trapped in a world in which everything was constraining. That still resonates in me.’26 It therefore comes as no surprise that the music produced by artists of the London underground techno and squat party scene often conveys a strong political message (Sadoux 2021).

  • 27 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.
  • 28 Author’s interview with Jeff Amadeus, 5 August 2019.
  • 29 Author’s interview with Sterling Moss, 28 June 2019.

19As a resistance movement however, the squat party community has remained confidential and this modus operandi can be seen not only as a necessity in the light of its illegal activities, but also and perhaps most importantly as the reflection of a desire to operate in the margins of culture and society. That artists involved in the squat party scene have attempted to keep the movement somewhat invisible is apparent in their discourse. Zebedee thus recalls that the success of the squat party scene in the early nineties meant that the artists involved in it were regularly approached by specialised mainstream media, such as Mixmag or DJ Mag: ‘they wanted to interview us, but we didn’t let it happen’.27 In similar vein, Jeff Amadeus explains that he has always sought to avoid becoming too visible: ‘I am not on social media, I want people to make an effort to find me if they want me to play’.28 Therefore, and as Sterling Moss explains, ‘you have to work a little harder to find [the underground]. As a cultural identify, it provides solitude away from the mainstream. It provides a sanctuary for the disaffected, the disillusioned. The music is the soundtrack to that culture. . . .’.29 Whereas mainstream artists and venues put a great deal of effort and resources into making themselves and their parties visible, the squat party community has since its origins sought to remain confidential. Its practices are thus disruptive in the face of the dominant urban culture.

Disrupting the Public Order

  • 30 Author’s interview with Gordie, 21 December 2019.
  • 31 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.

20Notwithstanding the effort organisers put into finding buildings located away from residential areas, the organisation of squat parties in buildings that are broken into did, and still does, imply some level of interaction with the police. Interviews however reveal that the relationship between the squat party community and the police was at times ambiguous. Gordie thus explained that in the nineties, a high number of events were held in Stratford and Acton ‘because you could communicate with the police’. His discourse demonstrates that even when a party was raided, some degree of negotiation was possible at time: ‘we had a party in the docklands, the police came in and said “listen, there are lots of things here we could nick you for, let’s call it a day. People are going to come for Sunday lunch soon.” So we packed up and played the game. Keep it off the street, keep it in the warehouse, but work together.’30 Gordie’s anecdote is somewhat reminiscent of Zebedee’s point of view, when he argued that there is less chance of a police intervention when a party is contained. Most importantly however, Zebedee argues that the very nature of the squat party scene means that there is little point in attempting to arrest anyone: ‘after the spiral tribe, they spent millions of pounds on this and it went nowhere. It is so multifaceted that you can’t just put one person in that box. They tried, but they failed.’31

Urban Change: Disrupting the Squat Party Scene

  • 32 Author’s interview with Gordie, 21 December 2019.

21In London, electronic music scenes and communities have always coexisted in legal and illegal venues. The underground and squat party scene is no exception: a significant number of its members also play in clubs, although these are considered underground rather than mainstream. For many years, the abundance of derelict land and vacant buildings, particularly in East London, allowed the squat party scene to thrive. As Gordie recalls, ‘if a club was shut down, the party was over. But with the underground scene, no way was it over. There was always a plan B.’32

22Over the past thirty years however, urban regeneration processes have gradually renewed London’s urban fabric, thus depriving the squat party community of vacant spaces and buildings to accommodate events. East London has in particular been dramatically reshaped, not least as a consequence of the Olympics in 2012. Squat parties are still organised, yet their numbers are falling and the likelihood of a police raid is considerably higher today than it was when the scene emerged.

  • 33 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.

23In recent years, and partly as a result of this trend, parties have been organised in so-called ‘semi-legitimate venues’. Zebedee explains that these can be described as venues that operate with licences that are not those held by fully licensed clubs. Whilst the latter rely on permanent licences, semi-legitimate venues operate on the basis of occasional licences. Zebedee explains that these types of venues can at times break some of the rules, and argues that because they are not full-time venues, they are not subject to so much scrutiny. Most importantly however, he explains that ‘people who run these venues are already in the scene or else they wouldn’t genuinely want to support it. They are putting themselves at risk in doing things like this, and this situation is similar to squat parties in a sense’.33

Conclusion: Disruption Without Destruction

  • 34 That disruption does not necessarily involve destruction was highlighted in Crain’s paper, which in (...)

24Jean-Marie Dru’s work (1996) in the field of advertising has contributed to providing a positive view of the disruption process, in which three distinct phases can be identified. During the first one, conventions and a dominant approach are identified. These, according to Dru, are what ‘maintain the status-quo’. During the second stage, these methods are challenged and disruption emerges as a consequence of this questioning. The third and final stage involves the formulation of a different vision for a given brand. In Dru’s own words, ‘disruption is about finding the strategic idea that breaks and overturns a convention in the marketplace, and then makes it possible to reach a new vision or to give new substance to an existing vision’ (Dru 1996, 5657). The extent to which this view provides a useful framework to understand the nature and actions of the London squat party is somewhat uncertain. First and foremost, the emergence of the squat and club cultures and scene in London was somewhat concomitant and electronic music culture was first born in the underground culture. With this in mind, one could therefore argue that the subsequent advent of club culture may be seen as a disruption of the illegal rave trend, rather than the reverse. Moreover, the fact that Dru’s work focuses on advertising means that it is inevitably ill-adapted to the study of a culture which has deliberately remained somewhat invisible. Although the squat party scene can today be viewed as a challenge to the dominant club culture, its raison d’être is at least partly based on the existence of such a dominant culture, which is reacts against. If anything, the co-existence of the mainstream and squat party scenes since the early nineties illustrates the view that disruption does not mean destruction.34

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1 The first research project, “Plans for tonight”: A comparative study of subcultural resistance in London and San Francisco (2018-2019) was funded by IDEX Université Grenoble Alpes and part of the ‘Initiatives de Recherches Stratégiques’ programme. This project was led by Michael Foley (Laboratoire ILCEA4, Université Grenoble Alpes) and Stéphane Sadoux (Unité de recherche AE&CC, ENSAG, Université Grenoble Alpes). The second research project (‘Avinit in London’) was initiated in 2019. It is led by Stéphane Sadoux and funded by LabEx AE&CC. Whilst the first project looked at London underground techno scene, the second one focuses on the squat party scene, which is approached from a socio-spatial perspective.

2 This echoes Dee’s claim that squatters in London have not particularly sought to document their movement (Dee 2016). Turrini’s research into Punk communities has highlighted similar issues: it has in particular shown that artists have not sought to constitute archives and that this lack of archival material is a case for the production of oral history. Turrini has also suggested that although a high number of punk artist interviews are available, they tend to be found in Fanzines (Turrini 61). Arguably, issues in dealing with the London squat party scene are similar.

3 An info line provides information about a party, usually a meeting point rather than the specific location. A recorded message is made available on the day of the event.

4 The oral history archives used for this research are not accessible to the public.

5 Fabric’s license was revoked in September 2016, following two drug-related deaths in June and August the same year. A number of messages received by the London Borough of Islington in August 2016 have been made available on the council’s website, under the ‘Democracy’. The excerpt cited in this paper, taken from an email sent on 24 August, is found on this website. All messages have been anonymised. Last accessed at on 12 September 2021.

6 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021

7 Interview of Chris Liberator by D.A.V.E. the Drummer, 29 September 2013

8 The Liberator DJs have been figureheads of the London squat party scene. They are also considered as pioneers of the specific London acid techno genre. Their record label, Stay Up Forever, was launched in 1993 and has since then become a collective, which brings together many artists and labels involved in the so-called London underground techno scene.

9 Interview of Chris Liberator by D.A.V.E. the Drummer, 29 September 2013.

10 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.

11 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.

12 Transcript of interview of D.A.V.E. the Drummer by Jonny Stearn and Theo Goble, 2013.

13 Author’s interview with Aaron Liberator, 27 June 2019.

14 Author’s interview with Gordie, 21 December 2019.

15 Interview of Chris Liberator by D.A.V.E. the Drummer, 29 September 2013

16 Author’s interview with Aaron Liberator, 1 November 2021.

17 Author’s interview with Gordie, 21 December 2019.

18 Author’s interview with Darc Marc, 6 August 2019.

19 Author’s interview with Gordie, 21 December 2019.

20 Author’s interview with Aaron Liberator, 1 November 2021.

21 Author’s interview with Darc Marc, 6 August 2019.

22 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.

23 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.

24 Author’s interview with Jeff Amadeus, 6 November 2021.

25 Author’s interview with Sterling Moss, 28 June 2019.

26 Author’s interview with Chris Liberator, 20 December 2019.

27 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.

28 Author’s interview with Jeff Amadeus, 5 August 2019.

29 Author’s interview with Sterling Moss, 28 June 2019.

30 Author’s interview with Gordie, 21 December 2019.

31 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.

32 Author’s interview with Gordie, 21 December 2019.

33 Author’s interview with Zebedee, 2 November 2021.

34 That disruption does not necessarily involve destruction was highlighted in Crain’s paper, which involved a scrutiny of Dru’s work in the field of advertising (Crain)

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Stéphane Sadoux, « Disruption by Opportunity and by Design: The London Squat Party Scene »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 63 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2022, consulté le 30 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Stéphane Sadoux

Stéphane Sadoux is a town planner and an historian. He graduated from the Universities of Oxford, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Grenoble. He is Director of Unité de Recherche (LabEx) Architecture, Environnement & Cultures Constructives at the Grenoble School of Architecture (ENSAG), Université Grenoble Alpes (UGA). His research focuses on town planning and urban history in Britain, with specific reference to utopian and resistance movements. He is the author of a chapter focusing on the history of the London acid techno scene, published in 2021 in Electronic Cities : Music, Policies and Spaces in the 21st Century, edited by S. Darchen, D. Charrieras and J. Willsteed (Palgrave MacMillan)

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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