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Marginal Groove: The Politics of Raves in Richmond

The Struggle for Place

To examine a case of transgression we turn our attention to Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, a suburb of Vancouver. Richmond is home to the Riverside Banquet Hall, one of Greater Vancouver’s most frequently used legal rave venues. The Palace at Riverside, another banquet hall nearby, is occasionally the site of such events as well. In 2000, Richmond city council passed a bylaw restricting all-night parties to these two sites, while allowing other venues to apply for consideration (Bellett, 2000a, 2000b). Before and after council acted to regulate and limit raves, a string of events at the Riverside halls garnered attention from the local authorities, media, and public.

In 1998, parties at Riverside resulted in numerous noise complaints from south Vancouver, across the North Arm of the Fraser River. In response to one event, Sergeant Willy Laurie, a spokesperson for the Richmond detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was quoted as saying “There were quite a lot of complaints — all valid” (Pynn, 1998, p. B5). Another incident led Mayor Greg Halsey-Brandt to comment: “We must have had 70 or 80 complaints. People were really upset” (Bellett, 1998, p. B4). Between 800 and 1,400 people attended each of these events and no disapproving statements from them were printed regarding the volume. However, the authorities heard the complaints loud and clear. The police increased their enforcement activity around the site and discussed the laying of charges with city and fire officials. Council made regulatory changes so it was possible for the city to revoke the business license of any rave venue that had a negative impact on its neighbors.

Riverside is already fairly out of the way; warehouses are in the vicinity, but there are no nearby residential areas. Wedding banquets were certainly deemed in place, but “kids” dancing to loud electronic music all through the night were not. Furthermore, with respect to illegal warehouse parties in the area, Halsey-Brandt observes that:

These parties go from 1 a.m. to about 8 a.m. and people going to work early in the morning have complained about being intimidated by all these young people. And they leave quite a mess behind with garbage strewn all over the place and vehicles parked everywhere. It causes policing problems for us, too. (Bellett, 1998, p. B4)

The breaching of expectations upset the mayor. He cites the presence of numerous youth as a fear factor, appeals to our sense of aesthetics, and concerns us with the problems experienced by the authorities. The picture he illustrates is one of common sense (see Cresswell, 1996). In this context, youth are out of place; workers are in place. He disregards the right of all citizens to use public space. Staeheli and Thompson (1997, p. 30) contend that:

Youth generally, and countercultural youths in particular, are marginal to the conceptualization of citizenship and membership in communities, and their presence in public spaces serves as a challenge to the ideas of citizenship in political theory.

The mere visibility of youth and the corresponding increase in diversity it provides infringes upon and contests social norms. “When people are out of place it is a cause for concern because of the perceived threat to power relations” (Kitchin, 1999, p. 48).

In 1999, Richmond council considered a proposed bylaw that would close “social gathering businesses” between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. (Morton, 1999; Porter, 1999). Although if it passed, the regulation would affect all such commercial entities, its primary consequence and goal would be to exclude ravers from congregating in legal venues. Such spatial marginalization would unequivocally force the rave scene underground in Richmond, while the political action would make the events explicitly out of place. The police appealed for an immediate ban of all-night parties at Riverside. The major reasons cited in support of prohibition were neighborhood disturbance, danger to police, the threat posed to the rest of the city by the increased devotion of police resources to the area, and the risks incurred by the ravers themselves (Bellett, 1999).

Some authorities viewed raves as a problem to be solved by rejecting and outlawing the meanings associated with the venues. In this scenario, the ravers would lose their place, become placeless, and conform to the norms constructed by those dominant in society. Many failed to realize that the rave scene has its own ideologies that view the underground as vibrant and staying in one place as undesirable. Illegal events unsupervised by police would likely be less safe as well. On this and other issues there was a distinct lack of understanding on the part of the authorities due to their situated knowledges. Eventually, rave promoters convinced council to retreat from the proposed time constraints (“Regional Roundup,” 2000).

Rather than ban raves all together, council spatially isolated them to the two banquet halls at Riverside, a location on the city’s periphery. These were the only sites that raves were to be in place. They also introduced regulations that attempted to address many of the aforementioned issues that have been associated with rave events. This approach was envisioned as supportive of youth (Luba, 2000). Council could only take action that it perceived as accommodating to ravers (even if their measures were not) when those initiatives remained within its own perceived set of acceptable behaviors. Being higher up in the social hierarchy than most of those participating in the parties, they exercised their oppressive power, creating a particular spatiality (see Rose, 1997). However, Halsey-Brandt notes that, “Under the existing bylaw there are no consequences for people who hold illegal raves. The regulations are aimed at ensuring legal raves are properly managed” (Bellett, 2000c, p. B1). Council’s preoccupation with the city’s most prominent places associated with raves prevented them from dealing with the broader situation.

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