It’s the Summer of Love, 1991. Ian Brown is hawking a bit more than Fool’s Gold around Manchester’s nightclubs and Liam Howlett was just starting to take De La Soul’s happy hip hop and amp it up into solid advice from Mum’s friend Charly. Raving became a phenomenon that flared up faster than a teenage growth spurt and threatened to destabilise the country if the authorities were to be believed. But just how did so many people come to be sorted for Es and Whiz in a field off the M25? The story is the birth place of a bigger revolution that would take another 20 years to germinate – the social media revolution.
In the early 90s I lived in Oxford. In fairness, life was pretty awful. I’d left home and was living in shared accommodation in one of Oxford’s unfashionable cheap areas, Cowley Road. My house mates included a girl who’d been thrown out of home at 15 because she reminded her mother too much of her now-divorced father, an Ecuadorian immigrant and a large Alsatian left to us whilst his traveller owner was in jail. Of course on the average night there were bodies littered all around the house, yet only a few us were actually residents liable for the rent. Sometime in December the washing machine in the conservatory froze over night, sealing with it most of my clothes. It would be almost March before we could release them.
There was little food in this house and little cash in the neighbourhood, yet there was an abundance of dealers. Many were simply trying to get a bit of cash to pay for themselves and the student population made that easy. There were plenty of reasons to want to get out of your head and forget it all if you lived in Cowley.
This side of Oxford is not the side Morse fans are familiar with. Most recall it as the the city of dreaming spires; a city of splendid education, fine buildings and intellectual pursuits by riversides. And yet, Oxford bares a second name given to it whilst it was the King’s capital after he was ousted from London during the Civil War. That name which any from Cowley, Blackbird Leys, Barton or any of Oxford’s other sprawling council estates may feel to be all too true of Oxford: the City of Lost Causes.
Oxford is unusual in that it has a large youth population, due to students. Maybe that’s why it has the fourth highest rate of drug abuse in the country; a statistic far greater than the size of the city would suggest. It is home to some of the biggest council estates in Europe, and home to some of the brightest young minds in the world. One thing connects them – the desire to party.