The rise and fall of Brains Kan
Norfolk’s anarchist rave revolution
1998 – 2007
By Wil Crisp
“Dem think it’s over but we nah done yet”
It was a sunny Sunday morning on 28 March 2004 when everything changed for the Norfolk-based anarchist free party crew Brains Kan.
DJ Manarchy, a former member of the crew, was dancing in front of a speaker stack with hundreds of other ravers in a warehouse on the Norwich Airport Industrial Estate when a friend came over and told him to take a look outside.
In the yard of the warehouse he saw that the group of police that had been trying to shut down the party had been joined by a large riot squad carrying shields and wearing helmets with visors.
“It was the first time we had ever dealt with a riot squad,” says Manarchy. “We didn’t know what to do so we just reinforced the barricades and carried on with the rave.”
This party had been a difficult one from the very beginning, according to Fudalwokit, another former member of the crew.
“Police were aware of the party almost immediately,” he says.
Some cars and the rig had made it to the venue at around midnight, but the police had quickly locked the area down stopping any more vehicles entering the industrial estate.
“People were parking where ever they could and finding alternative ways to get there, climbing fences, scaling walls,” says Fudalwokit.
“At the very beginning the police tried to enter the warehouse but the roller door was quickly shut.
“As it was shutting, the police sprayed CS spray under the door at random into the crowd causing a lot of people to suffer from streaming eyes and coughing.
“Dog units were also there and one girl had to be taken to hospital with a head wound from a baton.”
Despite the chaotic start to the night, and the continuing stand-off with the police, the party went on as normal with the system blasting sets of techno, trance, hard house and jungle as the hours rolled by.
As the event progressed more police congregated outside.
At this point Brains Kan had been putting on free parties in Norfolk for six years without any problems from the police.
“We’d always been amicable and chatted the police at the gate when they arrived,” says Fudalwokit. “We always let them know that the party would be finished at some point in the afternoon and everything would be left as it was before the party.”
When Brains Kan had started putting on raves in 1998 it was the only rig putting on politically charged large-scale free parties in Norfolk – and it was easy for the police to turn a blind eye.
As ravers entered a Brains Kan event they would be handed a photocopied A4 newsletter with details about current political issues and protests that the crew were participating in, as well as logistical advice like how to stay safe in the rave and how to talk to the police without getting into trouble.
“One of the things that made so good it was how we ran it,” says Manarchy. “On the door there would be ten or 20 people wearing masks and balaclavas and we would be buzzing people up.
“People were greeted by a really excited crew on the door saying – ‘this party is for you’ – everyone is welcome. And it was genuine excitement. It was everything we were living for.”
Ravers were asked for a one-pound donation and all the money went back into putting on parties.
The crew was non-hierarchical and promoted a DIY ethos – with crew members building their own sound equipment as well as producing their own tunes, which they would play at raves.
“It was an amazing time,” says Manarchy. “At the parties there would be hundreds of people all bouncing together in synchronicity. You could feel the energy.
“It wasn’t about ego. It was about sound system music bringing people together.
“A party for the people by the people. We were trying to create a self-sustaining commune and a movement that went way beyond music.”
At the time Brains Kan also was also involved in campaigns including the Stop The War march in London in 2003, sabotaging fox hunts, and the campaign to shut down Huntington Life Sciences, Europe’s largest contract animal-testing laboratory.
Brains Kan inspired other groups to create their own sound systems, and by 2004 it wasn’t unusual for there to be as many as four unlicensed events in one night, just in the Norfolk area.
Additionally, 2004 was the year that Brains Kan had started regularly putting on parties in the Norfolk’s urban areas, rather than confining their parties to the countryside.
“We knew that the authorities didn’t like it,” says Fudalwokit. “But we also knew that many people didn’t have cars and couldn’t get to parties in the countryside.
“We wanted to create a free space for expression and unity. A melting pot for ideas, alternative thinking and counter culture.
“We felt like it was our duty to bring it to the city to help create more positive change.”
While Brains Kan saw the growing political free party scene in Norfolk as a sign of its success – it also brought more police attention to the parties.
The violence as the police shut down the party at the Airport Industrial Estate on 28 March marked a dramatic change in policy for the police and a watershed moment for Norfolk’s free party scene.
After the riot police had been outside for a couple of hours, and as midday was approaching, the crew decided to turn off the sound system, packed the equipment down and put everything in a circle in the centre of the warehouse.
As they opened the warehouse shutters a flood of ravers poured out past the riot officers and into the sunshine while around 80 members of the crew and some ravers remained sitting on the equipment in a circle with their hands linked.
“The police didn’t know what to do when they were faced with this sitdown protest,” says Manarchy. “They just came in with the dogs and were talking amongst themselves.”
“From the look on their faces you could tell they thought they were going to be met with violence. But we were just sitting there peacefully.”
Once the officers had entered the building they told the remaining crew that they would give them three warnings to move before they used force to seize the sound system.
After the third warning no one moved. The police officers moved in and removed the remaining crew members by force.
“It was horrible,” says Manarchy. “They were beating people with batons. They were beating girls up and about six people got arrested.”
A spokesperson from Norfolk Constabulary declined to be interviewed by Freedom about the events on 28 March 2004.
In a statement the spokesperson said: “Norfolk Police have always taken a zero-tolerance approach to unlicensed music events and raves, which are potentially dangerous and cause unnecessary damage and disruption.”
After the police had seized the sound system everyone from the crew gathered at a squatted period mansion in Cringleford, on the outskirts of Norwich, which had become Brains Kan’s base.
“The emotion was raw, people were in a sort of state of shock. Six years no trouble, now a violent ending to a party, people in the nick and no sound system,” says Fudalwokit.
“Then the news stories began to run, the main East Anglia news ran it as the top story on their 6pm show but they had put the angle on it that we were the aggressors, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The corporate propaganda machine was in full swing.”
Reds, an MC and part of the Brains Kan crew, was writing lyrics to try and process the whole experience.
“He had done either 16 or 32 bars, I can’t remember exactly now,” says Fudalwokit. “He passed the lyrics to me and I just lifted the phrases that I thought would work in a techno track and would tell the story in a concise way.”
Fudalwokit visited ITV to request the television news footage on tape so that he could sample it for the tune he was planning.
Back in his bedroom studio, using Cubase and an Access Virus C synthesiser, he started writing the iconic hard trance tune Propaganda.
“The idea was to try and bottle up the emotion of what had happened, portray the story,” he says. “We felt there was an injustice in how the rave had been reported.”
The first time Brains Kan played Propaganda at a one of its parties was later that year in Thetford Quarry.
“It felt amazing hearing it out for the first time, but I thought I’d play it a few times then that might be it,” says Fudalwokit.
“I had just knocked it up as a ‘fuck you’ to the authorities. It was more therapy for me at the time more than anything else.
“But the reaction was strong from day one. People understood it, it seemed to communicate in music what a lot of people felt in their hearts and minds.
“It crystallised the rebel spirit into a dance track much in a similar way that ‘Forward the Revolution’ by Spiral Tribe did.”
Once Brains Kan got the rig back after the violent police raid on at Norwich Airport Industrial Estate the crew kept on putting on regular raves for the next three years before eventually disbanding after a focused campaign by the police to disrupt their parties.
“In the end there was no final meeting or anything like that,” says Manarchy. “After that last party everyone dispersed and the squat ended.
“It was such a strange feeling. One minute I was part of a movement that I thought was going to be there my entire life – and suddenly there was nothing.”
In the years that have passed since the original Brains Kan party crew went their separate ways in 2007 crews that have been inspired by Brains Kan have continued to flourish and Propaganda, the tune about the police raid on 28 March 2004, has become a global free party anthem.
“It instantly became a big tune on local party rigs, but what I really didn’t see coming was how it would spread around Europe and even the wider world,” says Fudalwokit.
“The last time I played it was a couple of months ago at Illusive Festival and it still smashed it. I can’t believe the legs it has had.
“Now when I hear it I feel a whole host of mixed emotions. But mainly pride in what we did, the vibe and positive energy we emanated.”