Illegal raves are booming in lockdown Britain. Can authorities stop a third Summer of Love?

A rave in 1989, during the UK's "Second Summer of Love."

London (CNN)After three months of confinement, the footage seemed otherworldly: bucket hats, balloons, a heavy techno beat, and a few thousand young people crammed into a small clearing in the woods.

But the signage by the DJ deck gave a cheeky nod to the new world in which the party was being thrown. This was a "quarantine rave," it read; one of several taking place each weekend around the United Kingdom, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
The event, which occurred near Manchester in the north of England last Saturday, has caught the eye of Britain's news media in recent days after police reported that several thousand attended. Three stabbings, a rape and an overdose death were also reported between that rave and another nearby, police said, and officials are investigating footage of attendees wielding weapons.
    Across the country, authorities are struggling to keep up with hastily organized, dangerous parties being held on short notice in quiet nature spots. "We can't say for certain that we can prevent all such events from taking place," Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham admitted in a statement on Friday. "(But) there is no question of us turning a blind eye or adopting a permissive approach."
    The parties are alarming health officials too, with the reproductive rate of the virus in the UK hovering just below one and the country only tentatively easing its lockdown restrictions in the hope of returning to normality. Large gatherings are still banned in Britain, and there is little hope of social distancing at these events.
    They're also condemned by the established members of Britain's illegal rave scene -- even if their existence isn't a complete surprise. "This is a result of the situation that we're in right now," says DJ Mandi Gordon, who played illegal raves until the pandemic struck, under the stage name Mandidextrous. "People are frustrated, people want to be able to get out right now."
    A combination of strict licensing laws, the closure of clubs and the high cost of living in British cities had already led to a boom in underground raves, industry insiders say.
    But so prevalent are reports of the new pop-up events that much of the UK media is now predicting a re-run of the Second Summer of Love -- the short-lived explosion of colorful, MDMA-fueled illegal raves that rippled through Britain in 1988 and 1989.
    For those two years, ravers would play cat and mouse with police as they ducked from woodland to field to abandoned warehouse, blasting acid house from their stereos before returning to the monotony of the working week.
    "Everybody in society just had this pressure on them, which you didn't even notice until you stood in a field and took your first E [ecstasy] and realized, 'Oh my god, I've been living like an idiot,'" recalls Gavin Watson, a skinhead-turned-raver whose photographs and books from the time helped immortalize the Second Summer of Love -- named in homage to the first psychedelic celebration of "flower power" in 1967.
    "That was it. This is what my life's going to be like," he remembers thinking at his first event in 1988. "Everything was built around the rave for two years."
    Is a repeat really possible? Much of modern Britain chimes with that period -- financial toil, unemployment, the closure of clubs and a decade of Conservative rule -- but much is different, too, and the grandees of that long summer are skeptical it can ever truly be repeated.
    Still, they agree with today's DJs, party-goers and disapproving authorities that a fresh wave of rave is around the corner -- and the pandemic is only likely to make it louder.
    "I've had the busiest year that I've had, and that's all been destroyed by the Covid-19 situation," says Gordon. "Things will get lifted and there is going to be a big resurgence of rave. It's on the cards, 100%.