Cover Story| 2.05 - May 1994 | Feature
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Here come the Zippies!

There's a new and rapidly spreading cultural virus rippingthrough the British Isles. The symptoms of those infected include attacksof optimism, strong feelings of community, and lowered stress levels. Willtheir gathering in August at the Grand Canyon be the Woodstock of the '90s?

By Jules Marshall

A new and contagious cultural virus is ripping throughthe British Isles, a meme, an "idea with attitude." Like all successfulmemes, it confers advantages on its host: Those infected suffer attacksof optimism, strong feelings of community, lowered stress levels, and outbreaksof "pronoia" - the sneaking feeling one has that others are conspiringbehind your back to help you. If these were not sufficient to ensure thememe's continued spread in this mutating, anxiety-inducing age of ours,add the effects of unselfconscious dancing till dawn, a strong dose ofunderground hipness, and a belief that technology can - indeed, should- be put to the furtherance of hedonistic and spiritual goals. What wehave here is a major player in the premillennial cultural meme pool, anda loose-knit movement of folks who aim to change the world - while havingthe best time of their lives. Cyber-crusties, techno-hippies, post-ravers- the British media have tried pinning various compound names to its members.But one name stands out, maybe because it was designed to. And for themoment it's sticking: zippies. It stands for Zen-inspired professionalpagans, according to 50-year-old Fraser Clark, shamanic zippie spokesperson,club manager and editor of Encyclopedia Psychedelica (EPi), the magazinethat first identified the "hippies with zip." According to EPi, a zippieis "someone who has balanced their hemispheres to achieve a fusion of thetechnological and the spiritual. The techno-person understands that rationality,organization, long-term planning, consistency and single-mindedness arenecessary to achieve anything solid on the material level. The hippie understandsthat vision, individuality, spontaneity, flexibility and open-mindednessare crucial to realize anything on the spiritual scale." Zippies are anunlikely fusion between the two sides. They are the product of UK dance-scenehedonism, cyber street tech, pagan spirituality, postpunk anarchism, andgo-for-it entrepreneurism. As a movement, the zippie scene might neverhave passed childhood to reach its current state of maturity had Margaret"Nanny" Thatcher not been determined to beat some values (hers) into twovery different (to the point of mutual antipathy) groups of recalcitrantcitizens. These were folks who refused to bend the knee: so-called NewAge travellers (or crusties) and ravers (house music enthusiasts). Now,the zippies are planning the most radical musical invasion of America sincethe Beatles and the Stones first kicked up the shit 30 years ago. Moreradical in fact, since what is being offered is an entire cultural attitude,a postcyberpunk, postconsumerist way of life. If you've got nothing betterto do (and who does?!), plan on heading to the Grand Canyon this August.Woodstock revivals won't hold a candle to the zippie invasion of 1994.

Travelling Blues Throughout the '80s, the travellers -basically a seminomadic cross between a Gypsy and a hippie - suffered systematicstate brutality on a scale not witnessed in Britain in decades. The mostfamous incident was the Beanfield Massacre in 1985, where several hundredtravellers were driven into a field near Stonehenge by police and army,their ancient lorries and caravans trashed, pets rounded up and destroyed,children and women harassed, and all men beaten and arrested. This incidentwas not without prelude. In the late '60s, a free rock festival was heldannually at Windsor, just outside London. By 1971 this had become so popularand was considered so close to the capital as to be a major source of anxietyto the government. The police banned the festival, and the people associatedwith it looked elsewhere to continue the tradition. They chose Stonehenge:It is miles from anywhere, it is one of the most revered sites in Europe,and it provides a killer backdrop for a rock festival. Fraser Clark wentto Stonehenge in the early 1970s. "I kind of came 'round the corner expectingto see a communal food tent and a few hippies, but there in front of mewas what looked like the whole Cherokee nation: teepees as far as the eyecould see." The festival, designed to coincide with the summer solstice,rapidly extended into a monthlong love-in, police-free zone, and proto-anarchistcommunity. Travellers formed convoys of up to 100 lorries to move aroundthe country afterwards, from fair to fair selling food, crafts, and drugsas they went. "It was a pretty lawless place," says Clark. The cops nevercame - if they did, a bunch of kids would immediately turn over their vans.There was every drug under the sun openly available - but it really worked,and people started to think, 'What the fuck do we need the government foranyway?' "

But during the '80s, the government came back with a vengeance.Each year the festival was banned and access to Stonehenge prevented -even to bona fide practicing Druids. The government didn't ignore the raverseither. Since the "acid house" media scare of what the British style magazinesstill refer to wistfully as the Summer of Love (1988), ravers and raveorganizers were treated in a similarly brutal fashion. During "The Summerof Love," Britain took two US imports - ecstasy and house music - addedlarge doses of street style and attitude, and created the most explosivenew dimension to popular culture since punk. Tens of thousands of kidsheaded out past London's M25 orbital ring road to country raves - hencethe "orbital rave explosion" as it is also known. The press picked up onthe name, "acid house" (coined in Detroit and Chicago, and referring tothe music's squelchy bleeps and "acid" sound), assumed it was connectedwith psychedelics (right idea, wrong drug), and fanned a huge backlashfrom the government. Raised on entrepreneurial spirit, here were modelcapitalists taking in up to UKpounds200,000 a night: Using only fax andanswering machines, mobile phones, and toll-free numbers, they played cat-and-mousewith police every weekend all over the country and brought up to 20,000kids together in a field at a few hours' notice. Instead of awarding themThatcher Awards for Enterprise, the government banned the whole thing,attacking ravers with the same thuggishness they were simultaneously directingat the travellers. Expensive equipment was trashed or impounded, party-goersbeaten up. The crime shared by travellers and ravers: Defying the Britishgovernment by having unsanctioned fun smack in the rural Tory-voting heartlandof England. Primal fears of violation by unwashed intruders were compoundedby the worry that Britain's children might run off and join them.

Hippie Wisdom, Raving Savvy By the end of the '80s, travellersand ravers were coming into increasing contact, at huge outdoor festivalslike Glastonbury and in London venues like Club Dog and Whirl-y-Gig. "We'dall been to Stonehenge and been inspired," says Michael Dog, founder ofClub Dog. "We wanted to recycle that vibe for the winter in London. Whenthe government killed off the festi-scene, we were left as a repositoryof '60s values - like a zoo." Club Dog had always been an acquired taste,but when house music came along, the club gave it serious attention: Infact, Club Dog now runs a packed dance-oriented offshoot, Megadog. "We'renot tied to style and pretension," says Dog. "We'd all been into Kraftwerkand synthesizer stuff. Dance music was from the same head space, so itwas natural to move into it." At first there was mutual hostility. To manytravellers, ravers were just a bunch of ecstasy-chomping city brats drivingout to the countryside, messing things up for them, and playing soullesssynthesizer music. Hell, most ravers had never seen a cow in their lives.To the ravers, the crusties were, well, crusty: scruffy hippies, ruralvan-dwelling squatters into dub reggae, industrial noise, and folk music.But contact (and shared government harassment) broke down ignorance andspawned the zippie fusion. At one Glastonbury festival, Mixmaster Morris,an ambient-techno pioneer, found that neighboring campers were threateningto firebomb his bus if he played one note of techno. But by the time hefinished his set, the same neighbors gushed: He had played the best musicthey had ever heard at a festival. Then in May 1992, a smallish festivalof hippies/crusties near Castlemorton found itself swamped by 30,000 ravers.The big draw was Spiral Tribe, an amorphous hardcore collective of morethan a dozen squatters with a simple guerrilla philosophy: to play musicas loud as possible for as long as possible. For four days and nights,that's what happened - hard, trancy house music mixed on the fly. The policelet them onto Castlemorton because it was "common ground" - English legaltradition guarantees that all citizens have access to it. But it wasn'tlong before the cops cracked down. As local politicians called for theparamilitaries, police helicopters hovered over the crowd day and night- drawing fire from distress flares and crossbows. Zippies are unashamedlypsychedelic - hash spliffs, ecstasy, acid, mushrooms, and for the hip andwell-connected, DMT. This penchant for mind-benders is partly to blamefor the Establishment crackdown.

Ten members of Spiral Tribe were arrested and chargedwith "conspiracy to cause a public nuisance," which carries a maximum sentenceof life in prison. At Wired's press time, the UKpounds4 million showcasetrial was due to end, and Parliament was pushing through the Criminal JusticeBill, which, if passed, will make squatting illegal and allow police todisperse any crowd of ten or more people who look ready to "do something."(The bill will give squatters 24 hours notice to get out or be prosecuted;this, incidentally, breaches the European Convention of Human Rights andFreedoms, according to Liberty, Britain's civil rights campaign group.)

The Fusion "Before zippies we had all these silly fragmentedsubcults not talking to each other," says Clark. "Hippies had dwindledto a few thousand around the country. I told them the ravers are our reinforcements,and they arrived just in time. "The bottom line is unity. You have to haveall types of people into it, then the powers can't pick us off. Also, amix of ages is very important, to blend experience with enthusiasm." Morrisagrees: "Squatting, travelling - anything but being a bank clerk will soonbe illegal. The example and wisdom of hippies proves to the young raverthat there is an alternative and an opposition. The government has drivenraves out of business in the last two years, and they're still taking peopleout for underground parties they organized three years ago. People havegone to prison for ten years and no one raised a finger." Steve Hillage,former rock guitarist and founder (with Dr. Alex "The Orb" Patterson) ofthe zippie band System 7 says: "Rock used to be a revolutionary and progressiveforce, but for the last five years ambient/ dance music is where the progressive,experimental work has been revived." Hillage, who grew up in the '60s,sees a positive element to dance culture: "Out of the awful materialismof the '80s this wonderful scene has emerged. I don't parallel it withthe hippie movement, but I get a lot of the same feelings as when I wasgrowing up. All different types of people there with a spirit of oneness.A lot of what is good about the UK scene is what was claimed to be goodabout the '60s, only this time it's real, not skin deep." "The zippie movementhas more positive energy and enthusiasm than anything else I've ever seen,"confirmed Rose Roffe, a 69-year-old "Raving Granny" I met at the primezippie nexus, Megatripolis. Cyberpunk critic Vivian Sobchak says zippiesnot only eschew the drippy technophobia of the original hippies but alsoavoid the "selfish, consumer-oriented and technologically dependent libertarianism"and "romantic, swashbuckling, irresponsible individualism" of cyberpunk."There is a world of difference between zippies and the cyberpunks," saysClark, who calls the latter isolated, alienated, and separated. "Cyberpunkwas a mere prelude," he continues. "A zippie feels the terror and promiseof the planet's situation and is prepared to use anything short of violence- magic, technology, entrepreneurial skill - to create a new age in asshort a time as possible." Zippiedom has become a deliberately broad church:It embraces the multinational businessman taking yoga classes as well asthe hippie couple making candles to sell at festivals, the New Age travellerwith a PC running off his bus's dynamo and the raver looking for a moremeaningful buzz than ecstasy. "We need the maximum number of people tochange in the shortest possible time. The best way is to make the alternativefashionable," says Clark. "There are no 'wrong reasons' for becoming azippie." To introduce the emerging scene to itself, Clark and his Evolutionposse (the group that organizes zippie events, taking their name from Evolution,the now defunct descendent of EPi) established the Megatripolis club. Startingsmall, it rapidly outgrew its Soho venue, and 4,000 would-be raving zippieswere turned away upon its reopening last October. The Thursday I went,I met a female professional gambler who "cultivates her intuition," a middle-agedlawyer, school kids, exchange students, graphic designers, and squatters.Part lecture hall, part Indian bazaar, part medieval courtyard, part pleasuredome, Megatripolis offers early evening talks by zippie thinkers (theycall it "Parallel University"), trippy visuals upstairs, and ambient danceor a percussion jam in the "Virtualitiroom," where a bunch of Macs runthe latest interactive demo from The Shamen or grainy graphics off somekid's floppy.

Techno-Optimism The next day, I'm reminded by Matt Blackof the zippie multimedia group Hex (see Wired 2.03, p. 90) that the UKis "still in the Stone Age of personal computing. Hardware costs twiceas much as in the States and is two years out of date. But we do have astrong rave culture." Against all odds, technophobic Britain, the homeof C.P. Snow's Two Cultures (where science has consistently been dissedby the liberal arts elite), is actually learning to love technology. Nerds,for the first time in living memory, are cool. "I spent my first twentyyears as a hippie trying to get away from the techno side of things," saysFraser Clark. Now he's getting a modem for his PC. "This is the strongestcultural force," says Hex's Black. "Maybe the force which will bring aboutthe revolution in consciousness - which is what we are aiming at." Almostentirely invisible to (arts-biased) politicians on the left and right,the UK has somehow developed the most creative bunch of software gamersoutside the US, a huge explosion of independent TV production companies(in response to a late '80s boom in satellite and cable services, coupledwith the rise of independents and the downsizing of the BBC). Britain,the first and most deregulated of the European telecoms, is in the processof laying the most advanced telecom infrastructure in the world - a testingground for Baby Bell executives - where TV and phone traffic have beenallowed on the same network since 1991. But it's the huge dance culturethat is the driving force and aesthetic polestar of this emerging techno-savvyBritish youth. More than a million people go to raves in the UK each week,diverting 2 billion pounds a year away from pubs, as a report from theHenley Centre think tank warned last year. "We are seeing nothing lessthan the rise of a new industry to replace the dead one that has not producedjobs," says Brian Davis, former journalist and organizer of the Cyberseedfestival at South London's top club, The Fridge, last November. "TV isnot feeding us what we want; there's no reason to stay at home. We're notpushing vinyl, but a complete culture. Can Sony or Philips do this?" Nothey can't. But zippies are not so naive as to expect them not to try toprofit from what will inevitably be seen as another slice of market demographics.But as Michael Dog points out, "We've been ripped off so many times we'renaturally sussed against corporatism." Although evolution, not revolution,informs the zippie agenda, its submemes ensure that zippies will inevitablycontinue to come into conflict with the powers that be. "The politicalcontent of dance music is intrinsic," Will Sinnott, of the early zippieband The Shamen pointed out two weeks before his 1991 death. "It stimulatesego-role behavior reduction, offering the experience of unity and affinitywith others. This experience invalidates liberal, individualistic ideologyand creates true political opposition." Zippie music is rhythmically ratherthan lyrically oriented - it really is in the music that the transformationoccurs. Among the trancy reverb and sampled vocabulary of popular zippiesongs can be found a Terence McKenna riff on goddesses, ecology, and theshamanic revival - and this woman's voice: "You can control some of thepeople all of the time; you can control all the people some of the time,but you can't control all the people all the fucking time." "Thatcher didus a favor," says Michael Dog. "There's been a rejection of the controlstructure at the same time that the technology has appeared for us to remaintotally independent. Fulfillment now comes not from political adherencebut by not voting, in fact by having nothing to do with the system." Thepagan roots revival that the travellers brought to the zippie movementis fundamentally at odds with the government's insistence on Judeo-Christianpub culture and 11 p.m. bedtimes, no matter how hard the police crack down.Interest in the New Age is more than passive; it's rooted in a darker,indigenous Celtic/Nordic shamanism revival that has become increasinglypoliticized. How big can it get? The number of people aware of the zippieconcept is growing exponentially: The Independent newspaper claims thereare 60,000 squatters and 40,000 travellers in Britain, and that's justthe hard core. Clark estimates there are 200,000 zippies in the UK alone.

Will it take similar hold in the US? We'll see, Clarksays. "Britain is socially and politically the most fucked up of the WesternDemocracies, the most divided by youth cults," says Clark. "Hippies neverdied out in the US, were never out of fashion the way they were here."This left intellectual ghettoes, resistant to the suggestion that a techno-basedspiritualism could emerge from superficial dance culture. Clark was "flabbergastedat how far behind the US was" when he visited. "There's no infrastructure.Raving is more than music - there's a whole lifestyle. But toeholds existin San Francisco and toeholds can lead to crazes, and suddenly it's massive."See for yourself: Clark's "Megatripolis Advance Party" will host its free,annual megarave at the Rainbow Gathering at the Grand Canyon in ArizonaAugust 1-15 (for info or to schedule a visit from them to your festival,contact Evolution, PO Box 833, London NW6, UK; +44 (71) 624 9276. Up to60,000 people are expected. In a year when yuppie has-beens are going tofork over anywhere from US$150 to $5,000 dollars to relive a few fantasies(seated) at the two competing Woodstock anniversaries (festival organizersare targeting 250,000 and 40,000, respectively, at separate revivals onand near Yasgur's farm), maybe this is where the true spirit of the '60swill be found, but with a hard-nosed '90s realism. "The recession forcedus to cooperate," says Clark. "People are now prepared to listen to analternative view. They may not agree, but, before, they had no reason tolisten; the system was working from their point of view. The differencebetween zippies and hippies is that, this time, we're starting from halfwayup the mountain."

How To Be a Zippy

Zippie thinkers: Besides the obvious psychedelic heroes(Timothy Leary, Alexander Shulgin, John C. Lilly, and Terence McKenna),zippies have a fondness for paradigm-challenging folk scientists (RupertSheldrake, Richard Dawkins, Benoit Mandelbrot, Werner Heisenberg, and DouglasHofstadter). Spiritual guidance comes from East and West, courtesy of Julianof Norwich, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Shiva,among others. There's a distrust of the "twittering commercialism" of theUS New Age scene. Serena Roney-Dougal's Where Science and Magic Meet andMonica Sjoeo's The New Age and Armaggedon are currently popular. MarshallMcLuhan gets the respect he deserves, as does intelligent fantasy authorand one-time Hawkwind lyricist Michael Moorcock. So does Sid Rawls, forbeing the traveller spokesman and the media's favorite bogeyman.

Zippie Media More cutting edge and less commercial thanThe Face, the style mag with a heart, i-D, has given zippie issues theironly mainstream airing. i-D has beaten the pack, being the first in theUK to cover subjects from cyberpunk and chaos theory to the rise of pagananti-road communities. As a national clubbing guide it's second to none,and check out the ahead-of-its time fashion coverage: +44 (71) 813 6170,fax +44 (71) 813 6179. The Independent daily newspaper is increasing itscoverage of zippie issues and personalities, while zippie 'zines includeZippy Times +44 (71) 624 9276; Mind Food, +44 (81) 693 9903; Head; DreamCreation, +44 (71) 226 9874; Pod, and Tribal Messenger. A zippie-esqueBBS is Black Dog Towers, run by Black Dog Productions (some of the mostinnovative so-called 'intelligent techno' artists around). It featuresarticles on paganism, anarchism, music, etc. Address: direct dial in: +44(81) 983 3472, Internet address: ken@gate.dogsquad.com. Preferred zippiemedium: word of mouth.

Zippie Music

With so many influences from such diverse backgroundsand ages, zippie music covers a wide and wonderful spectrum. There's verychilled-out ambient-techno: Irresistible Force, Aphex Twin, William Orbit,Astralasia, Future Sound of London, Higher Intelligence Agency, Pete Namlookand party organizers Telepathic Fish. Better-known early zippie favoritesThe Orb and The Shamen are a little too poppy now, while some find theKLF pranksters a little tiresome. Also in the mix: hippie icons who sawthe light (System 7, Ozric Tentacles and Hawkwind, remixing at last) andmore dancey stuff (D.I.Y., Spooky); House-guitar crossover acts (Bancode Gaia, Transglobal Underground, Seefeel); tribal beats (anything witha didgeridoo in it, Dervish samples, or Moroccan ululating); techno-dubreggae; or, most spectacularly, the holistic approach to live entertainmentpioneered by The Shamen's Synergy tour in 1989 and 1990 and continued byEat Static: in-yer-face lighting, live video mixing, hand-painted backdropsand hangings, dancers, and megastrobes. Record labels: Guerilla, Warp,Rising High, and Planet Dog Records. For clubs, try Whirl-y-Gig club (nonumber) recommended with Megadog +44 (81) 809 7194 and Megatripolis/Evolution+44 (71) 624 9276.

Zippie Fashion Zippies are not a cult and have no uniformby which one can recognize them. In the clubs, on the street, or at thefestival, anything goes as long as it's you - and what's that? Postmodern,postcommercial but not averse to fashion per se: guerrilla consumers alreadyliving at the end of history. Appropriated labels, logos, and slogans;typographical-pun T-shirts ('Groover' in Hoover script); combat gear; soccershirts from the '70s; Tank Girl look; androgynous postapocalyptic or neo-hippie;the latest club look; the math nerd look; even a shirt and tie.

Zippie hangouts Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and other holysites of Albion (ancient Britain); the Indian province of Goa; Thailand;San Francisco; Amsterdam; and North Wales during the magic mushroom season.