Outdoor dance parties took off during the summer of 2020 when clubs closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they haven’t stopped since.
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Jand late and exhausted at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I followed Ludwig Millberg, my new 23-year-old Swedish friend, out of the metro station, down the empty residential streets of Stockholm’s Västberga district, past cars and scooters parked under a bridge covered in graffiti. I was ready to cancel our several-hour quest to return to my bed by the third-floor window of the Hotel Frantz for eight hours of sleep and a sumptuous free brunch.
Then Millberg, an engineering student at Stockholm University, pointed to a dusty clearing under the trees. It was there: DJs at the turntables on a white-lit stage, a disco ball hanging from a wire above 100 Swedish dancers in T-shirts, jeans and sneakers. It was like stepping out of a suburban industrial park into David Guetta‘camping. Millberg, also known as Kassettludde, a DJ who uses cassette tapes to play his dance music mixes all over Sweden, had finally gotten me into Stockholm.‘s forest rave-party scene.
How did I, a 53-year-old music journalist in Denver, Colorado, who likes to be in bed at 10 a.m., come to this? While vacationing in Europe last fall, Sven, a former music company executive in Sweden, informed me that these outdoor dance parties took off in the summer of 2020 when clubs closed due to of the COVID-19 pandemic. “How can I find them?” I asked. “Just listen to the boom,” he said. I did‘Didn’t have the chance at the time, but came back for a dance weekend in June.
I googled listings of outdoor dance events and found Facebook groups like “Trance Raves in Stockholm Sweden,” which often lists hastily organized events popping up at the last minute. I did‘I don’t want to miss anything in Stockholm for a weekend, so I asked Sven to recommend a guide. This‘That’s how I found Millberg. “We could go to a club or a bar and drink something and get ready!” he said. “Raves start when clubs end.” What time? “Three at five.” In the morning? “This‘is the best part! Thisit is going to be a sunrise. This‘it’s quite nice.” Jet lag, he said, would help me stay out all night.
I had met Millberg at 10 p.m. on a Friday at the Mosebacketerrassen, an open-air terrace bar. Introverted and soft-spoken, with a wispy beard, Millberg had connections everywhere: a bartender at the Hills, a bright tavern with a house music DJ in the bustling district of elegant Södermalm, dropped everything to offer Millberg its gluten-free beer; bouncers lifted the ropes at Södra, the city’s oldest theatre, allowing us to ride the elevator to a packed bar, listening to pulsating music while overlooking Stockholm.
But as the night wore on, Millberg and I began to fail spectacularly in our quest. It was cold and rainy. Millberg lent me his mother’s bright yellow raincoat as we roamed the city and listened to dance music in the wooded suburb of Norra Djurgården, near Stockholm University. We gave up at 4:30 a.m., trying to get Uber home – without Wi-Fi – from a Circle K convenience store.
The next day, a Saturday, I was sleepy, ready to write off the story, cut my losses, and enjoy my remaining time in Stockholm. I went for my favorite run around Södermalm, an island with moored boats and trails in and out of the woods. I had a comforting dinner at a Swedish meatball restaurant, Meatballs for the People.
Then I remotivated myself. Here, the dance music is the story. Outdoor raves began in Stockholm in the early 1990s, when techno music scenes spread from the UK and other parts of Europe to Sweden, and DJs began packing clubs and cafes such as Dockland and Svaj. It was‘t Always Fun: In 1996, police viewed dance music events as havens for illegal drug use and cracked down on them. (Today, a Stockholm police spokesperson says outdoor raves are legal if organizers get permits.)
The scene persevered, as Stockholm’s location in the forests allowed festivals and other events to take off outdoors. During COVID, in the summer of 2020, the media showed 700 attendees at a forest rave. “It has become more normal for people who do not‘you don’t normally go to raves,” Viivi Hyvonen, 24, told me at the Västberga party, known as Gården, an annual summer event since 2014. Here, DJ duo Bike Thieves mixed obscure American soul and disco tracks into house music. People of all ages danced under the trees – a 40-year-old in a hat and glasses was swinging by himself near a fence, and Millberg and his friend Joey joined the fray of young people twirling wildly in front of the DJ’s table.
“Is it good?” Millberg asked me after a while. “Did you get what you needed?”
I nodded as the sky changed from pitch black to an otherworldly light blue. We could‘Didn’t see the sunrise, but the party felt like a rebirth, the thud both relaxing and energizing. Millberg kept dancing as I rode home at 3:30 on the subway. I woke up in time for Sunday brunch.
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