Teknivals (a portmanteau of ‘tekno’ and ‘festival’) are large free parties which take place worldwide. They take place most often in Europe and are often illegal under various national or regional laws. They vary in size from dozens to thousands of people, depending on factors such as accessibility, reputation, weather, and law enforcement.

The parties often take place in venues far away from residential areas such as squatted warehouses, empty military bases, forests or fields. The teknival phenomenon is a grassroots movement which has grown out of the rave, New Age Traveller and Burning Man scenes and spawned an entire subculture. Summer is the usual season for teknivals.

Sound systems gather on the site and play varied types of electronic music. Along with each sound system come friends and travelers so most teknivals have a multicultural atmosphere. The parties can last for several days or even weeks. Teknivals are organized by the sound system community using underground methods such as word of mouth, answerphone messages, flyer (pamphlet) and internet discussion boards. Normally the flyer states that the party is an open invitation, thus any artist who turns up can play music. The emphasis is on a DIY ethic. As well as local sound systems, who might act as the hosts, larger sound systems can spend the summer travelling from one teknival to the next before returning to their home country for the winter. Teknivals are a larger scale version of free parties and emerged in the early 1990s, when acid house parties and travellers in Great Britain became the target of political repression, culminating with the police gaining new powers to close down illegal parties.

Sound systems then started travelling to countries in Europe where laws were less restrictive and the authorities were uncertain how to stop the festivals. One of the most famous of these sound systems was Spiral Tribe, which was at the forefront of the free party movement in Europe. Other systems were called Bedlam, Circus Normal, Circus Warp and Vox Populi. Desert Storm sound system organized teknivals in France and Spain and brought raves to war-torn Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1996. At one party the front-line was 10 kilometers away and they were asked to turn off their lights in case they attracted enemy fire.

While some teknivals are one-off events, most take place every year on or around the same date; the biggest, such as the ones in France or Czechtek in the Czech Republic (which blossomed from a small festival in 1994), can attract up to 80,000 visitors.

Just as the word ‘teknival’ was formed by merging together the words ‘tekno’ and ‘festival’, teknivals in different countries are referred to by abbreviated names, such as the aforementioned Czechtek, and also Poltek (Poland), Slovtek (Slovakia), Southtek (South Germany), Bulgariatek (Bulgaria), Rotek (Romania) Helltek (Greece, Hellas in Greek), Dutchtek (Netherlands), Easttek (East Germany), U-Tek (Ukraine), Northtek (Canada) and Occitek (Occitania, South France).

As thousands of sound systems proliferated post-Spiral Tribe, France rapidly became the center of the teknival world. The May Day teknival at Fontainebleau near Paris was attracting 60-80,000 people by the late 1990s and, by 2004, as a now legitimate (but still non-commercial) event, up to 110,000 with over 200 sound systems. Eventually amendments were made to the public safety laws in which free parties became linked with terrorism. This effectively criminalized large free festivals and increased police powers to prevent these events.

Legitimate teknivals, now dubbed ‘Sarkovals’ after Nicolas Sarkozy would require permission from the Ministry. But while regulatory interventions have inaugurated the institutionalization and commercialization of a scene rooted in an autonomous vibe, the scene still thrives. Currently French law permits free parties with 500 people or under (subject to no noise complaints), but they also reluctantly allow up to three large teknivals each year, even though they are technically unauthorized events.

Well-known in the underground culture is the Bulgariatek, which takes place in early August, usually somewhere on the Black Sea coast. It hosts many different electronics genres with much techno at first place. Many people come to it every year. Other smaller free parties occur in the summer too.

Since a teknival can last a week or longer, many musical styles will be represented. The music which grew in tandem with teknivals was free tekno, which is characterized by heavy, repetitive kick drums and is normally about 180 bpm. The DJs and party goers are unconcerned by musical boundaries, so a lot of different, mostly electronic, music is played and performed.

Most sound systems play styles such as hard trance, acid techno, spiral tekno, terrorcore, electro, jungle music, breakcore and speedcore. Instead of focusing on genre, the music can be characterised by being more underground than the music heard in clubs and at commercial parties, although some sound systems might specialize in a certain subgenre. The music is played by DJs playing vinyl records and Mp3 files on a computer. Livesets are also frequently played using a variety of equipment: keyboards, drum machines, guitar effects pedals, MIDI controller and computers.

At early teknivals, sound systems would play until either no-one was left dancing or the diesel ran out in the generator.

The teknival is often regarded as an example of what American political scientist, Hakim Bey has termed the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ), though in interviews Bey has professed that rave culture’s interest in technology remains problematic for the implementation of the TAZ. However this has not stopped various groups from claiming the teknival and rave culture in general as the implementation of the TAZ. Anyone is welcome to enter the site, there is no ticket or fee. Normally any artist who turns up is encouraged to participate. Over the course of a few days the site can grow into a confusing village of sound systems, cafes, tents and vehicles.

It is usually the perception that there is no ‘coherent’ politics or philosophical stance represented by the teknival subculture, mainly due to the fact that emphasis is placed on individual freedom. Many young teknival goers are disillusioned with mainstream politics. Nevertheless, the parties themselves require complex collective organization and, in order to be successful, a sustainable environment of community relations. In themselves such events can be seen as a political statement of self-organization at a distance from the State.

Clashes with the police have mobilized some people to action against laws which would prohibit self-organization and gathering to enjoy teknivals. These clashes date back to the ’80s (when teknivals were arguably indistinguishable from UK Orbital raves, summer acid house parties, UK traveller gatherings, Stonehenge pagan events, early Burning Man and tribal gatherings, trance parties in Goa, India and the like) and have continued to be part of teknival life.

As occurs with many subcultures, a dress code has developed. This ‘underground look’ involves dark, baggy clothing (often ex-military) and extreme haircuts, such as dyed hair, dreadlocks or a shaved head (or a combination of the above). Body piercings and tattoos are common. People often buy large vehicles second-hand such as decommissioned buses, coaches or trucks. The vehicles are often primarily homes, lived in permanently or for a few months while travelling (see Irish Traveller). They are also used to transport sound equipment. The tekno traveller is also known as a New Age traveller or ‘crusty.’

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