A hundred cops, the riot squad, the public order squad, the dog squad, police rescue, the fire department and a Polair chopper broke up a Channel warehouse party last Saturday night. The coppers closed down Parramatta Road for hours with traffic backing up to the Rocks while 2000 revelers poured into the street. Bottles were thrown, batons wielded and threats were made. The dogs sniffed, the chopper’s searchlight shone into alleyways and the paddy wagons lined up with their engines running. I stood there sweating with all the others repeating, “Un-fucking-believable!”
Channel parties are an extraordinary mesh of community power and punk DIY ethos. A multi-storey abandoned barbecue warehouse was commandeered with rooms for at least eight sound systems with more than 40 DJs, visuals, artworks and lasers. Just when you think you had the lay of the building, a decrepit stairway would lead to another room of pounding beats, disco balls and bodies moving. It was the behemoth of underground parties with crews from dance to rock uniting to push the boundaries, have a great time and buck the system. There was no rag-tag, half-assed element to this at all. The organizers brought talent, high-grade systems, integrity and didn’t ask for a cent in return. They created a place where anarchy, freedom, music and resistance existed simultaneously. But who are the organizers? Everybody and nobody. When the cops ask “Who’s in charge?” they get told he’s upstairs and when they get upstairs they get told he’s downstairs and then he’s gone again. They get told “I don’t know, but this is a great party!” I think it’s run by worker bees without a Queen, but I’ll never know and neither will the cops.
Around midnight the single door had so many people trying to get through that some jackasses started trying to push the crowd in and the roller doors had to be opened to save people from getting crushed. Social networking brings the masses but it doesn’t mean they’re smarter than a box of hair. Nevertheless, two hours later when the cops showed, the dance floors were packed, the walls were sweating, crowd surfers were colliding with guitarists, the drugs had kicked in and a plan on how to kick us out was put into motion.
Hundreds of police patrolled the city over the weekend to combat alcohol and drug-related crime in what was called “Operation Nareeba”. When they realized what they had on their hands these resources were concentrated on the Channel Party. Parramatta Road was shut to squeeze in the fleet of flashing emergency vehicles. Dozens of uniformed and undercover cops stormed in and made their way to the top floor and started sweeping people down stairs with any resistance being met with a push or a baton. There were altercations, arguments, accusations, cheers, tears and unfortunately, bottles thrown from windows at the police. The “rave” was now classified as a “riot”.
In the end the building was cleared and as I walked by firefighters in oxygen masks, I realized that this warehouse had been a very dangerous place tonight. A fire would’ve killed us all or there could have been overdoses, fistfights, falls from windows or collapsed floors from the weight of a thousand people. Over the weekend Operation Nareeba arrested 144 people for 157 offences, including two stabbings. The Channel party? One arrest and no injuries. And the morning papers would call this a riot?
As news crew started filming the chaos in the street, a surge of excited adrenalin coursed through me. Un-fucking-believable.