The Art of Rave and Why Contemporary Art Loves Rave
Trailer: Jeremy Deller’s Everybody In the Place: An Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992 (A film project by Frieze and Gucci, Second Summer of Love)
The UK is on the verge of Brexit, in political deadlock, and public spending cuts continue to bite – things have definitely been better. Saying that it was under a Thatcher government and in a similar climate of austerity, anxiety, and tribulation that an important youth movement was spawned. A movement that would arguably be the last bonafide, original and liberated subculture of our time.
30 years after the second Summer of Love, rave culture’s influence still looms large in music, fashion, art, and culture. Artists like Jeremy Deller create historical documentaries of the rave scene with Everybody In The Place – using rare and unseen archive footage, showing abandoned warehouse raves and the chaotic release of the dance floor – while fashion groups like Wavey Garms dress London’s youth in impeccably researched, vintage rave attire.
Rave culture has reached full throwback status, even to the point of having ’90s rave’ novelty nights at Ministry of Sound. Clubs are filled with bucket hats, whistles and over-sized trainers, while kids who weren’t born the first-time round, dance to acid house and hardcore like a pilled-up historical re-enactment; with the same obsessive attention to detail.
Misty eyed nostalgia and the inevitable repetitive cycle of fashion can account for part of the current facsimile of rave, but why is it still so present in contemporary art?
From artist Mark Leckey filling gallery spaces with overpowering, monolithic sound systems and films that depict the early rave scene – like Fiorucci made me Hardcore and the semi-autobiographical Dream English Kid – to Jeremy Deller’s fetishisation of acid house smiley faces and fascination with the style of the time, to younger artists like Eddie Peake installing London pirate radio giants Kool FM to broadcast from White Cube during his exhibition Concrete Pitch, it seems rave and what it went on to create is ever-present in the minds of some of the biggest names in contemporary art.
It’s even had an impact across the pond with artist Corey Arcangel producing tongue in cheek, transatlantic takes on rave with his pieces 414–3-RAVE-95 – which he says “revisits the ‘rave’ dance party phenomenon of the early to mid-1990s” – and Cat Rave.
Whether it’s the freedom of the subculture that is so sorely lacking in contemporary movements of its kind, boring old nostalgia or a fascination with something excitingly alien – rave‘s influence is one that still manifests in myriad forms in art and culture.
The introduction of ecstasy to the UK party scene in the mid-1980s and the influence of Chicago House music created a wave of underground parties that were like nothing Britain had seen before.
Wu Tsang - ‘Into A Space Of Love’ A magical realist documentary that explores the legacies of house music rooted in New York underground culture (A film project by Frieze and Gucci, Second Summer of Love)
The UK adopted music from the US, imported drugs from Europe and created pockets of hedonistic ravers whose main concerns were good music and a good time. Fashion became colourful and baggy, decorated with smiley faces and Om symbols. Rave flyers depicted utopian worlds filled with cyborgs and fractal landscapes, using Daliesque surrealism to create a sort of neo-psychedelia. The young people of Britain were creating one of the most original scenes and aesthetics since punk, and like punk, it would alarm the establishment, cause moral panic and leave its mark in the minds of creatives. While the fledgling scene had started with a handful of cliquey space cadets tripping on acid, rave really came into its own when ecstasy took hold.
Although two of the main components (music and drugs) were essentially foreign imports, rave culture progressed into something quintessentially British, stylistically and sonically. The music began to shift from acid house into harder genres like hardcore and later jungle and ravers became increasingly discerning with their tastes. They were no longer taking LSD at small exclusive parties, they were scoffing e’s in huge outdoor arenas of rave; where all were welcome.
The parties started in the UK’s clubs and warehouses, but as the influx and reputation of ecstasy grew so did the party scene. By the late 1980s, huge outdoor raves were cropping up on plots of land across the British countryside. The parties were clandestinely promoted on a word-of-mouth basis using a network of phone numbers that would be called at particular times to find out the locations of the parties.
Music and art have always gone hand in hand, with arguably some of the most interesting contemporary art existing somewhere between the two. Artists such as Mark Leckey, Dinos Chapman, Jeremy Deller, and Martin Creed have either integrated music into their work or pursued separate musical projects and endeavours. This love of music could be what makes rave so appealing to contemporary artists.
It was the inclusive nature of music that made rave so unifying. As a subculture, it seemed to transcend race, class, and sexuality. Even though drugs heavily factored into the equation the heartbeat of rave was music. Music, in particular, acid house and later hardcore – was given a sort of celestial devotion by ravers, who’d decided to opt-out of normality in search of excitement and adventure. Britain was grey, drab and lifeless and desperately lacking in prospects for young people. In contrast, raves were explosions of sound, colour, and diversity filled with unknown opportunities and unexpected encounters – they were a much-needed departure from the dismal norm that had afflicted Britain. In the face of adversity, ravers organised a way of escaping the depressing restraints of Thatcher-driven austerity and unemployment, creating their own communities based around a love of raving.
Thomas Van Linge - Motorhead (2017)
Artist Thomas Van Linge was born in 1989 in Holland – the same year of the second Summer of Love in the UK. His work is heavily influenced by early acid house, its iconography and the ethos of that era.
It seems that rave doesn’t travel well, but from what Van Linge explains, it is something that is an unavoidable presence as a settler in the UK: “As soon as I moved to the UK I was of course very much in touch with the Dutch history of rave and gabba. I threw a lot of techno parties in the years before that so I was very much in touch with that specific aesthetic and history. Then when I moved here it was only natural for me to investigate that further than what I had seen on MTV as a kid. I think also because I’ve always been interested in the relationship between the developments of youth subcultures and the technology and industry that developed with it or at least at the same time. Looking into the technological and industrial history of London and the buildings and the materials that were attached to it I immediately also encountered the rave aesthetic – it’s hard to miss almost. It was a futuristic movement – a movement of futuristic music, of doing new things, new drugs – a new kind of love.”
The video work, Deep Down Inside (named after the house classic Deep Inside by Hardrive) is an exploration into the physical objects that make up raves as well as the negative press that the scene garnered in the late 80s. Sculptures made from turntable flight cases or a now-iconic, anti-ecstasy cartoon from The Sun newspaper in 1988 is recreated on laser cut sheets of metal and depicts a cloaked Devil offering pills to unsuspecting youths, whilst hidden behind a smiley face.
In his most recent work, Thomas Van Linge has mainly focused on media ranging from sculpture to video, music and found objects.
His practice comes together in his video work threaded by a playful approach to a wide gamut of cultural and subcultural sources; the ethos and visual heritage of electronic music, pop aesthetics, industrial production, digital iconography, and the effects of technology and commodification on the contemporary human condition.
His objects deal with the discrepancies of recent cultural histories and its nostalgia. They are collage-like conveyors that appropriate and/or remind us of things we encounter in the real world often related to contemporary heterotopias and Vanitas’.
There is an element of shock in the work, that surprise of discovery that lies between satirical comedy and discomfort. The work plays with the viewers’ personal boundaries and feelings towards porn.
He gives us complete snapshots of a passed time made up of tiny fragments. Records of now, yet also moments upon moments, allowing the passage of time to be keenly felt or merely hinted at. Complete but also unhinged, his works make us both secure and uncomfortable. Looking at Van Linge's pieces makes us feel mortal, that we are that forever will pass and is just a fleeting instant.