Didn't catch last week's Channel 4 premiere of Brandy & Coke, Ewen Spencer's definitive documentary on UK garage? Catch up with the full-length doc here. Produced in association with Somesuch & Co, the legendary UKG photographer takes us back to a heady decade of underground pirate radio, Gucci loafers and nights out in Ayia Napa. You can catch up on all the special Garage Day content for our Channel 4 premiere here. Below the cut, Dazed talks to Ewen Spencer about UKG and the continuing appeal of dance music in British culture.
DD: What initially attracted you to photographing garage nights? Was the style a big part of it for you?
Ewen Spencer: Yeah. It’s great isn’t it? People on the northern soul scene dress in a certain way; it’s not as flamboyant as the garage scene. They made a massive effort to look sharp. That spoke to me about what youth culture’s so good at in Britain: dressing up and going out. It made me think of the mod scene in the 60s or suedeheads straight away.
DD: America’s got Chicago house and Detroit techno, but it seems like dance music is a part of British culture in a way that it isn’t in other countries. Why is that?
Ewen Spencer: It’s because Britain’s diverse. If you look at old footage from the East End, skinheads in the late 60s… It’s Jamaican kids and working class white kids all together looking sharp and dancing to reggae. For me that just epitomises it: wanting to dance and look good. It’s an acceptance as well, wanting to understand different cultures and enjoy them. That’s what makes British people, in my opinion.
DD: So much of British music culture is the result of immigrants, or kids who were born to immigrants, right?
Ewen Spencer: And do you know where they go and live, most immigrants? They live and work in working class situations. And the people that tolerate and live amongst and beside immigrants are all working class or lower middle class people. They’re the people that are tolerant. And what the bourgeois press try and do is give off this idea that the working class are thick chavs with pitbulls who vote British National Party. It’s bollocks.
DD: You see that in your photographs: white kids, black kids, Asian kids, all dancing together.
Ewen Spencer: That’s why British subculture exists. That’s why it’s always happening and always moving forward. That’s why there’ll always be really interesting, fascinating, great subcultures in Britain.