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Molly Macindoe
Photography Molly Macindoe

Photographs from the peak of Europe’s rave scene

Molly Macindoe spent the late 90s and early 00s crossing continents to capture the unity, diversity and freedom of European rave culture

“I don’t go to regular raves any more, but on the occasions that I do, I might feel physically tired after and wonder how I used to do that every weekend.” That might be how she feels now but in the late 90s and early 00s, photographer Molly Macindoe was at the heart of the underground scene, offering a vivid insight into celebrated raves across continents; touching base in places such as Holland, Iran, Morocco and so on. From railway tunnels to forests, Macindoe’s work blended her lust for partying and her talent for photography, creating the perfect foundation for documenting the realities of underground subcultures. It was here that she was able to capture an evocative look at the hedonism and unity that derives from such scenes.

Originating in Qatar and later residing in London, Macindoe was early exposed to multicultural environments, which only heightened when she set out to travel independently with her work, admitting, “I get a thrill from striking out on my own.”

Today (June 7), YOUTH CLUB are hosting their fourth in a series of talks at Dalston’s Doomed Gallery, this time looking at Macindoe’s “From Putney to Persia” with a talk from the photographer. Ahead of the event, we caught up with her.

One signature I have noticed in your photos is the unity of people. Do you think these spaces allow people to act freely and bring people together?

Molly Macindoe: Yes. The whole scene is made up of people who have found a unity together in their contrariness. Despite vast demographic differences and diverse personalities, these individuals share common experiences that have shaped them as people. Whether their childhood days were spent on traveller sites or in public schools, what they have in common is individualism, independence and creativity. These shared qualities have forged a network across the world, which is constantly growing and changing. For all these reasons, I’ve never yet found a subject matter more consistently fascinating and inspiring to photograph.

What, in your opinion, was so special about documenting these spaces?

Molly Macindoe: It is their liminal quality in that moment of the rave. The settings for these events are as diverse as the people who attend them. Abandoned spaces are given a new lease of life while still seeing echoes of former uses. Swimming pools become dancefloors; hay bales become a station for turntables and office supplies transformed into aesthetic decor. I’m not only documenting the temporary autonomous community that gathers in these spaces from all over, I’m also getting a rare perspective of architecture and geography of areas in a transitional stage before they are turned into ugly housing blocks or luxury hotels – or in the case of ‘Cardboard City’, London’s first Imax cinema. 

Naturally, you’ll interact with a range of people, but has there been anyone – or a group – that has stood out for you?

Molly Macindoe: Many individuals and groups have stood out to me, but I couldn’t define them by their country of origin or background, and there are too many to list. I think I’m mostly drawn to those people I can see a recognisable fire and passion for the rave scene in – whether they are rig owners, DJs, artists or on the door. The kind of people who are not afraid of the challenge in facing unknown and sometimes dangerous situations in order to keep the scene going. The people that stay true to themselves over the years and go with their instincts, even though it might go against the grain of either inner or outer politics. 

For example, when UK Tek last year was descended upon for the third time by disorganised, violent riot police, and someone stood up on a van and shouted through a microphone at all the ravers to “protect your party, protect the generator”. The crowd followed the call, and despite suffering horrible injuries from police violence, they stood their ground and the police retreated to chants of “shame on you”. That rig then generously lent out spare generators to all the systems that had had theirs seized, and made sure DJs from every rig got to play on the last one standing.

“I’m a big believer in the truth of the image and I am lucky to have found a subject matter that is so fascinating and inspiring. I don’t feel any need to enhance or embellish” – Molly Macindoe

Do you think these kind of spaces enhance people and bring out characteristics that are somewhat lost in everyday life? 

Molly Macindoe: Yes, an unconventional beauty that comes from honest self-expression and the abandonment of ego – a rare freedom. 

Would you say you belong to a subculture? 

Molly Macindoe: Yes, one that is a melting pot for other subcultures also.

You travel a lot when documenting your experiences. Do you travel alone? 

Molly Macindoe: Often I do, either out of necessity or because it suits my life and schedule at the time. I get the travelling bug from my parents. Apprehension turns into confidence when travelling in a group, and it gives you a sense of belonging. It’s where the makings of strong bonds and memories are developed, but I get a thrill from striking out on my own – sometimes just because no one else will go.

For the Middle East Tek held in Jordan, and the parties in Lebanon, I travelled from the UK alone and soon realised I was it – as far as GB representation goes. Although the Facebook group had several hundred members, one by one, the definites became maybes and eventually dropped out due to lack of funds, personal injury or just simply changing their minds. At the other, I shyly met the free party crews in these foreign lands who of course are similar-minded, free-thinking people, and I’m welcomed like a cousin from a distant branch of family.

Your photographs are very engaging, how do you want them to make people feel? 

Molly Macindoe: That’s not something I think about when taking them – what I feel at the time is a passion and ongoing fascination for a unique subculture that’s ever evolving, but retains fundamental principles and characteristics.  I guess I want viewers to feel the same wonder, fascination and (sense of) connection, but from the perspective of an insider, as opposed to a voyeur. I want them to feel a desire to experience that freedom or associate what they see with, for example, the essence of the 60s. I’m always delighted if I hear that it makes someone want to go to a rave! The fact that this interview includes questions about unity, diversity and freedom means the photos are getting that point across. I want to convey integrity – that’s one of the biggest reasons I continue to shoot with analogue for free parties, despite the cost and inconvenience. It keeps everything real, including me. I’m a big believer in the truth of the image and I am lucky to have found a subject matter that is so fascinating and inspiring. I don’t feel any need to enhance or embellish.

The project title underlines your journey, “From Putney to Persia”. What comparisons can you make from living in both places?

Molly Macindoe: The full title of the project is “Documenting the Rave Road from Putney to Persia”. My use of toponyms for this title was based on places that I’d visited on my journey following or searching out underground rave culture. I was born in Qatar, and lived most of my life in London and now Bristol, but my parents lived in Iran. My sister was born there and they witnessed the start of the revolution. I found elements of both continuity and difference along the way, and this was all part of my personal journey of discovery. As happened along the Silk Road, there has been a constant exchange of ideas, cultures, knowledge and products. The underlying core values of this scene are a determination to have freedom of self-expression in the form of music and dancing.

Freedom is a feeling not many truly fulfil. Would you say you’ve experienced freedom? 

Molly Macindoe: Yes, I felt it the first minute I walked through the loud, chaotic, intimidating doorway of my first squat party in the Wood Green Bingo Hall in 1997, and 18 years later there is no other environment that makes me feel the same. I don’t go to regular raves any more, but on the occasions that I do, I might feel physically tired after and wonder how I used to do that every weekend. But in my heart, I feel rejuvenated, alive, happy, free, energetic and full of so much love for this unique scene and its people.

Just last weekend I attended a central London rave in a recently closed-down gay sauna, Chariot Roman Spa, and it was made more bizarre when being given the guided tour of the party by one of the rig owners who used to frequent the venue as it was still in use. Meanwhile, a huge group of my oldest London friends, who hadn’t been to a free party in years, turned up in from a birthday all dressed in 70s outfits.  Amazingly the police didn’t make an appearance, but no wonder. Driving there through Saturday night Shoreditch mayhem, the rave seemed tame and sane in comparison. There were points when I was bursting with love for this scene. Making friends laugh because I was jumping up and down with joy over the juxtaposition of randomness and continuity in an abandoned space, where spirit and passion are left to roam free, exploring what it means to be human without the restrictive boundaries of race, class, gender, age or religion.

I can identify with those people I met in Iran who risked their homes and personal safety to make a little space for some freedom in an extremely restrictive society.

More information on Macindoe’s YOUTH CLUB talk at Dalston’s Doomed Gallery tonight can be found here