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These photographs celebrate the hedonism of pre-pandemic partying

From Ibiza’s most legendary clubs, underground raves in Saint Petersburg, and going on the lash in 1980s discotheques, we look at the photographs commemorating wild nights out in the world before coronavirus

Clubbing seems like a distant memory. As we emerge somewhat from this long period of intermittent isolation, just the idea of numerous people gathered together in close, sweaty proximity feels fantastical. Who knows what post-pandemic socialising will look like. 

As UK pubs and restaurants are allowed to reopen this week for trading indoors and we take another tentative step towards something that feels more like normality, we’ve collected together a selection of the most exciting photography chronicling the hedonistic pre-coronavirus world. From wild nights on Ibiza’s most legendary dance floors, Russia’s anarchic DIY raves in abandoned brutalist factories, and getting off with strangers in 1980s discotheques, we look back at the photographs capturing these lost nights of abandon.

Tom Wood’s images of the 1980s Merseyside club scene

While Liverpool’s fashionable 1980s club kids and new romantics partied in the city centre’s chic nightspots, photographer Tom Wood spent his weekends in the Chelsea Reach, a riotous dive across the Mersey in New Brighton. “It was an exciting place to be,” he told Dazed. “You’d go in and there’d be this cloud of smoke, heat, and energy. And it was always very, very busy – completely shoulder-to-shoulder.” 

The venue was the epicentre of the local community’s nightlife.“I liked the Chelsea Reach because they were dead ordinary people. The men didn’t dress up at all, but the women did. There was another nightclub we used to go to which would be where the mothers of the girls in the Chelsea Reach would go to, dressed more or less like their daughters.”

Wood’s loving pictures distil the impression of innumerable joyful, smoky nights at the disco; and of a cohesive, working-class community dancing, smoking, kissing, and getting legless despite the financial hardship of coming-of-age in Thatcher’s Britain. “It was a tough life,” Wood told us, recalling Merseyside during those grim years. “When you looked at women’s faces in the market they probably looked a bit older than most middle-class ladies from Cheshire would look at the same age – not as good a diet, smoking, and all the other stresses that come with not having enough money. That made me even more respectful, you know, to the people I was photographing. It was kind of an honour.”

Despite being totally unstaged and impromptu, Wood’s pictures often appear flawlessly composed. One of his most memorable images of the club, “Chelsea Intro”, is a perfect tableau of a night on the tiles, depicting various partygoers arranged in a queue for the cloakroom and a pair of young lovers kissing on the peripheries. “It’s great what the flash has picked up – the red shoes, the green wall, the people talking at the back of the queue, and so on,” said Wood. “There are all kinds of details when it's bigger. One thing I noticed when I got it blown up big was a huge bulge in the boy’s trousers.”

The IG documenting the wild raves of the UK gabber scene

@ukgabbers is the Instagram account dedicated to chronicling the global gabber scene, past and present. Founder Nikita Sarukhanov first fell in love with gabber’s relentlessly speedy BPMS, distorted kickdrums, and nihilistic, scorching vocals when he was just 14. Speaking to Dazed in 2018, he recalled, “I found a podcast from DJ Outblast. It was all new style, but holy hell – I listened to that podcast so much. If it was a tape it would have had holes in it.”

The account, which Sarukhanov describes as a ‘simple rave archive’, encompasses the vast nuances, aesthetic, codes, and shared history of this globally-dispersed subculture. “We’re like a tribe, we wear our colours with pride. It’s our armour and our culture. It’s part of our identity,” he told Dazed. Loyal to original gabber style and culture, Sarukhanov and the next generation of gabbers excavate old footage and photographs for inspiration and continuity. @ukgabbers functions not only as an archive but as a manual for the future. “Everything from record-label merch and dance moves to their hairstyles are memorised, admired, discussed, and then copied by us, the gabbers of today.” 

Sarukhanov has created a unique space where “individuals who experienced the golden age of partying” can gather together and relive their “cherished rave moments” communally. “The moment where you see some bloke just going absolutely bonkers to extreme BPMS is a place I’ve found myself in many times and I can tell you it’s bliss,” he tells us. 

Curated with the love, everything he shares on the account has to be genuine. “It has to be gabber,” Sarukhanov explains. “No new style, no bullshit, no commercial foolishness. Only history, love, and passion, shown through pictures and videos of youth having the time of their lives. Monumental events cemented in the minds of those who took part.” 

Photos from the heady Ibiza club that rivalled Studio 54

At perhaps the zenith of Ibiza’s club scene in 1984, British photographer Derek Ridgers visited the island and captured a night out at legendary nightspot, KU. “It had the reputation of being the biggest and best club on the island. You might even have been able to say it was the biggest and best club in Europe,” Ridgers told Dazed in 2018. “It was almost like a James Bond film set... I’d never seen anything like it.”

An elaborate complex with 20 bars emanating from an enormous central San Rafael pool with a dragon-themed water slide, KU has achieved almost mythical status as one of the most opulent, extravagant clubs in Ibiza’s rich history. Ridger’s recalled the moonlit dancefloor, where partygoers could dance till the sun rose. “The dress code seemed to be as little as possible and some people looked like they’d come straight from the beach. There was the heavy scent of sex and suntan oil everywhere.”

Every full moon was accompanied by a massive celebration, with parties like Luna Romantica, Luna Erotica, and Luna Loca going down in KU‘s history. The club also became known for its lavish, decadent parties with themes like 42nd street, Spanish Hollywood, and revolution. Tasked with creating the elaborate sets and backdrops, Tirso Martinez Santiago recalled one particularly ambitious scheme, “We released a few young bulls and turned KU into Estafeta street in Pamplona. There were roughly 3,000 people dressed in red and white. It was monumental chaos – fortunately, there were no major accidents.”

Ridger’s pictures capture KU at the height of its febrile powers, when its allure was comparable to New York’s Studio 54, attracting the likes of Grace Jones, Divine, and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Faruk Gandji, one of Ku’s creative masterminds, told us, “Jean-Paul Gaultier used to come here and get inspired. He would watch people and then go back to Paris and design according to what he saw.” 

Heather Glazzard’s tribute to pre-pandemic queer club culture

In the enforced solitude of the pandemic, photographer Heather Glazzard revisited their pictures of the queer club and performance venues that had been such a fundamental part of their pre-lockdown life. “I think the queer night spaces feel almost sacred now,” Glazzard told us, reflecting on the acute sense of personal and communal loss wrought by Coronavirus, and the lack of physical togetherness. “I miss being with a load of people I know in the same room and dancing with them,” Glazzard explained. “I see loads of my mates getting dressed up to just join the Zoom things, which I’ve done too, but it felt weird after a while – not going anywhere, just pulling a look for the digital world.”

The World Before Sanitiser is a zine created by Glazzard from their vast archive of images taken between 2017-2020, capturing fleeting moments from the underground raves and queer parties. Juxtaposed with text taken from newspaper headlines they encountered during national lockdown, the photographs chronicle the wild tenderness and uninhibited self-expression that defined Glazzard’s experience of their community. 

“For me, the zine is about capturing something that no longer exists. Partying formed such a big part of me and I feel like I didn’t realise that until it was gone; I’d overlooked these images and how I felt about nightlife,” Glazzard told us. “So, while I was in this state of mourning nightlife, I found images from years ago and just started piecing them together.” 

But they remain optimistic. “I think we’ll get back there eventually. These sort of parties will also always exist because I think it’s an integral part of the community,” Glazzard maintains. “I feel like, when the pandemic is fully over, there’s going to be a huge party and it’ll be even better than the ones we remembered.”

Capturing moments of ecstasy at the ‘the wildest club in Russia’

Located in a repurposed brutalist ex-national railway factory of colossal proportions, Клуб (‘Klub’) was Saint Petersburg’s first DIY club. Here, the city’s youth partied like it was their last chance (which was always a possibility, considering the abrupt and vicious closure of Клуб’s Moscow predecessor, Rabitza, by police in 2017).

While the venue’s musical focus was techno nights, the club’s agenda evolved into something more wide-reaching and significant. Gradually, Клуб became a beloved epicentre for many of the city’s many youth subcultures. Speaking to Dazed in 2018, Клуб’s founder, Sasha Tsereteli, said, “We have managed to build a strong community within this space, that feels like a community for the first time. We always say that it is not about music, it’s about the people, and about making them feel connected, providing them with the correct experience, and giving them support. It’s also about discovering and growing new talent.”

Closing its doors forever in 2019, Клуб’s went out on a high, with a 60-hour party finale. While no official reason was given for the closure, an official statement did clarify that it was not due to financial problems nor issues with the Russian government or police. 

These images capture the frenetic energy of the visionary nightclub, Клуб – a short-lived but vital feature in Saint Petersberg’s long history of dissent.

Documenting the hazy, hedonistic decades of blissful Ibiza club culture

@ibiza_past is the Instagram account gathering together images of Ibiza’s hedanistic past. Dirk Queens, who has visited the “White Island” regularly since the 1980s, began posting his personal pictures in 2019 and the account quickly grew as others began sending him their own holiday photos. 

The archive now spans the world of Ibiza club life, taking in the whole spectrum of experience: the legendary nightspots such as Café Del Mar and Pacha, and unforgettable club nights including Manumission, hotel rooms, beaches, bars, poolside under the Balearic sun, and pictures snapped in the steam heat of packed dancefloors. 

Queens spoke to Dazed last year about his wildest memories of those heady nights, “It has got to be those early days at Manumission. I have seen some crazy shit at Berghain in Berlin, but nothing beats the things you used to see at Manumission.” 

@ibiza_past surveys the legendary island’s glory days and its continued appeal, “There was a real raw edginess to it all,” Queens explains. “To me, the allure is being able to leave normality at home and live that rock ‘n’ roll life for a while. That has always been an attraction.”