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Pass the Mic, WKD bar, Kentish Town, 1999
Photography Ewen Spencer

These photos capture the hedonistic club culture of late 90s Britain

Photographer Ewen Spencer documented a generation of euphoric club kids at the turn of the millennium, celebrated in his new photo book, While You Were Sleeping

From 1998 to 2000, Ewen Spencer spent almost every weekend documenting the British club scene for the Shoreditch-based youth culture mag Sleazenation, bouncing between Camden, Brixton, and the West End to capture the new millennium’s generation of hedonistic party kids, metalheads, and aspiring MCs. In doing so, he’d cement himself as a fixture on the UK garage landscape, before moving onto other countercultural movements when garage fizzled out. All the while, his young son slept soundly back in Brighton, where the photographer would return home to look after him on a Monday morning.

Now, 20 years on, things are obviously looking very different. Thanks to a grim cocktail of coronavirus closures and needlessly draconian legislation, many clubs have been forced to shutter up or move online, including in the capital. Even before that, a global recession and the overwhelming British urge to be dismal had pretty much decimated the country’s nightlife. Between 2005 and 2015, a reported 1,400 nightclubs shut in the UK, with an estimated £200 million removed from the value of the UK’s club scene between 2013 and 2018. 

It was also during the pandemic, though, that Spencer trawled through his digital archive with the help of his son, and was inspired to collect everything he has to show for his millenial misadventures in a new photo book. Titled While You Were Sleeping – in reference to the nights he spent working while his son was in bed – the hardback book spans 156 pages, offering “an up-close portrayal of late ‘90s hedonism” through Spencer’s lens.

The photos themselves are largely black and white, partly thanks to Sleazenation photographic director Steve Lazarides’ aesthetic preferences. The resulting images take us inside intimate and mostly long-lost venues (skirting around the superclubs that dominated glossier magazines), and capture the clubbers and concertgoers crammed into them in granular detail.

Below, Ewen Spencer takes us through a few of his favourite photographs from the thriving UK club scene of 1998 to 2000. You can order the full book, While You Were Sleeping, here.