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Jaime Cano, 2020s Rave Archives, London
Jaime Cano, 2020s Rave Archives, LondonPhotography Jaime Cano

In pictures: the sweat-drenched euphoria of London’s underground raves

Photographer Jaime Cano takes us to the city’s outskirts, capturing the abandoned flats and grimy dancefloors of a secret rave scene

When the photographer Jaime Cano moved from his native Spain to London in 2020, he sought to find what the capital’s underbelly had to offer. But, before this, there was the issue of finding his footing in a brand-new city. “I’ve always been very shy,” he tells Dazed in a conversation over email, “I find it hard to approach socialising with people.” In order to overcome this, he did what many who suffer from any kind of social uneasiness would be too afraid to do, and headed for the limb-stacked, sweat-drenched frenzy of the capital’s illicit raves.

“I really wanted to experience the rave scene in London”, Cano continued, “as I hadn't been to one before then. It was a completely new sensation.” Take a look through Cano’s photographs and that’s exactly the feeling you’re struck by – one of pure sensation. Bodies slick on makeshift dancefloors, scuffed trainers slide on grubby, linoleum floors – you can practically hear balloons expand with nos, or acrylics tap on cracked phone screens. There’s a dynamism and urgency to Cano’s photographs, one that we’ll look back on and feel in years to come, long after the warehouses that housed these raves have disappeared.

For obvious reasons, Cano is coy when it comes to discussing the exact locations of these parties, instead referring to the nebulous “outskirts” of London’s furthest boroughs. But in every other aspect, the photographer is happy to share. The raves are attended by close to one hundred people each time, but never much more than that; they’re organised either by mutuals over Instagram, or via the encrypted messenger app Telegram; drum n bass or techno is usually flooding from the speakers, but you also get your fair share of grime MCs too. He even recalls one night, in a “room with no air, just sweat” dripping from the walls. Or another, when the Met arrived to shut them down, but the entire building headed outside – not to run, but point and laugh at the police helicopter above.

Despite their frenzied content, Cano is decisive about his reasons for documenting the raves. “I wanted to make sure they are preserved in time, for the future,” he tells me – from the messy vibes to the hectic DJ sets and, importantly, the fashion. If documentary photography is about preserving a specific moment in time, the clothes we wear are the most direct signifier of that period, something that Cano is well aware of. The photographer recognised that some of the attendees “probably spent the last two weeks speaking about what they were going to wear”, aesthetic choices subtly expressed in the low-slung jeans of one raver, or the mesh-clad torso of another.

When it comes to Cano’s style, you’d be forgiven for assuming a hurried approach, considering the turbulence of his surroundings. In reality, he considers his subjects carefully, refusing to shoot if even a hint of contrivance is detected. “Nothing is staged,” he says, “other than telling them to be in front of this or that wall”, before adding that “the people I photograph must be genuine. I hate fakeness – you can smell it from afar.” The straight light and rough flash of the photographs reflects the stark authenticity of the environment, an aspect the photographer wishes to capture in every frame. For Cano, this authenticity will always be the end goal. His photographs capture a silly and vibrant London scene, one of hedonism, connection, and – most importantly – fun.

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