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El Hogg’s portraits of London’s queer rave community
Photography El Hogg

Photos that explore hedonism in the hellscape of modern life

We revisit galleries from the recent Dazed archive that document pleasure-infused scenes from Tokyo, New York, Ukraine, London and beyond

We’re all familiar with Tumblr-esque images of Bianca Jagger riding a horse into Studio 54, or pictures of heaving dance Ibizan floors during what we’re told was the “golden age” of clubbing. But what does hedonism look like today?

Below, we revisit ten photo projects from the Dazed archive which explore unbridled excess and hedonistic youth culture movements. From the abandoned, derelict warehouses of London to ‘kawaii sleaze’ nights in Tokyo, the underground clubbing scene in pre-war Ukraine, New York’s decadent nightlife and beyond, we gather together some of the galleries that document contemporary hedonism.

During the pandemic, hedonism became a scarce commodity. Images shared by Kim Kardashian on her private island contrasted with the sorry Zoom-based events experienced by most in lockdown. During this period, photographer Jesse Glazzard began mourning the loss of a queer community and nightlife. As a form of memorial, Glazzard pieced together images of queer clubs and performance venues for their zine The World Before Sanitiser, commemorating what was no longer accessible. A zine that captured “the rawness of the spaces we’d go to” and records the “almost sacred” feeling that queer nighttime events came to present to those who missed them most.

In Glazzard’s zine, contemporary hedonism is captured through a lens of bittersweet longing. At the time of publication, it was still uncertain if this scene would emerge on the other side of lockdown. As Glazzard told Dazed, “When the pandemic is full over, there will be a huge party; it’ll be even better than the ones we remembered.”

Hedonism has the capacity for more than simple indulgence. While pleasure plays a crucial role, hedonism can be an outlet for uninhibited expressions of selfhood. Reflecting on his portraits of London’s queer club nights, photographer El Hogg reiterates that “it’s not just about partying”, it’s about performance.

Portraiture is a central focus of Hogg’s practice. Having photographed many of the capital’s best queer raves – including Inferno, Riposte, T-Boys Club and Babylon  – Hogg focuses on portraits of individuals, capturing their unique aesthetic as opposed to wider clubbing shots. Here, hedonism is the thrill of self-expression. Hogg tells Dazed, “There’s no one hotter than queer people.”

In 2019, Nordine Makhloufi quit their day job to commit to photography full-time. Quand La Ville Dort (or ‘when the city sleeps’), is an intimate, candid photo diary of Paris’ nocturnal life.

Stylistically, the series pays homage to the confessional photography of Nan Goldin, whose The Ballad of Sexual Dependency [1985] portrays intimate moments of love, loss, ecstasy and pain in 80s downtown New York. Goldin writes, “The diary is my form of control over my life… it enables me to remember”. In its recollection of Goldin’s work, Quand La Ville Dort continues creating an archive of queer histories. Reflecting on his subjects, Makhloufi says: “They are themselves, they are their truth.”

Jamie Canos 2020s Rave Archives documents the microcultures of London’s illicit rave scene. The exclusivity of these events – their locations usually disseminated over Telegram or Instagram DMs – allows Cano to photograph people at their most liberated. “Nothing is staged,” he tells us. “The people I photograph must be genuine. I hate fakeness – you can smell it from afar.”

The scene Cano captures is far from opulent. Lit by stark flash photography, London’s youth crowd together in abandoned, semi-derelict warehouses – “rooms with no air, just sweat” – and the result is a poignant and, often funny, record of euphoria. 

“If you go there, you’re going there to be seen,” says Tyrell Hampton, describing one of New York’s infamous restaurants, Lucien. Exploring scopophilia in the city’s clubs, New York nightlife is Hampton’s ultimate muse.

Speaking to Dazed earlier this year, the photographer reflects on the New York scene, discussing how and when he was first initiated, he “found solace in a crowded room”, he felt that he “could just be quiet… people-watch… I could just get lost in everything”. Like a kid in a candy shop, Hampton calls the late China Chalet home, “I had to go every time there was a party. Otherwise, I felt like I was missing out.” Here, he shares his fascination with beauty and his ability to capture some of New York’s most illustrious residents in moments of pure pleasure.

The work of photographer Visvaldas Morkevicius explores the nightlife of his home country, Lithuania. Describing his city, Morkevicius says the parties can vary from “five stages in a skate park” to the “old gay club in the basement with a blowjob room”. These images capture the distinct local DIY club scene. Morkevicius captures nightlife scenes composed of scraped knees, smashed car screens, and partygoers passed out in the undergrowth.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2021, the movement of underground parties emerged in pre-war Lviv, Kyiv and possesses a unique spirit of rebellion against regularity and conformism. 

Shot before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2021, Nazar Koplak’s portraits of underground parties in pre-war Lviv and Kyiv capture what he describes as “pure positive energy”. Taken between 2016 to 2019, the series documents the club kids on the scene. Reflecting on these lost days, Koplak recalls being “lost in the days, losing count of them… it was so carefree”.

If Covid taught us anything, it’s that we live in a state of precarity. For Sheffield-based collective Gut Level, the theme of ‘joy of precariousness’ became their guiding principle. Considering the near-constant pressure placed on non-mainstream UK nightlife by the powers that be, Gut Level raises two fingers to the forces working against it. In 2022, the local government booted the collective out of their long-running venue on Snow Lane. “There’s no such thing as a stable space,’ says Frazer, part of the group of friends who started the collective along with Adam, Hannah and Katie. Membership to their community space, ‘Friends with Benefits’, is run on a sliding scale, and nobody is turned away for lack of funds, creating a tangible space for the collective’s socialist ideals to play out.

Gut Level demonstrates the political potential of nightlife, putting left-wing values into action through community projects. The collective shows tolerance and inclusivity aimed at uniting disparate groups in solidarity and class struggle, “I’m using the language of socialism to describe what we’re doing,” says Frazer. Gut Level rejects the corporatisation of queer spaces which transforms queer bars into “polished and clean” spaces. Instead, they embrace that which is subversive, precarious and messy.

Gracie Brackstone’s photographic series Life’s A Parade captures queer kinship, finding community and the euphoric moments preparing for the party. The focus of Brackstone’s work is the freedom found in the community. Returning to Manchester after a stint in London, Brackstone describes the city as “the land of the free”.

The phrase ‘life’s a parade’ reflects the feeling and spectacle of queer nightlife. Dressing up, creating outfits and experimenting with one’s identity: “Every day in Manchester feels like a parade. To me, Manchester is the home of freedom… my own self-built circus.” The photographer’s flat is her sanctuary and a space for “becoming an adaption of yourself”. Several figures in Blackstone’s series wear the same blonde, platinum wig as she records herself and others donning the costume for their self-built circus. 

In 2019, photographer Nick Haymes became aware of a ‘culture shift’ occurring among Tokyo’s youth. Discovered via the collaboration of Tokyo DJ N2’s KyunDesu event and the LA-based Subculture Party, Kawaii Sleaze documents this pop-culture crossover (‘Kyun’ is slang for excitement when you see something cutesy). This genre is highly cybernetic and intended to empower a digitally-preoccupied generation. Warped variations on recent micro-trends appear mixed with the more classic styles of Tokyo’s Harajuku district. “I think Japan is not how the West perceives it,” Haymes explains that these parties are something “new and fresh”. Guests wearing a mix of ballroom and Y2k feature alongside gyaru dress as fairycore and cottage core blur with the aesthetics of kawaii. Here, fashion can transcend language barriers as hedonism facilitates “perfectly seamless crossovers” between LA and Tokyo.

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