Exploring the heady days of rave with ephemera from the second Summer of Love to put your Facebook event page to shame
Gone are the days where a club’s lifeline survived on a hyped-up street team promoting their nights. In are the days of social media, which have ushered in a new wave of convenience – some say laziness – where a snatched Tumblr image and an all-inclusive invite to everyone on your friends list now qualifies as doing ‘a bit of promoting’. But for Chelsea Louise Berlin, a denizen of the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s rave and club scene, those days are far from forgotten. After hanging up her glow sticks, Berlin is now the author and curator of Rave Art, a new book tracing the birth of acid house clubs and all-night raves across the UK and Europe during the heady nights (and days) of the Summer of Love’s second coming.
In a pre-Photoshop era of DIY graphic design, where flyers were either mocked up with a ballpoint pen, a few bits of scrap paper pasted together, or expertly designed by a team of artists using revolutionary early desktop design, it’s these “art forms” – as Berlin refers to them – that continue to be referenced, often ahead of today’s technological feats (just look at Martine Rose’s AW14 collaboration with flyer archivist Steve Terry). Through a steady stream of original memorabilia, Berlin’s 25-year-strong collection of flyers, membership cards and assorted club ephemera, that were once doled out nightly, are now helping to immortalise what she believes to be the UK’s last major youth movement. Below, we chat to the author about the pursuit of hedonism, the alchemy of acid rave and how she’s keeping the party going.
How did you manage to find yourself in such a scene? What drew you to it?
Chelsea Louise Berlin: I had been clubbing since my time at art school in the early 80s and had friendships with people in the art and music industries, and had been involved in the nightclub scene for a while. What drew me to the rave scene was the impetus of change, the people, and the amazing music. The scene was eclectic. We were from all walks of life, all races, creeds, colours and sexualities. As the scene grew and found its momentum, we were all dragged along the crest of the wave and the incredible experience coming out of it. With our shared interest in music and having a good time, it was a very hedonistic period.
How do you feel the London club scene has changed? Do you think it has devolved or evolved?
Chelsea Louise Berlin: I’m not involved in the clubbing scene these days, but it changed very quickly after the law changed in 90 and again in 91, making it impossible for raves to continue as they had. What has changed for the better though, and was certainly influenced by the scene directly, is in door policies being made much more inclusive. The birth of the mega clubs like Ministry [of Sound] and Fabric and the opportunity for more people to get to enjoy that part of growing up. The scene was, by all accounts, no longer as elitist as it had been, and opened the eyes of so many more people to underground music and culture.
What about the drug use? It’s obviously a lot more clandestine now than it was back then...
Chelsea Louise Berlin: No one could deny the proliferation of drug use, it went part and parcel with the music, culture and times – but has anything really changed? Drugs and music have always been partners and always will be, and they will always be frowned upon in the media, but can they write anything else? Every generation finds its level with drug use and rebelling against authority, and whilst our Summer of Love in 1989 was driven in part by drugs, it was mostly driven by the movement itself; young people finding something that really spoke to them, taking it to the n’th degree, pushing the envelope in every direction, and really saying something about the society they were living in.
You mention in the book that flyers were seen as an art form at that time...
Chelsea Louise Berlin: All ephemera, all flyers and invites are an artform simply by their medium. Would anyone really advertise their event with something that was ugly or not thought through? The better the flyer the more interest hopefully generated for the event. The 90s and onwards saw much bigger, more expensively produced and more vibrant flyers and invites, and spurned new advertising mediums based on old formats – like postcards that came directly out of the flyer scene and it compares very favourably from what I can see.
Can you give us some old school club gossip?
Chelsea Louise Berlin: A lady never kisses and tells! What I can say is that at the height of the scene the A-list and the great and the good (and not so good) of the music, fashion and art scene were all to be found at the hottest clubs and raves each week. It was a hugely inclusive scene and leveled the playing field for many.
What's your most cherished piece from the collection – and the story to go along with it?
Chelsea Louise Berlin: This is so difficult to say! I cherish the entire collection and all my other collections but if I have to single out one flyer for the sake of this interview, I’d go with the Energy flyer for the party behind Heston Services on the M4 in June 1989 – just for the memories! Let me answer with an excerpt from the book...
“We had been at MFI at Legends as usual and with invite and pager we headed off to the West of London with all the details we needed, or so we thought. Unbeknown to all of us, and thousands of other ravers and vehicles, the police had sent 1,000 officers to seal off the entire area hoping to put the promoters out of business and us out of sorts. As we got closer and closer to the venue and the service station, we realised every off ramp and exit had been blocked off in both directions.
So, along with hundreds, if not thousands of other ravers, all of us being drawn to the thumping beat of the house music on the far side of the service station, we simply parked our cars on the hard shoulder of the motorway, ran down the inside of the crash barriers, through the service station forecourt, under, over or through the fence and hedges at the back of the plot and into the industrial estate containing the warehouse where the rave was located.
It was amazing, an adrenalin and ecstasy fuelled night, which due to the excessive size of participation the police simply had to let happen and did nothing other than make sure people left the next day. We partied all night and came out in the sunlight to find the car where we left it without even a parking ticket attached, and went home exhausted but happy.”