Sweet Harmony: Rave | Today at Saatchi Gallery
31 years ago saw the emergence of a counter-cultural phenomenon in the UK, which shook the establishment to its foundations. The so-called Second Summer of Love in 1988 was an outpouring of youthful rebellion with raves cropping up first in London and then across the country. DJ performers like Larry Heard and Frankie Knuckles had brought Acid house from Chicago to the UK. Frequently under the influence of MDMA (ecstasy), thousands of young Britons attended these gatherings, drawn by the radical spirit and release from societal conventions they seemed to represent.
The current immersive, multi-media exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, Sweet Harmony: Rave | Today will likely prove a nostalgic “trip down memory lane” for those of a certain vintage who were around to experience the rave and acid house scene first hand. In one room, Colin Nightingale and Stephen Dobbie have illuminated a petrol pump, in the background of which traffic and distant beats can be heard. They are alluding to the height of rave culture, from 1988-90, when ravers would flock en masse to petrol stations and wait by phone boxes to be informed of that night’s particular party venue. Undoubtedly, one of the installations that most imprints itself into the memory here is Conrad Shawcross’s spinning Lotus car. Attached upside down to a gallery ceiling, and with brake lights glowing, it seems to dance in time to a pulsating soundtrack by Mylo. The intention is to evoke the motorway night drives ravers would make in search of the party venues, the locations of which tended to be veiled in secrecy until the last minute.
Throughout this exhibition can be seen an array of large scale-photographs taken by some of the most significant chroniclers of the house music explosion up until the present. Inevitably, the images from the late 80s and 90s have baggy jeans and bowl cuts aplenty. Dave Swindells’s atmospheric photographs from that period capture much of the unbridled energy of clubbers, often closed-eyed in euphoria. Vinca Petersen, another photographer, has to all intents and purposes produced a visual record of how rave culture has woven itself into her life, from raves she organised to those she attended. Event flyers and her personal photographs are displayed together with memories of details she has written onto the walls of the gallery. Matthew Smith directs his camera to the politicised side of house music culture, capturing the huge Trafalgar Square demonstration against the government’s Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, which took place that same year. The visitor can also view more recent imagery by the late Sheffield-based photographer Shaun Bloodworth, whose characteristically moody compositions document the rise of the early dubstep and grime scenes. Alongside the photos can be experienced work by the video installation artist James Alec Hardy. His screens suspended in hammocks broadcast loops of kaleidoscopic, trippy colour combinations.
The exhibition organisers, including Juan Rincon, the curator, have ensured that audible music resounds through every room of the show, held over two floors. In one particular gallery, visitors can put their skills to the test on a mixing deck with that room also offering Spotify listening stations playing a range of tracks. There’s even an area where appropriate vinyl is on sale. An exciting finale is provided for the public in the form of a live DJ set where visitors of every age can throw their best shapes amongst the mist and laser lights before emerging again into the day’s sunshine.
Featured image: Dave Swindells, Trip Street Party (1988)
Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery
Sweet Harmony: Rave | Today is at Saatchi Gallery from 12th July until 14th September 2019. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.