Taking off in the late 1980s, rave culture has left an indelible mark on the lives of many Londoners. Dom and Zey came across boxes of modern clubbing flyers in the Museum of London collections, prompting this conversation about their own experiences of the scene.
Dom: “The flyers tell us about when rave came ‘inside’; moving into nightclubs from outdoor parties and becoming licensed and legal. That’s when the flyer phenomenon really emerged. Many promise to evoke feelings of the old days of warehouse fever while emphasising the legality of their events and opportunities to ‘Rave in Peace’. I was born in ‘91 so was too young to experience these club nights at the peak of their glory, but I’m keen to see how they influence nightlife today.”
Zey: “Seeing these flyers at the museum was a great moment, they were clubs I grew up with and clubs I had forgotten about. Music in the 90s, wow, what a decade to witness, pirate radio stations were playing what I really enjoyed, Hip Hop, Reggae, Swing beat, R&B, Acid House, Hardcore and Garage, but it was Jungle for me that really did it. The first tracks that I heard were by The Ragga Twins and Rebel MC (Congo Natty). We used to record the songs we liked from the radio and play them on our Walkmans. The stations I listened to first were probably WNK and Kiss FM when they were both pirate stations. Female DJs and MCs are a massive part of this scene, they always were, but have been greatly excluded due to male dominance. How much do we know about the artists behind the flyers?”
What’s your earliest memory of club flyers?
Dom: “When record shops were a more frequent sight on the high street, you could always find a trove of flyers inside. Around ’98 and ’99, I spent many weekends visiting record shops with my Dad, he’s big on music so I was brought up with vinyl. I felt quite comfortable wandering around, flicking through the piles of flyers to take home, the same way my Dad would flick through records. My best memories of this time were in Sounds Familiar, a record shop in Romford, Essex. But we could also be found up and down Berwick Street, at Vinyl Junkies, at Honest Jons in Ladbroke Grove and the Music & Video Exchange in Camden.”
Zey: “We used to go to a record shop near our secondary school at lunchtime. It was literally just a room down a side road, it had a massive window ledge on the inside, and this is where they kept all the flyers. On the opposite side was the long counter that had a set of decks and people would come in and try out records on them. We would go there, take some flyers and listen to some Jungle…it was a different time. It was also a way of smoking cigarettes indoors without getting caught in your school uniform outside.”
Dom: “Collecting flyers was all part of it; my parents didn’t mind me covering my walls with flyers, ignoring the greasy Blu Tack residues. Pre-internet, flyers were a necessity because that was how you advertised your do, at clubs there was always someone walking around distributing flyers for other nights. You would collect flyers from nights you hadn’t even been to, purely for the artwork.”
What club nights do you remember?
Zey: “I used to go to Moondance when it was at Camden Palace. That was probably one of my favourite nights - I know they still do them now. There was one there on New Year’s Eve, RatPack had the midnight set and Baby D came out when it struck 12am to ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’. I still have goose bumps – what a night. That was a moment, the crowd went wild, all these balloons dropped from the ceiling it was something else entirely.”
“As much as we would collect flyers early on, it was funny, because later on, the worst was coming out of a club and your windscreen wipers being upright and the whole windscreen covered in flyers, when at 6am you just wanted to hit that one 24hr McDonalds in your area and go home.”
The lure of the club
Dom: “One of my favourite flyers advertises a 1992 club night from party organisers Genesis at Roller Express on the Lea Valley Trading Estate, north London. ‘The Awakening’ states that the club will be transformed into a full-scale 'Bermuda Triangle', with an imposing 80,000 square foot dance area. The flyer promises cinematic projections with seven colour holographic argon and krypton laser displays. Not forgetting the DJs (or ‘Prophets’, as they are billed here), the flyer trails sets from big names like Kenny Ken and Ray Keith, who are still playing today. Like many flyers in the collection, this one was originally hand drawn. The designs verge on science fiction, artefacts of a trippy creativity producing expectation and suspense.”
Zey: “When I started clubbing the Roller Express was gone. The Warehouse was the club we went to, it was called the Bass Box at one time as well. I went to nights there that had a mixture of Jungle, Drum and Bass and Garage. If I went ‘raving’ that was a Jungle night, if I went ‘clubbing’ that was a Garage night. The Warehouse was never where we started the night, it was where we ended the night, the last place open in the area that would still let you in after 3am. It wasn’t rare to do two or three clubs in one night, we just wanted to be out.”
Zey: “This flyer made me smile, I mean it’s Bagley’s right. Bagley’s has a special place in my heart along with Camden Palace. Both no longer exist as they were. Bagley’s knew how to put on an event, I remember there were different rooms. There was always someone walking around with whistles and horns, I suppose I had a collection of those like I had flyers for a while, and glow sticks that had died out. There would be nights that someone would be walking around with a box of ice poles handing them out in the summer and then outside there was a burger van, Bagley’s had it all covered. As time went on clubs just began to sort of change, and it felt like the fun was disappearing. I got a lot of my music from outside Bagley’s on a night out too, there was always a guy selling stuff. I got my Slamming Vinyl Cassette packs from there.”
Zey: “When you went to a rave you were there to dance, it was all about the music, we’d get there about 11pm and we’d be on the dancefloor well into the next day. There was nothing like hearing your favourite tune drop, the crackling of the vinyl and even at the first beat you knew that track and the whole crowd experienced that with you. I still can’t put into words the feeling you get when that one tune drops, but it stays with you, the same tracks from 30 odd years ago, still has that effect now, even if you’re just listening to it on YouTube while hoovering or on your morning commute.”
“By the end of the night, you’ve all bonded track after track, you would bump into the same people all the time, sometimes when the clubs closed earlier you’d all band into taxis together to go to the next open venue, it would be like ‘follow that taxi’, you’d have three or four taxis following each other with people that you probably had just met. That was how it was.”
Club night legacies
Zey: “Gone are the days where you rang a number from a phone box to find out the location of an event, or listened out on pirate radio stations. There are modern day variations of this I guess. Most of the old clubs are now flats, it’s weird going by them and still having those memories and the landscape looking so different. The scene has by no means disappeared, though. I love hearing stories of nights out from back in the day, there is such a unified love around it, there is a mutual understanding when you meet another raver.”
“I would love to see an immersive experience at a museum, where you walk into different rooms, with the sounds of the DJ & MC sets from the time, the art from the flyers, strobe lights, maybe a set of decks where you could try your mixing skills, that one smoke machine that always blew directly in your face when you least expected it. But maybe the museum world is not ready for that yet and maybe neither are we. Once something enters a museum does it become a thing of the past forever?”
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