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Rave against the machine

Molly Macindoe’s photography reveals the gritty former life of familiar city sites during the free party heyday of the late 90s, writes Merlin Fulcher

Photographer and partygoer Molly Macindoe lifts the lid on UK rave culture, offering an insider’s perspective in her new book Out of Order: A Photographic Celebration of the Free Party Scene. It covers underground parties, mostly in London, which Macindoe attended between 1997 and 2006, and casts a new light on the people and places involved.

Three years before Macindoe’s narrative starts, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act had criminalised outdoor parties with music ‘wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats’. This new law followed the high-profile media uproar against the 1992 Castlemorton Common Festival and was a legislative milestone for Britain’s recreational counterculture that was already shifting its geography away from the countryside.

50 pence building Halloween party, Addington Street, Waterloo, 1999

50 pence building Halloween party, Addington Street, Waterloo, 1999

Post-industrial decline had opened up fresh territories in which to explore different ways of having a good time, and new drugs and music mobilised a sociallyalienated youth. The party had moved on from free pastoral festivals and annual celebrations, such as those at Stonehenge. Something far more urban and gritty had replaced them: free parties.

As music journalist Caroline Stedman explains in the book’s introduction, ‘By the late 80s, the sound of industry in the warehouses of the cities had been replaced by a new sound resonating against their derelict walls: the music of the disillusioned, the displaced, the unemployed and the downright bored: the amplified sound of repetitive beats.’

Macindoe’s monochromatic photographs tell an unexpected, human story of this demonised movement. Where one might expect packed dance floors, messianic disc-jockeys and multicoloured light shows, Macindoe focuses on the quiet moments at the periphery, capturing moments of tenderness and vulnerability.

After the ball was over, BT exchange, Crouch End, London, 2000

After the ball was over, BT exchange, Crouch End, London, 2000

We see a dreadlocked man in combat trousers cradling a small sandwich to his mouth, a man playing bagpipes, a disc-jockey without an audience and postparty revellers drifting off to sleep. Endless images of Alsatians and skinheads lying prone or in the foetal position cast a compassionate light on a movement which at its height was portrayed by mainstream media as violent and out of hand.

Macindoe’s 450-page codex handles like a photo album; the main section is packed with punchy, full-page photography, while captions, dates and sound system details are expelled to the back. There is something charismatic, almost scatterbrained in its chronological ordering of episodes. Chapters are named after raves on anonymous industrial estates or events: ‘Iffe’s and Jacko’s Bail Benefit’; ‘Hardcore Conspiracy’ and
‘Legalise Cannabis March After Party’.

Class recess, Bounds Green, Middlesex University, 2004

Class recess, Bounds Green, Middlesex University, 2004

The collection illuminates the shifting sands of gentrification in London. Many of Macindoe’s rave locations have ceased to exist or changed beyond all recognition, their property prices bumped up by a more sanitised type of subversive activity than documented here, while others stood still and retain the battle scars of broken windows and graffiti to this day.

Macindoe reminds us that the backdrop of Arup Associates’ Broadgate Estate, seen from a Brick Lane rooftop, once lent subversive activities on the City fringe profound meaning and kudos; uber-capitalism was just an anarchist’s spitting-distance away. Today, Shoreditch hosts Broadgate workers’ £1,000-a week homes and the real fringe is increasingly further away.

Crowd on roof look down at the street, St Pancras Way, Kings Cross, 1999

Crowd on roof look down at the street, St Pancras Way, Kings Cross, 1999

Similarly Bicknell and Hamilton’s 1969 Battleship Building on Harrow Road is captured as an end-of-days dystopia, cast outside of time to serve as factory for ravers’ pleasure. Thanks to a refurbishment by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the Grade-II listed building is now fashion retailer Monsoon’s UK headquarters.

Some locations - such as Middlesex University’s defunct Bounds Green campus - are future echoes, revealing scenes which, under current higher education funding, may emerge again and again. Others will never be repeated. Take the Waterden Road warehouses: cleared for the Olympics and now home to RPS Burks Green’s hulking International Broadcast Centre.

Day shot of exterior with ‘Fume’ tag, Harrow Road, British Rail depot, 1999

Day shot of exterior with ‘Fume’ tag, Harrow Road, British Rail depot, 1999

Macindoe’s free parties brought together marginalised people and places in a symbolic kinship that continues to evolve today. By taking over disused offi ces, factories and warehouses the ravers created a visual critique of everyday life. Buildings designed and used for the monotonous routine of daily work were re-appropriated for one-off spectacles that made a point of being memorable and separate from workaday reality. The repetitive soundtrack was not ironic. It celebrated the mortality of the workplace and put power back in the beating hearts of its would-be inhabitants.

Stu and Sheva sat astride roof wall looking over London, Tea Building Shoreditch, 2002

Stu and Sheva sat astride roof wall looking over London, Tea Building Shoreditch, 2002

We see a similar unity today in flashmobs and pop-up events. People are smitten by these clean, legitimate public space interventions that permeate Macindoe’s now gentrifi ed old stomping grounds. Only now, those harmonised are the mainstream and consumerist. Macindoe’s snapshots are stark and, at times, bleak. But they transport the reader on a journey to a world of mix-tapes, Stella Artois and £1 bottled water from makeshift bars to show us the pioneers of modern times.

Out of Order: A Photographic Celebration of the Free Party Scene
by Molly Macindoe
Tangent Books
£29.99

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