Forget everything you knew about raves and the free party scene – a new photography book by Molly Macindoe captures the subculture from a breathtakingly intimate perspective.
Molly Macindoe has spent the last 16 years of her life documenting the rave scene across the world – from Tottenham squats to Bedouin deserts, she’s partied and photographed them all. Her new book, Out Of Order: A Photographic Celebration of the Free Party Scene, is out now on Tangent Books and it’s one of the headiest and most atmospheric monuments to humanity’s most basic instinct: to party and dance like there’s no tomorrow.
How did you get into the rave scene?
A couple of friends at school had discovered it and figured I was alternative enough to be interested; I wasn’t into dance music when I went to my first rave. What I was looking for was a place and a community that I would feel comfortable in. Upon entering my first free party at the old bingo hall in Wood Green, North London in 1997, I found exactly that.
What made you pick up a camera and start documenting the parties?
In 1997 I started learning photography and black and white printing in my secondary school in north London. A few months later I discovered free parties and I was eager to try out these new photography skills (I considered the atmosphere to lend itself especially to B&W printing).
In addition, my art teacher, who knew I was going through a difficult time both at school and at home, encouraged me to take pictures of the part of my life that was making me happy. I can’t remember the exact point when I consciously realised I wanted to do a book but I was talking about it since the late 90s. I’d always admired big retrospective photography books like Nan Goldin’s I’ll Be Your Mirror and knew that I wanted one myself someday.
How do you explain what a teknival is to someone who’s never been to one before?
A teknival is to a rave what a music festival is to a club night. It’s bigger, lasts longer, has more soundsystems and crowds gathering from many countries or regions of a country.
So what’s the weirdest, most out-there party you’ve been to?
The Middle East Teknival in 2008 in the Jordanian desert (above). The event was originally supposed to be a collaboration between Israeli, Lebanese and European sound systems. Unfortunately, the Lebanese one had to pull out at the last minute because of the risk of repercussions from their government for associating with Israelis. It was the first of its kind and was only possible through negotiations with the Bedouin tribe that lived in that area. I had no idea what to expect and everyone I knew thought I was mad to be going out there alone. Only the boldest and bravest made it. The French and Israeli soundsystems had a crew, albeit small ones, but all other countries were all represented by only one or two people instead of the usual hundreds or thousands at European teknivals.
All these individuals made up a brand new crew and we had to spend time with each other, drinking coffee Arabic-style and sharing food instead of gathering in established cliques. The French soundsystem faced all odds in their journey from France and lost half their crew and equipment on the way. They almost didn’t make it through the last border into Jordan until a declaration was signed by the Bedouin Sheikh stating that he was personally responsible to ensure that the massive generator brought by the French would leave the country in seven days.
The scenery was incredible: a desert landscape, it felt like raving on the moon! The conditions were extreme, scorching heat during the day, freezing cold at night. When I played a set, the records were visibly warping in a fraction of a second from the heat. At one point police arrived in machine gun-mounted jeeps. The party lasted for five days, during which the generator broke down three times. All familiar luxuries were stripped away, it was back to basics: it reminded us of the core values of this scene – determination to have freedom of self expression in the form of music and dancing.
How bad has the police crackdown on squatting and sound systems affected the British scene?
I can’t speak for any organisers, but it’s clear that there have been some changes in the last couple of years. Then again, I’ve seen that cycle of media moral panic followed by police clampdowns repeat itself several times. Out of Order covers ten years, but I’ve been documenting the scene for longer and of course the party culture has existed more like three decades so far.
The phrase ‘mutate to survive’ (also the name of a techno record label) springs to mind. The British scene has changed — the music, technology and equipment, the locations — breaking out and uniting with Europe and the rest of the world. Its persistence sets it apart from other youth subcultures, making it a definitive subculture and way of life for many, not just a youth fashion.
How does word get out about free parties now?
Everyone’s experience of discovering the free party scene is different. I was singled out by schoolmates because I had dyed hair and piercings. I have an American friend who read about London parties in a magazine and asked people at every club he went to until someone gave him a party-line number. That moment of discovery is a personal journey that I wouldn’t want to interfere with by spelling it out here!
There’s a weird nostalgia around this supposed golden age of rave, even from young people who weren’t there the first time around. Do you think that’s misplaced?
I don’t think so. Nostalgia is part and parcel of experiencing an evolving subculture… I started going to free parties in 1997. There were always more seasoned ravers reminiscing about ‘back in the day’ times – the birth of the UK rave scene peaking around the famous Castle Morton party in 1992.
What do you think of the current rave scene in America, which rides off the popularity of EDM?
I think the scene you’re referring to is the very commercial dance scene in the form of huge festivals like Electric Daisy. I haven’t been to an event like this, but have been to some similar ones in the UK – lots of fun to be had and great opportunities to see big-name DJs. However, in terms of photographic inspiration, despite the big budget light and video shows and colourful garish outfits, these kind of events lack the DIY community and spontaneity that have kept me interested in free parties all these years.
What was the last party you went to? Do you still go regularly?
In order to produce a book about free parties I had to stop going to them completely! It’s taken a long time to come out of that self-inflicted isolation, but recently I’ve been going to more parties and definitely still one teknival a year. Part of growing older means work and life commitments take priority over social events. On the occasions that I go, I may feel very physically tired after and wonder how I used to do that every weekend, but in my heart I feel rejuvenated, alive, happy, free, energetic and full of so much love for this unique scene and its peoples.
So, is the culture of free parties still alive and kicking?
In short, yes!
Words: Zing Tsjeng (Follow Zing on Twitter @misszing)