FANTAZIA: JAMES PERKINS
On the house that acid built.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been to a rave. There, I said it.
Having grown up in post-millennium Birmingham, I danced for hours at sham inner-city imaginings of the Second Summer of Love every weekend. But by the time I was born, let alone lanky enough to convince bouncers I was 18 (or 24, as my teenage ID said), rave was out, garage was in and everyone had swapped their sportswear garms for Moschino jeans.
Once I was passably old enough to sneak out circa 2012, my generation had been passed house-lite as our defining genre. Before the year was out, I was bored of the bucket hat brigade and their chart anthems, so when I caught the story of James Perkins and his Fantazia on television, my 16-year-old self watched wide-eyed. “Come join the future” read the tagline of the events brand. I was ready to sign on the dotted line and hand over my pocket money savings.
Perkins began to put on parties aged 15 in his hometown of Cheltenham before Fantazia was established. He found success fast under the official namesake, pulling in 28,000 partygoers to one 1992 rave in Castle Donington at the age of 22, and making a reported £4.2 million turnover via the events, accompanying videos and compilation discs by 23. Now Perkins spends his days collecting art and curiosities to fill his Oxfordshire mansion, Aynhoe Park, including a giant golden smiley face (or pill, depending on your disposition), gangs of busts and a whole menagerie of bedazzled taxidermy.
ICYMI, rave is back. Sort of. The movement has dominated catwalks during the last year. From Marc Jacobs’ SS17 cyberpunks, to Gareth Pugh’s Faithless fuelled finale, designers are harking back to hedonism, showing us how to have fun during austerity by mirroring the late 80s pioneers. Organiser of the most infamous legal raves of the era, Perkins can teach us all a thing or two.
“I mean, I can’t claim all the credit for it,” he says over the phone. Five years after first discovering Fantazia, I’ve managed to track down the instigator himself. A team of 12 made the festival-sized functions happen and just three years after the brand’s inception, Perkins felt like he’d “cracked it” with his Castle Donington “One Step Beyond” rave, “the biggest to have ever happened at that point”. The chosen location might only be matched today by Glastonbury’s late-night fields and came complete with a fort-fronted main stage, flanked by turrets.
“Raves that took place after that mostly didn’t have a single stage,” he rightfully boasts. “[At Castle Donington] we had one main stage and two small tents… My DJ budget was under £5000 for the whole event, that’s the bit that I think is really rather significant… The good thing about being 21 or 22 is that you don’t have anything to lose, you have it all to gain and you don’t have any fear.”
During this stratospheric rise, Perkins realised he was at the centre of a cultural shift. “I think a great deal of our success was through our timing,” he explains. “That demand from the government — being anti-raves — for an alternative, that spurred on this movement and I drew up the energy and the knowhow to help build up the success of Fantazia.”
Perkins’ events were always above board, working closely with the police to try and evade the eternal issue of being shut down before the night had even begun, calling himself the “solution” to the illegal nights that had sprung up all over the country. “The free parties, that whole scene, everyone was really excited about going out all night long. The legal parties were much more organised, a much better show and environment and guaranteed to happen.”
By Fantazia’s height, Perkins was partying with the police post-show. “I didn’t enjoy any of the events until they were finished,” he laughs when I ask what his highlight of a night was. After ensuring thousands of revellers headed safely home, he’d go to a hotel with his friends and the feds and begin the after-party.
Sure, flirting with the forbidden was the attraction of the illicit nights but Fantazia’s shows provided a playground for all, not just teen tearaways scaling warehouse walls or making pilgrimages to forests in the hope of hearing some happy hardcore. “We definitely had a varied crowd,” Perkins concurs. “These events, at the time no-one had seen anything like it on that scale.”
Search for Fantazia on YouTube and you’ll find official event VHS tapes uploaded by seasoned ravers from their heyday. Tracksuit-ed kids gurn next to suspiciously jittery middle-aged adults while pyrotechnics frame them in a flash. “I was very much the person behind that,” says Perkins of the videos. “It was very important to me. I wanted to document a time in history that I knew would be remembered.” The films were so popular that 1994’s “Big Bang New Year” reached number two in the bestselling chart, beaten only by Take That.
Although the scene has declined, Fantazia still puts its name to parties for “old ravers who are still up for it” as well as newcomers. “It’s not really about age,” reasons Perkins when I gush over an older anorak-wearing couple I spot bopping together in one clip. “It’s about spirit and understanding. The idea was that the legacy of Fantazia would carry on for many years and I’m proud to say that the brand is alive today because of the great production that we did back then. I’ve been inspired by Pink Floyd, for me it was really important to do a great job production-wise as well as musically.”
As for the music, Perkins insists no-one could, or can, beat Carl Cox, an “all-rounder” who went on to make two albums on the Fantazia label, The DJ Collection and Made In Heaven, sonic time capsules offering up techno, acid house and hardcore. “The music was in its infancy, we had all the best tunes and that’s what was so exciting,” he reminisces. “[Dance music now] is all same-y, it’s not as sophisticated. For me there are so many memories and I felt part of a scene where all the classics were created, the rest are imitations.”
Although there are few artists yet to give the electronic originators a run for their money, imitation is key for the rave resurgence we’re currently enjoying in fashion. You know the story: Theresa May is fighting to anaesthetise night life as Cameron did before her. The only problem is, it’s not really working. Just as Perkins provided an alternative in the shadow of Thatcher’s attempt at sanitisation, new nights are appearing as fast as they’re shut down: Evian Christ is taking his trance party on tour, Bala Club is feeding a new hope for London’s stagnated scene and the defiant rumblings of Glasgow’s illegal raves can’t be silenced. The kids need something to wear.
In London we have Caitlin Price commanding crops and bringing back head-ache inducing ponytails while Liam Hodges riffs on dystopian themes, planning his party for the apocalypse (both whom here have imagined the poster for their dream party, circa 1992). Even her highness Vivienne Westwood is throwing anti-establishment club nights. Across the pond, LRS, directed by Proenza Schouler’s Raul Solis, fell down the rabbit hole for this season’s acid trip inspired collection. In Europe, the homeland of techno, Kenzo two-stepped through decades of club couture, celebrating the energy of 90s youth for spring.
Whether you’d rather spend your hard earned coins on garb or gear is up to you. By no means are you going to stumble upon an industrial estate all-nighter with hundreds of bodies dressed in head-to-toe labels, but in the eternally co-dependent relationship between music and fashion, the recent influence of rave is unrivalled.
As for Perkins, like the rest of us, he hasn’t given up on the power of partying just yet either: it took weeks for us to connect on a call as he was away from Aynhoe in Ibiza. “I did two in the end,” he explains when I ask how the trip was. “A lot of fun.”
Trends will always be cyclical but rave refuses to disappear. Come join the future.
Fantazia’s next party takes place 28th-30th April in Hereford; head here for further info.