Acid House exploded in London and Manchester in 1988; then in 1989 the whole of the UK went raving. "Raving '89" takes you through a year of suburban raves as seen through the eyes of former skinheads Neville and Gavin Watson, with 200 images that capture the essence of this explosive year: grimy warehouses, lasers, phones the size of bricks, general mayhem and more than a few crimes against fashion.
In 1989, Gavin Watson went from being a documenter of skinhead culture to being one of the only people who managed to operate a camera through the ecstasy haze that enveloped England that year. At the time, rave was a revolution, even if it has now been run into the ground. We spoke to Gavin about those halcyon days when you could dance all night on one pill, and about the photos he took which are compiled in his new book, Raving ’89.
Vice: How did you get into the rave scene then?
Gavin Watson: The whole skinhead thing was getting a bit strained. There were no options for most of us, unless you wanted to get married and have a kid. We still felt young enough that we didn’t want to disappear into mature life. Rave came along at just the right time. All our friends went to the raves, and those who didn’t fell by the wayside.
What was the atmosphere like at the parties when you first went?
All the skinheads came together when we went to the first raves. My brother Neville resisted for a while. He used to have power in the gang, but by that stage we just went anyway. We were like: “Sorry, mate, but we are off to the party.” He resisted for a few months. It was totally fresh, it blew us away. It was a real force in the country, like a revolution.
It felt like there was a massive urge to get to these raves. Everyone who was anybody was involved. It was important—we marched in London and changed the licensing laws. If it had been a purely working class thing they would have stomped on us, they would have trodden us into the fucking ground. But it wasn’t, there were middle-class people and even fucking lords going to these raves. Everyone was involved, they couldn’t stop it. The police just didn’t understand it. They had never had to deal with hundreds of people having a good time in a field.
They must have known there were drugs involved?
Very little was known about ecstasy until that wave hit, it wasn’t even illegal. Soon all the rules were changed. But at the time it was a drug designed for psychotherapists or whatever. It wasn’t like heroin, where you could see the damage. The police all thought it was acid we were on! It was a weird time. There were these guys working their balls off to get these raves going, and I was just so grateful they did.
Were you as much a part of rave as you were the whole skinhead thing?
As a person I am very enthusiastic, but I am always a bit outside of things. It was a fantastic release. It didn’t take much to go there, but it’s not like I suddenly decided that I was going to put on a smiley face t-shirt and a bandana and “become a raver”. It just sort of happened, the other stuff fell off me. We still had our skinhead mates, but everything changed, really. It didn’t take much to make the transition.
What was the downside?
It was easy for us lot, we were outside normal society already. We actually became more mainstream as a result of getting into rave. But the guys I went to school with, some had got married at 18 and had kids and when the rave thing happened they went fucking mental. They lost their houses, marriages, their lives fell apart. People didn’t know when the party was over. The drugs took their toll.
Raving ’89 published by DJhistory.com.
Interview By Bruno Bayley on VICE