Wednesday, July 12, 2023

club daze

from an intro to a book of club photographs

"My most vivid recollections of a decade-plus raving and clubbing are in fact mostly visual ones. The sonic and pharmacological peak points tend to blur together amorphously; what stands out in the memory are images. Tableaus of frenzy; interactions with out-of-it strangers; dancers on the other side of the room whose fluid frenzy fascinated my gaze;  a shared glance of loved-up complicity; scenes of squalor and moments of grace; the chambers, passages, and internal architecture of the clubs themselves. I remember the toilets and the chill out zones as much as the dancefloors.  While they work through immersive sonic overload, clubs  also function as milieu-machines, designed for the circulation of bodies, generating both random encounters with individuals and a transitory but real communion with everybody in the place.  

When I look at these photographs, it all feels at once absolutely familiar and freshly foreign. I know these faces. If you spent any time clubbing and raving in the ‘90s or 2000s, you will recognize the expressions, the shapes thrown, the furtive exchanges (a pill discreetly dropped into a palm).  To stare into these pictures is to be immersed again in the maelstrom of madness.   Snarls of euphoria. Roars of joy.  Faces scrunched in bliss. Pilled-to-the-gills rictus smiles. Pursed lips, droopy lids, melted grins. Teeth crackling in the UV.  The jutting tongue, universal symbol of insolent lasciviousness, at once taunting and a kind of intransitive come-on to everyone and no one. Boys with hard-earned hard bodies: shirts off, boxer short waistbands proclaiming allegiance to the houses of Calvin Klein or Pierre Cardin, ribs like xylophones, armpit hair matted and coiled with moisture. Girls, celebrating their own sass, taut bellies beaded with perspiration, often in that classic posture where it looks like she’s delectating her own underarm aroma. Faces flushed pink, or filmed with sweat that sheens where the light catches. Brightly bronzered or sallow in the glare, a pallor like the belly of a dead fish.

As well as the faces and the contortions, the clothes are also familiar: a riot of man-made fabrics and inorganic colors chosen to converge at the intersection of futurity and psychedelic. Red latex batty riders, virulently artificial hues of hair, extensions as lurid as electrical wires braided into Medusa tendrils. Fluoro streaks across faces and arms. Equally plasticky and synthetic are the toys and accoutrements:  plushies, gloves, glowsticks.

Here, again, in these pictures the aging raver will find a familiar bestiary of the chemically depraved: the gurners, the gargoyles, the drug-gobbling goblins. And then that sudden shock of the raver who’s dramatically older than the rest of the crowd, but going for it just as hard as the kids around them, who could be their daughter or their nephew, or even, occasionally, their grandchild.

But also, amid the commotion and celebration, there are the captured moments of stillness, privacy, loneliness, exhaustion, dejection. Intimations of the coming comedown, the return to socially atomized mundanity.

A spy in the house of the loved-up, the camera here eternalizes the ephemeral: moments almost certainly unremembered by the people swept up in them.  The pictures remind me often of the way a strobe freeze-frames a dancefloor tableau, plucking fugitive patterns out of the kinetic flow. But some also recall that harsh cut-off point when the lights come up, exposing the night’s survivors: those still standing, still twitching at the end of a party, not ready  to go home. That brutal artificial dawn that reveals also the human wreckage: figures slumped where the floor meets the wall, surrounded by the jetsam of excess:  splintered plastic glasses,  crushed cigarette packets (this is the era before the 2007 smoking ban, remember), crushed cans of Red Bull, Pils bottles and sticky streaks of spilled lager.   

Like Mark Leckey’s found-footage artwork Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, there is something tenderly intrusive about the camera’s gaze here. This roving eye takes in with equanimity the supercool stylist, the nutty mentalist, and the abjectly out-of-it. There is an oscillation between verité realness (clubbers caught unawares, in the throes) and theatricality (poseurs predisposed to be looked at, acting out their freedom from constraint as if already for the benefit of the photographer and posterity). In these pictures, we see people losing themselves and finding themselves. In these public but intimate spaces, private fantasies are enacted and secret selves  revealed - often a side that can’t be expressed within the strictures of routine existence, the wild-and-crazy true-you unknown to co-workers or family. Here uncaged is the dream self that appears only under cover of night. Clubland itself is a form of collective dreaming, taking place when everybody else is in bed having their own rapid-eye-movement adventures.  “We dream as we live -  alone”, the saying goes. But rave is the opposite: a dreamworld built together. "


Anonymous said...

What’s the book?