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ArtCore Selfridges & Co Ultralounge 13th till 26th Feb 2009 This book is a stunning collection of 30 limited edition prints, produced by ourhistory for the ArtCore exhibition, the first ever exhibition of club culture graphics and photographs to be held in London’s Selfridges & Co’s Ultralounge exhibition space. ArtCore, a historical exhibition celebrating the visual side of 21 years of dance culture, a joint venture between Mary McCarthy of Dreweatts Auction House and Ernesto Leal from ourhistory. Ernesto Leal is a director and founder of ourhistory & www.ourculturalhistory.com, a project of 4 years, documenting and exhibiting visual aspects of acid-house and international club culture. Mary McCarthy is a director of Dreweatts and works as a contemporary art valuer specialising in urban art.


After a decade of post-punk monochrome and Thatcherite government, the explosion of acid house in 1988 brought colour and the hope of freedom back into the lives of Britain’s youth. But without the medium of graphic design, the twenty-year phenomenon of acid house would not have been as ground-breaking as it has proven to be. Before the advent of computer-generated graphics, it was young and often untrained designers, cutting and pasting images and typeface by hand, who created a visual identity for the emerging musical genres. And just as the music was a montage of sampled and remixed sounds, so the imagery of acid house was a collage of visual sources taken from psychedelia, punk, sci-fi, gay and black culture and elsewhere. Initially reflecting and giving form to the ideals of the tribal subcultures that formed around the music, the imagery of acid house went on to play a crucial role in the development of what became a diverse global club culture. And to the clubbers and ravers who danced in the early warehouse parties in London’s Clink Street, derelict warehouses in Blackburn, in the fields off the M25 orbital, through those nights at Manchester’s Haçienda, or who never returned from their summer in Ibiza, these images are a key point of reference in a slightly hazy collective memory of that time. At the heart of the ourhistory shows and exhibtions is the belief that acid house was not just another moment in popular music, but a turning point in the ongoing relationship between mainstream society and the formation of alternative sub-cultures. This collection seeks to make a correspondingly serious argument for the importance of acid house, not merely as a musical genre but as a cultural movement. The music of acid house was never a unified genre anyway, and had its origins earlier than the birth of the scene, in New York garage, Chicago house and Detroit techno of the early and mid 1980s, and earlier still in the music of Kraftwerk. Rather, acid house was a sub-culture which drew its spirit from Ibiza, Manchester, London and around Britain. Although its musical forms mostly originated elsewhere, therefore, the spirit of acid house was particular to the social, political and cultural climate of Britain in the late 1980s. This was a notoriously unsettled mix of a contemptuous and seemingly unmoveable Tory Government, whose iron leader became the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the century in 1988; repressive and punitive social laws, of which the Poll Tax of 1989 was only the most hated; the systematic destruction of working class communities, to which the miner’s strike of 1984-85 had been the last, failed attempt at organised opposition; high unemployment, low job prospects, and an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, all enshrined in the new division between an entrepreneurial middle class of newly-dubbed ‘yuppies’ and an unemployed and apparently unwanted working class. It was the youth of the latter who, realising that if anything was to be done they had to do it themselves, took up Thatcher’s ethos of self-determination, turned it against their would-be masters, and created the phenomenon of acid house.

There’s no such thing as society. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher Published in Woman’s Own - 31 October 1987

To reflect the importance of this movement, which has never been adequately described by the overlapping but distinct terminology of ‘rave’, ‘club’ or ‘dance’ culture, ourhistory uses ‘acid house’ as an umbrella term to designate both the initial explosion of the phenomenon into popular consciousness in 1988, as well as the twenty-year history of club, rave and dance culture that it set in motion. On the one hand, this show is a celebration of the sheer fun, colour, madness and inventiveness of this history; but it also seeks to create a framework by which to understand the ongoing significance of acid house as a cultural movement. In doing so, two factors distinguish the show from what will no doubt be other celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of its origins. First, the exhibtion aims to write a new type of history. As its title indicates,

ourhistory will not be a history of the individual producers, DJs and promoters of a scene

– the movers and shakers who, like the kings and queens of outdated history lessons, claim to make history – but of the dancers, ravers and clubbers whose collective experience is the movement of that history: in the communities they formed, the experiences they created, the spaces they opened up and explored. It was the creation of this space – both physically (the abandoned warehouses and fields they occupied) and psychologically (the rave and club experience they invented) – that made acid house not just another genre in the history of popular music, but a genuinely new moment in twentieth-century culture. Moving away from pop’s focus on the artist, performance and product towards the experience of the clubbers and ravers, acid house challenged the very bases on which the music industry exists. What distinguished the acid house experience from other forms of mass entertainment – like a rock concert, football match or television show – is that it did not create a division between the entertainer and the entertained, the spectacle and the spectator, the commodity and its consumer, or any of the other divisions on which the culture industry relies for its continued existence. The dancers at an acid house party, rave or club were their own entertainment, looked at each other, consumed themselves in a collective outpouring of energy and creativity that was its own end, and – at least initially – existed outside the cycle of exchange controlled by the music industry. Fuelled by an unholy trinity of music, dance and drugs, it was this that constituted acid house’s most radical assault on mainstream culture and perhaps its greatest threat to the society it rejected – that, and the moral panic induced by millions of young adults taking ecstasy and dancing off their heads every weekend. To convey both this threat and the radical shift in attitudes driving it, the show represents the history of acid house as the history of the musical and cultural forms in which these challenges to the mainstream appeared, and of the corresponding attempts by mainstream society and culture to limit and control their influence.


Second, any exhibtion on acid house has to confront the problem of representing a transient and ungraspable experience based on music, dancing and drugs in a fixed and visual format. ourhistory does not attempt to replicate this experience in any way, but rather to examine the ways in which, every bit as much as the music, the imagery of acid house reflected and created the tribal identities and distinctions that are at the heart of its international appeal. What continues to make acid house unique is its ability to bring together disparate and seemingly incompatible cultural forces into a temporary unity which, when the impetus for that scene wanes, does not unravel and die (as Brit pop, for instance, has died) but generates new creative strands. Acid house, which was born from the unlikely migration of the music of American, black, gay culture into the bodies of largely white, working class, British youth, was itself rapidly superseded when, energised by European industrial dance and the entrepreneurial spirit of underground promoters, rave culture briefly threatened to conquer mainstream Britain. Then jungle, a black, underground and homophobic culture, emerged from the fallout of rave finding new life in the rhythms and attitudes of Jamaican ragga; only itself to be codified by breakbeat science, colonised by the music industry, and sold to the masses as drum and bass. It is this tribal aspect of acid house, its seemingly endless creation of sub-genres, that is the driving force and the key to its enormous influence and longevity. And it is these that are captured in the multitude of ever-changing flyers, club logos, party promotions, record covers, posters, banners, t-shirts, badges, and other printed sources that circulated within the club and rave communities, and which document a particular and identifiable moment in the history of acid house. By tracing these images to their original sources, reproducing them on an enlarged scale from the often tiny originals, and situating them within this history, this show allows an unprecedented focus on the imagery of acid house, its iconographies, its appropriations, its formal strategies and cultural developments within the history of the movement. In this respect, ourhistory is the unwritten history of acid house. This exhibition focuses on the imagery of acid house and also examines how club and rave communities responded to the attempts undertaken by both the state and corporate world first to ban then to wrestle control of its influence: initially, through the unprecedented attempts to illegalise acid house parties and raves; then, when those interventions largely failed, by the more successful attempts to subsume the acid house experience within the culture industry. To the former initiatives, the flyer format allowed immediate responses to statements by the government directed at acid house, such as the Back to Basics initiative of 1993 or, most famously, the Criminal Justice Bill of 1994. To the latter and ongoing attempts to subsume club and rave culture within the culture industry, the show will examine how each new sub-culture and musical genre emerged within the wider social context by distinguishing itself from both the values and the forms of its contemporaries within the immediate cultural context: the glacial minimalism and elitism of intelligent techno reacting to the white-label excesses and populism of hardcore; the unorthodox rhythms and way-of-life commitment of jungle opposing the four-on-the-floor beats and weekender ethics of house; the new-age ethos and driving beats of psytrance rejecting the urban sensibilities and commercialised sexuality of club culture. It is these oppositions and differences, both from each other and from mainstream culture, that the imagery of the various sub-cultures and genres throws into relief, and to which this show brings a new and sharper focus. Within the diversity of these tribal distinctions, however, lies the community of acid house; and the bringing together of these images within a single exhibition space allows a global perspective on the sub-cultural, regional and international contributions to its history: from the Balearic atmosphere of Ibiza and the Baggy attitudes of ‘Madchester’, to the influences of Goa trance, Belgium hardcore, Dutch gabba, German techno, Italo disco, Latin house, French funk or Japanese pop. This is in keeping with the international scope of the show, which has already found exhibition venues in Ireland, Germany, Holland, Spain, Italy, Poland, China and Japan. Finally, the exhibition is reflexive about the dangers of itself becoming part of the incorporation of acid house into mainstream culture. In seeking to write the history of acid house, the show does not want to confine its movement to past history, but rather to identify and make an argument for the continuing relevance of acid house to the creative possibilities and forms of counter-cultural movements. In today’s closed-circuit surveillance state, Thatcher’s dream of a society without community appears more prophetic than ever. And before it was anything else, acid house was and is the rejection of the fragmented society that is the legacy of the Thatcher-Blair lineage. No doubt its own history mirrors that fragmentation – in the increasing segregation of scenes by class, race and sexuality, in the promotion of the DJ as rock star, in the transformation of the producer from monteur to author, in the performance of the music within the format of the band, the consumption of the music within the spectacle of the concert, its commodification within the format of the album, its containment within the corporate-sponsored festival, its commercialisation within the super club, its domestication in TV adverts and retail music – but despite this, and even because of this, its spirit of community in ecstasy is as relevant now as it ever was. Acid House culture was solidly bound to New Right ideals like individual entrepreneurialism, yet it was alarming enough for the then Conservative government to legislate, in 1994’s Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, against “repetitive beats” - a notable example of legislative aesthetics. just take a look at the classic rave flyer art of 1989-1993 – Acid House culture began the refashioning of that decade that continues today. © Simon Elmer. Freelance art historian, curator and critic, he completed his PhD at University College London in 2001, and has lectured at the Universities of London, Manchester, Reading and Michigan. (All images are copyrighted by their respective copyright owners)

This is our house, and our house music Ecstasy, This is My House Fingers Inc. - 1990


www.ourculturalhistory.com CYMBOL,PACKAGE & BROCHURE DESIGN - BOB MCKIE TOMCAT DESIGN. www.tomcatdesign.co.uk PRINT - WDPRONCO. www.we-do-print.com

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ARTCORE -Selfridges book -TEXT  

A2 book produced by {ourhistory} for the ARTCORE This short-run exhibition at the Ultralounge in Selfridges spotlights many of clubland's ic...

ARTCORE -Selfridges book -TEXT  

A2 book produced by {ourhistory} for the ARTCORE This short-run exhibition at the Ultralounge in Selfridges spotlights many of clubland's ic...

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