Go on – phone in sick and go to a free fes­ti­val instead

Seana Gavin’s new exhibition Spiral Baby celebrates the revolutionary togetherness of Spiral Tribe. It’s good for you.

On 22nd May 1992, a rave start­ed and last­ed a week. There was moral pan­ic, police bru­tal­i­ty and between 20,000 and 50,000 atten­dees. The rave was Castle­mor­ton in the Malvern Hills, Worces­ter­shire – and it was the involve­ment of Spi­ral Tribe, a free par­ty and sound sys­tem col­lec­tive, that helped turn it into one of the most icon­ic par­ty moments of the 1990s.

Join­ing Spi­ral Tribe a year after Castle­mor­ton was Seana Gavin: an artist and pho­tog­ra­ph­er who spent much of her years trav­el­ling across Europe, attend­ing raves and liv­ing nomad­i­cal­ly. I was 15 or 16 when I met them and start­ed attend­ing their par­ties,” she says. I soon shaved off all of my hair and became a spi­ral baby’, as the phrase went.” It was there that she began doc­u­ment­ing the world around her – the pho­tographs she took spawn­ing her upcom­ing exhibition.

While it’s easy to think of raves as mere hedo­nism, for Gavin it was every­thing: an alter­na­tive out­look to soci­ety, the world and a com­plete way of life,” as she puts it. Dur­ing the 90s, when con­ser­v­a­tive rags ran head­lines that read “£12 TRIP TO AN EVIL NIGHT OF ECSTA­SY”, and the BBC banned smi­ley’ tracks alto­geth­er, Spi­ral Tribe were liv­ing their lives exact­ly how they want­ed to, avoid­ing the sta­tus-quo and mak­ing their own set of rules. 20 years after Gavin left the scene, her exhi­bi­tion tells the sto­ry of the freest, most self-gen­er­at­ing par­ty rev­o­lu­tion the coun­try – and con­ti­nent – has ever seen.

How would you describe Spi­ral Tribe? 

Spi­ral Tribe was a free par­ty sound sys­tem col­lec­tive orig­i­nat­ing in Lon­don in the ear­ly 1990s. They are well known for their involve­ment with the icon­ic Castle­mor­ton week-long fes­ti­val which took place in the British coun­try­side. Before the days of mobile phones, 20,000 to 50,000 peo­ple attend­ed the par­ty. After vio­lent attacks by the police at raves, a two-year court case, and the enact­ment of the dra­con­ian Crim­i­nal Jus­tice and Pub­lic Order Act in the UK, the col­lec­tive decid­ed to head to France to con­tin­ue their mis­sion of putting on free tekni­vals (tech­no fes­ti­vals). Numer­ous sound sys­tems stemmed from this scene who con­tin­ued to put on ille­gal raves in ware­hous­es, derelict fac­to­ries and post offices across Lon­don and in fields and quar­ries beyond the city. They also joined the Spi­rals beyond the UK.

What were the main dif­fer­ences between the raves when you trav­elled to oth­er countries?

The par­ties in Europe were slight­ly dif­fer­ent to the UK, just because by then peo­ple had com­mit­ted to it as a full-time nomadic lifestyle. But they evolved from the same crews of peo­ple, so there were fun­da­men­tal sim­i­lar­i­ties. I guess there was more free­dom when the scene was brand new over there. When Tekni­vals were held in small vil­lages across Europe the author­i­ties had nev­er wit­nessed any­thing like it, so didn’t know how to address it or deal with it.

How did peo­ple hear about the raves back then?

In Lon­don, there was a par­ty line num­ber that you had to call last minute on the night to get the loca­tion. They would some­times be hard to find and in obscure loca­tions in indus­tri­al areas and on the out­skirts of the city.

Seana Gavin’s ultimate rave playlist

1. The Orb – Lit­tle Fluffy Clouds

2. Aphex Twin – On

3. Speedy J – De-Orbit

4. Spi­ral Tribe – FFWD The Revolution

5. Drum Club – You Make Me Feel So Good

6. Eat Sta­t­ic – Lost in Time

7. 2 Bad Mice – Bomb­scare

8. Spi­ral Tribe – Sir­ius 23

9. Human Resource – Dom­i­na­tor

10. Robert Hood – Detroit

Can you share a stand-out moment from your free par­ty days?

After one sum­mer of Tekno trav­el­ling across Europe when I was 18, I end­ed up stay­ing in a squat in Berlin for three weeks. I was left with just £20 in my pock­et when I had to get back to Lon­don, so me and my friend had an insane four-day trip back, bunk­ing trains, hitch­ing and sleep­ing in strange loca­tions. Every day was an extreme com­bi­na­tion of good and bad luck. We end­ed up in Rot­ter­dam where we had to kill time all night before try­ing to catch the fer­ry in the morn­ing. So many things hap­pened that night, includ­ing me being phys­i­cal­ly attacked by a toi­let atten­dant in the train sta­tion fol­lowed by befriend­ing a group of kids who took us to an Amer­i­can bar and gen­er­ous­ly gave us a bulk of cash to pay for our fer­ries the next day. It was quite an adventure! 

What do you think of the rave scene now?

To be hon­est I have no idea what the scene is like now. Tekni­vals still hap­pen across Europe but it can nev­er be as under­ground as it was dur­ing my time. The under­ground can’t exist in the same way and it always feels dif­fer­ent when some­thing is new and excit­ing. Raves can­not be repeat­ed in the same way because the world and social cli­mate is so different.

What mes­sage are you hop­ing to get across with Spi­ral Baby?

The pho­tographs cap­ture the rave’s unusu­al loca­tions, the jour­neys, the build-up and after­math of the par­ties, and the char­ac­ters and friends who defined the scene – many of which are no longer with us. The par­ty cul­ture of fast, height­ened liv­ing came with its consequences.

This show is also a trib­ute to my friend Ben, who passed away at a par­ty in France. Some of the jour­neys cap­tured were tak­en while trav­el­ling in Ben’s con­vert­ed army truck. He lived and breathed this lifestyle dur­ing his stunt­ed time on earth. These pho­tographs, like my mem­o­ries, have grit­ty under­tones – some­times a com­bi­na­tion of shock­ing and humor­ous moments caught by chance, altered states of mind, and some sur­pris­ing­ly peace­ful moments of calm in-between moments of extrem­i­ty and hedo­nism. This exhi­bi­tion demon­strates the ethos was more than a night out. It was an alter­na­tive out­look to soci­ety, the world and a com­plete way of life.

Spi­ral Baby will be shown at Galeriepcp, 8 Rue-Saint Claude, Paris, 7th June – 27th July

@seanagavin


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