Obsession, fascination - whatever you want to call it, the quest to find rare and glorious archived footage and snapshots of the significant moments of the “golden years” of underground ‘90s raves is a passion for many. Whether it be revisiting sound system moments or taking a look back in time to understand the rich history of dance music, the curiosity with old school rave memorabilia still remains.
The rave flyer is early electronic music's most emblematic artist medium. Rave flyers from dance music’s early days showcase a unique style of artistry that portrays the hustle, physicality, DIY spirit and harmony of the subculture in its various habitats around the world.
These cryptic handouts, leaflets, posters, brochures, and stickers have become treasured relics of the dance music scene - colorful puzzle pieces that incite your imagination and kick off vibrant stories of musical influence and hedonism. Whether creating entirely original kaleidoscopic designs or cheeky ripoffs of corporate logos, the artists behind these flyers manage to capture the passion and attitude of various homegrown music scenes.
The largest archive of independently collected rave flyers in the world is tucked away in the mountains of Oregon, taken care of by a man named Matthew Johnson. Starting The Rave Preservation Project back in 2013, Johnson has amassed a collection of over 40,000 pieces of rave memorabilia from the mid-‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s. Including duplicates, there are over 250,000 pieces stored in the archive. “Very early on I decided and made it clear that I was not a collector,” Johnson tells Mixmag. “I was evoking the role as an archivist and the goal was and always will be to protect and preserve the memorabilia in the archive.”
For Johnson, the arduous task of organizing, digitizing and properly preserving these pieces of music history - all of which are stored in a climate controlled environment - started as an ode to his family of fellow ravers in the Bay Area. “I do this to give back to a scene that gave me so much over the years in the way of friendship and enlightenment,” Johnson explains. “I believe that love is left behind in the memorabilia and I took on the job to preserve it.”
The website started off as a database for his personal collection of flyers - a tool he could use to reminisce with friends about “the good old days” in the early California underground scene. Soon after launching, friends began asking if they could donate their memorabilia to the site, and the project took on a whole new lease of life.
In order to “keep with the original underground ethos”, the Rave Preservation Project only accepts paper contributions and does not exchange money for any memorabilia. Eventually, donations from all over the world were flying in for Johnson to organize and share online. The website features over 2,400 galleries with rave flyers from 23 countries - all of which are meticulously organized by event, country, state or province and city or town.
“The memorabilia is a reminder to live a loving life, cherish those you care for, give more than you take, always grow and become a better person and leave everywhere you go a better place than how you found it,” states Johnson. Serving as a point of remembrance for some and a catalyst of inspiration for others, the deep-seated magic that lives within dance music flyers is something that the Rave Preservation Project strives to share and protect. “A little thing like a flyer that may have led someone to an event with untold amounts of positive energy is worth preserving.”
Check out the Rave Preservation Project here.
We picked out 75 of our favorite flyers from five different countries out of the Rave Preservation Project's massive archive. Check them out below.
Cameron is Mixmag's Jr. Editor. Follow him on Twitter here
Following the Second Summer of Love in the UK, the British rave scene had grown into an unstoppable force of hedonism and love that authorities could barely grapple with. Massive parties organized by crews such as Fantazia, Universe, N.A.S.A (Nice And Safe Attitude), Raindance and Amnesia House were throwing non-stop music affairs that would sometimes attract well over 30,000 participants.
The scene started to go through a gradual transformation in the early '90s, with local councils passing by-laws and increasing fees in an effort to hamper or deter rave organizations from acquiring necessary licenses. By the mid-'90s, the scene had fragmented into many different styles of dance music and developed various aesthetics and graphic designs that would best capture their audiences' imagination. These flyers showcase the colorful pallet of the UK’s defiant dance music scene which continues to thrive to this day.
As the exchange of dance music between the UK and the US continued to surge during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, British rave culture made its way across the pond and set up shop in cities all throughout the country. From Toontown’s kandi-coated raves in San Fransisco to Frankie Bones’ Storm Raves in New York City, major metropolitan areas throughout the US started to develop a distinct energy and vision for homegrown rave scenes that they could call their own.
The rave flyer became an integral tool in recruiting people to join the madness. Blending the idea of sampling with American consumer culture, many of these rave flyers would rip-off product designs, corporate logos and commercial art and repurpose them as inventive promotional tools. In the documentary ‘Better Living Through Circuitry’, one graphic designer notes that this style of art was a way of “emasculating” the product's power over you.
From Marcus Visionary to Plastikman, Canada's bright and vibrant underground rave scene has been kicking around ever since techno leaped over the boarder from Detroit into the city of Windsor, Ontario.
Toronto's '90s rave scene was piloted by events such as Hullabaloo's happy hardcore parties and Free Space Collective - a rave which would pride itself on taking over the city's most abandoned and clandestine locations. On the opposite side of the country, a plethora of the West Coast's top-tier DJs would regularly make their way up to Vancouver to play the city's wild and unpredictable events at revered locations such as Graceland. Direct, loud and heavily pictorial, old-school rave flyers from Canada do a phenomenal job in attracting the attention of any electronic music lover.
Following the reunification of Germany at the very start of the ‘90s, electronic music played a major role in re-establishing social connections between eastern and western blocks of the country. The fall of the Berlin wall was followed by an explosion of free underground techno parties in East Berlin and soon, the city’s infamous rave scene began to take form.
As Germany’s musical leanings started to migrate away from house and move into heavier techno and EBM territory, rave flyers were designed to be reminiscent of the industrial and aggressive sound that was permeating throughout the country.
Rave parties began in Australia as early as the 1980s and continued well into the late 1990s. Similar to the United States and Britain, raves in Australia were unlicensed and held in spaces normally used for industrial and manufacturing purposes, such as warehouses, factories and carpet showrooms.
In addition, suburban locations were also used: basketball gymnasiums, train stations and even circus tents were all common venues. In Sydney, common areas used for outdoor events included Sydney Park, reclaimed garbage dumps in the inner south-west of the city, Cataract Park and various other natural, unused locations and bush lands. The raves placed a heavy emphasis on the connection between humans and the natural environment, a theme that was often portrayed on Australia's radiant '90s rave flyers.