To explore the history of electronic music we don’t have to go too far back in time, and yet it can seem like a lifetime ago. When information was not easily accessible at our finger
“When the scene first started it was all about individualityMatthew Johnson / Rave Preservation Project
nota style but being the best you, you can be. Leaving the world a better place than it was when we got here. Personal and collective spiritual growth. A lifestyle that promotes the best for our environment and people. Giving more than you take. It was very much a cerebral cultural experience, more so than anything else. I think this is what needs to be preserved and I hope what I do promotes and supports what the scene originally stood for. I hope what I do makes the world a better place even if it just a little bit.”
While its history is relatively recent, what happened during the rave scene of the 80’s and 90’s is a certainly a story worth preserving for the future. By cataloging over 40,000 pieces of memorabilia both physically and digitally, with tens of thousands in the pipeline, Matthew Johnson of Rave Preservation Project has been keeping this history from fading from our memory. What began as a way to save and share his own collection of rave memorabilia in order to remember the “great times we had back in the day”, had soon gathered the attention of ravers around the world.
Not only do the flyers bring back memories for those who were fortunate enough to experience them, but they give a visual reminder of the spirit of the rave. As you can look at a concert poster from the ’60s or ’70s and know exactly what era they came from, the rave flyers of the ’80s and ’90s capture the rawness and energy that could only come from that place in time. By curating and cataloging rave memorabilia, Matthew is providing a space for us to imagine the stories behind the images. Often with their submissions, people do share their stories with him, and while he doesn’t have a favorite, he says, “I do enjoy finding things in donation boxes such as nude photos, diplomas, letters, other photos.”
Sometimes there are even long lost connections that return to the surface through the process, as Matthew shares:
“A long time ago I went a Casper/Sharon Halloween party. I met a girl called Bubbles who was dressed like a mouse. We just hung out at the party all night. Never saw her again but remembered her. One day twenty plus years later I was rummaging through a donation box and found flyer with the name Bubbles on the back with a local phone number.”
Curious about his own rave history, and what inspired him to have such a passion for the Rave Preservation Project, I asked Matthew to share his own story:
“I’ve always been into the underground, unique, and deep minded culture. When I was in grade four my mother bought me my first punk album, The Sex Pistols “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” beforehand listening to my Mom’s records, a mixture of pre-punk, country, and rock and roll. I was surrounded by artists, hippies, hicks, an array of Vietnam War Veterans, and Mormons. I had a Mohawk in the 1980’s when having a Mohawk was good reason for as ass kicking from some people, very much the opposite today where having one is trendy. Back then it was a statement that made people want to physically harm you. The Punk scene was great back then. Interesting people, interesting music, interesting art, interesting fashion. The Punk scene was heavily political back then, not Republican or Democrat, closer to Libertarian if you had to label it. Always pushing for what is best for people. Not some people but all people. Where We Go One We Go All!
One day in high school I wore a Benetton sweater. It was an aqua color. All my Punk friends gave me a hard time. Punk was all about being an individual, being yourself no matter what that was. This went against everything the scene represented. This was the day punk died for me. Punk was now mainstream and commercial with unique and intriguing music replaced with formulaic post-punk like Green Day. Punk was now, “you are punk only if we agree with you”. The room for free thought and individuality was gone.
At the time I had a friend called Rick whose Mother bought him two turntables and a mixer. Not the nice 1200’s we run now with direct drive but belt driven, crappy thrift store turntables. We’d been playing with Razormaid remixes and other remixes of at the time current electronic music like Depeche Mode. Back then you had to push the record forward to increase the RPM’s to beat match. It was a pain in the ass. I have massive respect for Disco DJ’s. I started going to a club, I was not old enough to drive so my Mom would drive me and my friends to the club. It was funny because my two girl friends I went to the club with had Bouffants, I had a two foot tall Mowhawk, when we got in my Moms Toyota we all had to get in the car body first with our heads tilted so we can get our hair in, then we would straighten our heads with our hair bending to the ceiling of the car. This club was an underground club which was the first of many I started to go to.
Fast forward a few years. With high school wrapped up, in College I had a couple older friends who were working on their PHD’s in chemistry. One day they invited me a protest at the CA State Capital Building, then a party. The protest had to do with clubbing in the area. After the protest we got in the car and drove to a dark alley with small warehouses. We heard the thumping base, drove around the block and parked. We walked back around the block, down the alley and up to a door. We walked through a small hallway made of black tarping. The hallway opened up to a small warehouse with maybe one hundred people dancing hard to music I never quite heard before. For lighting, all they had was a strobe and black light with a smoke machine. Keep in mind at the time this was new. I danced, sweated, took off my shirt because I was hot. I took a break from dancing, a girl walked up to me with a silver globe with a ring around it in her hand. It looked like Saturn. She asked me to place my hand on top of the sphere. She touched my sweaty chest and ran her finger down to my belly. She leaned in and kissed me; our tongues tingled. It turned out the sphere made an electric connection, when the connection was made skin vibrated and tingled. She walked away and I never saw her again. I knew I found my home. I was dead sober, only high on the music and energy of the people.
I was hooked.”
While that seems tough to beat, I had to ask Matthew, “What was your favorite rave?”
“I do not have a favorite but have a collection where I had the best time. One that immediately comes to mind was Connection II. It was an SFR party that kept getting moved due to rain then finally settled in the Berkley Marina. You had to have been there.”
The mystery and adventure, the unknown, required you to dig deeper, to be committed, and to live passionately. The effort of those who made the raves happen – from designing, organizing, bringing in gear, finding a venue and booking a DJ – was all done for a love of the experience, community, and music. While all of this could be done much easier today, the challenges faced in that era meant the events left a greater impact on their followers and are why tens of thousands of flyers have been kept for decades.
One of the amazing things about the gallery is the evidence of these underground movements that were happening all across the globe. The flyers show the similarities in style, design, and message that were shared by communities who were worlds apart. The power of what was happening was charging up the underground, connecting people who would never meet but were following the same journey. Fueling an incomparable underground scene, a global community of ravers would impact the way we experience music forever. From South Africa to South Dakota, Tel Aviv to Tokyo, raves were changing the future.
As for the future of Rave Preservation Project, Matthew is hoping to devote even more time to the project in order to take on the huge backlog of memorabilia:
“I am currently running a GoFundMe Campaign to raise money for much needed new computers for the digitizing process.
Donate here: Go Fund Me
I also created a Patreon, SubscribeStar, and Paypal account if someone would like to support the project by donating each month. This will allow me to spend more time on the project.
Future plans for the project are to, once the GoFundMe is fully funded, to process the current queue of around twenty thousand pieces of memorabilia I have had to hold off on processing due to antiquated computers. I’d also like to purchase a large format scanner to process the thousand or so posters I have from the 1980’s-1990’s. The website will be updated at some point. If there is demand at some point, I will put together a traveling tour. Before doing so I will need people to donate memorabilia more from outside California and the United States. I am still young but will at some point put the archive in a trust to be donated to an organization that has the integrity to care for this archive that way it needs care.”
Visit www.theravepreservationproject.com to explore the collection or find out how you can donate your own pieces to preserve for the future. To get started, here are some of Matthew’s favorites: