A new exhibition is tracing the rich history of rave culture

Sweet Harmony: Rave | Today unites some of the scene’s most prominent photographers and artists, as part of an AV experience at the Saatchi Gallery in London charting its roots and legacy

If raves were essentially transient experiences, their legacy has been anything but. Since the emergence of free parties during the 80s, the world has had a longstanding fascination with the aura that surrounds rave – though arguably never more so than now. From fashion collections to film tributes, recent years have seen myriad creatives heavily draw from, or lovingly pay homage to, an era in dance music that reached its climax around the early 90s, before the UK passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994.

There was no shortage of commentators and creatives capturing the countercultural movement, whose archives would go on to shape how it’s remembered by those who were there, and how it’s imagined by the growing number who weren’t.

The Saatchi Gallery in London is hosting the latest exhibition to celebrate this rich musical and visual history with Sweet Harmony: Rave | Today, an immersive exhibition designed to evoke original rave culture through multimedia installations and AV works by some of the scene’s most prolific figures.

Top image: © Vinca Petersen, 1999; Above image: © Ewen Spencer, 1997. All images courtesy of Saatchi Gallery, London
© Molly Macindoe, 1997

Saatchi Gallery’s Director Philly Adams and co-curator Kobi Prempeh have brought together a handful of figures involved with the dance music scene to shape the exhibition. Among them are DJ and producer Craig Richards, journalist Sheryl Garratt, writer and veteran DJ Bill Brewster, and Village Underground’s Creative Director, Jorge Nieto.

The early days of rave are captured by influential photographers such as Tom Hunter, Vinca Petersen, Ted Polhemus, Dave Swindells, Mattko, and Derek Ridgers, whose works will be accompanied by sound installations with the intention of immersing visitors in the experience. The exhibition not only sets out to examine the emergence of rave culture, but also explore its diverse legacy through subgenres such as Detroit Techno, Acid House, Happy Hardcore, UK Garage and Grime, which will soundtrack parts of the exhibition.

“I am delighted to showcase a timeline history of the UK rave scene – how it arrived, how it exported, and morphed across Europe and beyond,” says Adams. “The exhibition will champion authentic commentators from past and present and reposition revered artists closely linked to the story. It will examine the ways electronic music has connected people from all walks of life, at a key moment in our history where we need to come together.”

Sweet Harmony: Rave | Today runs at the Saatchi Gallery in London from July 12 – September 14; admission is £10; saatchigallery.com