Book Review: Exist To Resist by Matthew Smith

September 4, 2017

 

I’ve been waiting for the appearance of a book like this for decades. There’s hardly any published photographic record of the UK’s early 1990’s travelling, free party, free festival, and environmental protest scene, let alone books on the subject.*

Matthew Smith was actively involved in the scene he lovingly portrays. As the authorities started cracking down on travellers, ravers and dissenters of all sorts, the scenes became more inward-looking and more distrustful of mainstream media, cameras, and the people wielding them, whether professional or not. Insiders like Smith were thus in a position to record events in a way others couldn’t.

This long overdue volume of exciting photos that captures perfectly the feeling of being involved in protesting and partying in the early to mid 1990’s. It also covers some soundsystem-centred events from preceding years, like the Moss Side and Notting Hill Carnivals of 1989.

Some of the events photographed were pivotal. The Glastonbury Festival of 1989, for example, was “the year rave arrived at Glastonbury in a big way”. The first picture of the sequence is of a shirtless traveller toddler, with their home vehicle’s registration number and the field it was parked in scrawled on their chest. Behind the child is a tent with “DHSS World Tour” painted on it. This, together with the other images in the series, serves as an artefact of the pre-giant fence, pre-sanitised Glastonbury, an era when travellers were allowed in for free and police weren’t.

The excellent image on the cover is a fine example of the way Smith’s photography captures the energy of the protest movement while placing it in context. The roofs of The House of Commons loom through the heat haze. A truck, on top of which a woman dances and claps, is transporting a soundsystem up a busy street in central London. A man, leaning out of the truck with a microphone in one hand, gazes into the lens. It is unclear whether he’s driving, MC’ing, or both. The truck is framed by a row of police vans on the left and a cinema, showing Four Weddings And A Funeral, on the right.

I think I’m not alone in saying this: the Criminal Justice Act politicised me. Prior to the legislation, I simply wanted to rave, or help organise raves. The fact that these events were unlicensed couldn’t have interested me less. And in the period before the CJA, as long as no-one made any noise complaints, reasonable-sized parties were allowed to continue without much interference from the authorities. It wasn’t until the Criminal Justice Bill was actually on the cards that I personally realised I had to take to the streets, for the first time in my life, to try and prevent its passage through parliament. The day I was politicised constitutes the explosion that lies at the centre of Exist To Resist: the second anti-CJA demonstration in July 1994, which was characterised by thousands of ravers raving in the middle of the street in usually grey workaday Central London, grinning and dancing on the back of a truck as it drove past the Houses of Parliament, cavorting in the fountains and raving to a bicycle-powered soundsystem in Trafalgar Square. Politics was never so much fun, and Matthew Smith captures this sense of freedom and hope perfectly. Although it was mostly peaceful, the demo I attended didn’t pass without some unrest: as the parade made its way past Downing Street and some tried to force their way into the Prime Minister’s front garden. Smith suggests that there may have been agent provocateurs in the crowd. Whether this was the case or not, the resulting horse charge that my friends and I were caught up in was truly terrifying, preceded as it was by police threats to ‘sterilise the area’ if we didn’t move out of the way.

By the third march against the Criminal Justice Act, according to Smith, it was “too dangerous to not be wearing a police uniform” and it “felt like a harsh end to a beautiful dream”. The dream continues to be lived in a more low key fashion, but Smith’s wonderful images remind us of the moments when hope was brightest.

 

Order it here.

 

 

 

  • Alan Tash Lodge is one of my favourite photographers, indeed, the only one I knew about for many years, but he has never published a book of his own. Check out his site ’One Eye On The Road’ for some fantastic images. Alan Lodge was on site even before the birth of Acid House, and his intimate connection to the scenes and their people is evident from his images. In Molly Macindoe’s Out of Order, an honest and intimate portrait of the British warehouse party scene from 1997 to 2006, the photographer portrays a scene she was clearly a part of. It’s full of amazing photographs, but due to the period she covers it falls outside the period my blog is most interested in. Vinca Peterson’s No System portrays the continental European offshoot of the scene, covering the adventures of some of the British soundsystems after they took their noisy circuses to France and beyond. Again, not of direct interest to this site, but probably my favourite book on the travelling soundsystem scene. The book contains not just photographs, but also excerpts from Vinca Peterson’s diary.

 

 

 

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24th-26th August 1991: Street Level Free Party in Cassington, Oxfordshire

May 25, 2017

Update: Darren sent us his account of the night, thanks Darren! 🙂

Freepartypeople: Heard about this a looong time ago but didn’t attend it myself. Allegedly went on for 3 days and was still running on the Monday, hence the dates at the top of this post (Saturday 24th to Monday 26th).

Were you there? What was it like? Please leave a message in the comments.

Found some great photos on this page:
http://www.its-all-about-flyers.com/viewtopic.php?f=43&t=768 Thanks to the original uploader, they’re great shots.

We also found a drawing of the party, which is a first for this site 🙂
http://www.flickr.com/photos/leehutchinson/542987905/
The same Flickr user also uploaded a newspaper cutting about the party:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/leehutchinson/552921413/
Thanks whoever you are! I thought I’d link to your page rather than just nicking the image, ‘cos that’s not nice, I like what you’re written as well.

And here’s an Easygroove and DiY tape from the event. I listened to it a while back and I remember there’s a funny bit where he gets on the mic and starts complaining about a lack of Special Brew ;P It was a bit tricky to find, but we finally tracked it down on a Polish website!

http://www.stressfactor.co.uk/resources/portal/index.php?name=Downloads&req=getit&lid=1422

Also available on Youtube, but I don’t know whether this is the complete set or not:


24th October 1992: Frequency Oblivion at Crossways, Dorset

October 21, 2012

We know there was a party at Crossways in Dorset on this date but do we know anything else about it? Nope. Help us fill in the gaps if you can!

Frequency Oblivion sound system

October 21, 2012

Can anyone help us fill in more details about the parties put on by this free party crew from Dorset? Any dates or locations? Flyers or photos?  Memories, however hazy? Let us know in the comments 🙂

Here’s a link to party reports on one of their dos: 29 May 1993: Frequency Oblivion at Batcombe Down picnic area, Dorset

They also put on a party on 24th October 1992. If you were there, visit this page and add your memories in the comments section: 24th October 1992: Frequency Oblivion at Crossways

A contributor sent us this:

I’ve been meaning to write a report on Frequency Oblivion’s free parties in Dorset. The parties were raw and outlaw. They were put on by DJ Diola and a few others whose names I can’t remember, from Dorchester. I first started attending when we realised we wouldn’t have to go all the way to London for an all night rave. These local heroes put on parties in the Dorchester area. I can remember attending a few but the only locations I can remember are Crossways, where I believe they put on a few parties, and a very muddy Batcombe Down.  In some ways these parties were even more intense and intimate than the larger warehouse parties and festivals put on by the better-known sound systems, because we knew half of the people around us. Occasionally these dos were indoors, but mostly they were in forest clearings and picnic areas. They got busted at least once, but mysteriously got their rig returned in record time.

29 May 1993: Frequency Oblivion at Batcombe Down picnic area, Dorset

October 21, 2012

Here’s a report from simonmathewson.blogspot.co.uk :

Diary entry:

Very wonky ketamine, sooper speeding into space on a stormy boat. Mental muddy. So stringy Tai Chi movements, seriously who am I and do I care – whose anyone? Just move like this it’s ace.
Lying in the boot of X’s mum’s car; the rain lashing down; hard distorted techno coming out of the sound system, everyone on ketamine. Feeling like we were in a rocket rushing through a space storm. In the morning saw loads of K heads dancing on their knees in the mud and the DJ (Diola?) playing some Hawaiian steel guitar as the rain continued to pour down.

Here’s a report from an anonymous commenter:

The weather was so awful I think we ended up spending most of the party squashed up in someone’s car, getting to know new people who had clambered into the boot! I’m still friends with one of them today, by the way. Ketamine had become quite popular, and the combination of a rainy, muddy, windswept picnic area, wobbly, up for it party people, and nosebleed techno added up to a pretty loopy party. I, too,  remember seeing people dancing to Hawaiian steel guitar music on their knees in the mud as it was getting light, and exhortations (maybe on the mic) from someone trying to get us to dance rather than cower in our cars. It was always risky to bring your rig out so it must have been disappointing to have made the effort only to be rewarded with the site of load of cars parked up, still with their passengers inside. I blame the weather. And the K, to some extent, but in those days K was cheap and new and fun, and, had the weather been better there would have been heaps of us wobbling about on the dancefloor. There were parties, too, though, even early in the nineties, where people really had overdone it on K and were lying around semicomatose. Not really an up for it happening party crew! I have the same feelings about GBL/GHB abuse. Anyway, at this early stage, K was fun, and made you feel like a drunk, happy, chatty robot. I can’t remember anything alse apart from was a confusing ketamised visit to the loo (er, not a loo as such but a very steep slope covered with nettles). Happy days.


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