Inside London's Illegal Raves

We spoke to photographer Claire McIntyre about her pictures of east London's party people.
Nana Baah
London, GB
east london techno rave
Sergio and Soul. All photos by Claire McIntyre.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

If you've ever had your photo taken at a rave, you'll believe me when I say it usually comes out horrible. Your T-shirt is translucent with sweat, your eyes are fucked and your jaw is somewhere near your forehead. It's the kind of thing that should only exist for 24 hour on your Instagram "Close Friends" Story. You had a great time, but I'm sorry, you look disgusting.


Somehow, though, photographer Claire McIntyre has managed to make sweatbox raves look strangely beautiful. Over the past two years, Claire has been documenting her nights out at two east London ravesKate Davis Jones. Featuring everyone from annoying UAL students to a mum of three who treats the parties as a refuge for some personal time, Claire says she just wants to use this archive as "something to show my kids later on in life".

I gave Claire a call to talk about how class barriers dissolve at raves and why people prefer them to conventional club nights.

VICE: Hi, Claire. How did you get into photographing illegal raves?
Claire McIntyre: I started photographing the regular techno club scene. You're usually not allowed to take pictures in those places – they don't allow phones or cameras – so I brought my little analog camera along. I could sneak it in because people didn't really know what it was. So as I did more of those I met people who run warehouse raves, and started shooting them, and I really liked it.

How did you avoid being caught if you were using flash in the dark?
I don't really do the typical "on the dance floor" images. I'll ask someone, "Hey, can we go in the corridor?" Sometimes they'll ignore me and keep dancing, or they follow me to a more remote area.

ClaireMcIntyre Illegal Raves

People doing balloons in Bow. 2019

Tell me about the raves. How are they organised?
They're usually organised by collectives. They're people who have full-time jobs, but then on the side they set all of this up themselves because they just love music culture. Sometimes they'll ask us to help out with finding warehouses or places they can rent, but sometimes the police will ask them to leave.


How do they avoid the police but still publicise the events?
It's all co-ordinated through Facebook events and texts. You never know where the location is beforehand. At about 10PM on the night they'll drop the postcode, or they'll just send out a map with directions.


Who do you usually find at an east London rave?
It's a really broad demographic, and I find that so interesting. I've partied with super local east London kids, but I've also partied with lawyers, and there's this one paediatrician who I party with all the time. There's a complete spectrum of people – there could be refugees, and there have been MPs at some; the type of people who tell me they aren't supposed to be there. So it's absolutely open to everyone.

How does that go down usually?
It's really fascinating to me, because there are people who you wouldn't bump into in day-to-day life, and it completely breaks the class barrier. I think it's these little gems which are so important for London, as a city that's still very segregated by class.


Walking from Point to a boat rave in Hackney Wick.

And these parties are always techno?
Yeah, one is a little more heavy techno – what you would imagine at a techno party. But the other one I go to is more experimental and not very clean; it can get hard to concentrate. It’s like ket house – ketamine house. There are different drugs for different parties, but it's always electronic.

Why do you think people prefer raves to normal clubs?
There's no security at the entrance you just go in and pay £10 to 15 at the entrance, and that's it. In regards to drugs and stuff, it's totally open and you don’t have to go to the bathroom to take your drugs in secret. Everyone shares. I’m not trying to promote drug use [laughs].


But it does sound like a safer environment to take drugs in.
Yeah, that's what I'm trying to say. Everyone is looking out for each other and no one is paranoid about being kicked out by security. The private security they hire are only there to make sure no one steals the money to pay the DJs.


What's the best rave location you've been to?
They're usually quite shit, to be honest – you're just in a warehouse. Although, I've been to one on a boat in Hackney Wick a couple of times, which is nice. It's run by this older couple who just decided to open up their boat.

Who are the best people you've met and photographed at one of the parties?
There's one old Italian guy, who says he's part of the mafia. He's wearing this grey suit and a bowler hat in the picture. And another woman – a mother of three – who is so cool and is at all the parties I go to. It's weird, because she has such a normal life, but she gets to have her own nightlife. It's such a safe space and people are so respectful – you just probably see more drugs than you would on a normal night.

@nanasbaah / @clairemmcintyre