Considered to be Europe’s last major youth movement, rave culture originated in Detroit during the 80s and migrated to Europe, where it quickly took off. Although these days, its biggest impression shows in the global fervor for EDM, Energy Flash — The Rave Movement, a summer exhibition that was on display at the Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp (M HKA) showed just how influential the post-industrial music movement was on contemporary art and culture.
Energy Flash billed itself as an interdisciplinary project featuring both art from that period and political artifacts. The collection of high-energy visuals and psychedelic murals, mixed with archival materials, like newspaper articles about the new subculture, government documents banning the notorious late-night warehouse parties, and old school drum machines and synthesizers, evoked the frantic, chaotic energy of rave culture.
Senior curator Nav Haq told The Creators Project, “Rave culture has never become established like the way punk culture did. It was never overtly political like the punk scene. It was hedonistic, accepting, but also had this aspect of party party until you can’t stop.” It was rave’s unrecognized and often maligned reputation that prompted the London-born Haq to spearhead an exhibit that looked more closely at the conditions that led to the rave phenomenon and how it translates to the cultural landscape today.
From the world of fashion, to the light installations of contemporary visual artists, to audio-video collages of sweaty Serbian teenagers raving, Energy Flash showed that rave culture was as much about the art as it was the music.
Walter Van Beirendonck’s 1989 fall collection, Hardbeat, was a nod to rave’s emphasis on freedom and tolerance. At the same time, it introduced face masks, platform boots, and neon fabrics, eventually revolutionizing 80s and 90s fashion. Propped up on mannequins on M HKA’s 4th floor, his neon biker apparel collaboration with protegee, Raf Simons, could have easily passed for the costumes we now associate with the Russian punks, Pussy Riot.
Along with the fashion, there were several photographic works from Mark Leckey, Wolfgang Tillmans, Irene de Andrés, and more. Tillmans’ iconic images of drugged, dancing London youths are placed alongside Spanish artist de Andrés' photographs of parties in abandoned bullrings in a pre-commercialized Ibiza.
Aleksandra Domanovic's hypnotizing 2010 video of teenage Serbian ravers, 19-30, shows the another culture influenced by rave. Domanovic took old footage and asked contemporary electronic musicians to make new tracks based on the video content. Around the corner from Domanovic’s audiovisual collage was a light installation by Ann Veronica Janssens, perhaps the strongest reminder that, at its core, rave was a material-based culture.
From the fashion world to photography, individual artists were inspired by rave’s unbridled independence and its youthful and authentic reaction to a changing world. In a time when Berlin’s infamous nightclub, Berghain, is considered an institution of culture and “high art” by the German government, by bringing together a diverse group of artists whose work was influenced by rave culture, Energy Flash — The Rave Movement showed how an independent movement became a cultural force, one that is still influential today.
Energy Flash — The Rave Movement ran from June 17–September 25, 2016 at the Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp.