Generally speaking, having some poor soul burden you with a stack of flyers is one of those annoying things in life that's so annoying because, when you think about it properly, it isn't that annoying. I mean, it's still annoying—in the same way getting flicked on the ear's annoying—but it's not as annoying as the bloke next to you on the bus eating an egg salad, or being stuck next to a group of vloggers in the pub. And it is that minorness that makes it so annoying. Every leaflet, every flyer, every poorly worded print-out you end up stuffing into the drawer of bits in the kitchen is like stubbing the big toe of your brain against your skull over and over and over. It's spam made real, a physical manifestation of the endless crap you're forced to consume day in day out in your virtual life.
Rave flyers, however, are actually really cool. Unlike the crumpled-up Ferfect Fried Chicken leaflets in your bin, they're something that a lot of people like to keep—mementos of nights that you'll otherwise never remember. A few weeks back now, we presented you with this fool-proof guide to making sure your party-promo doesn't look like absolute shit, and since then we've been put in touch with a guy called Matthew Johnson. Matthew runs the Rave Preservation Project, a scheme that's seen him amass over 40,000 flyers, all stored in a climate-controlled environment in America. We called the man himself up for a quick chat about all things flyer-related.
THUMP: When did you start preserving the flyers?
Matthew Johnson: When I first started going out. It was just all word of mouth in the late 80s, there weren't too many flyers for the underground stuff. I had a box of them sitting around and maybe 20 years ago I thought about putting them together to share with my friends. I finally got the chance to do that a few years ago—I looked at the box, and had some downtime at work and thought I might as well go for it. I just did it for myself and my friends as a remembrance project, but as soon as the site went up they wanted to give me their old collection and it spiralled from there.
How is the actual collection stored?
It's in our house up in Oregon in the mountains. It's around there in a climate controlled room, and everything is organised and sorted geographically and alphabetically so I know where everything is. So it's well taken care of. Whenever something comes to hand, first thing I do is I unstick the posters and clean it so that everything is well curated.
What kind of people have you met through running the project?
There's a mix of people; some promoters, some DJs. Most of the people that send stuff have been old ravers who used to go out and were into the golden eras of the scene. Some are shop-owners and owned rave shops and record stores, others are collectors who never went out but collected these things. As the world gets out stuff slowly trickles in from across the globe.
Why are flyers so interesting?
They're so different in different areas. Around here they were computer-generated and graphic art. Over in Western Europe they were painted and illustrated. A lot of the people that started the underground thing over here were nerds into music and technology, and that spilled into the way the parties were promoted; they used email lists before the internet was popular and phone trees. It wasn't popular and mainstream like it is now. It spilled into more colourful and outrageous ones later on.
What's the future for the project?
I'm just going to keep updating it. Every once in a while people ask if I'll build a place for people to see the stuff or take it on the road. I don't really see that happening as I want to protect the stuff, and the demand probably isn't high enough to do something like that. So I just want to keep taking in donations and letting the site grow. I'd eventually like to do a series of coffee table books for people to check out. I'm not aspiring to make any money out of this; but it's my own way of giving back to the community that gave me so much.
We also asked Matthew to pick out five of his favourite designs ever. Here's what he plumped for.
"Citrusonic was a regular party in Los Angeles. The DJ's were always good. I like the colour play and design. The flyer is on thick paper, not cardboard but as thick."
2. Curious George
"I did not make it to this event but I really like the cheekiness!"
3. Toon Town
"Toon Town was one of the first 'massives' in the bay area. Great parties, great flyers and posters. The design in this flyer is so simple you have to love it. The ink is raised so the flyer is tactile which was a nice touch."
4. UFOs are Real
"This is a flyer for another Toon Town event. I am a sucker for anything UFO related for a myriad of reasons. The party was amazing, too!"
"Wicked is a crew from England who started throwing events (around the Bay Area) in the early 90s and they were some of my favourite parties. The flyers were always very clever."