At some point when the haze of 90s rave culture stepped out of muddy free-party fields and into clubs blasting out the genre that would become garage, Saul Milton came into his own. Nowadays if you recognise his full name, you know him as ‘one of the two in Chase & Status.’ Technically, as real heads know, he’s the “Chase” in the drum’n’bass pairing. But back then he was a teenager living in London’s West End, obsessing over jungle and garage and the raves that combined both genres with a very specific look.
You’ve seen the one: a silken Moschino shirt, sometimes with a weaving gold-link chain print, paired with slightly baggy jeans (often designer too) and scuffed-up Reeboks. Usually you’ll have seen it on some unnamed young Brit with sweat-glowy skin, stunting for the lens in a pic taken on a film camera on a darkened dancefloor. It’s that link between mostly Italian designs and particularly British music that’s being celebrated from tomorrow as part of a central London exhibition called Super Sharp.
“Even at that age, 18, 19, I was obsessed with the ties between music, fashion, what’s going on on the streets and society – they’ve all been so intrinsic to one another,” Saul says, over the phone a week before the exhibition. “I used to go to Black Market Records on D’Arblay Road, one of the most well-known drum’n’bass and jungle record shops, all the time. The mecca of record shops,” he remembers, chuckling. “And if I’d be walking down in my Moschino jacket, Versace jeans or whatever and would see someone else in something similar – a Mosch shirt, something reminiscent of what we’d wear at the weekend – we’d nod at each other. You’d think, ‘you probably know about jungle or garage and you were at the rave I was at. Otherwise why are you wearing those clothes? No one wears those clothes apart from us.’ It was like our secret, our little club. And then when it blew up, when jungle became massive – to use the pun – people resented it. They were like, ‘nah nah, you’ve let the cat out the bag, this is supposed to be our secret’.”
Now, that unspoken club is being celebrated again (sorry, secretive OGs). The exhibition will showcase a selection of the thousands of pieces of 90s Moschino in Saul’s personal collection – ”I think I’ve got the biggest personal collection in Europe, you know?” – along with original club photos (some of which you can sneak a preview of here), mostly taken by retired photographer Tristan O’Neill. Basically this whole concept is what Wavey Garms has become all about: harking back to a golden era where nightlife moved from the haywire improvisation of free parties, great as they sounded, to euphoric all-nighters in clubs that would go onto become institutions for electronic music lovers. It’ll feel a bit like travelling into a 90s rave culture photo book, or stepping inside of the time capsule of a 90s copy of one of the old clubland magazines.
Tory Turk, the 34-year-old curator of this show, knows a bit about making that happen. She’s also curator of the Hyman Archive, the world’s biggest collection of magazines that act like bookmarks in the pages of culture history. She and Saul met four years ago, working on a street style exhibition, and so this latest collaboration pulls from each of their strengths: her huge cultural archive and his massive load of clothes and musical touchstones.
When I ring her up too, she says a big part of the ethos behind the exhibition is to present the essence of a subculture, to people too young to have been around pre-internet. “People who’ve not lived in a world where subcultures mutated organically, in a club environment. Now it’s played out much more on social media, on your phone. It’s about trying to transport those visitors back to a time before.” Now, nothing can really last as a subculture before it’s subsumed into the mainstream or at least presented to outsiders online, I add. “No, everything’s so quick. In the 90s, you had to put the work in. You had to go to the club. You had to find out when things were happening, you had to buy a physical ticket. Everything took a lot longer, so you more likely became affiliated with a subculture on a much more visceral level.”
Every recent generation obviously grows up thinking their youth was best. There’s a reason so many ex-ravers comment nostalgically under YouTube videos of techno mixes, or why older millennials who grew up just before the internet tut and sigh at ‘kids who can’t stop looking at their bloody phones to check Instagram’ now. Nostalgia seems to almost hit a dopamine trigger in our brains, flooding our bodies with the sweetness and rush and tremor of good times past.
Saul laughs about this, saying that holding onto nostalgia is “just the way it is,” noting that he’s probably going to turn into one of those dads who mutters about how things were ‘better in our day.’ Now 36, he remembers clubs like “the End, Terminals, Hanover Grand, Roast, Vauxhall Coliseum for the garage raves, back when Fabric was born… I could go on for a long time. Most of those places have shut. Bagley’s, where I grew up: closed.” But the legacy of those clubs, and the memories created in them have just about staggered on, rose-tinted and warm as pie in people’s minds. The photographic proof lingers, bringing with it the carefully curated outfits from the time when Italian pret-a-porter brushed hems with Gucci loafers and shimmied across dancefloors.
As for Tristan O’Neill, responsible for most of the club photography in the show? “He’s a carpenter now,” Tory tells me. “The photos are what he used to do in the 90s when he loved hardcore acid house and jungle. He was very much capturing it at the time. It was a real passion-led vocation for him.” When he heard about the Super Sharp show, he seemed happy to hand over his photos, though somewhat bemused. “For him, he finds it weird,” she says, laughing. “He’s like, ‘what? Why do you want all those?’ And chatting to him he’s starting to remember it all, though, how people would act like kings in their head-to-toe Moschino when he got his camera out.” Squint at a few photos from the time, and they could just about be taken today – but people who raved at the time will always know there’s no way to recreate those ‘nod in the street’ moments.
Super Sharp runs from 1 February to 21 April at Fashion Space Gallery in London . It’s the first instalment of Chase & Status’ “RTRN 2 Jungle” exhibition series on club culture, style and music 90s nostalgia. See loads more photos from the exhibition below.
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