Tim Head was born in London in the 1980s and grew up surrounded by the images and sounds of rave culture. However, rather than abandon these memories to the dark corners of now-defunct clubs and the hazy dawn mists of dying parties, he decided to preserve them. His new book Maximum Respect (published by Smalltime Books) features collages built from the pieces of jungle, rave and pirate radio paraphernalia that he collected along the way – find them in the gallery above.
I gave Tim a call to talk about the aesthetics of London rave, his memories of that time and why EDM makes us both gag.
VICE: Alright Tim. What was it about rave visuals that drew you in?
Tim Head: Rave visuals were about futurism, unity, escapism and fantasy. It was like pixellated prog rock, a Roger Dean YES album cover done with a Commodore Amiga after too many pills. My favourite rave flyer cliché was the sci-fi fantasy – usually a Lawnmower Man-esque floating head over a chessboard surface, with lightning, giant chess pieces or orbs and a grinding girl randomly placed there. Full-on cyber Dungeons & Dragons via Black Market Records. What I love is that these amazing futuristic visions were all done to sell a warehouse rave in Dagenham. With hindsight, I also appreciate the links to their 60s psychedelic heritage by re-appropriating op-art, too. The grime stuff was much more DIY and stark, echoing the dark, urban places they were made in and for.
How did you get started in art?
Like most boys, I grew up hypnotised by comics and cartoons, which inspired me to wrap my chubby baby fingers around brightly coloured crayons and draw epic robot battles or skateboarding dinosaurs. I was always a Crayola baby.
Do you have any formal training or is that all?
I tried to study fine art in college, but dropped out after the first term as I couldn’t handle being taught by a teacher who made us draw bowls of fruit, cross-hatch style, while she slugged gin in the kiln. After that let-down, I fell into being a late 90s cliché and started making films and drawing on walls.
What were you into before you discovered rave?
For a while, as it was the early 90s, I was a skateboarding suburban grunger. You know the score: flannel tied round the waist, long centre parting, trying to ollie in battered Converse, Pearl Jam on the headphones, rolling up crap joints and mumbling at girls.
Sounds good. I was only a baby when rave was at its peak, what age were you?
Well, I guess everyone has an opinion on what the peak was. For me, it was probably 1994-ish for rave, '96 for drum and bass and early 2000s for grime. So, for rave I was like 14 to 16, which is the perfect age for becoming obsessed by music and letting it consume your life. At that age, you’re a chameleon waiting for the right thing to light that fuse for you. For me, that fuse was lit by Stevie Hyper D.
Who exposed you to all of this?
My mate James, who – in geography class at secondary school – introduced me to the technicolour world of jungle and rave via a smuggled Walkman. At the same time that Mr Theobald was supposed to be teaching me about some bullshit plate tectonics, I was sneaking an earful of James' latest tape, transforming my West London classroom into a full on sweaty rave.
When you eventually turned 18, did you go to all the super clubs that had sprung up to emulate warehouse parties?
Not really. When I was old enough to go out in the evenings I started locally. Which, for me, was places like Brentford Leisure Centre and Kingston bars and clubs – anywhere that would let me in, to be honest. Towards the end of secondary school and the beginning of college, I used to go to Metalheadz in Blue Note London a bit, and Turnmills. But house parties were always the best. House parties still are the best.
What was your most played tape back then?
My tape hookups were bought in the playgrounds. Three TDKs for a fiver. The playground of Orleans Park School in Twickenham was my hookey tape HMV. Ninety-five percent of the tapes I had were handwritten, and the two I loved were simply called "JAMMIN" and "BLCKMARKET 4" – missing the "a" – which was obviously a Nicky Blackmarket set. I think "JAMMIN" was my mate's brother playing tunes and taping it live in some room; in the background you could sometimes hear the house phone ring or a TV from another room, but I didn’t care because the music was so good. Pure speed, aggression. I was too young and poor to get up to Oxford Street and buy tape packs, so I had to get them taped for me.
What’s your opinion on the current dance scene?
It’s like that mosquito in amber in Jurassic Park – it’s just always going to be there. It's going to survive thousands of years, but it's not going anywhere. Every scene, band or musician has a limited time of creativity, but if the music is good then it will transcend musical trends, innovations and eventually time itself. Sure, I wish jungle and rave were delivering new stuff to get excited about, but truthfully I’m just glad we have all the amazing shit that’s been made to date. I always look at those harpsichord guys – Beethoven and Bach – who died hundreds of years ago, along with their initial audience, inspirations and cultural references. Yet their music survives and is still played and inspires today. How amazing would it be when that happens for jungle and rave, with kids in 2213 still listening to Nicky Blackmarket and Stevie Hyper D sessions?
In terms of the wider rave scene, it's evolved into "EDM" – that term; eurgh – which is, without question, bigger in every way than ever before. However, to me, bigger doesn’t always mean better. These rave residencies in Vegas have as much in common with the second summer of love in the UK as the Dead Boys do to Green Day in punk history. Everything changes, for good and bad, but I only really care about stuff that is made from an honest place rather than for their bank account.
I’m still trying to find the best place to go for archive pirate shows – where would you recommend?
Radio Necks and Grime Tapes are good. YouTube is alright, too. RIP One in the Jungle, which shut down recently. If anyone has any recommendations, please get in touch.
Cool. Lastly, what's next for you?
Mostly just trying to get my head down and keep making things I’m proud of. In the near future, I have three possible London shows – two abstract ones with my friends Michael Swaney and Stephen Smith around W1 and Dalston, and then in February I will have my second solo show, which will be a step in scale. I have a short documentary waiting to be released, based on a local biker called Ken, and I also do graphics for a London and Tokyo-based clothing label called AFOUR, so I’ve got to get cracking on the AW14 season next week, too. Always busy, but better busy than bored.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @keendang
More about rave: