British nightlife is dying. But you already know that, because the news is impossible to escape: the number of nightclubs in the UK practically halved from 3,144 in 2005 to 1,733 in 2015. And even in London, where the economy is massively boosted by tourism, 24-hour transport and world-famous venues, the number of clubs has declined by a third. It seems like every couple of months yet another venue is robbed of its ability to offer young people a temporary respite from reality.
Teen Spirit, a new exhibition of club and concert photography from the 90s through to the 2000s, hopes to do whatever it can to change that that. The show wants to celebrate youth culture – the very thing that keeps pubs and clubs thriving – as well as marking Shoreditch institution, and site of the exhibition, the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen's 15th year in business.
Ahead of the exhibition's opening this bank holiday weekend, we got in touch with heritage charity YOUTH CLUB's Jamie Brett, one of the curators behind the show.
VICE: Obviously nurturing youth culture and gig culture is important, but tell me why it's important to you.
Jamie Brett: In the wake of multiple club and venue closures, gig culture and nightlife is increasingly under threat in the UK. And in light of Sadiq Khan's commitments to supporting nightlife in London, alongside this month's launch of the night tube, we feel it's ever important to celebrate the importance of British gig culture, with the aim of encouraging future generations of gig-goers to continue supporting live music. Attending gigs has been a soul-searching ritual for generations – it connects young people and helps forge friendships that last long into adulthood.
What exactly do you want the collection to say to audiences?
By bringing beautiful gig photography into a live music venue, we want to bring the work back to its native environment and allow others to recognise how gig culture has shaped their own lives and relationships. We also want to inspire a younger audience to keep up the momentum and fight for the future of nightlife.
What can you tell me about the various subcultures and youth tribes depicted in the series?
Looking at the final selection of images, we've covered a wide range of subcultures, including goth, emo, punk, ragga, grime, rave and skinhead references. I think it's testament to the curatorial process, having managed to include such a diverse range of youth groups without necessarily trying to represent all subcultures. If a punk and a raver had co-existed, they'd never be seen together, so it's brilliant to see such a plethora of tribes organically working together to make a common statement.
How did you choose what to include and what to leave out?
We began with an edit of around 150 images, so it was quite the challenge to pin down a selection that communicated the correct message. We started by removing images where people looked slightly isolated, and ones where the message of the shot wasn't clear. We also tried to remove any sense of ambiguity so we could keep each image looking bold and representing a specific scene and time.
What sets this photography exhibition apart from other works on gig culture throughout the years?
First off, YOUTH CLUB is a non-profit organisation. We work to share, educate and celebrate British youth culture history. Also, all of our photographers were, or continue to be, keen participants of their scenes rather than just voyeurs, and it's through this process of shooting that we're fortunate enough to work with an authentic photography archive that combines over 300 photographers. We feel this is really reflected in the final exhibition.
Below are more photos from the series.