This article originally appeared on VICE UK
When Chris Floyd was 18, all he wanted to do was photograph bands for a living. Conveniently, it was the early 90s, meaning shelves were full of all the music magazines that have since been lost to high-speed broadband connections. Magazines that needed pictures of musicians and were perfectly happy to bankroll a tour around Europe to get them.
"I used to go and see these magazines to check for work," Chris tells me over the phone. "And, you know, you just keep going back and going back until one of them gives you a job."
There was another world outside of publishing that piqued Chris's interest—a world populated by music PRs and record company execs, i.e. the kind of people you need to meet if you want to get into shooting album covers and press shots: the big money.
One of Chris's earliest memories of a job was shooting Noel Gallagher for the second or third issue of Loaded, which back then—believe it or not—used to run articles about Fellini alongside those about soccer or fast cars. This was before Oasis's first single had come out. Chris had never heard of them. No one had.
"I had to go to this hotel in South Manchester that was in a terraced house, like a Bayswater hotel," Chris tells me. "I didn't know who this Noel Gallagher was; I had no idea if he was their manager or if he was in the band—I didn't know anything. I went down the hall and into the room, and he said, 'I've just got to watch the end of this match, it's not long.' So I just sort of sat there while he watched the football, and then we started talking.
"If you look at Noel's lap in the photo, he's got an address book full of phone numbers. He started going through this book, phoning these numbers and asking people, 'Alright, have you seen our kid?' The other person would obviously say, 'No,' and Noel would be like, 'OK, see you later.' I, coming from the south, didn't understand what he meant by 'our kid,' so I asked him, and he was like, 'The singer, my brother.' I was like, 'Oh right, so you're definitely in the band?' He said: 'I am the fucking band.' I was so blissfully ignorant.
"Noel eventually located Liam and arranged to meet him on the street corner somewhere, so we left the hotel and we walked around Withington, or Fallowfield, or wherever it was, for fucking ages. But when I met Liam I just remember thinking, within five minutes, that if he can sing and his songs are half good, he's a total megastar. Everything about him just oozed charisma in the flesh."
Chris began shooting for The Face, and then Dazed and Confused when it first opened—when it was still essentially just a big, folded, pull-out poster. He lived in a big flat share in Putney at the time and remembers seeing a piece about Dazed founders Jefferson Hack and Rankin in the Evening Standard on his way home.
It read something like: "Two bright young things from the London College of Printing are looking for collaborators, people who are willing to bring ideas for a magazine of sorts. If you're interested, ring this number."
In the picture, the two of them were wearing bags over their heads, the point being that the focus was on the talent. So Chris rang up. Rankin answered and invited Chris to come and see them.
"So I went into their office and ended up getting sent on a job shooting Beck," says Chris. "That was the first thing I did for Dazed. Beck was playing a gig in some shithole of a pub in King's Cross, and I went to his dressing room afterwards and took some pictures of him."
Chris had his first taste of life on the road when he accompanied The Verve on the 1994 Lollapalooza tour. "The Beastie Boys were headlining—I remember that—and it was just after Kurt Cobain had died," says Chris. "It was the first time I went on tour and it was incredibly intoxicating. You had access to all the alcohol you wanted, all the weed you wanted, anything else you wanted—and the record company paid for it.
"I remember one night when Richard Ashcroft, the singer, collapsed after the show in Kansas City and was taken in an ambulance to hospital with heat exhaustion because he hadn't drunk enough water. He's a skinny guy to start with, and he just totally collapsed. It was scary—his legs just buckled under him. Then, the same night, the drummer just went mental in the hotel room and started throwing stuff out the window. It was a proper rock parody.
"It's funny, because I keep reading things about them and all the other bands years later. It's this little footnote in British music history, and I knock my head and I'm like, 'Oh yeah, I was there.' I have pictures of The Verve backstage on the bikes, pictures of them being arrested—you know, all that stuff. Bands were so unselfconscious then; I was merrily snapping away while they were putting the handcuffs on."
At the time, none of it felt iconic, maintains Chris. He was in his early twenties and it was only a year or two earlier that he'd been doing telesales at the Yellow Pages. He says the reason it didn't feel so much like a definitive moment in music at the time was because most of these—Blur, Oasis, Pulp, The Verve—were people just like him, people from the suburbs, people who grew up in the drab, grey UK of the 1980s.
"I think a lot of those bands grew up slightly obsessed with a romantic idea of London—of what London could be," says Chris. "For me, the most defining album of the time—before that, actually—of what London could be was the Pet Shop Boys' very first album, Please. It's just full of these songs about things happening late at night in bars in Soho.
"London was, like, 20 miles away, but 20 light years away at the same time. A lot of those people—Pulp, the Verve—yeah, they're from the north, but they still kind of had this feeling of being outsiders looking through a window into a club they weren't invited into for a long time. And then when it kicked off, all of a sudden they were the people inside the club."
Richard Ashcroft and Liam Gallagher
That club, according to Chris, was Smashing on Regent Street, "opposite Hamleys toy shop." Every Friday night, all the faces from the UK's music and fashion scenes converged on Smashing's colored dance floor—squares that lit up from underneath and influenced whoever shot the video for Pulp's "Disco 2000."
"Everyone went there," Chris tells me. "Pulp. Blur. But then you had all these third division ones like Menswear, Salad—all one-word names. It was 1995 then, and I remember looking around thinking, 'These are the days and this is the life.'"
Chris has an exhibition of his photos, "Bigger Than God," opening this Friday, December 19, at the Hoxton Gallery in London. He'll be showing alongside other music photography giants like Pat Pope. RSVP for the opening here, and check out more of Chris' photos from the show below.