Saturday, January 26, 2008

Matt Stokes: "Real Arcadia" LÜTTGENMEIJER, Berlin, Germany




10179 BERLIN

Nervous, purely nervous. A dodgy Victorian street in the Lace Market district of Nottingham. Fear and anticipation. One of us is holding a couple of bottles of cheap supermarket champagne, another one a small bag of white pills. A siren wails in the distance: we hold still for a second or two, then hurry across the road to the photographic studio in a disused textile factory where we’re about to hold our first illegal party. The summer of 1990, only a few days after the government adopted new legislation to clamp down on outlaw raves. Good timing... Inside, a sweet surge of electronic noise as the needle falls on
the first record – ‘LFO’ by LFO – and when the bass line drops hard, shuddering through the white room, a feeling of relief and rising joy: it’s going to be all right. This is how it started, how it would always start.
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Already during the time of the Wars of the Roses, the Egremonts ruled over a vast, beautiful region in Northern England in which stories grew and painters looking for inspiration roam. One Lord Egremont defended his holdings in the 15th century in the battle of Heworth Moor; a descendant became an important promoter of William Turner. Today, the scenery of the Lake District is still seen as the embodiment of romantic England. It is possible that the party scene only moved in to the grottos because there were not empty warehouses, abandoned factory floors and industrial ruins in this idyll. Instead, there were these caves. Because of their perfect size, they had a unique sound and a special atmosphere that suited these parties. But it is also not difficult to see the choice of the caves as a contemporary, romantic gesture. The cave parties were organised by a group called “Out House” and started off small. But after a short while, they attracted a lot of people. This had a big impact on the surrounding villages. The subject really began to interest the media no later than 1991. There was a search for the people responsible, but nobody could prevent the parties. The locations were passed on covertly via telephone and flyers.
The police were initially caught unprepared by the strange stirrings in the countryside, but eventually they set up specially-equipped units to combat what they prosaically referred to as ‘pay parties’. The experience of the Cave Crew in the Lake District was not unusual: concerned reports in local newspapers and on regional television about the threat to young people’s safety were followed by the erection of police roadblocks. ‘We are not killjoys, we are trying to preserve life’, the words of the local police chief were typical of the time – also, the suggestion that the caves should be dynamited to put a stop to the madness. But it was not that easy. Lord Egremont did not get the council’s authorisation and the pressure on him grew.
* * *
Percy–So far, it was part of “Real Arcadia” to find a place that connects to times past. We tried out one or two rooms here. Both fell flat. One because of the neighbours. The other one was already too institutionalised. We are looking for a location that has not yet been touched by the club culture or events like the Fashion Week. This is not so easy in Berlin. Amy– In the exhibitions – that so far were mainly institutions and museums – the hi-fi equipment was just standing around like a dead sculpture. It was being taken away for a night, installed and used. But in the morning for the opening time, it was back again. Percy–It took a lot of months to rebuild the sound system. The manufacturer, a small company, had gone bust at some point. Employees had, however, retained the moulds with which the speakers had been cast so they could be made anew. Also the speakers could be re-constructed. There were photos. When the sound system was ready, it was offered to DJs who had been working with similar equipment in the 1990s for performances. They reacted uncomprehendingly – to the equipment and also to the story. For them, the sound system was simply dated. They considered the sound antiquated. There was no nostalgia. Amy–The project “Real Arcadia” began four years ago, in summer 2003, and it was created in a three week residency based in the Lake District. The research started by accident, having a conversation in a pub about the former rave scene in the area, how dance music had impacted it, back to the late eighties, through to 2003 and the current activities. Unity–The cave raves were organised by one group, “Out House”, but over time, they burned themselves out, working as DJs during the week and throwing cave raves at the weekend. Amy–Initially “Real Arcadia” first was about finding people who were involved. A more or less anthropological approach, talking to the former organizers, the party goers, people who lived there, also contacting the policemen, who were the most difficult and unwilling to talk about it. The residents were the same. Even now, thirteen or fourteen years later, the residents were still quite angry about these raves because at the time it affected their lives so much. They feared that the research might spark new interest in the raves, causing them to happen again. Amy–Over time the conversations expanded. People started unearthing ephemera of that era: flyers, mix tapes, t-shirts, most of it looked very
handmade. The flyers tended to be hand drawn, or collaged together and photocopied. T-shirts were done by hand. Stefan–One DJ produced the mix tapes, so it became important to find as many of these mix tapes as possible, there are now more than 50, not quite all of them yet. Percy–Maybe the room in Berlin will look like a mixture of archive and documentation.
We will put up showcases for the material. We’ll see how many we can put into the small room. In addition, there will be banners on the walls with quotes. But they are quite big, there is probably only room for one in the gallery. It won’t be a didactic exhibition. But we will avoid turning it into something artificial or new. You will probably not know in the end what was authentic and was was only fabricated. Amy–Although “Real Arcadia” has existed since 2003, the project will now for the first time be installed in a commercial gallery. It is not clear yet whether the whole work or parts of it are for sale. Maybe the banners will be offered individually. We have not yet discussed these possibilities. Unity–“Real Arcadia” is about this culture.
Its characteristics, its derivatives, the authentic and what you can do with it. There were projects where Heavy Metal or Happy Hardcore was played on a church organ. So much comes from the music itself that the connection was very clear – the emphasis, dancing ecstatically: all this will be constituted from this experience. Percy–It was important that our first exhibition was this one. This connection with music is important for us. But it is also about showing something not so complicated. This experience of giving in to the music – I know it very well myself, even though Acid House was not my music. When I was sixteen or seventeen, it was more like experimental dance music where club culture mixed with an audience open to concepts. Where I grew up in the Netherlands, the most important place for that was the Paradiso in Amsterdam, a former church. Churches have been used there now for a long time as clubs or mosques. Somehow those are all places of transcendental
content. Unity–As the economic decline of the industrial towns continued, they became techno meccas, for example Blackburn – the focus of the illegal party scene in the North West, due to its abundance of disused factories in which a sound system and lights could be quickly and cheaply installed. Stefan–Rave culture was rooted in new technologies – musical and chemical – but it also sampled and remixed ideas, as well as sounds, from a variety of pop-culture sources: the Saturday Night Fever, traditions of gay disco and the amphetamine-fuelled Northern Soul scene, the do-it-yourself ethics of Punk, and vague hippy philosophies handed down from 1960s psychedelia (although cut loose from the protest politics of that era). Unity–It was driven by a deep and powerful desire not only for transcendence, but also for community: to be part of something greater, a feeling amplified by the empathy-enhancing effects of Ecstasy. Percy–But then there was worse: some time around the start of the 1990s, it became clear that small but significant numbers of people were dying after taking Ecstasy. Mainly people in their
teens or early twenties who thought they were about to have the time of their lives but ended up in the ground. Many ravers
were reluctant to blame their beloved, life-affirming ‘happy pills’, pointing out that most of those who died did so of a heart attack after not drinking enough water. But the fact remained that if they hadn’t gone out and taken Ecstasy, they would probably still be alive. Year by year, a little more innocence was lost. Some of the people connected with the Lake District party crew have since served prison time. One is dead. Unity–I wouldn’t say the kind of things that happened weren’t happening elsewhere on a similar kind of level, and the things that were produced looked any different in other regions. The difference was the location. The caves made it different for a lot of people. The thing that they really remember was the place, that much was apparent.
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Criminal Justice and Public Order- Act 1994, Powers in relation to raves, chapters 63 – 66: ‘a gathering… of 100 or more persons… at which amplified music is played during the night (with or without intermissions)…”music” includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.’
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The exhibition “Real Arcadia” is the first solo exhibition of the 1973 in Penzance, Cornwall born artist Matt Stokes in Germany. The dialogue is fictitious, but uses quotes by Matthew Collin, Robert Meijer and Matt Stokes