William Spooner – What You On?
WORDS BY SYDNEY CUNNINGHAM FROM SPLASH & GRAB 3.
"Studying in Bristol, I wanted to shoot the free party culture down there. I found that, contrary to the ethos of freedom they preached, the demographic was uptight: dreadlocks and dogs on string. When Thatcher-bashing is still a rife form of conversation, you’re left thinking they’d just been holding on to the balloon too long." – William Spooner
Originally born out of anti-establishmentarianism, free parties and illegal raves were a huge part of British youth culture – and still are. The anarchism remains but the driving force behind it has changed gear. There is less focus on making a political statement. They are born out of necessity: half of all British nightclubs closed down in the last decade; those that are still around offer a sterile version of what once was; teenagers are no longer afforded the luxury of bouncers turning blind eyes to their fake IDs. These parties fulfill the same functions that nightclubs did for previous generations of teenagers: a place where they can belong and an opportunity to let loose and succumb to a hedonistic right of passage. As Spooner puts it: “Politics doesn’t play the major role in molding an excuse for it all: they just want to get out of the house, have fun and look good doing it”.
Spooner began documenting sixteen-plus warehouse parties when he stumbled across them on social media. Situated in London’s industrial estates and disused spaces the parties have a hotline, a phone number you call to hear a recorded message of it’s location, only released at the very last minute – an old tradition carried through from the acid house raves back in the 80’s. He first started visiting these London raves to juxtapose them with his original images of Bristol’s free party culture but found that: ‘these were instantly more fun. Kids are obviously more image conscious but this acted as an aid to making the project, as everyone wanted their photo taken’.
In Spooner’s images, there is a coming of age. His photographs are intimate, honest, and represent youth culture in its realest form. Images of young couples kissing hint at the poetic ideologies of young love, whilst others of pimple-ridden teenagers snorting bumps of white powder and sucking on balloons act as a sobering contradiction to what one might associate with growing up, yet here within this subculture, these sub-moments manage to coexist. “Staying true to the project I shot it all on 35mm, and not wanting to take anything away from the atmosphere that you get at these parties, a flashlight from an iPhone was used for the lighting”. The images are symbolic of the DIY nature of the parties themselves: shot on film and hand processed, then left to decompose. It all adds to its gritty aesthetic. In these candid portraits there is noticeably a pattern. Teenagers in bucket hats, shotter bags, NOS balloons and branded sportswear – all things that are part of the uniform that binds it together. Through time these specifics have altered, but the essence of the original rave generation is still present. There is the same quest for freedom in a society where it isn’t on offer, forcing people to rebel against regulation with a scene that’s of it’s own time.
Spooner stressed the importance of having his girlfriend present, while shooting the project. He was conflicted by his desire to make a body of work that resembled acceptance on behalf of the subjects, at the same time as maintaining his integrity. “Being with Jade took the edge off the Larry Clark approach.” Aware of his responsibilities as a photographer, Spooner recognised he was dealing with a vulnerable subject matter – underage teens with a lack of inhibition, fueled by intoxication. It was his decision not to exploit them.
There’s an obvious stigma attached to the movement, and it was Spooner’s intention to take an opposing stance. “As a photographer, no matter how you document it, it’s your perception of it. It’s easy to bash it – its illegal – its drug taking, but that isn’t the approach I wanted to take”. Humbled by most of the kids he met, it was obvious that although what was happening was illegal, it was a way of uniting a generation of people and bringing them together. And that isn’t such a bad thing.
This is a movement that’s transcended generations. It will always revive itself because people will forever share the need to take part in something that challenges the notion of ‘normal’ living. That is what these raves offer.