Curator's Choice: How E-vapor-8, techno and hardcore rave influenced art at Site Gallery

Francesca Gavin, Curator | 04 June 2014

Curator’s Choice: Francesca Gavin on E-vapor-8, rave and contemporary art at Sheffield’s Site Gallery

A photo of a psychedelic swirl of lines weaving into circular patterns in neon colours
Christian J Petersen, Smiley (2014). Still of animated Gif© Courtesy Christian J Petersen
“The title of the exhibition is taken from rave band Altern 8’s 1992 track of the same name.

Altern 8 were incredibly popular and also laughed at for their hardcore rave aesthetic of face masks, white gloves and boiler suits, becoming clichéd icons.

I am interested in how artworks influenced by and referencing this period of music are taking something of the essence of this moment but are very different in motivation.

The hedonistic drug references are gone. The moment of mass cultural upheaval has passed. The utopian implications of rave and house have literally evaporated, leaving a moment in history.

I am fascinated by the ways younger artists are fusing multiple visual references and using the past as a melting pot of inspiration.

There is none of the elitism that was present at the time – no differentiation between happy hardcore, Spiral Tribe’s politicisation, rave pop songs or Chicago house.

Here everything can be taken from ‘the archive’ and reworked: the surface glare of squeaky voice, the speed of imagery and sound, the infantalist fashion, smiley faces, pirate radio, fractal imagery, the hyper colour fluorescents, the sample-style editing processes, found footage of dancing and parties.

This exhibition brings together international artists showing the sheer range of ways these influences are emerging – from communication to femininity to social power structures.

I am interested in how that period of music influenced the current generation about ideas of dissent and protest. This is often most people’s first awareness of ideas of rebellion, Guy Debord, myth making, politics and freedom.

The graphics and aesthetics of that period also have a strong impacted on current artworks. This is work that references everything from music video editing to illegality, the tumult of consumerism and the push-pull of production versus passivity that was emerging at that time.

House and rave provided one of the first examples when defunct technologies were co-opted and reused by a younger generation for creative purposes – much in the same way that many contemporary visual artists are exploring the internet and technology as a medium.

Early 90s happy hardcore in particular, as artist Nathaniel Mellors noted in Frieze in 1998, was “mostly pieced together in bedrooms from pre-existing material using low-grade samplers…Rave defined the bedroom digital technology environment, which now extends its capacity beyond music to TV, film and video.”

As author William Gibson wrote in the 1982 story, Burning Chrome: “The street finds its own uses for things.”

Rather than a direct quotation of rave and house culture, I am particularly interested in how younger contemporary artists, in particular who grew up in the internet age, are synthesising theses influences into new forms.

High and low, underground and pop, politics and hedonism are fused. The artists in this exhibition are the generation after Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, Matt Stokes’ and Jeremy Deller’s rave archival projects and Alex Bag’s pioneering glitch TV segments.

The work they are making reflects this recent art history as much as cultural history in a wider sense.

Here, computer-created visuals once used as rave graphics are repositioned as precursors to online experimentation.

In turn there is a connection to both the earlier conceptual heritage of Op and Kinetic artworks of the 1960s, and the contrasting the visual and political freedoms of late 60s psychedelica.

The processes of cut and paste, sampling and looping that was the fundamental basis of DIY electronic music of the period is echoed in video editing techniques and online footage amalgams.

I look at how these works relate to ideas around current capitalistic consumption, with illegal parties and raves, for example, showing forms of political resistance.

“The political content of dance music is intrinsic…this experience invalidates liberal individualistic ideology and creates true political opposition,” Mark Harrison of Spiral Tribe once noted.

Theorist Paul Gilroy described the rise of Detroit Techno as having innate utopian motivations: “The dream of life beyond the reach of racism acquire an otherworldly, utopian quality and then manifested itself in a flash, high-tech form deliberately remote from the realities of the ghetto lifeworld.”

This exhibition examines the utopian ideas surrounding rave before their failure and how younger artists explore that.

Early house and rave culture provided a model of democratisation of culture, just as the internet has provided for visual artists.”

  • E-vapor-8 is at Site Gallery, Sheffield from June 7 – August 16 2014.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

An image of a sculpture which looks like a crumpled balloon in various colours
Harry Burden, The New Accident 1 (ChromaLusion)© Harry Burden
An image of a sculpture which looks like a crumpled balloon in various colours
The New Accident 2 (ChromaLusion)© Harry Burden
An image of a sculpture which looks like a crumpled balloon in various colours
The New Accident 2 (ChromaLusion)© Harry Burden
Adham Faramawy
Adham Faramawy, Trocadero 2 (beach_holiday) (2013). Video on horizontal monitor, 20 minutes with sound
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