With TV ads for Tango, the Guardian and the Royal Mail stealing their underground ideas, the flyers originally designed to advertise rave events have now winged their way from one-room studios in Soho to Barbican retrospectives. John Windsor celebrates a pounds 2billion business
Saturday 05 October 1996
1. HubTV - Paddy Malone; Hub TV @ the [Hub], Bath; Feb 1996. 2. P Hyper go go - Wink Associates; [Angels], Burnley; April 1994. 3. Vague - Paul Fryer @ Mongrel Graphics; Supermixed Bague @ [The Warehouse], Leeds; 1994. 4. The Street - Philip Sallon; Coronation Street @ Mud Club [Bagley's Film Studios], London; Oct 1994. 5. Cream - Rob Petrie @ Dolphin, Liverpool, summer 1994. 6. Rava - a reinvention of the Rizla logo. 7. Fruitopia - the Coca-Cola corporation uses rave buzzwords, colours and graphics
Rave culture began with House music in 1986 before expanding to warehouses, muddy fields and back to clubs. According to the Henley Centre for Forecasting, it now generates a total of pounds 2 billion a year in gate money and merchandising. Promoters of soft drinks, alcopops, snack-foods, beer, cigarettes and trainers have got street-wise. They are intensively farming youth culture by adopting the punchy, irreverent graphics of rave.
The evidence of rave's immersion in mainstream culture is there in today's fast-cutting television commercials, which bombard with computer-generated images - those for Tango, or the Royal Mail, Scottish Radio and the Guardian, for example. Meanwhile, the glossy club flyers that started it all have become collectable style icons, a part of history. The V&A first exhibited them two years ago, and has a growing collection. An anthology of flyers has just been published - its contents are to tour the country - and an exhibition of rave art, called JAM, opened at the Barbican Art Gallery in September.
The commercial instincts of the big corporations were aroused when club fliers, having milked hippie and punk imagery and the iconography of film, television and comics, began to parody corporate logos such as those for Crunchie, Rizla and Smarties. Before long, bleary-eyed ravers began to find flyers advertising Camel cigarettes, Stella Artois lager, films and records stuffed in their Get Smart packs, all with company logo and simulated rave graphics.
At their height of inventiveness, rave club flyers came in the form of sticks of rock (Icon club, Liverpool), scratch cards offering a prize trip to Amsterdam (Velvet Underground, London), and voodoo jelly babies stuck through pins (Pollen, London). Now some clubs have reverted to crudely photocopied, punkish flyers as a badge of integrity.
But the music goes on, and not only because the organisers of the Barbican exhibition happen to be intent on reclaiming music as the source of urban style, but because music blends readily with real-time graphic sequences generated by Apple Mac - the great engine of rave art. Hence the "process" art of Tomato, the high-earning but resolutely amateur group of audio- visual wizards which evolved from the chart-topping Underworld. They now have the Royal Mail and other corporations knocking at the door of their one-room studio in Soho. Even hard-edged, static typography is made fluid in their characteristically experimental mixes of music, voice-over and moving image.
Half of Tomato's video and CD-Rom takes are done just for fun. But this is the stuff that advertising agents, with not a word to their art departments, slope off to Soho to see. Fun and money. Both are to be found in the gap between music and graphics and typography. The hippies never got a sniff of this, nor did punks. And nor, come to think of it, have the ravers. At least, not the punters. They will carry on being Tango'd by post-rave creatives for some time to come.
JAM, Barbican Art Gallery, 12 Sep-15 Dec (0171-638 4141). `Highflyers: Clubravepartyart', Booth-Clibborn pounds 24.95 paperback due 31 October, pounds 16.95. Highflyers touring exhibition, first venue Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, 9 Nov-7 Dec. `The Art of the Club Flyer', by Blink, Thames and Hudson, due out 21 October, pounds 12.95. `Process: A Tomato Project', Thames and Hudson, due out 18 November, pounds 19.95.
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