Arts Muse

Sweet Harmony and happy returns: A review of Norman Rave

Sophie Norton speaks to Edsard Driessen about his inspiration for the rave and the process of bringing the event to life.

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Image Credit: Myles Woodruff

You’ve probably seen the psychedelic-edition of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring slapped on posters all over campus, complete with glitch-like spikes and yellow smiley faces in her eyes. The flyers and posters are advertising the Norman Rea Gallery’s first exhibition post-lockdown, and it promises to go hard.

The UK’s iconic 90s rave scene is revived through the Norman Rave exhibition, which debuted last Monday evening. Visitors were given free entry, complimentary booze, and a multimedia immersive experience that incorporated student DJ sets and a colourful live painting by Yorkshire-based artist, ‘The Medicine Man’. The artists come from all over, and included the well-known digital creator Ondrej Zunka, clothing brands Xyber Clothing and Etha Ravewear, as well as some student gallery members.

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The inspiration behind Norman Rave came from the Saatchi Gallery’s 2019 Sweet Harmony, which was a retrospective exhibition on the theme of UK rave culture, ‘through the voices and lenses of those who experienced it’. The exhibition featured interactive audio-visual pieces from members of the original movement - a theme which the Norman Rea Gallery channelled through their inclusion of DJs and a variety of media. I was impressed to learn that one of the artists involved in the student exhibition is Seana Gavin, a London-based artist who had her photographic documentation of the rave movement included in Sweet Harmony back in 2019. Seana’s collage artwork is featured in Norman Rave, titled Times Gone By (2014). The link between inspiration and student exhibition is strong; the curators have clearly done their research.

The themes from Sweet Harmony came to the gallery committee’s attention through a blog post written by Edsard Driessen, who reviewed the Saatchi experience and outlined the transformation of the club scene from punk to acid house with vibrancy. We chat to Edsard about his experience of the exhibition:

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You wrote the article review that inspired all this in 2020, mid-way through the first lockdown. Do you think that the theme for the exhibition would have been as impactful without the shadow of the pandemic over our shoulders?

I would obviously like to hope not, but I do think the pandemic has changed our focus away from certain things and onto others. Without the option of going out clubbing or partying, people had to improvise and take matters into their own hands. As a result I was seeing illegal raves happen up and down the country, all organised through social media and it reminded me of the massive boom of rave culture in the 90s, especially in Manchester.

Those raves that happened years ago acted as a response to the political and cultural climate at the time and I feel like the pandemic has almost recreated that environment, making an investigation into rave culture and free parties all the more impactful as we can finally relate to the D.I.Y nature of it all.

What made you want to visit and review Sweet Harmony in the first place?

I have always had a passion for dance and club music, so when I saw that the Saatchi gallery was doing an exhibition on rave culture I just knew I had to check it out! At the time me and my mates had gotten into DJing and were looking into setting up our own parties so the theme of the exhibition was something that definitely struck a personal tone.

The photography and layout of the exhibition was something I had never encountered before and the way they engaged with the viewer through D.I.Y music production stations was something I found fascinating. Before writing the review for the NRG blog I had worked with Uncultured Creatives investigating rave culture in Blackburn and Darwen. So coming from that experience I thought it would be fitting to remember my time in the gallery.

Music is a central theme to the exhibitions. How did you feel as one of the DJs that played on opening night?

Very nervous! It was my very first live set in a club setting with a big crowd so I was feeling the pressure! But when I started off the set everything went even better than expected! It was an unreal feeling and one I will always treasure. The afterparty was amazingly planned by the NRG committee and volunteers, and all the DJs were insane. I want to give a massive thanks to all the DJs who showed off their skills behind the decks, namely Theo Heidensohn of Chameleon who helped out massively to make sure that equipment and sound was all put together.

Which is your favourite artwork of the Norman Rave, and why?

All the pieces being exhibited in the gallery are absolutely beautiful and I would recommend everyone to take a look for themselves, as the works are all so different and unique in their own way.

The Stan Fonzie photograph, Cruck is my favourite work of the exhibition as it really captures the random, weird things one might see at a rave or out clubbing. Also the format and colour use is so reminiscent of the early 90s photographs being exhibited during the Sweet Harmony exhibition, I couldn't not love it.

The past year has been a tug-of-war of freedoms, with the government’s many lockdowns and restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As the gallery’s first opportunity to curate and showcase an exhibition complete with celebratory opening night in a long time, the pressure was on. The Norman Rea Gallery have curated a fantastic exhibition, full of life and energy that perfectly captures the essence of 90s rave culture.

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Norman Rave is running until the 22 October, so head over while you can. Follow @NormanReaGallery on social media for more information about the artists that are involved.

Image credits: Myles Woodruff

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