These days you can’t move in a pub or club without spoiling someone’s selfie, or photo-bombing a group shot (this is good fun – you should try it). However, the late 80s and early 90s were a completely different ballgame – in fact, if you saw someone with a camera or one of those HUGE “camcorders” the chances are that they worked for the promoter. So, whereas every moment of modern life is being captured, filtered, tagged and shared for future generations, there was a significant period of time during the early rave scene that was rarely documented. Fortunately for us there are people like Samantha Williams to fill that void…
Sam (AKA DJ Naughty and Station Manager at RadioActiveFM) started raving in 1989 and often carried her 35mm camera with her for the many years that followed. If you’ve ever attended any of the annual The Rave Story events you’ll have certainly seen some of Sam’s work on display. For nearly 20 years her photos were collecting dust beneath her bed before she decided to dust them off and share them with the world. In 2011 Sam published her personal photo and flyer collection in the form of a large glossy paperback book entitled “Happydaze: A Personal Insight Into The Acid House Era”.
The book has 163 pages, each crammed with images documenting a music and youth culture revolution that has yet to be repeated; a snapshot of a unique moment in time when a generation of party-goers embraced a new and emerging style of music (and often each other) with a sense of optimism.
The Rave Generation was fortunate enough to catch up with Sam and chat about her early experiences behind the lens.
Hi Sam, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us. First off, could you describe your initial rave experience?
My first rave experience was Energy 89 in Ipswich, where we didn’t get there until 7am as they’d changed locations. We had to drive across a field to get there to see thousands of smiley ravers. I couldn’t believe the atmosphere of unity. I hadn’t felt that before and these were the times of a grim Britain. There were 3 articulated lorries – one for the treble, mid-range and bass. There were people dancing everywhere. The Music was electric and you could feel the bass thumping through the ground. We stayed till 5pm and the police were there and couldn’t do anything about it, but even they seemed overwhelmed!
What prompted you to carry a camera? You must have been in the minority.
I had always been fascinated with photography. I didn’t own my own camera until I was 21 – that was 1989. It was still a luxury to many and everywhere I went I took my camera. I used to take 2 rolls out a night so was careful to not waste any shots. Then I’d post them off to be printed and wait with excitement to see the results.
When did you first start to think that your photos would be of interest as an historical document?
It wasn’t until 2008 that I thought I would get my box of photos out which had been under the bed for 20 odd years. I thought I needed to share them so I scanned them, cleaned them up a bit on Photoshop and created www.ravereunited.co.uk. I had a mass of interest in the site especially when Facebook came along.
There are some great images of artists and DJs going back nearly 30 years – RatPack are almost unrecognisable! Did you get the chance to meet many at the time?
Yes I remember meeting them all. It was a new lifestyle, everyone was there for the same reason. We would all be getting to know different walks and talks of life. A massive community that made up a huge fan club of rave!
Your images have been featured at the annual The Rave Story art gallery – how did that come to happen?
Billy [Bunter] loved the book and wanted me aboard. We’ve now done three Rave Story’s together. It’s great to be part of a huge part of youth culture and to share and talk about my art; finding out about the stories behind the pictures and meeting the people in the photos.
Have you been contacted by many people that recognise themselves from your photos?
Yes, I’ve been contacted by a lot of people that recognised themselves – even the dolly car. Crazy days! But Happydaze!
In the last few years there’s been a real resurgence in interest in the old skool scene. What do you think it is about the early rave scene that endures?
I think with social media the rave scene has never been forgotten and lots of people wished they were there. The music was such a turn around at the time – we had a genuine musical revolution. The first time I heard Voodoo Ray it blew me away. I hadn’t heard those sounds before and I wanted more. Acid music wasn’t about the drug, it was about the machines they made the music on, like the Roland 303 etc… Growing up in the 80s I always loved disco, hip-hop, indie, funk, soul, The Cure, Human League and many more electronic bands that paved the way for House music. What with the acid house generation with their kids grown up the over-40s searched for their acid house music once more. Our page in particular – the Happydaze page on Facebook – started bringing in stories from people globally. It was heartfelt and warming to know they were telling me their stories even though they were now living on the other side of the globe.
If it wasn’t for the pirate radio stations we never would have got to hear the underground sounds we were hearing. We ran RadioactiveFM as a pirate back in the days and we also created One Nation. We were hooked in every way. But it’s all about the friends we made for life. It was a community of love, peace and music. The younger generation are fascinated with that era because that musical revolution hasn’t happened again since.
You’re still very much involved with the scene as station manager at RadioActiveFM, playing as DJ Naughty and running the Rave Reunited website – any plans for the future?
Yes, I love running RadioactiveFM as the reason to bring it back online again was as a dedication to my late partner Andy Williams. It’s been going for 10 years now and has a great following. I have nearly 40 DJ’s and my plan is to be on DAB. I also have plans for Happydaze as I would love to see it as a musical but that’s a work in progress.
Also, there’s another book on the horizon… Watch this space!
This book will very likely spark many memories for all those that were lucky enough to have experienced the birth of the early rave scene, but if not then it offers a wonderful snapshot of a cross-section of young-Britain nearly 30 years ago. Beautifully presented and packed with personal memoirs from many that lived it, this is a perfect gift to yourself or any original raver that might need help filling in the gaps!
“Happydaze: A Personal Insight Into The Acid House Era” can be purchased in paperback via the RaveReunited website or on Kindle via Amazon.