'It was like big game hunting': Steve Lazarides on photographing the birth of Northern rave culture
Photographer, gallerist and Banksy's former agent Steve Lazarides has recently completed his first solo exhibition under Soho's Laz Emporium. Titled Rave Captured, the show depicted the birth of the '90s Northern rave scene with images that have been revisited for the first time in 30 years.
Initially shot in 1992, the images on display at Rave Captured are a time capsule of the euphoric birth of rave culture as it exploded across North-East England. Showcasing the wave of expression in its warts-and-all glory, these photos are an evolution from Steve's degree show 30 years ago and are the first time most of them will have been seen.
Printed on either brass or copper and distressed with ageing fluids, including acid, these screen-printed versions of Steve's original photos perfectly encapsulate the wildness and excitement of a movement that was largely demonised at the time as a threat to the fabric of society. Displayed to the public underneath his shop and exhibition space, the Laz Emporium, the exhibition is an indicator of where the re-opened venue intends to go next.
"I've had the exhibition nailed in my head from the very beginning," Steve tells Creative Boom. "I wanted to set out the store for what you can do down here at the emporium, a lot of which is based around subculture, and I've been playing around with how you present photography for quite a long time."
Having looked through a sketchbook of old college works roughly six months ago, Steve came across an old note which reminded him to see if he could screen-print his rave photos. "So, I thought, fuck it, I own a print company. Let's give it a go. We started by fucking around with the prints, making the images quite odd and dreamy themselves. A bit like the club nights was like."
This feeling of turning the gallery space into a reflection of the wild and wonderful rave nights themselves goes beyond the transformation of the images. The basement of the emporium is decked out with a 2K sound system and a mixer, which are permanent features in the space that will be used in the future by an exclusive selection of hand-picked artists and performers. Benches and tables also furnish the space, making it a place where people can come and chill in a "temple to subculture" in a way that other venues don't consider.
And it's this representation of subculture which appeals to Steve especially. Having wondered what has happened to underground movements in recent years, resurrecting the Laz Emporium in a physical space has connected him to artists and creators who have restored his faith in the existence of subculture and youth movements.
Curiously though, Steve was not drawn to photographing rave culture due to the music, which was as far removed from his tastes as it was possible to get. "I am still scarred to this day, some of the music," he reveals. And given the limitations of the tools of the time, he had to be considerate when taking shots. "I'd go out with one roll of film because all I can afford. I know I'd have to really sit and pick the characters through the night.
Not that this is necessarily a disadvantage. "It's hard to explain to anybody that's not old enough to have ever had to use a film camera to understand that," he reveals. "Digital cameras didn't always exist. It cost quite a lot of money to take rolls of film and get them developed. But I think it helped because I literally had to sit there for like four or five hours trying to pick the best characters.
"And then what I do is, because I truly believe that if you haven't got the balls to ask someone if you can take their picture, you don't have the right to take that picture, I kind of pick off the characters, and I try and assess what the likelihood is that they'll hurt me. Then I take it from there.
Most people were pretty good about it, but you'd have to get your timings right. There was one guy I asked if I could take his picture who tried to kill me. Pretty fucking aggressive. Three-quarters of an hour, I get clapped on the shoulder by the same guy who says, 'it's alright now my pills have kicked in, take a picture!' It was like big game hunting, stalking characters."
And despite being 30 years old, Steve is still proud of the work that he created back then and the exhibition. "It's not often I'm confident enough actually to say that I like my own stuff, but I do really like that body of work. I think it really stands the test of time. I've not seen anything else as good as it from that period of time and from that place.
"Doing the exhibition was quite cathartic. And it was like yeah, I've got one out there. I've done my own one, and it didn't fall on its ass. And I stand by it. And that's a really nice feeling. They're an important set of pictures that really do document the birth of Rave in the North-East. I showed them when I was in my early 20s, and they've got more power now than they did then."
Steve suggests that Rave Captured may be his one and only solo exhibition, but he continues to have big plans for Laz Emporium. The space, which bucks the trend of art establishments migrating online by setting up a brick and mortar shop, will be home to limited runs of artworks and design collaborations with leading contemporary artists including Charming Baker, Jake Chapman, Jamie Hewlett and Jonathan Yeo.
Among artworks featured are the Di-Faced Tenner, Banksy's fake Princess Diana banknote, and plenty of other pieces of Banksy' ephemera' - or 'objects d'anarchy' as Steve calls them - alongside an emporium of sustainably artisan-made cushions, lampshades and other design pieces by notable artists.
All of the pieces have been completed at Laz Emporium's dedicated studio complex deep in the Gloucestershire countryside – a modern-day foundry for creating magical items from art imagery.
Several large specialist workshops are dedicated to editioning, fabric printing, packaging, furniture making and painting. The studio team are constantly innovating and testing the limits of their machinery to create new processes while at the same time working with local artisans and prioritising the use of sustainable natural and manufactured materials.
On top of this, Laz Emporium will host a programme of literary events, poetry readings and exhibitions featuring creative talents and cultural forerunners, starting with photographer and filmmaker Ewen Spencer.
And if you missed the chance to attend Rave Captured in person, an accompanying book is available to order from the La Emporium shop.