Mattia Zoppellaro’s images portray the golden age of rave


Before the digital revolution took hold, the conditions were right for the European free party scene to flourish in a frenetic context of DIY community experiences. During what photographer Mattia Zoppellaro considers the “golden age of rave culture,” techno nights sprang up in abandoned and remote spaces across the continent, creating makeshift dance floors and reallocating disused factories and deserted car parks in the hinterland of London, Milan, Barcelona, ​​Turin, Bologna and beyond.

From 1997 to 2005, photographer Zoppellaro joined this traveling emissary, capturing free parties (or “temporary autonomous zones”) at their hedonistic heyday in a series of intimate and unattended photographs. Characters materialize from dry ice mists in fugue-like states, DJs spin records guided by rogue beams of light, revelers congregate on colossal walls of loudspeakers and crowds dance in the heat of the rising sun at a time when social media was still barely its infancy. Her images seem to capture the subconscious anonymity of a pre-Instagram era. “No one was posing or posting,” Zoppellaro told Dazed. “You can still hide from the world and keep secrets from everyone.”

Part of the fun was the experience of just finding these underground raves. Without the help of the internet, tracing the events involved connecting to a complex IRL matrix of undercover revelers. The information was disseminated in leaflets distributed by “cool and shady” strangers, while telephone lines manned by stranger voices relayed addresses on the outskirts of town in parking lots, old factories, or discreet ramps. highway.

His evocative and unique black and white images of these illicit techno gatherings are now collected in a book, Dirty dance, released by electronic music label Klasse Wrecks and Berlin-based design studio We Can Make It. Take a look at the gallery above for a preview of some of the photographs featured in this new post.

Below, we talk to Mattia Zoppellaro about the lost world of free parties, his most enduring memories of that exhilarating and vanished scene, and why he suspects it is the last of the truly independent counter-cultural movements.

Can you tell me about the party scene your photos capture?

Mattia Zoppellaro: It was the golden age of rave culture. In Italy, the Centri Sociali (self-organized spaces that have become centers of urban counter-culture) are proliferating; in Spain open-air festivals could easily be organized; in London, you could squat all over the place. These conditions were ideal for organizing TAZ – temporary autonomous zones – and organizing free parties in cities. We’re talking about the last truly independent counterculture scene before things changed so drastically with the new millennium. Everything is more controlled now, CCTV cameras are everywhere, gatherings are more difficult to organize. You can also listen to any kind of music anywhere, no need to drive for hours looking for a DJ or amazing sound system

For those who have never been able to attend one of these legendary evenings, could you please describe the ambiance and the sensory experience of these events?

Mattia Zoppellaro: It was like an adventure. Finding the party was already an experience – you had to go into town first to find someone cool and sleazy enough to hand you a flyer with an info line you were supposed to call. The stoned voice on the other end of the phone gave you an address for the meeting point – a parking lot, a former toy factory, or just off the freeway. There you usually met other people with a better idea of ​​where the party was being held. You drove with them until the wee hours of the morning through spooky industrial areas with the car window down until you heard the hammer in the distance when you knew you had, and it could all begin. .

Once there you felt like you were in the wrong place with the right people and the best music. It was illegal, dangerous and dirty… what more could you ask for at a party? What I found a little paradoxical about the rave scene was the clash between feeling like part of a big family while having an extremely individual dance experience with the music playing in front of the speakers.

“You felt like you were in the wrong place with the right people and the best music. It was illegal, dangerous and dirty… what more could you ask for at a party? – Mattia Zoppellaro

The images are shot between 1997 and 2005. What was the peculiarity of this time?

Mattia Zoppellaro: I started this project just before the digital revolution, at the turn of the century. The Internet and social networks were still in their infancy. You had to go somewhere to experience things. People weren’t very happy to be photographed, no one posed or posted. You can still hide from the world and keep secrets from everyone.

What were the flagship cities of the festive scene? And in what types of places did these events take place?

Mattia Zoppellaro: You could find yourself at four different free parties in London over a random winter weekend, an abandoned old brewery in the East End, or a car park in Acton. However, I think Bologna has always had a special place in my heart. After an evening at Livello 57 or Corticella, I loved relaxing in Piazza Maggiore with a glass of Sangiovese on Sunday evening

Could you share with us one of your most vivid memories of that time?

Mattia Zoppellaro: One of the first memories that comes to my mind is a party on Old Street. It must have been about six in the morning. I was walking with my girlfriend at the time, it was one of our first dates. I was distracted by a light pat on the neck, turning around I saw this freckled kid, no older than 14, in a photo by Lewis Hine. His mocking gaze challenged me to approach. At that point, the punches started to rain down on my face. I was helpless in the face of the half-dozen children dancing around me. I felt a hand lift my camera and suddenly it was over. I went to sit with my girlfriend on one of the grubby sofas next to a crumpled body. Half an hour later, we decided to leave the party. At the door, I found myself face to face with the freckled kid who was blocking my exit. “Sorry,” he said. “We were in too much of a hurry, maybe we took you for someone else.” He returned my camera to me and continued, “Would you like to come in our motorhome, we have plenty of drinks to drink, you are our guests.” We’ve been friends ever since.

“I think each musical counter-culture has its own lifespan. It happened for jazz, rock, mod. After its birth, there is a golden age and then it ends up dying out “- Mattia Zoppellaro

Can you tell us about some of the amazing people you met at these parties?

Mattia Zoppellaro: There is – or, unfortunately, were – so much. Like W, a middle-aged traveler who was a punk in England in the 80s, then became a Mutoid, settling with many friends in a small village in Romagna. His amazing tattoos betrayed his efforts to hide his aristocratic past – people said he studied at Eton.

Then there was B, an elementary school teacher with very long, flaming red dreadlocks. She was an amazing DJ, she refused to play anything slower than 200 bpm. She felt more like a big sister to many of us ravers. I loved spending time with her talking about the differences between techno and tekno. She sadly died in a fire at her squat.

Do you think these images represent a lost world? Or do the parties you photographed still exist?

Mattia Zoppellaro: Each image somehow shows something lost forever… semantics aside, I think each musical counterculture has its own lifespan. It happened for jazz, rock, mod. After his birth, there is a golden age and then it ends up dying out… except perhaps for punk, which is more like an attitude. Rave culture still exists today only as a phenomenon of renewal or at best as a source of inspiration for fashion brands.

Mattia Zoppellaro’s Dirty Dancing is published by Klasse Wrecks and We Can Make It and is available for pre-order here now.

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