headlights-matthew-smithyouth-club.jpg

Exist to Resist: 25 Years Of Rave Culture, Activism And Public Protest

This year has already seen a mountain of protests – from nationwide junior doctors strikes to the constant campaigns to reduce our carbon footprint and weaponry stockpile.

Dissidents has long been ingrained in international political debates, and the activists of yesteryear have often found themselves on the right side of history, explains Matthew Smith.

The West Country photographer, based in Bristol, has been capturing the changing face of public protests, activism and rave culture in Britain since the late 1980s.

This week YOUTH CLUB and the Doomed Gallery will exhibit some Smith’s unseen archive of 50,000 iconic photos spanning over 20 years.

Headlights (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Headlights (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Exist to Resist is an exhibition which also takes shape as a limited edition 40 page zine compiling a careful selection of photographs Smith has taken over the years.

It looks at a culture that gave birth to the rave phenomenon in the UK and follows the DIY explosion that came from its popular democratic free form origins, through criminalization, to its assimilation into the massive new creative industry.

"Taking in political and environmental protest and the occasional riot along the way."

Smith's first protest was the Poll Tax demonstration in March 1990, he explains, "I hitchhiked down to London and spent most of the day trying not to be run over by Police horses, or set on fire."

"Then we were heavily involved in the eco/anti-roads protests of the 90s and an integral part of the protests against the legislation to outlaw travelers and ravers".

"We took our sound system on the back of a lorry and ended up playing to huge crowds in Trafalgar Square, and in front of the Houses of Parliament."

Exodus Sound System (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Exodus Sound System (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Back then protests were invented as it went along, Smith suggests, celebration and entertainment fused with art, music and non violent direct action, "a very potent recipe for resistance".

Laws have changed however and the UK government has since passed laws under the pretext of terrorism to prohibit the activities that made the 90s DIY protest culture so vibrant.

"Protest was once seen as a democratic right that had to be catered for; now it has to be licensed and pre-approved as a condition of its existence."

Smith also warns that protest infiltration by undercover police has become all too commonplace, as has the possible use of undercover agents as provocateurs.

During the G20 protests, "the one in which Ian Tomlinson was unlawfully killed," Smith had asked a police photographer what his brief was for demonstrations like this, "Faces," he replied.

"The video camera is running all the time for use later, the mobile phone is used to text video footage back to base so they can run it through our face recognition software so we can tell who is here, where they've been before and to identify any potential trouble makers."

Message Box (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Message Box (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

CCTV has also grown over the last years and this is used with face recognition during times of unrest. Data extraction from mobile phones has also mushroomed in popularity.

"Every protest is both an intelligence gathering operation as well as a potential PR opportunity for authority at the same time."

Although technology has been used to scrutinize protestors, mobiles and social networking sites have also played a part in facilitating protest in recent years.

Baseline Crowd (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Baseline Crowd (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Smith was young and invested in rave culture when he started shooting the demonstrations, "rave united a massive cross-section of British society in having fun together."

"Photographing and taking part in  the consequential opposition to the passing of that legislation was something that felt socially responsible."

YOUTH CLUB will launch a website housing the archive of images on 1st March, along with hosting a one-off talk by Smith discussing his journey as a photographer.

The exhibition will be held at the Doomed Gallery in Dalston, London. More details on Facebook.

Spring Fayre, Llanfair (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Spring Fayre, Llanfair (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Pile On (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Pile On (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

G2 Protest (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

G2 Protest (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Celia (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Celia (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Valentines Day Peace March (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Valentines Day Peace March (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Trafalgar Square (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Trafalgar Square (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Big Screen Leader (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Big Screen Leader (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

History (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

History (Photograph: Matthew Smith/YOUTH CLUB)

Read More -> The 80s’ ‘Photographer of the Decade’ Has A Gallery Opening In Chelsea Tonight

Writer and photographer from South London, UK. If you want to get in touch please email me at: matthew.kirby@konbini.com