Visual Energy: Flyer Design and its relationship with Acid House

Dissertation submitted for the Final Year - BA Graphic Design course, Swansea Institute of Higher Education.

by Simon Parkin (simon@ethicalgraphicdesign.co.uk)




Chapter 1 - Acid House
1.1 - Sun, sea, sand and Ecstasy
1.2 - Hedonism in hard times
1.3 - Dance Trance
1.4 - Psychedelia
1.5 - Technology
1.6 - Ecstasy
1.7 - Grins
1.8 - Sex in hard times
1.9 - Cultural crossroads
1.10 - Everything begins with an E

Chapter 2 - Flyers
2.1 - Perennial ephemera
2.2 - Style in Transit
2.3 - Grassroots
2.4 - Photocopied tat
2.5 - Raw to the core
2.6 - Are you Experienced?
2.7 - Just Express Yourself! 2.8 - Mind Blown
2.9 - Psychedelic posters
2.10 - Smile
2.11 - Piracy
2.12 - Visual Sampling
2.13 - Technicolour
2.14 - Eclectic ephemera

Chapter 3 - Sub to Pop




Dance music in Britain is presently more rife than at any other time in its history. Currently, over fifty percent of the top forty singles in Britain are dance music hits. (1) However, this only shows the commercial end of the market. The many diverse manifestations that dance music has taken, until recently, have existed on the boundaries of British culture.

The different variations of dance music prevalent today can be seen to have many different historical sources. "Jungle", for instance, has roots in ragga and dub; "trip-hop" has influences in hip-hop and jazz. However, these various cultures all have roots in a subculture that happened in Britain in the late eighties:

Acid House combined house music with Ecstasy and the resulting phenomena was to be the driving force in British youth culture for almost a decade. (2) The hedonistic release, the pure pleasure for pleasure's sake that Acid House enabled, provided a release for Britain's youth, an escape from their everyday existence through the medium of dance. And it is this appetite for danceability that would be at the heart of following music cultures such as jungle and trip-hop.

In 1991 I went to my first "rave" (a name now often used in derision, but at the time it was the popular term), a scene that had evolved directly from Acid House. I had never experienced anything like it - relentless, pounding music that filled the whole body; blinding strobes flashed on the smoke-covered dance floor; wild looking faces popped out of the white fog and just as quickly disappeared again. It was a completely disorientating experience and I couldn't quite believe that Birmingham was still there when I came out. But it was, and when I got outside I was handed some flyers. These flyers found their way home with me and after three years of repeating the above experience, I had a big collection of memories.

Flyers are an integral part of the experience of any dance music night. They have, since Acid House and before, been the preferred method for club promoters to advertise their nights. For this dissertation I intend to study the flyers that are such a special part of dance music culture.

I intend to show how flyers operate within dance music, I want to show how they are indelibly linked to their culture, music and social background. To do this I will relate the characteristics of flyers in general to the culture of Acid House as I see this subculture as being at the start, and as being the underlying basis, of all dance music cultures in Britain. The array of flyers that have been produced over the last decade of dance music is huge and wildly various. Because of this, I have chosen to disseminate a cross section of flyers from my own collection which were collected from 1991 - 1994, a time when club culture and "rave" music had come directly and immediately from Acid House. Although it is difficult to make generalizations about flyers that, by their very nature, are transitory, quickly changing items of ephemera, certain aspects of them can show ideas and theories about their design that are endemic to Acid House and dance music culture.

In Chapter 1, to begin this study, I will chart the development of Acid House culture showing how it came as a result of the political and social background of its day. I will go on to outline the different features of the music and culture and show why these aspects appealed to the young people who were becoming involved in Acid House. I will relate Acid House to the sixties Psychedelic movement and show how they both performed as a youth subculture. Throughout, I will relate Acid House to the status quo and finally show how the ideas and aesthetics of it continued into dance music culture.

In Chapter 2, I will show the role that flyers took in relating their subculture to its participants and give some of the ideas and issues that surrounded their design. I will then study specific flyers showing why their different features existed and on what level they worked. Throughout, I shall relate flyers to the culture, music and style of Acid House, and through the information given in Chapter 1, I will show them in their social and political context.

Finally, in Chapter 3 I will briefly show how aspects of Acid House, and in turn, all underground dance music, were diluted and re-emerged in popular culture. I will then show how, as always, graphic design forms a parallel to its culture and music by discussing how its style was also assimilated by popular culture.

I am not studying flyers as pieces of high art, neither am I disseminating them merely as marketing material. I am showing how flyers reflected club culture, how they relate to the status quo of their day and how they will always be evocative of the era that they were produced in.


1. Gallup Charts, NME, April 1999.
2. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.4.

Chapter 1 - Acid House

"Art is a medium for change. Music is a remedy when change doesn't happen too quickly." - Artist in Nyanga Township, Capetown. (1)

1.1 - Sun, sea, sand and Ecstasy

In 1987 a group of DJs went over to Ibiza Town to experience the dance floor trends that were beginning over there. These young men would be taken away by the heat and haze of their holiday in which they could lose all their inhibitions because they were abroad and existed in a "hyperreal" state where every day constraints of work and social order did not exist. To avoid their humdrum London doldrums these people were not just escaping the country, they were escaping their whole lives by becoming lost in a hedonistic atmosphere of sun, sea, sand and Ecstasy. It is this hedonistic escape from life into a virtual 'non-existence' that would form the basis of a whole section of society wanting to go out clubbing every weekend - losing themselves in the new youth culture movement of Acid House.

When these holiday sick DJs returned from Ibiza they wanted to relive some of the spirit that they had left behind, to recreate "the spell of the dance floor to effect the disappearing act that had previously been aided by the hyper reality of tourism and Ibiza Town". 2 They imported this hedonistic lifestyle and a style of eclectic dance music into London and their club nights became known as Acid House.

1.2 - Hedonism in hard times

So, under what social and political conditions did Acid House come about? What was it in British society that made so many young people want to escape? "Acid House culture came out of a period of great social instability and transformation, the results of which are only in their infancy". (3) The eighties were a time of great upheaval in Britain. Thatcher was trying to encourage free enterprise in Britain; her vision of a capitalist society was meant so that the individual could thrive - indeed had to thrive or would otherwise fall by the way side.

"The whole raison d'etre of Thatcherism and the political and economic culture was to do it yourself, get off your arse, make some money, get rich quick". (4) It was this political ideal that not only led youngsters to want to escape the system, but also led young entrepreneurs to want to "get rich quick", by whatever means they could, be it through organizing raves, making records or selling drugs. So an important aspect of Acid House was that it was not just a youth culture reacting against the social and political background, it was also a product of it.

For the majority of Britain's youth, times were hard. Whether this can be blamed on Thatcher or not, youth were increasingly seen as a source of fear for unemployed, respectable society and a law and order problem for the police. (5) But, whereas previous youth culture movements such as Punk or the hippy movement sought to break down or fight the established order, Acid House culture provided another way of dealing with an oppressive society - an option of temporary escapism.

"Acid House pleasures came not from resistance but from surrender". (6)

"In this case there was a surrender to a complete void of meaning rather than some form of resistance". (7)

A good way to describe this escape from the harsh realities of drab, everyday life into environments of pleasure, dance and drugs is a "hedonism in hard times". (8)

"The spaces which club culture occupied and transformed through Ecstasy and disappearance represent a fantasy of liberation, an escape from identity. A place where nobody is, but everybody belongs". (9)

Acid House music was perfect to enable this escapism as it had no ideals of political opposition: "When one is in opposition, the thing that is opposed is acknowledged. When one escapes instead of opposes, no alternative moral values are proposed at all". (10)

1.3 - Dance Trance

In fact, Acid House provided an opposite of being a political statement because one of the main characteristics of its music is that it is based on the absence of an originary subject. (11) This new generation of clubbers did not want to hear vocals proclaiming the harshness of reality, they wanted to be moved, to become lost, to be absorbed into the realm of pure music which Acid House provided.

The Psychology department at Leeds University performed studies on a group of fifty ravers at an all-night event to find out what their emotional responses to the experience were. "Emotional responses are consequences," says Mitch Waterman, Leeds University's Music Psychologist, "that 'I feel happy when something good happens' - but usually I can say what the good thing is. For these people at the club, the response seems to be without content - it's just good. It's just a massive buzz. They don't want things with a lot of content inÉ in the sense that they have to think about things and understand in any sort of aware manner. If the music had lyrics the responses would be nothing like those that we found." (12)

This new kind of music "engages the entire sensorium, appealing to the intelligence with no interference from the intellect". (13) This was where Acid House music provided a stark contrast to the music that has been part of Britain's previous youth cultures.

"Acid House consciously wanted to break down the traditional idol worshipping in music which originally came out of the sixties super groups in an attempt to underline the music". (14) And it was the music which absorbed the club goer with its surrounding of the listener into an altered state - an environment where rhythm is the key to abandonment: "The pleasures of loss and abandonment would now be purely signaled by the 'trance dance' as the body would plug into a qualitively different space from that of dance in pop history". (15)

Dance was now the new form of music appreciation, it was the whole reason behind Acid House music, fashion, culture and lifestyle. Dance was the vehicle of escapism from everyday life. Clubbers could lose themselves in a hypnotic state where rhythm is all encompassing; they could lose themselves to the singular movement of the dance floor, "a place where nobody is, but everybody belongs". (16)

The appreciation of music purely through dance was new to British youth culture and in turn affected the whole of pop music, not just club culture, as Britain had a new appetite for "danceability" in music, hence the arrival of the "Madchester" scene and groups like The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays, members of which fully admit that their style of music was influenced by Acid House. (17)

1.4 - Psychedelia

Not since the days of psychedelia in sixties California had a youth culture grown up around an appetite for danceability in music when "sexual liberation and the liberating effects of drugs made dancing an increasingly popular form of 'digging' the music". (18)

In fact, these two youth culture movements have many parallels that are worth considering as they show how these cultures came about and why they developed their specific characteristics.

Firstly, it seems that Acid House and Psychedelia came about under similar political atmospheres. In the sixties, the youth were disillusioned with an oppressive government and society that revolved around money. "The political and industrial reformations of the eighties generally echo the socio-political developments that occurred during the psychedelic period of 1965 - 68." (19)

However, the young people of the sixties reacted against the politics of the day in a much more active, oppositional, confrontational way which came out in their music and culture. Although Acid House culture reacted differently to the political order of the day, it can still be seen that these youth cultures were a product of their times. They were both formed by young people reacting to the world that was personal to them.

In fact, this reaction to social background is endemic to the actual perception of what a subculture is: "A subculture is noticed by the public eye because it breaks with established codes" (20)

The main similarity between the two periods is the general repopularisation of psychedelic drugs such as LSD (in the sixties) and Ecstasy (in the eighties). (21) In both eras, drugs played a role in the reaction to social order. LSD was used by young people in the sixties to "expand their minds" - to think & contemplate the self further than the materialistic society did. In the eighties, Ecstasy aided young people in the escape from the everyday realities of Thatcherism. "Both eras were phases of drug induced historical re-assessment". (22)

As drugs were taking an increasingly important role in the lives of young people in Acid House culture, the scene started to "borrow" from psychedelia - or, more specifically, from an idealized, false, stereotypical image of what the sixties were like:

"With the sixties being generally portrayed in a positive light, it is not surprising that the drugs that predominated and helped characterize that decade would be romanticized by those who had not experienced the reality of that lifestyle". (23)

This borrowing from the sixties affected all aspects of Acid House culture. Late sixties fashion made a reappearance with items like bandanas and tie-dye t-shirts becoming popular in Acid House clubs. In Shoom, the club that had most focus on it for being at the birth of Acid House in 1988, "all they could talk about was love, togetherness, sharing, the sheer joy of life". (24)

For the young people involved in this new scene, the nearest comparison they could find to it was the mythology of the hippie era. They adopted a simulacrum of what they believed the sixties were like, minus the radical politics of the era - all viewed through a prism of suburban working class aspirations". (25) This nostalgia for the lifestyle of an era, that probably never existed, viewed through rose tinted spectacles, was another part of the escapism that was endemic to Acid House culture.

As far as the music is concerned, many parallels can be drawn between Acid House and Psychedelia. The main aim of both styles of music is to surround the listener into an altered state. The music was not just meant to be merely heard, it was meant to be experienced, loud, in a club or dance hall environment, with other people. Both kinds of music used technology to create atmospheric, ambient, aural landscapes for the listener to become part of.

The sound that characterized Acid House music was the use of the Roland TB303 Bass-line Generator to produce a "wobbly", electronic sounding bass-line effect. This unique sound was first experimented with by DJ Pierre in Chicago on the pioneering record "Acid Trax" by Phuture. (26) "Acid Houses effect on the senses is quite overbearing. It is an extreme barrage of the senses". (27) This was the same effect that the reverbing and waves of electronic sound that psychedelia had.

"Both eras use state of the art technology to innovate new effects and pioneering new forms of music through exploration and improvisation". (28)

1.5 - Technology

However, with Acid House, the music is self-consciously based on technology. Acid House music "was dominated by what machines were good at - repeating rhythmic patterns that could go on and on." (29) It shows no shame in the reliance, indeed the inseparable, out and out dependence on technology.

"Music was facing up to the very latest equipment and basing itself solely on those terms". (30) This can be seen in the context of Acid House's general acceptance rather than opposition of all things new. Similar to its acceptance and attempt to live with the prevailing social order, this youth culture was accepting and exploiting technology, making it a basis for the culture rather than dismissing it.

This use of technology had further implications because it meant that the users of these new electronic music devices did not have to have a deep knowledge of music before they could produce a record. The production of music was taken away from the advantaged few and given to the working class youth who could cope with this new technology, thus opening up music to a different class of people. It was taking any prejudice away from the music scene; now, all races, sexes and social classes were able to put their influences into the musical arena. This was real equality in music and the whole culture would grow as a result of this cross-race hybridization of styles, an eclecticism brought about by Britain's multifarious youth, providing a true portrayal and expression of society without the use of an originary subject.

The eclecticism within Acid House music was further aided by the integration of the sampler into dance music. Now, these musicians could sample excerpts from any musical era and incorporate them into their records. With such varying race, culture and background to the young people who were becoming involved with dance music in Britain, the spectrum of music that was borrowed from was wide. The input into dance music came from greatly varied sources.

So, technology was being used to its full extent. Musicians were innovating with technology and pushing their music to new extremes. Acid House "is the first totally technological form of popular music as frightening as this concept may seem to some, it is positively inspirational to others in that it has a greater and greater possibility to develop and express the spirit of individualism and individual freedom: access to tools and information creates new and wider possibilities for individual expression." (31)

1.6 - Ecstasy

"Musical development was prompted by a realization of the benefits of modern technology and also by the use of drugs". (32) As in the sixties, drugs were an integral part of the culture. But what made Ecstasy the particular drug of a culture's choice in the late eighties?

Ecstasy, developed as a popular drug in the US, made it over to Britain in 1985. (33) It had a distribution ring in Ibiza and was part of the culture that those first DJs, who were on holiday in 1987, sampled and brought back to Britain.

"Ecstasy works on the neuro transmitters - chemicals in the brain like serotonin that affect pleasure". (34)

"It has been called an 'empathogen'. Empathy is the sensation of experiencing someone else's feelings as your own". (35)

"It kind of melts defences there is a lot of empathy, an ability to see something negative and understand it in a more compassionate way, basically to become more loving". (36)

This new drug became popular because people saw it as a "soft drug"; no one really knew the dangers of it (and still don't). It was simply seen as a new "wonder drug" that it wouldn't hurt experimenting with. The effects of Ecstasy were perfectly aligned to what young people wanted in the light of their social situation and it also matched the aims of Acid House music and culture: "Ecstasy was obviously a suitable social drug as it broke down inhibition and conscious defences". (37)

Ecstasy enhanced the overall feeling of the Acid House club by aiding dancing, amplifying the visuals, the lights and backdrops, clarifying the effect of the music and producing a feeling of empathy with the other people at the rave - all aiding in the disappearance, the absorption of the individual into the crowd. Ecstasy was the perfect drug to enable "hedonism in hard times" and it is inseparable with Acid House culture; they came about together, the one is at once a fuel and a product of the other.

1.7 - Grins

This breaking down of inhibitions that Ecstasy brought led to a newly found appetite for sociability in the club atmosphere: "That whole culture of leaning against the bar, trying to look cool suddenly those people looked like they were ninety years old. Suddenly people were wearing bright colors, huge grins and hugging each other." (38)

British club culture had never experienced anything like this before. "Ecstasy had opened some kind of psychic trap-door, and all manner of bizarre phenomena were streaming out Many treated Shoom like a kiddies party, giving each other presents, little trinkets like Smiley badges or clip-on hearts, anything cute; and everyone seemed to be carrying some crazy accessory, a crystal ball that they'd hold under the lights or a fan to waft cool air - all freaking on a communal groove, locked together in harmonic convergence - together as one, like nothing else mattered in the world." (39) This sociability and silliness, partly prompted by Ecstasy, was another hedonistic expression of escapism. People were throwing off their everyday suits and reverting to more simplistic, carefree, playful pleasures.

1.8 - Sex in hard times

Another reason why young people were choosing Ecstasy in the club environment was another expression of "hedonism in hard times". The eighties saw the beginnings of the health scare and mass paranoia about the sexually transmitted disease, AIDS. As a result, days of sexual promiscuity were abruptly brought to an end and now, young people needed an alternative. The answer was found in Acid House culture: "By recognizing the dangers of irresponsible sexual promiscuity (in an AIDS context), Acid House presented dancing as a deterrent from the AIDS threat (with the help of Ecstasy as a dance inducing drug) and a way of rejecting the dated notions of the disco as a 'meat market'." (40)

This aspect of Acid House culture can be seen as breaking down even more barriers - this time that of Sex. In the Acid House club, thanks to the dance inducing environment, everyone was truly equal. This affected all aspects of Acid House culture: fashion was no longer strictly divided between the sexes. Women no longer had to wear high heels and skirts - comfort and durability were the order of the day so as not to restrict the body in its dancing. Sex was just another everyday constriction that could be escaped from, that could be merged into the dance floor crowd.

Leeds University's psychology study on ravers reinforces this idea. In their study at an all-night event, "reports of feeling sexual were low throughout the night. They stayed at a quarter of the level of positive feelings." (41)

1.9 - Cultural crossroads

All this breaking down of barriers that came from Acid House and Ecstasy culture served in uniting Britain's disparate youth groups who had fragmented in the aftermath of seventies punk. (42)

Britain's youth's wide and varied cultural background could find no unifying feature between themselves, until Acid House provided an alternative. Youth "was now beginning to reunite in the light of some severe socio-political developments. It was the spectre of wide spread youth unemployment, unsuccessful youth training schemes, outdated licensing laws, dilapidated health services and the North and South wealth divide, that resulted in uniform political opinion within youth culture". (43)

It was all of Britain's youth that felt oppressed by Thatcherism and the social order. The escapism from prejudice and relaxed attitudes within Acid House culture were the perfect release for all these youth minorities and subcultures: "Raves became a crossroads where unlikely subcultures (football, Indie and traveler amongst others) would meet. Ecstasy was undoubtedly the catalyst of this coming together". (44)

Another valid theory that connects the uniting of ethnic minority youth groups with Ecstasy and music in an expression of "hedonism in hard times" is outlined in this quote concerning jazz music:

"In the black experience art and heroin are ways of escaping white society. But the road which leads young whites towards jazz and towards heroin, is always one of the desire to join a black society seen as a negation of the principles of white society". (45) This can be updated to Acid House culture, translating as black and white youth escaping the principles of a predominately white political and social order through the use of drugs (Ecstasy) and the black music of Acid House.

This uniting of races and cultures brought a very wide array of influences into Acid House culture; raves became true "cultural melting pots" and this brought a high level of eclecticism into all aspects of Acid House music, culture and style.

1.10 - Everything begins with an E

Towards the end of 1988 the tabloid media had got hold of a sensationalist angle on Acid House culture and headlines like "BAN THIS KILLER MUSIC" and "ACID FIENDS SPIKE PAGE THREE GIRL'S DRINK" appeared across newspaper front pages. (46)

"Like Flower Power the original scene had been discovered and undermined by outside interests and with that scale of interference from the media hype - and the police crackdown that followed - it was inevitable that Acid House would peter out". (47) The Acid House scene had lost its exclusivity to those "in the know" about its delights and so lost its original magic.

However, the above interpretation of Acid House is taken from one year of a youth culture, from its very beginnings to the end of its first wave - for some. "The tabloid hysteria against Acid House in late 1988 dispersed the Acid House style but not the spirit". (48) Acid House was just the start of this ever increasing, mutating youth culture that based itself on the pleasures of dance, music and Ecstasy. The first off-shoot from this era was the "rave" and it was a direct continuation of the Acid House vibe.

"The recurring story within Ecstasy culture was of people coming into the scene, being inspired by the revelatory flash of the primal Ecstasy experience, then becoming involved and altering the direction of the scene itself by applying their own personal frame of reference to their experience". (49)

As new generations of young people found their escapism from hard times in the release and broken down social order of dance culture and brought their multi-cultural influences with them, the scene would grow and change, splinter and evolve into the many manifestations that are prevalent today. These separate scenes within dance music culture would take on new names and would continually, rapidly grow and innovate through the visionary freedom and inspiration of the young people who became involved. All of these new forms of music and culture would have the same young attitude, counter cultural air and anti-establishment ideals that had been paved by Acid House. "It had set the scene up, it had set the youth culture up as it is now". (50)

"Although many people would argue that the passion and the fashion for Acid House no longer exists, dance music and club life still plays an increasingly prominent part in the lifestyles and tastes of today's youth in Britain". (51)

May 1999, one week before the dissertation deadline, and The Face magazine reports on The Basement Jaxx, a dance music production duo who are set to be the next big thing. A duo who have called their album "Remedy" - "because that's what they feel it can be: a remedy for the poisons of the world. (52) Their London club had an atmosphere of "delirium" and their DJ style prescribed to a manic eclecticism. All elements that seem to be a direct comparison of Acid House.


1. Quote from personal archive of Miss H. Dargan, 1999.
2. Antonio Melechi, 'The Ecstasy of Disappearance', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.33.
3. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.102.
4. Nathan McGough (manager of the Stone Roses), quoted in Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.130.
5. Steve Redhead, 'The End of the End-of-the-century Party', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.4.
6. Antonio Melechi, 'The Ecstasy of Disappearance', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.37.
7. Hillegonda Rietveld, 'Living the Dream', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.65.
8. Steve Redhead, 'The End of the End-of-the-century Party', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.4.
9. Antonio Melechi, 'The Ecstasy of Disappearance', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.37.
10. Hillegonda Rietveld, 'Living the Dream', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.66.
11. Antonio Melechi, 'The Ecstasy of Disappearance', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.34.
12. 'Rave New World', Equinox, Channel 4, 1994.
13. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.97.
14. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.128.
15. Antonio Melechi, 'The Ecstasy of Disappearance', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.33.
16. Antonio Melechi, 'The Ecstasy of Disappearance', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.37.
17. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.133.
18. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.97.
19. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.99.
20. Hillegonda Rietveld, 'Living the Dream', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.52.
21. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.95.
22. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.102.
23. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.95.
24. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.60.
25. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.60.
26. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, pp.21-22.
27. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.124.
28. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.91.
29. 'Rave New World', Equinox, Channel 4, 1994.
30. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.124.
31. Peter Rubin, Localizer 1.0, Chromapark EV, 1995, p.FEA/1.17.
32. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.124.
33. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.43.
34. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.28.
35. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.28.
36. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.120.
37. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.120.
38. Sherryl Garrat, Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, pp.75-76.
39. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, pp.61-62.
40. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.97.
41. 'Rave New World', Equinox, Channel 4, 1994.
42. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.126.
43. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.127.
44. Antonio Melechi, 'The Ecstasy of Disappearance', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.36.
45. Patrick Mignon, 'Drugs and Popular Music: The Democratisation of Bohemia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, pp.182-183.
46. Hillegonda Rietveld, 'Living the Dream', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.46.
47. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.130.
48. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.127.
49. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.4.
50. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.77.
51. Steve Redhead, 'The Politics of Ecstacy', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.9.
52 Sylvia Patterson, The Face, May 1999, p95.

Chapter 2 - Flyers

2.1 - Perennial ephemera

During 1992, every inch of my bedroom walls were covered in brightly colored flyers. I picked them up in clothes and record shops, they were thrust into my hands by pushy promoters and bouncers at the end of every rave I went to, I swapped them with people at college, I even picked one off the floor once. I used to pore over them, after all, they were the only indication of what the night was going to be like. For me, flyers were an integral part of the dance music culture that I belonged to; they were part of the buildup of excitement, part of the special experience of the culture and afterwards were trophies of my night.

Although the club scene I was part of can be seen as coming from the Acid House culture of 1988, the history of flyers in relation to music can be traced back to the sixties when theatre chains would promote package tours with simple informational designs. (1) Flyers were employed in punk culture and featured provocative, DIY, photocopied imagery to communicate the culture's aesthetics. During the eighties, flyers were used by club promoters to help build a venue or a club night's identity. (2) Flyers were pieces of direct marketing and were seen by promoters as the best way to build a specific kind of clientele for their club night. (3) With other kinds of advertisement, the whole cross-section of the community will see it and it will only hit a small number of the young people it was aimed at. With flyers, they can be put right into the hand of the club's intended audience, guaranteeing that they will at least look at it. The flyer has been so successful as a relatively low budget marketing strategy that it would be used to promote dance music events right up until today.

In late sixties San Francisco, posters were the new form of communication. In seventies Britain, photocopied agit-prop was the information mode in punk culture. A new culture demands new forms of communication. (4) And the flyer took the role of not simply selling a club night to young people, but as a piece of ephemera, as a collectible piece of a whole culture, it provided a visual narrative of the new, growing and changing club scene of Britain. "The real stories of people's lives is not to be told in the news headlines, but in the stuff of everyday. Because it freezes the moment, the ephemeral can be perennial." (5)

2.2 - Style in Transit

The baseline for any flyer is information. (6) Flyers were distributed a short time before the actual night, telling the clubber where the night would be, who would be DJing and how much entry would cost - after the club night it would be out of date. "Because they promoted one off events, the average flyer would become irrelevant after only one week". (7) This transitory nature of flyers has meant that they are consistently up to date with all aspects of the culture that they are appealing to. Flyers are "a rapid, constantly changing form of communication". (8) Their style changed progressively and quickly, just like the music and fashion of club culture did.

Flyers had a short shelf life and this allowed designers a great scope for experimentation in the same way that record covers do: "Over the past thirty years the album cover has provided designers with an outlet for unbridled creative expression, visual experimentation and sheer bloody weirdness!" (9) In the same way, "the ticket offered a cheap and portable space for constant experimentation." (10)

This scope for experimentation on flyers is also brought about by the fact that the designer is not working for a big corporation who would not care for expressive, unusual design. Influential designer, Trevor Jackson, produced many flyers but also record covers associated with dance music culture and he "depended on smaller independent (record) labels to serve as laboratories for the development of his style." (11) Graphic designers were working for young promoters who would allow, in fact encourage, creativity in their designs.

Influential designer, Mark Jackson explains: "I've stayed underground and I'm happy with what I've done. Because once you become successful, your art isn't yours anymore; you have to start serving clients. Their ideas of what they want to see are different from yours. And, at the end of the day, they're paying the bills. So you have to do what they want." (12)

These young designers did not have to follow any norms of graphic design and so were not restricted by any kind of conformism. This can be seen in relation to the whole culture of dance music finding alternatives to constrictions predetermined by tradition.

2.3 - Grassroots

This was a grassroots affair - design made by people who were part of the culture for others in that culture. And who else could know most about what the flyer should represent, who it should be aimed at and what the flyers audience would react positively to other than someone who was involved in that culture themselves. "Designers like Trevor Jackson were part of the nightlife their tickets advertised." (13)

"I'm out clubbing at least twice a week," explains Jackson, "so I know what I'm talking about." (14)

This trait of flyer design has meant that they have always kept up to date with their culture because the people who are producing them are not any out-of-touch, out-of-date designer who has no real knowledge of the youth culture, they are young people who are still going out and being affected and influenced by club culture.

The entrepreneurial society brought about by Thatcherite rule in the eighties encouraged these young designers to "do it for themselves". This meant that graphic design was being taken from the privileged, experienced, corporate designer to the young, street-wise clubber. It was taking the elitism out of graphic design and therefore opening it up to a wider field of possibilities. "The best design coming out now," says Trevor Jackson, "is exactly like the best music; it's made by people without faces or massive egos." (15)

Here we can see how flyer design relates to Acid House and dance music and culture in general; it is not opposing a traditionalistic society, it is simply finding a way around it by ignoring it altogether. These anonymous designers were, consciously or not, rejecting established notions and rules of graphic design marketing. "What such lively eyes seek to frame is a fresh British design. And they're proud to see their arts make a break with the established custodians of power." (16)

"In these respects, the style-conscious world of the dance floor reprised the most romantic tenet of British punk experience: the conviction that absolutely anyone can do it." (17)

2.4 - Photocopied tat

This DIY ethic was also caused by other factors. Budgetary constraints were often a big consideration for club promoters so professional designers could not be afforded. Far from being a hindrance this low budget production served in making flyer design of a nature that appealed more intimately to the clubber. George Georgiou, who designed flyers for some of the very first Acid House nights in London, realized this fact that an expensive budget is not needed to appeal to the punter: "The best ideas come about due to tight or nonexistent budgets." (18) "That's the lesson of the dance floor," he says, "You don't need fancy stuff." (19)

"Some of the best clubs had the cheapest bits of photocopied tat." (20) Who needed expensive marketing when a young, freelance designer, often waiting for a break in graphic design, could do the job cheaper and the end result would be much more in tune with the audience and therefore would bring in a bigger, more suitable crowd of clubbers.

"It's a great opportunity," says Georgiou, "for designers and artists to rise to the challenge and get their work seen." (21)

2.5 - Raw to the core

Another factor that led to the need for low flyer budgets was the illegality of some of the earlier Acid House events. When illegal warehouse parties were being organized, the whereabouts of the venue would not be finalized or released until the last minute to avoid any unwanted attention. Flyers had to get into the right hands (ie. not a policeman's) and the information had to be distributed quickly. "Flyers are so cheap and so quick that they can broadcast information about illegal events before the authorities’ cotton on." (22) This can be seen in the crude scribbled flyer for an illegal party in Kirby (plate 1).

The rushed, cheap graphics of this flyer do not reduce its appeal to its audience. The underground nature of this flyer adds to the exclusivity, the mystique of the event and the sense of belonging to a subculture of the reader.

"This (kind of flyer design) established a context and an urgency for this form - the handbill recast for a different time." (23) This "pirate" graphic design - flyers that operated on the edge of legality - was the mode in which flyers would continue: always with a raw, subversive edge that mirrored the music and events that they advertised.

2.6 - Are you Experienced?

As was examined in Chapter 1.3, the music of Acid House had no originary subject. These flyers were not advertising a rock group or any pop idol - there was no singular subject for them to express - they were selling, in effect, an experience.

"Whereas in the late seventies, the group was at the center of activity, from the late eighties on, the club and DJ became the fount of graphic design." (24) DJ lists are common to flyers and occasionally a photo of the club is featured too. Both of these can be seen on the inside of the Andromeda V flyer (plate 2.2).

But the DJs were not like pop stars that could be put on posters; they could not be the main subject of the flyer, neither could a photo of the club, because these were only part of the whole rave experience. Designers had to find something else with which to sell the club night. Instead, flyers focused on expressing the experience of the rave rather than any singular subject. These designers who were going out clubbing were visualising what they were feeling. (25) They "were part of the nightlife their tickets advertised they sought to translate this leisure aesthetic and its language as both continued to evolve." (26) This is what makes flyers so expressive of their era - because they were more than just adverts directed at a youth market, they were a tangible, visual interpretation of a subculture's experience.

2.7 - Just Express Yourself!

So, what devices were designers using to express the experience of the rave when they could not focus on any originary subject? The abandonment and pleasure through transcendence into an altered state, by whatever means, that was the main reason behind Acid House and later club culture and music, found a visual expression in flyers. In most flyers, references to this pursuit of escapism from normal life can be found, but they are manifest in different ways.

Many flyers took on a surreal escapism where the viewer is "taken in" to an alternative reality where everyday restrictions, like time and space, bare no meaning or are distorted. This can be seen in the Dance Planet flyer (plate 4) where the viewer is "sucked in" by this big, colour flyer into its false landscape where space is stretched: the viewer is taken away from the world into an alternative reality. The catch line at the bottom, "takes you into the pleasure zone", reinforces this idea of abandonment. Turning the flyer over the viewer finds this mystic land is in Halesowen!

This surrealism took other forms: Dali's paintings were taken and used in association with dance all-nighters (plate 3) to express the bizarre, visionary, dreamlike, somewhat disturbing escapism from everyday life that the rave encapsulated.

Time was often expressed in these flyers, but usually in a distorted, altered manner. (plates 5,12) In the flyer for Time (plate 5), one can see this distortion as the Time logo is sucked into oblivion rendering it meaningless, something that, from my experiences of these disorientating raves, was a common phenomenon. This imagery is evoking the loss and abandonment that is part of the appeal of the rave, and is also part of the music and culture.

Many flyers appealed to the clubbers sense of childlike fun (plates 8,13) as outlined in Chapter 1.7. In the Smarties flyer (plate 8), the confectionery item is parodied; drug references aside, this flyer is appealing to the clubber's desire to escape from the pressures of adult life, an escape from the everyday through loss of inhibitions.

A science fiction theme can be seen in many flyers.(plates 4,6,12,14) The Vision flyer (plate 6), quite similar in effect to the Dance Planet flyer (plate 4), has a distinct "spacey" feel to it, depicting a futuristic, somewhat tacky, dreamscape where the viewer is taken off the earth into outer space. In the two bottom corners of this flyer are photos of the Blade Runner, sci-fi, film set, the blurb on the reverse side promised that these would be used as decoration for the huge event; however, I attended this all-nighter and the only similarity between it and Blade Runner was the continual, torrential rain! So, clearly, this use of sci-fi imagery is another expression of the clubber's desire to temporarily escape from reality and is parallel to the effect of dance music in its sensorial surrounding and removal of the listener into a fictional reality.

Flyers often opted for spiritualistic, paganistic imagery. Paganism is the belief in more spiritualistic values, the worshipping of nature, the earth, moon and sun. "Again and again you see the sun (in flyers) or read the words "A Midsummer Night's Dream" - that time of the year when energy is at it's peak and reason flies over the moon." (27) This paganism can be seen in flyers like the one for Sunrise (plate 7); it was in logos like the Eclipse one (plates 3,10), and in event names like Energy, Evolution, Solstice (plate 9), Raindance (plate 14), and New Age. Paganism can be seen in this context as the escape from a materialistic status quo, reverting to more spiritualistic, New-Age beliefs in response to an increasingly money, power orientated society. Once again, this was what Acid House culture was doing - not opposing society or government, but ignoring it and providing alternative, if temporary, realities.

This paganistic, reverential worship inherent in flyer imagery also implies the togetherness, the sense of belonging to one entity that was part of the hedonistic experience of the all-nighter: the loss of the self into the dance floor crowd, "a place where nobody is but everybody belongs" (28), all worshipping the music together. This kind of reverence is implied in the Solstice flyer (plate 9) with the crowd melting into one, worshipping the sun through dance.

2.8 - Mind Blown

With flyers following their culture so closely, it is obvious that drugs and experiences of the effects of drugs, being such an important aspect of the culture, would be interpreted in flyer design. All of the flyers featured in this dissertation can be said to be attributed to the influence of drugs. Ecstasy and LSD's impetus in transcendence and their distortion of time, space and reality can be seen in the bizarre, surreal flyers (plates 3,4,5,6,7,9,11,12,13,14). Ecstasy's lowering of inhibitions can be seen in the playful, childlike flyers (plates 8,13), and its aid in spirituality is manifest in the paganistic flyers (plates 7,9). For legal, and marketing reasons, the drug reference is usually ambiguous.

Flyers often made sly references to drugs that would be recognized by those belonging to the subculture, the young people who would understand the slang, and not be recognized by authorities or parents. This can be seen in the Smarties flyer (plate 8) - the round, brightly colored sweeties cheekily hinting at pills and a catch line to back this up: "Only Smart 'Es Go To RockWorld". These references serve in increasing the feeling of belonging of the viewer into the subculture. The viewer is made to feel special because they can understand or decipher these obscured messages, that their parents can't, and therefore can claim to be part of a subculture, which has a certain romantic appeal in itself. In this way, drug induced references can be seen not just as an expression of the culture, but also as a marketing strategy. (29) And with event names over the years such as Coming On Strong, Mind Blown and Mashed, references were not always so obscure!

The visual effect of the drugs that were associated with Acid House and dance music culture were also translated on to flyers. Fractals - swirly, computer generated patterns - were featured in many flyers, like the one for the Eclipse (plate 10). This bright, colorful, synthetic yet organic, psychedelic imagery was used to mimic the visual experience of LSD, or maybe just to express the stereotypical idea of what drugs do to you.

2.9 - Psychedelic posters

Such colorful, organic, visual stimulus as fractals could be seen as the modern day equivalent of the psychedelic posters of late sixties San Francisco. "Flyers took on a visual language directly related to sixties psychedelic design." (30) Flyers for Acid House and dance events had parallels with Psychedelia, the same as the music and culture did, both visually, theoretically and when put in a social context.

On a basic level, both flyers and Psychedelia were advertising dance events, directly targeting a small section of society - the young. They were both produced on a low budget by young people in the subculture for others their age; a low key, DIY, grassroots affair - designers with an intimate knowledge of the experience they were interpreting, seeking to find new means of communication without complying to existing norms of graphic design.

Like flyers, psychedelic posters were focusing on visualizing the experience of the event rather than showing any band or pop idol. Psychedelic posters sought to surround the viewer taking them in so they would be lost in the posters aura, the same effect that psychedelic music had. "This was an appeal to the senses rather than to reason." (31)

Both eras' culture, and music was directly connected to drugs, as examined in Chapter 1. In late sixties San Francisco, LSD was the drug, and its opening up of the mind, breaking down of social barriers & spiritualism, not to mention its vivid visual effects, were all expressed in psychedelic posters in the same way that Ecstasy affected flyers.

As with flyers and their subversive jokes and drug connotations, Psychedelic posters appealed to the young member of the subculture through giving a feeling of exclusivity. These posters achieved this by being almost illegible. Designers of the sixties stretched and mutated type into sinuous, abstract pictures; the image would be eye catching and would draw the young person closer to it to decipher the information. This interaction gave a feeling of subcultural exclusivity because the viewer was made to feel special that they could decipher it; they recognized that this design was for them, the young, and no one else.

Psychedelia and flyers were both expressions and parallels of the music and culture they were advertising, and thus, they are both products of a disillusionment of youth with government. As was discussed in Chapter 1.4, the "political and industrial reformations of the eighties generally echo the socio-political developments that occurred during the psychedelic period of 1965 - 68." (32) However, in the same way that the sixties hippy culture, music and graphic design actively opposed the status quo, Acid House found alternatives and escaped from a materialistic society. Although the graphic design of flyers had no ideals of activism, they can still be seen partly as a result of an oppressive government.

The main similarity between psychedelic posters and flyers is that they were both an integral part of their subculture and both provide a visual record of their history.

2.10 - Smile

As examined in Chapter 1.4, Acid House culture not only had parallels with psychedelia, it also borrowed from it. As far as the graphic design is concerned, it most famously, borrowed the smiley face from the sixties underground, which made a recurrence in Ibiza; DJ Danny Rampling later asked designer George Georgiou to use it on the flyer for Shoom, after which it became the recognized symbol of Acid House. (33)

This borrowing from Psychedelia continued and could be seen in all the flyers that came out with swirly patterns, flowery imagery and stretched, lazy type, but is best seen in the Spectrum flyer (plate 11): this flyer "faithfully updates the palindromic Rick Griffin eyeball." (34) Flyers borrowed from psychedelia because of the implied, drug induced spiritualism that is associated with the stereotypical image of the sixties: they "give an idea of the attitudes behind them: elaborate, full color leaflets show cosmic quasi-hippy mystical images." (35)

These flyers took the imagery of the Psychedelia into a different subculture, a different time, where the radical political implications of the style had no meaning and were viewed simply as nostalgia for an era that seemed to have the nearest comparison to what these young people were experiencing.

"Stripped of its unwholesome connotations the style becomes fit for public consumption." (36) This can be seen as a marketing strategy, selling a modern event through nostalgia for a mythological era, but is also an expression of the need of these young, British people to escape the harsh realities of present day into a brighter past.

2.11 - Piracy

"Borrowing" of visual imagery can be seen in a great deal of flyer design. The plagiarism employed in the Spectrum flyer seems insignificant when compared to the Eclipse flyer (plate 3) where a Dali painting is blatantly snatched with the tiny Eclipse logo hiding in the corner.

Designers were afforded the liberty of plagiarism because of the nature of flyers. Firstly, they often had a low or non-existent budget and so could not afford expensive illustrators to produce the kind of imagery that they wanted, or, more likely, it was easier, quicker and cheaper to plunder a found illustration. This non-reliance on professional artists meant that anyone could do it. "Pirate skills did not require art school, technical college or any form of State education." (37) Here one can see the DIY ethic behind Acid House culture taking place in its graphic design, meaning that it was not restricted to any class or any high level of corporate professionalism. Anyone, from any race, class or sex, could produce these flyers.

Secondly, designers could copy artwork because copy write laws could be avoided: the authorities "can't hold the (club) owners responsible and they have no way of finding the promoter." (38) The same copy write infringement was employed when Acid House and dance records sampled excerpts from other artists’ material; in these cases, prosecution was avoided by releasing a "white label" recording through which the artist could not be traced. Far from being commercially unviable, these records, without any information about the producer whatsoever, in complete contrast to the norm of the artist being the main subject of the record's packaging, were selling because of their exclusivity and because of their pirate, illicit, anarchy. "Like sampling acts of unauthorized appropriation are deemed hip." (39)

This samizdat, anti-establishment, quality of flyers appeals to the subculture in the same way that punk graphics of the seventies did. The kidnap ransom note typography on the Sex Pistols covers employed this kind of anarchic imagery:

"This logo," said Malcolm McLaren of Sex Pistols fame, "represented everything an establishment couldn't do. A kidnap note is associated with what people couldn't have - it's not someone's font, it's not someone's letters - it’s outside of that. It made you respect the outlaw and that, of course, was fabulous because it was culturally threatening." (40)

This piracy of images in flyers is seen as a negation of authoritarianism and therefore appeals to the member of the subculture because of its diversity from the mainstream.

The subcultural allure of the illicit aside, for what other reasons were designers using stolen imagery? In the Smarties flyer (plate 8) the brand logo has been used in a parody. The subversive joke employed here is in the re-use of a child's confectionery item and big corporative, brand name, in an all-night event associated with drugs. Parody has featured a lot in flyer design with corporate IDs from Daz washing powder to Vogue Magazine having been plundered over the years.

Flyers also ripped off other art work, not to make fun of it, but to borrow the manifest meanings of them. In the Eclipse flyer (plate 4) the context of Dali's painting has been changed, but it is still not a parody, neither is it nostalgia. It could have been used simply for its aesthetic value (as Dali's paintings often are). Or it could have been used for its surrealism in expression of the event's promises of dream-like escapism. Ultimately, designers were pirating these images because they could - "because the images exist." (41)

2.12 - Visual Sampling

The sampling of sound in dance music, as examined in Chapter 1.5, was to have an equivalent in the production of flyers that would further enable designers to appropriate imagery. Instead of lifting sounds from various sources with the use of a sampler, designers were able to take graphics from visual sources and use them within their designs through the Apple Mac computer and the scanner. Although this practice was by no means exclusive to flyer design, it has been employed a great deal within this field and provides both reflection and expression of dance music. "The flyer era has spanned the phasing in of the Apple Mac as an accepted graphic design tool: most immediately, you can pull images from anywhere with the scanner, and within minutes enhance and stretch them." (42)

This visual sampling can be seen to great effect in the Time Machine flyer (plate 12) where masses of seemingly randomly selected images create a multi-layered collage. "This is the Mac as a gigantic collage machine the flyer minces up images from the history of art, from any source in a whirligig, millennial dance." (43)

The use of collage and scanned, imagery in flyer design can be seen to be inspired by the music. Ian Wright, influential designer and illustrator in dance music culture, "loves house, hip-hop, ragamuffin rap. And he prizes the textures and thieveries made possible be sampling. "For visual types, it's so inspirational. ’Cause that message is: use the technology." (44)

2.13 - Technicolour

As technology played such an integral part in the music of Acid House, so would it be endemic to the graphic design of flyers. Use of technology can be seen in most flyers, from the computer generated fractals and synthetic colors of the Eclipse flyer (plate 10) to the multi-layered , snatched images of the Time Machine flyer (plate 12), the graphic shapes, lines and layout of the Andromeda V flyer (plate 2,2.2) to the colorful computer characters of the Pandemonium flyer (plate 13).

Computers are not just the chosen method for designers to work in, computer generated art work is what the youth wants to see because it complies with their culture so readily. "Although all my pieces are airbrush illustrated," says Pez who designed the Raindance 2 flyer (plate 14), "I try to make each look as computer generated as possible because the market out there is a computer market." (45)

But, for other young designers, computers were a way to get involved in design because the technology was cheap and available, and also because they were young, free from technophobia and more likely to accept technology: "It's getting their hands on technology that has made young designers able to drive what's happening," says Ian Wright, "Kids know more about computers than adults are prepared to learn." (46)

Undoubtedly, the Apple Mac design software was the perfect tool for these young designers to find new modes of expression to match the new form of music that they were listening to. Ian Anderson of The Designers Republic, who have long been associated with youth and dance music culture in Britain, explains the freedom of creativity that the Mac brought:

"On-screen you can draw, you can create layers of intensity that would be impossible physically. If you do something you don't like, you can start again. You can explore a lot of ideas a lot quicker. The Mac gives control and the ability to create something that looks professional but a lot cheaper." (47)

2.14 - Eclectic ephemera

The application of technology meant that the designer no longer had to have years of design experience or formal artistic training to be able to produce a decent design. "Graphics is not an old man's medium anymore; the day when you sit down and draw a car is gone forever." (48)

In the same way that Acid House music artists were getting involved in production and were experimenting and innovating whilst incorporating their personal background and knowledge into their music, designers were bringing their own backgrounds and cultures into flyer design. This was taking any elitism out of the graphic design and opening up the field of possibilities, inspirations and cultural influences that flyer design could take.

This high level of eclecticism that flyer design was taking was not only brought about by technology; it was also a product of the re-uniting of disparate youth groups and cultures that late eighties dance culture effected. "Partly the consequence of the radical social mix brought to London by dance floor culture the subcultures absorbed each other's styles and co-opted bits and pieces from one another's worlds." (49) Flyer design was, once again, providing a true expression of the heterogeneous culture and music that it was part of.

The whole Acid House vibe was one of inclusion: the uniting of youth with a common cause, to escape from the normality’s of everyday existence through dance: the breaking down of barriers set by authorities and the status quo to allow freedom, a sense of belonging and an outlet for expression, all of which was not only conveyed but celebrated in the design of flyers.


1. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.7.
2. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.38.
3. Sarah Thronton, Club Cultures, Polity Press, 1995, p.141.
4. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.7.
5. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.6.
6. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.6.
7. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.38.
8. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.6.
9. Adrian Shaughnessy, Creative Review, December, 1997, p.31.
10. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.38.
11. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.139.
12. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.126.
13. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.42.
14. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.66.
15. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.138.
16. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.79.
17. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.70.
18. HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.23.
19. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.98.
20. Richard Norris (member of The Grid), HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.20.
21. HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.23.
22. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.8.
23. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.8.
24. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.8.
25. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.79.
26. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.42.
27. HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.12.
28. Antonio Melechi, 'The Ecstasy of Disappearance', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.37.
29. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.9.
30. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.140.
31. John Barnicoat, A Concise History of Posters, 1972, p61.
32. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.99.
33. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.98.
34. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.9.
35. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.139.
36. Hillegonda Rietveld, 'Living the Dream', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.55.
37. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.48.
38. Sarah Thronton, Club Cultures, Polity Press, 1995, p.147.
39. Sarah Thronton, Club Cultures, Polity Press, 1995, p.147.
40. Creative Review, February, 1998, p.37.
41. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.126.
42. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.10.
43. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.10.
44. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.71.
45. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, pp.9-10.
46. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.82.
47. John Savage, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.10.
48. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.71.
49. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.66.

Chapter 3 - Sub to Pop

"Excess marketing of youth movements during the eighties often degenerated the cultural validity of each movement into mere styles and fads." (1)

As the Acid House event was becoming big business, this was recognized by more mainstream concerns who sought to cash in on Acid House's success. The original idea behind Acid House was that of escapism from the restrictions of everyday, British, mainstream culture. Now, clubs were being organized because promoters recognized that this youth culture could be sold, that the drugs, culture and fashion surrounding Acid House was something that young people aspired to belong to, and so the culture became a commodity.

It is when aspects of a culture, such as a particular fashion or style of music, are taken away from the original reasons for their existence, produced merely to sell to a youth market, that the culture is changed into no more than a fad. This is when a subculture gets assimilated into mainstream, popular culture.

"By the end of 1989, street fashion was beginning to be affected by the 'dance craze'." (2) High street fashion outlets were selling baggy, long-sleeve tops for this new market. Acid House music saw its input into the mainstream with cross-over acts such as D-Mob's "We Call It Acieed" reaching number three in the charts. (3) The style of the music was being watered down and re-emerging, without any illicit connotations, to appeal to a broader, popular, public taste.

Of course, flyers formed a parallel to the culture that they were part of and aspects of their style were borrowed, watered down and assimilated into popular culture.

Fruitopia was a new drink brought out in 1995. Its labelling (plate 15) had a distinct New-Age spirituality to it and its television adverts had "trippy", kaleidoscopic visuals. "The graphics and rhetoric (of Fruitopia) have come straight from the acid/ Ecstasy/ spliff stoked imagery of flyers." (4) The spiritualistic, "inner-body", environmentalistic themes that had come about in flyer design for specific reasons to do with the culture, were taken in order to sell a product for one of the world's biggest companies, Coca-Cola. (5)

These stylistic attributes were taken because they are seen as being associated with a drug oriented, frivolistic lifestyle. "Drugs are fun and sexy," says Mike Linnell of Lifeline - the drugs advice and information center in Manchester, "young people like them and that's why they appeal to anyone who's trying to appeal to young people." (6)

As such giant companies as Coca-Cola realize the money that surrounds youth culture they also realize the potential for that money to get into their pockets. The subversive joke that flyers like the Smarties flyer (plate 8) played on companies, by associating a mainstream product with drugs, has been turned around with a vengeance as the same big companies seek to cash in on a previously untouchable section of the market. On the cover of Adamski's "N-R-G" single, an Acid House hit that became popular enough to chart, a Lucozade bottle (the non-alcoholic energy-giving drink chosen by many ravers) was altered to have the same name as the single in place of the Lucozade logo. This parody was not appreciated by Lucozade who threatened to sue, after which the single with the offensive cover was deleted. Soon after this, Lucozade apparently realized the young market that they could be selling to and subsequently altered their product to say "Lucozade - N-R-G" and gave an appropriately young, exciting, "techno" feel to the label.

This corporate, mainstream take-over of a youth culture can be seen again with companies recognizing the power of flyers to sell to a young audience; instead of assimilating flyer graphics, they simply associated their company names with the youth market through the method of sponsorship. I have seen club nights sponsored by "Pro-Plus" - the favored over-the-counter alternative to speed! "Advertisers are recognizing the power of flyers," says Mark Whelan at London's D.F.G.W. advertising agency, "Because young people are difficult to reach with conventional advertising." (7)

So once again, flyers have taken a visual and theoretical parallel of their culture. "Flyers tell a story. And the story emerging is yet another episode where a youth cult, enslaved to corporations, is becoming a bastion of bland conformity." (8)

This development of Acid House seems intrinsic to youth cultures in general. The same happened to sixties Psychedelia when its style became watered down and marketed, stripped of its unwholesome connotations, and assimilated into mainstream culture. The difference with Acid House is that the newly found appetite for dance ability that it brought about, sparked off many other subcultures. Acid House had dispersed, but its DIY ethic of inclusivity and relaxing of barriers, lived on as countless other mutations of this original provided a means of escape for British youth.


1. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.93.
2. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.137.
3. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.4.
4. Stephen Kingston, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.178.
5. Stephen Kingston, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.178.
6. Stephen Kingston, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.179.
7. Stephen Kingston, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.178.
8. Stephen Kingston, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.182.


"London's dance floor culture forged changes that mattered; it altered the market place of pop and the impulse behind young design." (1)

Though this dissertation we have seen how an oppressive, materialistic government and status quo led a whole section of British society to find asylum in the hedonistic pleasures and broken down barriers of Acid House. We have seen how dancing would be the new medium of escape - a transcendenment into an altered state where culture, creed or class would bare no meaning. We have seen how a subculture, although non-confrontational by nature, opposed an old-fashioned society by embracing all things new, such as technology and Ecstasy, and by finding alternatives to social and political conformities. All of this was seen as a recurrence, or a recreation, of the sixties hippy movement, and through this, can be seen to function in the same way that all subcultures do.

These young people were happy, ecstatic, dancing to a music without subject, song or pop-star where rhythm is all-encompassing and their everyday existence was left behind as they disappeared into the dance floor. The result of this new appetite for dance ability changed the club atmosphere in Britain, led to a fresh attitude of sociability, inclusion and expression which was to reverberate across the whole of youth culture for years to come.

This expression in turn affected the design of flyers and throughout this dissertation we can see how the young people who were involved and inspired by the freedom, anti-establishmentarianism and multi-coloured energy of dance music - spawned by Acid House - translated the dance vibe into visual equivalents. We have seen how these young, anonymous designers used the entrepreneurial opportunities opened to them by a Thatcher government and also by a young, anti-elitist club community, to do-it-for-themselves. Design was taken from the elite few to the street where a cross section of Britain's multicultural society, brought together by Acid House's inclusivity and breaking down of social, racial barriers, were able to input their influences. The anti-elitism and cultural eclecticism in flyers was aided by an acceptance of technology, the use of the scanner, and the DIY ethic that Punk had previously championed, all of which mirrored the free-form ethics of Acid House.

This dissertation has shown how this new culture needed new modes of expression, a new visual language; the energy, spiritualism and loss of inhibitions, all expressions of escape that were inherent in Acid House culture, and also its infusion of Ecstasy and technology, saw visual interpretations in the visual language of flyers.

We have seen how flyers have kept an underground, illicit, samizdat quality, allowing designers the freedom to infringe copy write laws and take images from an endless, eclectic source, that mirrored the culture and music of Acid House and also appealed to the young clubber by giving the feeling of being exclusive and against the mainstream.

In parallel to Acid House culture I have shown how the design of flyers mirrored, and copied, sixties Psychedelia. This has shown not only how design functions within a subculture, but also another expression of escape from eighties Britain by the young people in this subculture.

I have also proved how flyers have always been at the forefront of fashion and have been able to keep up-to-date with style because of their rapid, transitory nature and because of their grassroots design, which gave these young designers a space to show their work and allowed them a great scope for experimentation, thus providing an up-to-date visual diary of feelings and fashions within dance music culture.

Finally we have seen how Acid House, and flyer design, followed the path of all subcultures and its style was assimilated into popular culture with flyers losing their anti-establishment values and being used to make money for big corporations because they recognized the power of flyers, and more specifically, the glamorous image of drugs associated with their imagery, to sell to a difficult-to-reach audience - the young.

Through this dissertation we can see that where Acid House succeeded in appealing to Britain's youth was in that "it was a culture with options in place of rules." (2) Acid House was about breaking down existing rules, breaking down barriers, if only temporarily. The dance floor vibe was created by people rather than one person. Because of this, no one person can tell the true story of the subculture: each person who experienced Acid House and its many spin-offs into dance culture will have a different version of events. (3) Flyers are able to tell a realistic story of an era because of their tight association and integration in their culture, because they are indelibly linked with the culture that they are expressing, and because they are visual interpretations of an experience.


1. Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991, p.70.
2. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.5.
3. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.5.



John Barnicoat, A Concise History of Posters, 1972.
Matthew Colin, Altered State - The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House (Second Edition), Serpents Tail, 1998.
Die Gestalten Verlag, Localizer 1.0, Chromapark EV, 1995.
Steve Redhead, Rave Off - Politics and Deviance in Contemporary Youth Culture, Avebury, 1993.
Cynthia Rose, Design After Dark, Thames and Hudson, 1991.
Sarah Thronton, Club Cultures - Music, Media and Subcultural Capital, Polity Press, 1995.
Various Authors, HighFlyers - ClubRavePartArt, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995.


The Face, May, 1999.
Creative Review, December, 1997.
Creative Review, February, 1998.
NME, April, 1999.

TV Programs

'Rave New World', Equinox, Channel 4, 1994.