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Molly Macindoe has been photographing, documenting and enjoying the underground rave scene since 1997. That’s over 20 years. Her work has spanned not only decades but continents. Travelling all over the UK and Europe to Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan Israel and Iran to capture the fundamental feeling of free parties.

All these trips have culminated in a book, titled ‘Out of Order’, which documents 10 years of those photos. The making of the book was a lifelong dream of Molly, who was certain all her experiences would end up in print the first time she took her camera to a rave. Molly has always been a participant of the scene, never just an observer, and that’s what gives her photos the raw and often intimate edge when savouring over the pages in her book, which can be found via Brother online and in the Brother store.

We catch up with Molly, currently on the other side of the world in New Zealand.

Hey, Molly! How’s it going in New Zealand? 

[Showing us on a facetime call] This is my temporary gaff. I'm only here because of my book. This guy rescued me, Doris who is a Dutch old school raver, old school squatter crew, lived in London for years, moved to New Zealand fifteen years ago. He bought some postcards recently and when I saw that he was in New Zealand and I said ‘Oh I'm moving there next year’ and he said ‘Oh come and say hi anytime’ and that was the end of that.

He's just so friendly and welcoming and it’s a reminder that I may have travelled halfway around the world but this old community that I thought I'd left behind, I haven't left behind.

That’s beautiful. How did you get started in the scene and what was it like both photographing and being a part of the scene?

Back then cameras were unheard of. I was accused of being a paparazzo, chucked out of rooms. Someone was like ‘Out, out! No cameras in here!’ and I was just like ‘Look it’s black and white, just light and darkness. Nothings going to show up apart from some silhouettes’. ‘No. Out!’.

At the beginning it was lots of dancefloor with lights and silhouettes and darkness. I didn't stick around in the morning because I had to go home and pretend to my Mum and Dad that I hadn't been out raving. People started to look forward to seeing the pictures. There's some people who said ‘I avoided you for 10, all these years, and I wish I hadn't now’. I was just the girl with the camera.

It feels secretive today to be honest. I was told off by someone last year before someone was like ‘No, she's alright’ so I kind of quite like that, that it is still protected. I didn't have any confidence at the beginning at all. I hardly had any friends, I was just a really shy, awkward teenager and when I started I knew that I had to build up trust so I started by taking pictures of my friends or DJ’s. Like I'd go up to a DJ and be like ‘Oh do you mind if i take your picture?’ and they'd say ‘Yeah go ahead, of course.’ I would spend all week developing the pictures or whatever colour films I’d had, I’d send off to a cheapo developer and if anyone was featured in a picture I’d make a copy for them too and I’d bring it back the next week and show everybody with their filthy rave hands covering the pictures and just passing it around. It took a long time, but people started to see the kind of pictures that they were.

How did you get immersed in the culture and what made you want to capture it on film?

A couple of girls from school said ‘oh we found these illegal rave things. I didn't actually know them that well but I had purple and black hair and a couple of piercings so they just assumed that I would like it. But at first I said no. I had an idea of what they might be like and I wasn't really ready for that. Then I had my first Glastonbury experience that year and something about seeing so many people that had this alternative look, I was like ‘Woah! Where, where do they go? Do they go underground afterwards? Where can I find them?’

For me it was always about community. I just walked right through the doorway of my first rave which was a bingo hall in Wood Green and it's like a lawless atmosphere, really chaotic, people shouting things, shouting their wares and just loads of noises and loads of different kinds of people and I just felt like I’d found my home, I’d found my place, I found a community that I’d been missing. This was just a place where you got accepted. All these people on the fringes. Misfits in some way or another. Whatever background they were from. You feel accepted there. You feel like you can be anybody. No one really blinks an eye.

Bringing my camera, that was a bold move. I didnt think about it. We’d started studying it in school and I had this tiny dark room and I remember thinking at the time ‘right, I'm gonna like this and I'm gonna be good at it.’ I'd just started learning printing so I thought ‘why not bring my camera to the next rave?’ and it just seemed really natural but thinking back on it, I can't believe I dared to do that . I didn't realise. I didn't “get it” then. I didn't get that it was so secretive and people might be against that, so I did do that. So that was the second rave which was in Beachy Road in Hackney Wick which is the first picture in the book.

Raves are quite an outward expression of dancing and moving and immersing yourself in something that is hedonistic and it's very outward but also so private, which is so different to the whole Ibiza scene. If you'd gone with your camera out to ibiza you would have been inundated with people wanting you to take their picture, why do you think the party scene wants to keep its doors closed?

When you walk through that door you are in this temporary autonomous zone and you shed whatever else was going on in your life. There's people from every type of background going to raves, all mingling together in this great big secret.

The pictures in the book feel quite raw and intimate. In your honest opinion as someone who was there, do you think they give an accurate description of what it was like?

My pictures can be quite grainy and raw and I never used a flash. I think that came about from wanting to look less professional. So I'm seeing with the eyes of someone who’s in it. There's no extra lighting, there's blurry bits, there's lines, like a beam of laser falling on someone's face so i guess in technical terms, because I’m doing things that way, I lose a lot of pictures, I can't take a lot of pictures. So there's a lot that I'm missing out on.

What are the sort of things you didn't get to capture because of this?

Oh so many. I just had to learn not to take a picture. I can see it with my eyes which are more complicated than the camera. I can adjust and see something but I know the contrast isn't there to get a picture. And not just that, you know I'm manually focussing in very difficult circumstances and sometimes, and sometimes, I may not be as focused. I don't make it easy for myself really! But when it works, it works well. I‘ve heard some people say I'm capturing the mood’ maybe.

I definitely don't claim to be completely objective. No-one can be. I'm taking them from my view, as someone who has real passion and someone who's trying to protect the community. straight away, I saw that there was a lot of anger, mostly about how free-party raves and ravers were portrayed. There's been so many sensational headlines in papers, way before I started going.

If you look through Out Of Order carefully, you will see some photos that I would call more ‘on the dark side’, not dark and nasty, it might look different in black and white but there are people sleeping and rubbish on the floor, but then you have these beams of lights coming through broken windows. You could take a picture of that scene in a really kind of grimey and trashy way but the way I try to take a picture of that is to show it.

I never took pictures of blatant drug use because everyone knows that can happen at raves and that's been done a lot before, it's really boring. It's obvious that some of the people in the pictures are inebriated, I don't need to make it sensational or make a big deal out of it because it wasn't a big deal to me. I've got my view and that's what I take pictures of.

How did you narrow down the images in Out of Order from the stacks you must have taken?

The story about one of my favourite pictures. This was in late 2000 and it was in Commercial Road in London and it was a really, really big party, multi-story, multi-rig. I didn't want to go, which is often the case, I was just wandering around the building taking pictures, trying to find something interesting. I kept passing this one guy on the stairs and he was kind of doing the same thing and he joked ‘ have you found anything interesting yet?’

Then we decided. I was in the doorway of this room that was completely empty apart from a dog and this couple, and this guy was head of a big soundsystem which I later on became really involved with and he started talking to me about my pictures, asking me things like ‘how did I feel about taking pictures of a secret subculture?’ He was quite challenging so I explained. He's someone who really believes in the secrecy of all of it, especially being an organiser, and he seemed to get my point, he was coming around to it and he said ‘I'll tell you what, there's one picture of a free-party that I saw, it’s my favourite picture I’ve ever seen of a rave. It was a round sticker in the middle of Crossbones first EP’ and I was tickled pink because this was my photo that I'd taken three years before. He had no idea what my photos looked like at all, his favourite rave photo happened to be mine. It was also a very important picture to me because it was first ever publication of anything and it was the first party I ever brought my camera to and Crossbones soundsystem was a soundsystem I followed for years. So just as he was telling me this I saw something in front of me and I quickly grabbed my camera and took a picture as we were talking and I didn't know until it came out that it turned out to be my favourite picture I've ever taken at a rave.

Are there any images you wish could have been included in the book for any reason

There are pictures of people that mean a lot to me, my best friends or people that were very important to me that I just didn't have a good enough picture of them to put them in, which is really annoying because I wish I could give them that legacy of being in the book. With the second edition I was able to add a lot more pictures that I couldn't in the first. There are some people that are no longer here so I wish sometimes that they were in the book. I didn’t go to all the parties. There are 470 pages, it's a hefty size book and I stopped at ten years. I hope to make another book. Maybe now that I'm settling in another country with my own place, I'm hoping to be more focused.

You have lived a wild life with all the amazing places and parties you’ve gone to. Could you tell us about some of the other raves you’ve attended?

[The Spanish NYE one] will always be in the top 3. The Beachy Road one. Halloween ones are always phenomenal. For instance, there was another one in Norfolk that was kind of a complete cock-up because someone did the party-line wrong so absolutely no one came, I mean no one, and all these london sound-systems had driven up to put this party on. Not a single punter came and that meant that nobody had to impress anyone and we just did what we wanted. We were playing just like soul music or disco, everyone had their fancy dress on.

I've been to some pretty epic Czech Teknivals. I've been to some parties that have gone down in history, not just because they were huge and impressive but because they ended in extreme violence with police and Czeck Tek was one of those. Czech Teks were always ginormous, over 10,000 people from all over and this one year it all went horribly wrong because there was a change in the way that they did it and the mafia weren’t paid this time to let it go ahead. You arrived, it's really strange because you're so excited to get there, you've been travelling for days from London and you’re so excited because this is the start of days of fun, then about 1,000 police descend towards us with water-cannons and tear-gas and flash-stun-grenades and they charge on a seated crowd. It was extreme. It was like a battle, it was a war, people got very seriously hurt and one person got killed. There was a national outcry about the way we were treated which would never happen in England or western Europe but it did in Czech and the government fell because of it. Loads of police were arrested and put into prison so it was a big, big deal .

Nowadays, legal raves are a big thing so what do you think of modern day rave culture?

I think that there will be many heydays for the rave scene. It's gone on for three decades and you can't say ‘the best days are gone, the good old days’. I totally believe it's still going, especially with all the venues being shut down. It's becoming more restricted everywhere and people need a place to go where they feel free to express themselves honestly. The raves are still going on strong. I wouldn't say there are three or four going on in London like there used to be, but they are happening regularly. Maybe even every two weeks with some soundsystens and they've got a following, they keep the spirit alive, they keep on going. The last rave that I went to was in Bristol in 2019 and it was absolutely huge, right around the corner from a gigantic Boomtown festival event. It was also the start of the student year so you'd see so many of these people coming, kids, teenagers, their first time. You could see in their eyes. They'd obviously been around the corner at something else in the area and someone says ‘oh there's this illegal rave around the corner’, you can imagine their lives changing at that moment, like mine did.

Things have changed, fashions change, music changes. Some people don’t even know what turn-tables are anymore. I don't criticise it too much. Things are always going to change, you have to adapt.

How did the Sweet Harmony show at the Saatchi gallery come about? 

I was probably one of the last photographers to be asked to be in it. Other Photographers that I know such as Matthew Smith and Dave Swindells had been contacted right from the get go which was probably around a year before it started. I had heard some rumours about a Saatchi exhibition but since I hadn't been asked I didn't really want to look into that .

I was just suddenly contacted by Vinker Peterson who was probably the first photographer involved, she's very close to the curator. She brought a book out in 2002 called No System. We met once I think at a party in Spain but she just suddenly emailed me out of the blue and said ‘would you like to be part of a Saatchi show?’ and I was like ‘erm, yeh ok?’ She put me in touch with the curators Kobi and Philly and it was just bang, bang, bang ‘you’ve got to get hi-res images to us’. At the time I was homeless, I'd left my home of seven years and I hadn't found anywhere to live yet so I was sofa-surfing. I mean it could have been a lot worse but it was horrible for me because I like stability and this was going on. My stuff had been packed up for five months already and my negatives were in Wales whereas I was in Bristol and I had some things in London. I was just like ‘woah I’ve gotta run around quickly, fetch all this stuff’. The whole thing was so surreal. You have to say yes because you don't really have a choice. It's something that I was always going to have to be a part of. It was a chance for people that otherwise wouldn't have seen my work to see it.

There must have been a big juxtaposition between the art world and the rave world, both of which you were residing in?

Yeah, everyone felt it. Especially when pictures of ours were put in the Sun without anybody knowing that would happen. In fact the Sun didn't even put my name next to it. That's not OK at all. It was a big juxtaposition and a lot of people, including myself, got a big backlash about that ‘what are you doing in a gallery owned by a wife-beating tory-supporter’ but he doesn't own it anymore. The curator, Phillipa Adams was taking that opportunity now that Charles Saatchi was out. She had asked to do this Rave exhibition for years and been told ‘No’. There was only one slot so it was apparently quite rushed. Technically the photography could have looked better. Whether or not it really represented the scene, I guess it did for some people. There were people there coming that maybe had some experience of raves in their lives of any sort of dance music. There were people that had no idea at all and they seemed to be really enjoying themselves. People from my scene went and they were just really proud. I heard about plans to throw a rave in the courtyard of the Saatchi gallery but it never actually happened unfortunately.

What are pockets of interest for you now?

Last year a lot of stuff happened for me. There was Saatchi, a book signing in Paris, a solo exhibition in Italy, an interview on Radio 4, but I have not been in a space where I've felt creative for a while. Partly because of my living situation, partly because I know I'm moving to the other side of the world. One of the many reasons why I wanted to move to Tararua because I felt inspired. I got my photography mojo back when I was here last year and it took a couple of weeks and I wanted to pick a camera up. Suddenly all I wanted to do was take some pictures and that just progressed for the rest of the trip. I know I want to do another book or two, I just want to take pictures of other things. It's always going to be about communities for me, definitely, I wanna get a bit stuck in to a community, something that's going on around me, something that's close to me, that happens naturally that I'm not necessarily seeking out.

Out of Order and Documenting the Rave Road by Molly Macindoe can be found online at the Brother Store or via our shop in Netil Market.

Find out more about Molly via her website.


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