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  • Writer's pictureRachael Finch

Saatchi's Sweet Harmony Rave Exhibition: A Movement of the Past and Present

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

Although never explicitly explained, Liquid’s ‘Sweet Harmony’ seems like a fitting name for Saatchi Gallery's new exhibition. Originally released in 1991 it captures the true spirit of acid house as a tool to bring together different counter cultures as one. A culture where we ‘can all be the same. We are connected’. (Juan Rincon).

Immersive from the offset, we were thrown into the pre-social media landscape of the late 80s and early 90s. The first room we entered held a petrol station which had phone numbers sprawled across columns, designed to replicate the 'ring for location' days of rave. A nostalgic piece for those who were older and an educational experience for those my age.

However, as we walked further into the darkness and heard the distant thud of music it was an experience all would be familiar with, capturing the anticipation and excitement of heading to a party. At the end of the room an acid smiley face greeted us from behind a wired fence, marking the entry to the gallery. Ducking through a hole in the fence we were launched into the exhibition which had photos of ravers sprawled across it’s walls, short films and visuals, drum machines, DJs, quotes from academics and even their own record shop – I copped myself a few records for a pound each.

A particularly striking piece of art in the exhibition was Conrad Shawcross' overturned vehicle which featured music from Scottish superstar Mylo and reminded me of Marty Mcfly’s car in ‘Back to the Future’. And in a way we were going back to the future, simultaneously given a lens into the past – with photos and various memorabilia including clothing, posters, whistles and even pills taken from the era – and the future, with the spirit of acid house living on through these pieces of art.

Yet, the standout piece for me came in one of art's simplest forms, with Vinca Peterson’s diary lay out across a whole wall of the exhibition, displaying rave as a way of life. Not only did it provide a female lens on acid house history, a largely unheard voice in the origins of rave, but it also showcased a certain innocence and vulnerability as she laid out her life for a bunch of strangers, acting as a point of connection for all that were reading it and capturing the essence of acid house as a place when we can all be as one.

Mapping the significant parts of her life from the first photos she took at just 7 years old to accounts of raves, jobs, volunteer work and emotional events of her life, her diary was placed as a reminder that society has "abandoned the Romantic, anarchistic idea of an uninhibited pursuit of joyous personal freedom in favour of accumulation of material wealth". And for those that were perceptive enough, the bouncy castle that was placed in the room was from one of the pictures in her diary, an addition which helped to substantiate her experiences.

Another gallery that challenged the idea of material growth as integral to society was the political gallery. I was particularly pleased to see Extinction Rebellion among the political images, with shots and a short video captured from the recent protests in London. It was a reminder that rave is not just a capitalist venture created to earn huge amounts of money but it is a form of art and political rebellion.

It is in this way that the spirit of acid house, a movement of togetherness and freedom, is still being kept alive, whether that's personal politics of freedom, like Vinca Peterson's story, or politics that unite people as a whole in a bid to challenge the ideals of our time.

You can't get much more of a sweet harmony than that.


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