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Dance Floor Etiquette, Yushy
Photographer Yushy documents the underground rave scene in his photo project and zine Rave the the GravePhotography Yushy

Dance Floor Etiquette: a photographer’s love letter to underground raves

We speak to London image-maker Yushy about his new project, which documents the transformative hedonism of the UK rave scene

Compared to the unhinged hedonism of the 1980s and 1990s, the most popular of raves are now squeaky clean, nicely packaged and Instagram-friendly. “You go to a big venue like Printworks and it’s almost like an influencer meetup, it almost looks too manufactured to be a rave,” London-based photographer Yushy tells Dazed. At its purest form, a rave is a collective act of rebellion and self-expression that, when a multi-million-pound events company is involved, loses some of the rawness that gives a rave its unique sense of rejecting normal life.

“I got into photography after I finished school, shooting as I was working during my internship,” the photographer explains, speaking over Zoom. Since then, Yushy has practised the mantra of never leaving the house without a camera, which explains why his work contains so much of the “realness” that he reiterates to me during the interview. “I didn’t shoot any music events until I got to university and had a stern call from my mum pushing me to get a job,” he recalls. “I saw a promoter looking for a photographer for their event, and the rest is history.”

The photographer’s upcoming debut solo exhibition Dance Floor Etiquette (at the Museum of Youth Culture) is a tribute to the underground, capturing the scene’s raw, kinetic energy alongside moments of intimacy. The collection spans a period from the first post-lockdown raves up until very recently and features images from Yushy’s arresting Rave To The Grave zine. “The scene has always been there,” Yushy explains. Like any subculture with a mainstream branch, there will always be a need for the underground, somewhere to escape from the pre-manufactured mega-raves that have been an internalised part of dance music culture for years now.

This choice to seek the underground has many motivations, namely for a space free from judgement. “There’s a level of respect you get in these smaller venues, even if it's a huge DJ playing in a small venue,” he says, continuing “people are a lot more careful about their safe space.” With incidents ranging from speedo-gate in Fabric last December, to a 23-year-old’s tragic murder at Crane in the same month, it’s no wonder why DIY events such as The Cause have become the go-to for people who want to avoid any issues. “At The Cause, everyone was so open and free,” Yushy reflects on his experience there. “Those mega-raves are amazing because everything is turned up to 11 but I’m always on edge... Some stuff I’ve seen in the bigger raves has not always been the nicest.”

Within Dance Music Etiquette, we are offered a glimpse into the full spectrum of experiences that happen over the course of a rave, which may go unnoticed in the heat of the moment. “I’m like a fly on the wall – I always try to avoid eye contact in the pictures,” explains Yushy. “Intimacy is the biggest theme, a lot of those weird moments you see when you’re working in a club, like someone who’s falling half asleep against a table with the crowd behind them, completely out of pocket and context.”

“In 10 years people are gonna say, ‘I wonder what this [raving] was like,’ and they look back at these images that capture such a niche part of youth culture,” Yushy says. “Ewan Spencer is a great example… how he shot garage, dubstep and grime. Moving on from that is going to faster BPMs and bigger events like drum and bass, techno, trance and gabber. It’s pumped up to 1000 but it’s the same basic storytelling of youth culture.”

Most vitally, however, is that the underground rave community continues to grow and flourish with new promoters, DJs and creatives. “Even though I’m a photographer, I’m part of the scene, which is rewarding,” says Yushy. “As a documentary photographer, that’s a really good sign of being integral to the scene that I’m in.” 

Yushy remains hopeful for the future of the scene and optimistic about how it will continue to grow and exist. “There’s a lot of community spirit growing, which might show you some longevity going forward,” Yushy says, reiterating “it’s not a bunch of people doing it for the short run, they're building up foundations for people to have many months or weeks or years of very memorable experiences and safe places to rave.”

Dance Floor Etiquette is open until February 15 2023 at the Museum of Youth Culture

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