Hardcore soul: photos of big nights out in ’90s Britain

Hardcore soul: photos of big nights out in ’90s Britain

On a mad one — For Alberto Guerrini’s Gabber Eleganza project, photographer Ewen Spencer maps the similarities between Britain’s northern soul and hardcore scenes – exploring their shared devotion, frenzy and euphoria.

The Great British Night Out is a unifying force, connecting people of all tastes and sensibilities through a shared desire to switch off and get on it. What exactly that entails differs from venue to venue, but ultimately – regardless of where you are – it’s about escape: losing yourself, in a space where you feel at home.

It was this idea that first connected photographer Ewen Spencer with artist and DJ Alberto Guerrini back in 2017. The latter, who launched Gabber Eleganza – an online archive dedicated to the history of the titular hardcore scene – in 2011, was struck by the intimacy of Spencer’s work on British subcultures, and sought him out to collaborate.

When they eventually arranged to meet, they spent the evening sharing stories about the two scenes that captivated them most: hardcore gabber, and northern soul. As they discussed their respective backgrounds, they found that there was more that connected the two subcultures than perhaps first met the eye.

“It’s working class kids, working hard and playing hard, dancing all night to repetitive beats,” says Spencer. “It’s not uniquely British, but the roots are certainly based here in UK youth culture. From mods in early ’60s Soho, to kids raving to hardcore in Glasgow and Tottenham – there are similarities in the search for a scene and culture.”

The result of those conversations is Hardcore Soul, a publication which explores the ways in which the two worlds – gabber and northern soul – come together through “shared devotion, rhythmic frenzy and euphoria”. Presented as two separate books, the first – out now – places Spencer’s photos of northern soul weekenders and hardcore nights alongside each other.

Both series were taken in the ’90s, for his degree show and London fashion magazine Sleazenation respectively. For Spencer, they depict the kind of experience – visceral, authentic – that’s often lacking in today’s age.

“We did this because there was no option,” he says. “That excitement persisted for generations because we didn’t have the research at the click of a button. We had to travel and meet people – [there was] endless conversation and journey.”

“I think kids want that again. Loads of people still do it and want to be on that journey. I think more people are waking up to it and realising the etiquette of the internet that they can move away from the screen and create something. A movement? Let’s see.”

Find out more about Hardcore Soul on the Gabber Eleganza website. 

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