Hedonistic images of the UK’s underground ravers

5 mins
13 Feb 2023
Black and white image of underground rave

Woo sits down with photographer Yushy to reflect on his time documenting newly come-of-age ravers for his photo series Dance Floor Etiquette

words Lucy O'Brien

Taking up his first music photography gig at uni, Yushy just wanted to make his mum – who was hoping he would get a job – happy. A few years on from his first outing behind the lens, thoroughly immersed in the party scene by that time, the London-based photographer began following a generation of clubbers across the country, documenting intimate moments from underground raves in the process.

Now, these images are on display as part of his first solo show, Dance Floor Etiquette: a reflection of energetic, sweaty scenes and cranked-up BPMs, captured in stark black and white. Beginning at Cardiff's drum n bass scene, it takes us on a 5-year journey through underground rave culture, rounding off with contemporary explorations of nightlife post-lockdown.

Speaking to woo, Yushy explains that the concept behind Dance Floor Etiquette is part of a wider interrogation of club social codes and unspoken rules of behaviour. “It literally is asking the questions: what is dance floor etiquette? How do you conduct yourself on the dance floor?” Yushy says. This almost anthropological interest in the rave can be seen across the series in minute detail: “I've been focussing a lot on what people hold in their hands – anything from a mask to a Class A drug. It's interesting to see what people carry in a rave,” he explains.

Taken together, these snapshots build up the beginnings of a visual study of Gen Z ravers carving out new ways to express themselves post-pandemic and redefining the rave via smaller-knit communities and safer spaces.

To mark the final days of the exhibition, woo sat down with Yushy to discuss rave moments that moved him, subculture's style and how his practice is evolving.

Dance Floor Etiquette. Image courtesy of Yushy

What initially attracted you to the underground rave scene?

Yushy: I started off when I was back in uni. It was post-Freshers week and by chance I saw a promoter who was looking for a photographer on Facebook, so I messaged them and started to take pictures. I’d never done it in a music event like that before, so I hired all the equipment from the university. That event went well and somehow led to another promoter seeing my pictures the next day and wanting me to be at their event, and so on. That had a huge domino effect.

Are there any observations have you made about youth rave culture over the years?

Yushy: By 2026 I’ll have documented 10 years’ worth of rave scenes and this boom of early Gen Z raving. It’s this weird niche, because the people going to these events are dealing with a huge financial crisis as well as global lockdowns, and yet the dance floors are still packed regardless.

I’m seeing more music-driven events; there’s always drum n bass which is more mainstream, but there’s also gabber events happening, old school garage and dubstep. I think there's almost a revitalisation of [older music styles], where people re-absorbed all of this music from when we were young during the pandemic. And now, people can go to these events and hear DJs play it. We’re seeing older DJs touring again; old bands touring again. It's almost like history repeating itself.

Dance Floor Etiquette. Image courtesy of Yushy
Dance Floor Etiquette. Image courtesy of Yushy
Dance Floor Etiquette. Image courtesy of Yushy

Is there a moment you've photographed that has stayed with you?

Yushy: I once shot at an underground venue called Vaults in Cardiff, which is a bank vault-turned-music venue which is crazy. You walk into this huge grand hall, but then you go downstairs into what feels like the hottest room in the world. Water is dripping from the ceiling; everything's really fogged up. I saw in the back corner a couple tying each other's shoelaces on the dance floor, meanwhile everyone's dancing behind them. It was just this intimate moment between two people having a normal conversation, which was quite abnormal.

You shoot in black and white whilecapturing environments that are usually bright and colourful. What's the thinking behind this choice?

Yushy: If I were to shoot in colour, all the pictures would look super pop-y and would allow people to put a date to them. Whereas with black and white, you can’t really know when the photo was taken, unless there's something in there like a phone to place it. People might think, “was that shot this year or 2012?” I haven't changed the lens or the way I shoot; it makes it look like my photography is all the same body of work, which is what I want.

Where has been your favourite place to photograph?

Yushy: The Cause in Tottenham, which is now closed, was amazing. Each room had a different sound to it; you could walk into the main room and hear drum n bass and jungle, but then go into the smallest room and hear really hardstyle 200 BPM music. I liked to see that transition. You could see subtle changes between rooms in things like dancing clothes – even the difference in shoes people wore was very apparent.

What’s next for you?

Yushy: God knows. Staying out of trouble, I think. Carrying on photographing events and raves, I hope. I’m interested in different genres of music and cultural history. Hard, dance music, for example, came all the way from the Amsterdam Dutch scene, but is super popular in Glasgow and Liverpool. But there’s nothing of it further south of these cities, which is cool. It’s interesting to see music get softer the lower in the UK you go.

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

Dance Floor Etiquette. Image courtesy of Yushy
Dance Floor Etiquette. Image courtesy of Yushy
Dance Floor Etiquette. Image courtesy of Yushy
Dance Floor Etiquette. Image courtesy of Yushy

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