FREE PARTY BEAUTY
BY MOLLY MACINDOE
I’ve been photographing the free party and teknival scene since 1997 and it has remained my favourite subject matter since, in particular the individual faces of the culture’s community.
The front cover image is of a strikingly beautiful young woman, wearing work overalls, a pierced lip and her head mostly shaven with two spikes of hair — my best friend at school who took me to my first rave, and one of countless examples of unconventional female beauty to be found in this community.
On one occasion in 1999, I went to a rave straight from working late and one of my colleagues chose to come with me after hearing so much about these squat parties. He was an average Joe— liked a pint of Fosters down the pub and the occasional club night—yet he had a mind curious and open enough to genuinely want to experience London indoor parties. They can be very intimidating at first view and ‘Joe’ was wide eyed but not put off; instead he asked questions about everything he saw around him.
One of his innocent observations has always stuck with me; we’d been sitting for a while in the corner of a room, people-watching as I explained what I could about the workings of the scene. During that time a few female friends had stopped to say hello. Afterwards, ‘Joe’ turned and whispered that he’d never in his life seen so many truly beautiful women. A bit surprised, I asked him to elaborate. He explained that it was a startling, natural beauty he saw in the girls and women that evening, with dreadlocks, shaved heads, mohawks, normal hair in long and short cuts, with heavy makeup and without, with piercings, tattoos, and dressed in so many varying styles from the subcultural melting pot that is the free party scene.
It wasn’t just the looks and the fashion. I knew what Joe meant, he saw the same unique element that has fascinated me and kept me photographing this subject matter for the last 17 years: an honest self-expression that I have yet to find elsewhere, and so many females who exude strength and individuality.
The flirtatious rituals that are customary in most social environments do exist in these ‘temporary autonomous zones’ but are not prevalent. The difference between the social norm and the squat party scene is tangible as soon as I enter a club/pub/university class etc.: a subconscious sensation of restriction and guardedness. The absence of this at parties is apparent to me as an observer-documenter. Style is more to do with identity; the beauty is exposed through the lack of adherence to social conventions.
However, I believe even in this free environment, women Djs, sound engineers and party-organisers still face sexism within a sound system hierarchy dominated by men. Yet, this is something that is society-based rather than confined to this counterculture, and even with a free thinking community, tradition can’t help but dominate. In fact, the world of photography is also often male-dominated; but my lack of testosterone probably put people more at ease whilst I was documenting this secretive, underground culture. Even in confrontational police situations I’ve usually been free to snap away, although I once got hit by a flying ‘flash bang grenade’…but’s that’s another story for another column.