Continuing our look at some of our biggest stories of the year, in August, as part of our Postcards from 88 series, we caught up with former The Face editor Sheryl Garratt, who was at the forefront of chronicling the acid house era as it happened.
Q. Do you remember what you were doing as the Summer of 1988 started?
I was at The Face, but not yet editor. Having been seen as the ‘style bible’ of the 80s, the magazine was in a slow, graceful decline, and its owner was even thinking of closing it after the 100th issue.
The explosion of energy in British club/youth culture couldn’t have been better timed in terms of giving the magazine a new direction, a new focus, and I was lucky to be right in the middle of it all.
It wasn’t just about music, or even the parties. It gave us the impetus to change the way we covered fashion, to discover a new generation of photographers, to start using new models (such as Kate Moss), to bring in new writers, to cover everything from science to big social issues.. For me, it energised everything.
Q. When or where did you first realise that ‘something different’ was happening with music, particularly dance/club music?
There are lots of ways I could answer this. In 1986, I went to Chicago to cover the house music scene there, and I was so excited by what I saw, making a friend for life in Frankie Knuckles. I was also going to NY a lot at that time, and always made sure I’d get to the Paradise Garage, which was also amazing not just for the music but the energy.
The music came back into London clubs, but only as part of the mix along with hip hop, electro, funk, rare groove. People like Coldcut, M/A/R/R/S, S’Xpress were making credible British dance music, for the first time; Soul II Soul were coming up, along with loads of other collectives taking their ethos from sound system culture; and there were signs of something really interesting happening musically in places like Manchester, Bristol and Sheffield.
Friends of mine – especially Nicky Holloway – went to Ibiza and came back radically changed. In the first few months of 1988, it became clear that something really new and exciting was stirring.
Shoom at the Fitness Centre, the Clink St parties, and then The Trip sealed it for me: I’d found my tribe.
Q. Was there a particular tune from the Summer of 1988 that stood out for you? Why?
It’s all a blur! I loved tracks like Rhythim Is Rhythim’s Strings Of Life – the opening bars still make my stomach churn with excitement – and Joe Smooth’s Promised Land.
It also felt really radical and new to hear indie bands like The Woodentops played in clubs, and then later to see bands like Primal Scream embrace what was happening.
Q. Why do you think that people are still so interested in the origins of the dance scene, old school and everything that goes with it?
I think it was the last great unifying youth movement, and I’m not sure music will ever be that central again. There was that moment later on when it seemed everyone in the UK wanted to go see Oasis at Knebworth, but that was just one band.
In that period from the summer of 88 through the huge outdoor raves of 89 then Madchester and the Stone Roses at Spike Island in 1990, it felt all the separate strands of youth culture were getting knitted together, that the old divisions between surburbs and the city, north and south, indie rock and dance, black and white, were dissolving.
Club and music scenes that had started in Chicago, Detroit, New York, Sheffield, Manchester, all flowed into one and for a while it seemed like everything was up for grabs: the authorities, the media, the major labels had lost control, and anyone could have a go and promote a party, make a tune or a T-shirt, or just organise a coach or a car and get to the latest big event. There were all these new networks and relationships forming.
I loved the fact that in the early 90s, you’d start out in a London club on a Friday, end up in Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham or Birmingham on Saturday night and then drive back down to Full Circle in Slough on the Sunday afternoon. Usually without sleeping in between! It was also about rebellion, big-time.
Everything had felt so grey and restricted during the Thatcher/Major years. Suddenly, we were dressing in bright colours, dancing all night, hugging strangers, and defying the police to join huge illegal raves off the M25, then later in places like Blackburn.
It was like some huge, collective, joyful creative roar, and for a while it seemed like everything was changing: the Berlin Wall came down, Nelson Mandela walked free. It seems daft now to equate all of those things, but it did all seem merged at the time.
[Thanks again to Sheryl for the interview. Check out her new website, The Creative Life, here. Postcards from 88 continues next week. Main image taken from The Face, August 1989, photo by Oliver Maxwell. Check out the other interviews in the series by clicking here]