DIY Flyering

Artist Chelsea Berlin traces the iconic rave flyer back to its punk roots.

By Museum of Youth Culture

Flyer for Sphere (1986/1987) by Chelsea Louise BerlinMuseum of Youth Culture

A brief history

The paper flyer or handbill as it was more commonly known prior to the Rave explosion of the mid to late 1980’s, has been around as long as the written word. Advertising everything from cultural activities like theatre and music events, to the more commercial sales activities, of potions, house products, clothing, to wanted posters… Flyers were the go-to communication tool that was cheap, easy to produce and could be provided to anyone almost anywhere. Theatres and music venues had for a long time utilised the flyer to generate interest in upcoming events, advertising the basic premise of what the event or show would be and including the cast, cost and address, to galvanise sales.

Flyer for rave at the Soul Pit (1988) by Chelsea Louise BerlinMuseum of Youth Culture

Adaptation


With the advent of Punk in the 1970’s this was adapted by a whole new generation of people who used the flyer in its simplest form to do exactly the same, but instead of sending the details nicely typeset to a printers along with the programme for the concert or theatrical piece, they would be hand written, collaged, letraset formed and then, if not simply hand run on a silk screen or litho press, printed by a community or back lane printer.
Usually black on white or whatever over-run of paper was available, these items encapsulated the D.I.Y ethos of Punk and its lack of capitalist involvement, purely a throw-away item with just a single one time use.

Flyer for Pal Joey at Busbys, Chelsea Louise Berlin, 1986/1987, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Flyer for Labrynth (1989) by Chelsea Louise BerlinMuseum of Youth Culture

Style and aesthetic

Their new aesthetic took flyers and the advertising medium forward utilising the changing landscape of colour and diversity as they embraced a new electronic musical influence and the emergence of gender non-conformity and sexual re-awakening.


Despite the small group the scene incorporated and the still stifled financial capabilities to create anything other than simple hand-made designs, this was the bridge that provided the means to the last great youth cultural movement.


Rave…

Flyer for Westworld Two at The Academy Buildings, Chelsea Louise Berlin, 1986/1987, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Flyer for Mutoid Waste at Leicester Square (1988) by Chelsea Louise BerlinMuseum of Youth Culture

D.I.Y

By 1986, the electronic influence on the underground, club-scene and music industry was creating a tour de-force, the emergence of Acid House, and with it the start of a burgeoning explosion in flyers and flyer design that were to be one of the lasting legacies of the late Eighties and early Nineties..
This underground scene, as it certainly was during the mid-eighties, was the fore-runner to what was to become the driving force within club-land and music, becoming a multi-billion-pound industry. It’s origins however were far more humble and as with its predecessor, Punk, relied upon and embraced the D.I.Y ethos and lo-fi creative process to entice and involve those caught up in the new sights and sounds of what was soon to become Rave culture.

Flyer for Apocalypse Now! at Betburn Hall (1988) by Chelsea Louise BerlinMuseum of Youth Culture

As a young, squat living artist, spending most of my time working in and around the music industry, fashion, the arts and clubland , the early lo-fi design of the flyers and their pre-occupation with post Punk and pop-art imagery was a beacon I could not ignore. It spurned an interest and adoration for these items that was soon to influence my own artwork, along with the happy, smiley people I met and the clubs I frequented.  

Flyer for Labrynth (1989) by Chelsea Louise BerlinMuseum of Youth Culture

Club flyers

There was a simple aesthetic to the early flyers, imagery that often incorporated the club venues logo (before the Rave scene exploded out of clubland and into the illegal warehouse and field venues), or the club promotors logo, a club or Rave name, an address, but most importantly the details of the DJ’s to be playing. These simple often hand-drawn or montaged pieces shared the same D.I.Y production and ethos as the earlier Punk flyers, but with a completely different message.  

Flyer for the WAG, Chelsea Louise Berlin, 1988, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Flyer for Club MFI, Chelsea Louise Berlin, 1988, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Flyer for Soundclash, Shock Sound System vs Soul II Soul (1986/1987) by Chelsea Louise BerlinMuseum of Youth Culture

Moving out of clubs

As the Acid House and House music phenomenon grew and grew it became obvious the ethos of clubland and its strict door policies, full of bigoted white privilege and demands for smart clothing, were alienating those who were the pioneers, movers & shakers and purveyors of the scene, and they soon took the events out of the clubs and into illegal spaces to fulfil the need and desire for young people to express and lose themselves in the new experience.

With this move away from clubland, Flyers became an irreplaceable and vital communication tool and the way promoters appealed to those who were to become ‘Ravers’.

Flyer for Energy, Chelsea Louise Berlin, 1989, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Flyer for Sunrise 3000 (1989) by Chelsea Louise BerlinMuseum of Youth Culture

Keeping the secret

The early parties would have been impossible to fill without the flyer. 
Often handed out to those leaving a club on a Friday or Saturday night they would also be found within the independent record stores and fashion outlets where those on the scene would congregate, they were a vital component of the Rave scene, allowing promoters to keep the proposed warehouse parties a secret often until the very last minute, thus avoiding the police and any chance of the event being closed down before it had begun, ensuring those who needed to be there, the Ravers, could avoid the Police and make the event. The flyers themselves contained all the required information needed to be able to attend the party, pager numbers (before the advent of mobile phones and long before social media), often a meeting point, which pirate radio station to tune into, and always details of what you’d expect to find when you arrived;


Turbo sound, light shows, chill-out areas and the DJ’s playing.

Flyer for Labrynth, Chelsea Louise Berlin, 1989, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Flyer for Tribal Dance, The Valentines Party (1989) by Chelsea Louise BerlinMuseum of Youth Culture

Evolution

This lo-fi, simple communication tool was the driver of the early rave scene and was soon to become an accredited art form that has been championed ever since. With the advent of the word-processor and computer, cheaper printing techniques and digital art it also enticed graffiti, street, graphic and contemporary artists to utilise their skills to create more intricate and finer artwork that became a bi-word for the scene.

Flyer for Humanity (1989) by Chelsea Louise BerlinMuseum of Youth Culture

A lasting legacy

By the end of the Eighties and early Nineties, Raves had become the norm across the UK and soon the World.  Dance music was now de-rigour for every recording artist and the flyer an art-form and means of communication that had become the essence of rebellion and the Youth movement it helped create.

Credits: Story

Chelsea-Louise Berlin is a London based artist, designer and author who works with many different genres and mediums. She has a collection of historical flyers, original artwork, clothing, membership cards, photographs, magazines and other paraphernalia from the period 1986-1997, which form the basis of her book RaveArt.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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