Nightlife photographer Dave Swindells captured on film what it meant to be raving during the late 80s and 90s. Starting off by taking sly photos on the dancefloor instead of working behind the bar, he quickly moved up in the world of nightlife press. Swindells remained Time Out’s Nightlife editor for over two decades, getting not only an insight into capital rave scenes over time but experiencing first-hand the birth of acid house.
We talk with him about projects like his photobook Acid House As It Happened (published by IDEA Ltd), an honest and gritty work; where you can really feel the British determination to dance. There is a political energy that pulses through the collection, as ravers doggedly commit themselves to the cause despite, or perhaps in spite, of the repressive right-wing government they were under at the time. London’s nightlife was shifting, it was no longer exclusive to the well-off of the West end, and clubs became accepting of all types of people. Swindells captures moments in clubs, depots and warehouses, like Shoom and Trip, giving us a taster of what the Second Summer of Love was all about.

He knew he was there for the start of something big and there was something addictive about the feeling of liberation felt by all those attending the raves. In his work Ibiza ‘89, we see an upgraded version of that feeling of freedom; Ibiza was a raver’s nirvana, with the key ingredients of the sun, sea, open-air superclubs and drugs. Ibiza ‘89 is a holistic work, where the island’s trance-like quality emerges, and you can hear Balearic beats in the background as a soundtrack to their hedonism. Swindells tells us about his career, how it all began and what he thinks of the future of raving.
Future in March 88 Double Page Spread 2000px.jpg
Photos taken for i-D magazine at Paul Oakenfold's club, Future in London, April 1988.
You’re currently situated in the heart of baking London, where it all began. What pulled you into the world of rave photography?
I was really lucky to have a brother that was running clubs. Early on from about 1982, he ran a club called the Lift, which we now call a polysexual club, it was basically a gay club. One of the policies, and written on the flyers, was “all human beings welcome” because they didn’t want it to become a ghettoised, cloned zone. He said “let’s be open to whoever wants to come along,” but it is a gay club. That one ran for a few years, and he ran another one called Jungle. So, that’s where I first started taking nightlife photos, at a Blues party and an illegal rave in a community centre in South London. So that was lucky, because when I came down to London after studying English up in Sheffield, I just was able to wangle a job behind the bar through my brother, and be introduced to some of the people who ran clubs, and go along to the Wag, the Mud Club and various other venues, and familiarise myself.
I had access and a way in, and once I had done it for a few months – and actually figured out how to take pictures after dark with a reasonable level of success – I went along to i-D and started doing pictures for them. They are straight-up pictures, where you ask people what they’re wearing and where they bought it. By then, I’d been fired from my job behind the bar, because I was out taking photos the whole time.
What came next?
The Time Out job came along, the nightlife editor job, and I basically stayed there for 22 years. I certainly didn’t have any ambition to become the features editor, or ‘the’ editor or whatever, there was still so much going on. Because of the whole Acid House boom, this sounds a bit grandiose, but the axis of global clubbing shifted. In a few years, London became the capital of dance music and culture, after it had been New York and Chicago. Nonetheless, London was having these crazy parties, but also the music was being produced there. For so long, we had been consumers of American music and that started to change around 1988, for the same reason, it changed in Chicago and elsewhere – the means of production and equipment were getting cheaper and cheaper. This meant that a lot of London DJs became producers. It was a new thing, there was more to express.
Ibiza ‘89 was put together during lockdown. What spurred you to put the past into print during those strange times?
Like a lot of photographers, they started looking back into their archives because they couldn’t go out and take pictures. I had planned on doing a book for a while, and I had done the Spirit of Ibiza in 2008. I went to the publishers of that book, and they asked to see if I had more photos. We got onto the guy who I’d gone to Ibiza with, Alix Sharkey, an old friend, who had written an article that's at the back of the book, and he kindly let us use it for free. That really made the book for me.
I really like that kind of journalism – I suppose it’s what Vice do – going out and talking to people and writing down what they say, talking to more people and seeing how it all comes together. I really like the direct approach. Going straight to the source whoever it might be. We did find more pictures, and that's one of the great things, of course, time always changes pictures. It changes because of the obvious things, like style, the haircuts and the fashions, and suddenly they look ridiculous, or different, or oddly enough, quite similar. It also changes the way you appreciate pictures. Time works its magic and makes it a lot more interesting. Another thing is that not every picture in the book has to be great. They come together and produce a curious narrative and connect. That’s a real joy to be involved with a designer, or like in the Acid House book, with my son.
What else can you tell us about it?
Nightlife is always messy. You can’t predict what the lighting will be like in 5 seconds, never mind 5 minutes. Somebody might stand in front of the flash, something might happen, and it’s underexposed or overexposed. It is a messy environment to take pictures in, which is part of the fun. People don’t expect perfect photos anyway. When you’re in the middle of a street party, you’re just so excited, you try and take as many photos as possible. You’re never sure what’s going to happen, and how long it’s going to last. For me, the street parties in the middle of the Acid House book were like the apogée of that summer. Essentially, Acid House couldn’t be contained in the clubs; it spilt out onto the street. It just kept expanding. When we were in Shoom and Spectrum, we just knew it was going to be massive. There were so many ingredients, new music, new drugs, new fashions. Of course, ecstasy was an important motor propelling it along as well. You could call it Ecstasy House if you wanted. Ecstasy hadn’t been widely available in London before that spring.
1988 Spectrum Lasers   Sweat.jpg
Dressed to sweat: Laser lovers at the Spectrum night in Heaven, London 1988
In your introduction to Ibiza ‘89, you say there was a sense of always arriving a bit too late, and that “you should have been there last year!” Why do you think nostalgia is such a big part, and perhaps a necessity, of rave culture?
That was partly a response to what people would tell you when you arrived. There’s that one-upmanship, “oh, you should have been here last week, it will never be the same again, but I hope you have a good night!” That sort of nonsense that you’ve arrived too late. This is what we were told when we arrived in Ibiza. It is about special moments because when it goes well, it might not even last more than a few minutes, it might be one track that totally blows your mind.
It’s different now because on Instagram and TikTok you see all these people at festivals and nobody is holding back. Before Acid House, people did hold back, there was a ‘cool’ thing going on. When American DJs came to London, it was “come on then, prove how good you are, we aren’t getting excited until you prove how good you are.” Fortunately, that sort of nonsense is far less in evidence now. They want to have a good time and don’t mind who knows about it. That was a new thing in 1988, looking around clubs and seeing people dancing on tables, on top of the club, on the balcony. It didn’t have to be a tiny dancefloor. Wherever you are, you’re dancing. And that was such an interesting experience, making me want to show the pictures a bit differently. I didn’t want one picture per page, which is why we put together the double pages directly inspired by David Hockney’s polaroid pictures. To show that it’s happening all around you, and it’s multi-faceted elements to it.
Your photographs in Ibiza ‘89 reflect such a sense of freedom, and also, purity. Whilst there is an undeniable ecstasy-induced haze about them, it doesn’t seem dirty or dangerous. Do you think that hedonistic lightness can be attributed to the fact that Ibiza is an island, compared to the density of raving in capital cities, like London or Manchester?
That’s definitely true. And also, for a lot of people, Ibiza back then was rather like arriving in paradise. If you liked clubbing and you liked going to the beach, the nightlife at the time in the late 80s was still open air. It was a place people loved to be. It’s easy to forget, but Ibiza invented superclubs, it had the biggest club in the world, Privilege, or called Ku then, which could host seven thousand people back then and ten thousand now. The biggest club in London was probably Brixton Academy which had five or six events a year, and that was four and a half thousand. The island already had a reputation, it had been famous for 15 years at least, from the hippie era onwards. Pacha started in the 70s when Franco was still in power. Even at that point, Ibiza and the Balearics were separate from what was happening on the mainland, to a degree.
It’s the great escape going to Ibiza. And now, there are clubs that are ridiculously expensive, and the private jets, and big American stars, the super yachts. It’s far too expensive if you wanted to go out every night if you have to pay fifty or sixty euros for entry every night.
I read a quote in Alix Sharkley’s article Ibiza Hell Outta Me at the end of your photobook. It reads Ibiza has sold itself as a free island where anything goes. This is not true. It could have been, once. But by saying it they have spoiled it forever.” What do you think about this?
Alix spoke Spanish, and we were speaking to people about their vision for the island. They didn’t want it to be a party island, they wanted more high-end tourism. But nonetheless, people make their own Ibiza. Of course, there is so much more money on the island now than there was back then. Formentera has been maxed out, and there is only so much you can do on a spit of sand. But people still go to Ibiza to make it their own, for party reasons, for family holidays up in the hills. There’s the hippie market and mystic rocks.
I spoke to someone that had worked in Ibiza’s club scene for 5 or so years during the 2000s and 2010s, and I asked him how it had changed. He said it’s not the place that changes, it’s the people.” Do you think it’s different today, and if so, why has it changed?
If you’re in a club, it doesn’t matter how good the club is, if you’re surrounded by people who are unpleasant or lairy, it’s the people who make the club. Just as it’s the people that make your holiday on an island. And because Ibiza is so much more expensive now, it attracts different people. Some people want the spa days, the fancy restaurants, and the luxuries. The season as well lasts so much longer now, about 6 months, when back then it was May to September, so only around 4 months.
Do you miss anything about those days? Do you think we’ll be able to get any of it back?
It was definitely more affordable, I miss that. That opens things up to a much wider demographic, and you can be a lot more carefree. The fewer rules, the less money involved, we are all going to be more in it. Also, there were no VIP rooms. In Amnesia now there are three or four. There was no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The funny thing was, some of the people in the pictures had jumped over a wall or dodged behind somebody to get in, so it really was a proper mix. CEOs, princes or whoever they were. But also, the beach bars were playing chill-out music before chill-out music really happened, which added a touch of a different dimension. It wasn’t just about going nuts in the nighttime, it was also about watching the sunset with your mates, with DJs like Jose Padilla, that essentially soundtracked the sunset.
Ibiza 89 Amnesia Arms Aloft  This.jpg
Greeting the sunrise at Amnesia, Ibiza, June 1989
In both Acid House As It Happened and Ibiza ‘89, you explore the birth of acid house and Balearic beats. Can you tell us a bit about the influence that the United Kingdom and Ibiza had on each other in terms of club music and lifestyle?
Ibiza had such a huge impact. In 1989, we were really aware that the British were coming. They were tolerated, but also really appreciated for their enthusiasm. Virtually running onto the dancefloor, really going for it in this funny dressed-down style that they had, with dungarees and football tops.
Acid House As It Happened is another really honest project, showing the grittier, sweatier, and a kind of more determined raver. Do you think that British determination is still around today?
Oh, yeah. Then, we had a right-wing Tory government, and now we have a right-wing Tory government. There's always been something to hold people down or control the way they live, that people need to break out from. We have a stupid class system that still exerts an awful influence on the way British people think of themselves. In a lot of ways, perhaps not enough has changed. Which is one reason why I think British people are so keen to get involved and really go for it. They’re not unique in that regard. But, say, watching Glastonbury on the telly, you can see that people are prepared to put up with quite a lot to make their good time. It’s not easy walking around Glastonbury or festivals of that scale, but you don’t see anyone complaining. They’re loving it.
It represents the best things about club culture. It represents total inclusivity, all kinds of music, people and genders, that’s just what we love about club culture. No doors are closed. The kind of energy that was brought into clubs back then is brought to festivals, because essentially they are legalised raves. Back in the 80s and 90s, there were so many clubs and events to go to, almost every night. It’s hard to imagine that now, so people focus their energies on festivals.
One thing that really stood out was the styling, it was so eclectic and eccentric back then. What do you think of how people dress in clubs today?
The styling then was different. You would get Italian looks, Spanish looks, British looks. Now, it’s easy to feel there’s an international look, like the international hipster look, it’s all a bit more homogenous now. A lot of people criticise girls dancing in bikinis or something like that, but it was happening back then too. It’s hard to say if some of the pictures were taken in 1989 or 2009, or last week because some things have come back. Bucket hats and the baggy are back, there’s a circular motion going on.
You were the Time Out Clubs Editor for quite a few years, between 1986 and 2009, which I’m sure allowed you to travel well. Where would you say you could find the best raves in the 80s and 90s? You tracked the club shift through the 80s and 90s. Where would we find the best clubs and raves now or in the future?
On the one hand, I was chatting to Judy who programs the Saturdays at Fabric, and she was saying that lockdown has absolutely revitalised Fabric. Because people realised what such a great club it is. They got blasé with it, kind of bored with it, and suddenly realised again what a great space they had available to them. Let’s go make the most of it.
On the other hand, people are able to experience clubs like Fabric again. As to where the focus and energy are going to be, it’s very obvious in the summer it’s Ibiza. Berlin of course has been very club-focused, and a city culture that supports it. But where’s next? I really don’t know. I wish I did. There are so many possibilities. But it does feel like the world is closing up a bit.
Have you got anything in the works that you can tell us about?
I’m definitely planning a book about central London. The idea with that is about all the clubs and events that were happening in central London when central London was the place where everyone met. You didn’t have to have heaps of money there either, there were all sorts of underground parties happening. I wanted to do a project on that, I think it will be quite long-term. I also want to do a book about rave culture, I have a lot of pictures and could tell people’s stories.
1988 01 Gary Haisman at Shoom 01 2.jpg
Gary Haisman wears Boy's Own T-shirt at Shoom, London, 1988
1988 Shoom at Fc Sacha Souter 02 Edit.jpg
Sacha Souter sports Balearic beach styling at Shoom, London, 1988
1988 Spectrum Dancefloor Podium 01.jpg
'Can you feel it?' The Spectrum night at Heaven, London, 1988
Ibiza 89 Amnesia Rip  This.jpg
Hug club: celebrating making it through the night at Amnesia, Ibiza, 1989
Ibiza 89 Pacha Steamy Couple New 2.jpg
Getting steamy on the podium at Pacha, Ibiza, 1989
Ibiza 89 Salinas Beach Thongs and Sails X.jpg
Red sails in the sunshine: promenadingalong Salinas beach, Ibiza 1989
Ibiza 89 Amnesia Fetish Fashion 02 This.jpg
Chain reaction: fetish fashion at Amnesia, 1989
1988 Leigh Bowery at Spectrum  2.jpg
Leigh Bowery sees red at Spectrum in Heaven, London 1988
Ibiza 89 Cafe Del Mar Sunset This.jpg
Dreamy sunset tunes at Café del Mar, Ibiza, 1989
Ibiza '89 and Acid House As It Happened are published by IDEA Ltd
Ibiza '89 is sold out, but copies of Acid House As It Happened are available from IDEA in the UK, from Mendo Books and from Dover Street Market stores and other shops around the world.