The early 2000's nightlife in all its chaotic, glitzy glory

Documenting an era and then remembering it go hand in hand with the camera that records everything. British free party culture of the late 80s and early 90s has burned itself into our collective consciousness with the textured grain and softer colors of the cameras used to document the scene.

Pictures from the next decade invite – not yet – too much sadness. With the improved camera quality of the 2000s came a glossier, higher resolution representation of life and culture that was arguably less forgiving than before. Around the turn of the millennium, photographer Matthew Smith (aka Mattko) was throwing parties around with his camera in hand and putting theory to the test with his photographs of sweaty clubbers with wide eyes and bushy tails.

Smith was a familiar face on the UK free party scene as he had documented events and the community since the late 1980s. His self-published book Exist to Resist in 2017 gave an insight into a bygone era. "People are very fond of this time because we seem to have lost a lot of cultural freedom since then, and that's why I made this book."

Even so, and after the government passed the stifling Criminal Justice Act of 1994, which largely ended the illegal rave era, Smith insists the scene is still thriving after its expiration date: “The free party culture was just as massive in the beginning the 2000s as in the 90s. Castlemorton's 10th anniversary in 2002 was comparable to the original with many more sound systems. "

That said, the emphasis was on getting the party inside, and eventually Smith went. “Going to a free party is a lot more of a massive obligation than taking a cab into town on a particular Saturday and dancing to the music of your favorite DJ for a few hours. Even so, people went from night to night to night. Many people's weekends started on a Thursday and ended very late on a Sunday morning before a hanging Monday at work, ”he explains.

Smith's new book, Full On. Non-stop. All Over gathers his nightclub photographs from 2000 and 2005 when he says the scene was booming. “The early 2000s was a time when raving became an industry that had never existed before, a lifestyle product that many people wanted to be a part of. That meant a lot of money for organizers, a lot of money for venues, a lot of money "for DJs and production," he says. "What I loved, however, was the dedication and dedication to the public imagination and how they responded with behavior, style, and character to their love of music and dance."

Many of the photographs in the book were first published in dance music magazines such as Mixmag, DJ Mag, and Jockey Slut. “There was a time when I refused to go to nightclubs at all, but paying them made the view a lot more enticing, even when the money wasn't really good and the pictures weren't used very well. That's the great thing about making books, it means that you, the artist, can take back control of your images and present them to reflect your own unique artistic vision, ”says Smith.

When his fear of clubs subsided, he became a fan of club nights like Drive By and Scream in Bristol, where he lived. At the time, nightclub mogul Piers Adam was busy developing rock into a super club that "attracted pretty much all of Bristol's glitzy friends," he recalls. "If you want real Bristol venues, it has to be Lakota or maybe Blowpop at the world famous Blue Mountain Club, both of which have fallen victim to gentrification."

Gentrification is among the factors that have threatened nightlife across the country in recent years, a picture that has been dramatically exacerbated by the pandemic. Smith felt it was important to rediscover part of his archives and celebrate the culture of nightlife.

“I love rave as a whole social phenomenon,” he explains. "I think it's great that something that has been made criminal by law has become something that is generally acceptable and the basis for a massively successful creative industry, as long as you are willing to pay an entry fee."

Full on. Non-stop. All Over by Matthew Smith and published by Trip is available for pre-order; @mattkosnaps