The untold graphic design historical past of rave period membership playing cards

The ‘second summer of love’  — that late 1980s/early 1990s rave apotheosis characterised by scorching heatwaves, outraged politicians, sweaty bucket hats and the sound of acid house — is often eulogised as a sort of brief utopia, where football nuts swapped hooliganism for hugs and disenfranchised youth suddenly had something to believe in. 

This idea of short-lived halcyon days free from the drudgery and hierarchies of nine-to-five life might seem at odds with the concept of ‘members only’ parties, but nonetheless, for big-name clubs like the Haçienda, Labrynth, Ministry of Sound, Raindance, Shoom, Spectrum and World Dance, a strict door policy and its affiliated membership cards and VIP passes were all part of what made them the parties they were.

While we’ve seen celebrations of the graphic design for rave posters and flyers, until now such cards and passes have remained somewhat under the radar. That’s all set to change, however, with the publication of a new book from graphic design archivist and FWA founder Rob Ford, titled Members Only.

The book presents more than 500 membership cards and passes (such as VIP and Access All Areas) from the late 80s and 90s, arranged alphabetically. In doing so, it showcases their unique and frequently ambitious designs — especially considering the small size designers had to work with. Among the events included in Members Only are Amnesia House, Biology, Dreamscape, Eclipse, Energy, Fantazia, Genesis, FAC51 Haçienda, Jungle Fever, Labrynth, Ministry of Sound, Rage, Raindance, Shoom, Spectrum, Sterns, Club UK, and World Dance.

Many of the people who were instrumental in orchestrating these events, including designers, founders, DJs, MCs, PAs and ravers have contributed to the book by way of quotes and texts: the foreword is penned by Ministry of Sound co-founder Justin Berkmann; while DJ and broadcaster Sarah HB has written the introduction.

Jenni Rampling, who managed ex-husband’s Danny Rampling’s club Shoom and helmed its rigorous door policy is interviewed in the book, and things are rounded off with an epilogue from acid house pioneer Anton Le-Pirate, known for his work with events like Energy, World Dance, Tribal Dance and Freedom To Party. There’s even some insight from the person who ‘invented’ glow sticks, detailing when, where and how they came about.

According to Ford, the book lays bare the world’s largest collection of membership cards and passes from the acid house and rave eras, and he hopes it will act as “an historical reference for future generations” of “one of the most important eras for dance music”. It’s also a beautiful coffee table book: “For those who weren’t able to be there back in the day, this book gives us all a piece of rave history that we can hold in our hands,” DJ Phantasy writes in the book. “Much like flyers, little did we know, the membership cards and passes we got all those decades ago would end up having such a great story to tell of their own.”  

Mark Archer of electronic music duo Altern 8 adds: “Documenting the acid house and early rave scenes is incredibly important for future generations to know what a historic moment it was in dance music and youth culture. This collection of membership cards and passes shows the amazing creativity and artwork that went into showing your pride for attending events.” 

Ford says that “everything changed” for him when he went to his first rave, Amnesia House in Donnington. “This single night would change my outlook on life forever,” he says. “As we left our first all-nighter rave and found a load of flyers on the windscreen of our car, a new level of mind-influencing artwork and wording became part of our day to day lives. Like many though, as the scene changed over the years and our lives moved on, I had a moment in my life when I decided to throw away the box that had all my rave memorabilia in it. I’ve regretted it ever since.”

Members Only rave membership cards book by Rob Ford

The only items he saved at the time were his membership cards from the likes of Sterns, Orange and Berwick Manor; but as he approached 50 he started collecting rave flyers again – something that he says really took off over lockdown. It was in buying job lots of memorabilia that he would occasionally find membership cards and passes, and since then, he’s amassed around 750 of them, most of which feature in Members Only.

The book is designed by Jon Cefai of design studio Collaborate London, and the visual approach looked to focus on the “personal, passionate” side of these membership cards.  

Members Only is published in September 2022 and is available to preorder through publisher Velocity Press;