16 April 2018

Paris’s Hedonistic 90s Rave Scene

Olivier Degorce is the most prolific club kid you’ve probably never heard of. A regular fixture of the ‘90s Paris club circuit, the French photographer has been documenting the city’s underground party scene since before you pulled your first party popper. His new photobook, Plastic Dreams brings back hazy fragments of epicurean nights, presenting nostalgic portraits chronicling the fabled '90s nightlife in the French capital.


Growing up in a small French town near the Atlantic Coast, art was a welcome form of entertainment for Degorce, but it wasn’t until moving to the “Parisian Jungle” in his teens that photography became a go-to means of expression. “My images from the ‘90s were a big scan of everything that was around me: details of my life, my friends, parties, situations, sex, food,” he tells me. “It was like a kind of Instagram before the time.”

But for Degorce, the rave always came first. “First of all I was going out to party,” he explains, “always with a camera in hand.” It’s this first-hand immersion that makes Degorce’s photographs so evocative, rather than voyeuristic — candid snapshots made to immortalise moments worth remembering. Lensing spontaneous portraits of uninhibited club kids, Degorce’s vivid imagery resonates with the no-holds-barred escapism of the ‘90s party spirit. “There was an air of utopianism, hedonism — a certain taste of freedom and carelessness that people still want to recreate today,” Degorce muses of the nostalgia they stir up.    

Degorce’s photographic talent is also completely self-taught. “I mostly took pictures on-the-fly,” he remembers, “without looking in the viewfinder, even when I was photographing a DJ.” The results are intimate portraits that feature everyone from DJ Krush to Jeff Mills, taken with a level of proximity Degorce describes as essential to his work. And the images are personal both in content, and concept — in a scene where such value is placed on anonymity, Degorce never contemplated their publication. “The parties were mostly in temporary places, and secret locations, and we were all anonymous,” he explains.

After raves were banned in France in the mid-’90s, parties moved to the club, and Degorce moved with them — bringing his camera along for the ride. He also began photographing for magazines, notably Coda, Self Service, Citizen K and Crash. “The shoots became more worked and intimate,” he recalls, “they’d be taken in a hotel room, in a record company or in the street in daylight.” Plastic Dreams brings together both these aspects of Degorce’s work, with 440 photographs playing privy to the fabled raves of ‘90s Paris. 

And though the book’s release seems in keeping with an unwavering resurgence of ‘90s gabber, house and techno rave culture, finding a publisher wasn’t exactly easy. “Some were interested, but they didn’t know this medium, this music — it seemed out of place to work with a publisher who didn’t understand what this revolutionary and innovative period had been.” In the end, Degorce made contact with Pedro Winter, Daft Punk’s former manager and founder of prolific house label, Ed Banger, who was embarking on a journey into publishing. The rest, as they say, is history. Across 540 pages, Plastic Dreams combines hedonistic imagery with texts from different writers, historians, event organisers and journalists who lived, loved and partied through the ‘90s.


Plastic Dreams is published by headbangers publishing, and is available online now