In the foreword of Who Say Reload, a new book that drills deep into the records that defined jungle and drum and bass, South London photographer Eddie Otchere shares a tribute to the freedom of raves past. “There was a time when I used to dance,” he writes. “My crew, all crew, all tribes, all souls under one roof, raving.” When dancing in sweaty public spaces feels like a distant memory, Otchere’s words cut deep — and the photographer is feeling it, too. “My sense of nostalgia is slightly blue at the moment,” Otchere sighs. “But after the pandemic, who knows what space will be freed up for us to dance again. That’s my real hope for this book; to remind ourselves that we all used to dance.”
Who Say Reload collates the little-known stories of ’90s and ’00s jungle and drum and bass, with text and interviews by Paul Terzulli, featuring British legends such as Goldie, DJ Hype, Roni Size, Andy C, 4 Hero, and more, alongside photographs from Otchere’s extensive archive.
Otchere was a teenager when jungle started to seep across the airwaves via pirate radio stations like Kool FM. The sound was cultivated where “Jamaican migrant communities met working-class white communities,” and amplified by local record shops like Blackmarket Records and De Underground Records, whose promo flyers were like golden tickets to a brave new world. The sounds swept through England’s underground and revolutionized club culture for a disillusioned generation seeking to escape the 9-to-5 grind. Young people crammed into old laser tag centers, abandoned airports, and empty warehouses where neon graffiti and smiley faces lit up the walls. “It was a really beautiful, artistic experience with loud music and people on E,” Otchere says. “A proper utopia. No alcohol, just people sucking on dummies and sweets.”
As the resident photographer at East London’s seminal Metalheadz club night in the ’90s, handpicked by Goldie, Otchere witnessed the scene grow through the viewfinder of his Canon EOS 10. Now, Who Say Reload presents a long-awaited retrospective of a scene whose influence can be felt throughout British — and global — culture today.
Below, Otchere speaks about what it was like to document one of the UK’s most explosive youth movements.
When did you start taking photographs?
I was a raver asking promoters if I could shoot their nights. I wanted to document the culture because I thought what we were doing was beautiful. The first rave I went to with a camera was the Lazerdrome in Peckham, and I went with a telephoto lens. I didn’t want to be up in peoples’ faces taking pictures because they might get angry. Eventually, I got a Canon EOS 10 that could focus in the dark. For the shot on the book’s cover, I heard Goldie scream, “Rewind for the tune!” and I pointed the camera to where I heard him — even though the club was completely dark — and fire.
I was just immersed in this space, watching it grow. The ravers were beautiful people wearing Moschino, Reebok classics, and Versace jackets, Ralph Lauren caps, with the Hackett tops, and the Stone Island jackets — all beautifully tailored. This was the one time we could get dressed, go out dancing, and smoke a spliff. I wanted to capture that fashion, but by the time I got to Metalheadz with Goldie, it was about the ravers, the culture, and the experience, and they were okay with being photographed.
Were they not okay being photographed before?
In the jungle raves, no. As my cameras got sexier and more expensive, it became less of an issue. I remember shooting garage in 1999, where people would want me to shoot them, compared to jungle and hardcore in 1992, where everyone was suspicious of the camera. I had to sneak the shots. I’d wait for the strobe to kick in, then start firing my flash.
What was your favorite night?
It has to be Metalheadz at the Blue Note in Hoxton Square, with Goldie as its leader. Sunday night. The rave started at 7 p.m. and finished at 12 p.m.
I was studying photography at London College of Printing, and Goldie chose me as his photographer, and gave me a project to get my teeth into. None of my tutors at college would have ever understood what that meant. Goldie was a visionary, and he trusted me with the sole duties of going in [and] photographing his club, with no limit on budget or creativity.
Goldie set up Metalheadz as a club night so the kids on the label could hear their tunes played loud on a sound system. All the producers were in that club. If someone were to drop a bomb in 1995 at Hoxton Square at Metalheadz, the entire scene would be gone, like it never happened. I don’t know if that’s even possible anymore, to get an entire scene in one room. That was the culture.
You have two forewords in the book. One is from 1994 and the other from 2020. In the first one, you compare raving to going into the “heart of darkness.” Can you expand on what you meant by that?
That’s basically about how empowered you’d feel in a situation where the lights are down, the music’s loud, and you have this MC screaming positive affirmations at you; “Be great to yourself,” “Be grateful,” and all this stuff. You felt alive. A “Weekend Warrior” worked a shit job from Monday to Friday. If you were working class, you got paid in cash in a brown paper envelope, given to you on Friday night, which you would then burn through by Sunday morning. It was about a desire to break out of the mould.
When you were at the raves, were you working, partying, or both?
Both. You had to [be involved], because it was too good. It was wild, and it was free, and it comes back down to this idea that if you leave young people to their own devices after midnight, anything can happen. When we, as all different races, started dancing together, it made London a really beautiful place. We made it safe for ourselves. We recognized each other. As a generation, we were full of different tribes. You could almost look at anybody at that time and go, “You’re from East London, you’re from South London, you’re from West London,” because of the clothes we were wearing. Everyone had their own swag, and we all came together.
‘Who Say Reload’ is an oral history of the stories behind the classic drum and bass records of the ’90s. What’s the record for you?
Shut Up and Dance. Their ethos, what they did for the scene, me buying their records in 1988. They went number one with “Raving, I’m Raving.” I remember watching Top of the Pops in like 1993 and seeing these East London lads with this really weird cover version of “Walking in Memphis” at number one, which changed, of course, to “Raving, I’m Raving.” But it got shut down a week later as an illegal record, because they didn’t clear the sample. I mean, why would you [bother clearing it]? You’re from East London, what do you care?
‘Who Say Reload’ is published by Velocity Press and available now.