Have you ever danced at a Slovakian lake party, partied at a quarry in Brighton, or experienced a solar eclipse during a rave in Hungary?

Seana Gavin’s SPIRALLED photo book puts you front and centre, experiencing a decade of travelling across Europe with the free party movement between 1994-2001.

As a young teenager, Seana embedded herself in the London party and after-hours scene. Following a massive clampdown on illegal raves and gatherings across the UK that included legislation like the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, she began spending summers in Europe, travelling with her London friends from Spiral Tribe – a free party sound system that “succeeded in constituting an alternative public space, rather than just a secret one.” They joined other groups organising parties and joining teknivals throughout Europe where there was a somewhat more tolerant police policy.

Seana began documenting her experiences with a compact film camera – snapping the characters, come-ups, and comedowns from this cartel of travelling sound systems across France, Spain, the Czech Republic, Holland and Hungary. Diary entries, event flyers and first-hand photographs help sequence Seana’s memories and experiences together. Largely preceding social media, camera phones and Google Maps, they enjoyed a back to basics experiences and iridescent adventures in this rough and ready retreat.

While this covert culture was driven by music, for Seana, it was the community and people that drove her interest in this scene. Most importantly, her camera never intruded on the parties themselves – it was largely the build-up, aftermath, and key moments that she chose to capture.

These images remained largely unseen until 2019 when she felt the time was right to showcase this seminal time in her life.

An exhibition at galeriepcp in Paris, and the publication of SPIRALLED gives us the chance to experience this nomadic raving lifestyle for ourselves.

What appealed to you about the opportunity to travel abroad with Spiral Tribe?

I spent periods of time travelling in my friends mobile homes in a convoy with the sound systems which included Spiral Tribe along with other crews that formed at the time.

I was very young when I got into the scene in London and just 18 when I spent my first summer travelling in this way. I was still living with my family and studying at the time so I felt an enormous feeling of freedom and excitement when I was on the road. At that period in my life,

I didn’t need to be surrounded by creature comforts, I was happy to experience the simplicity and lightness of bringing just myself, a backpack, a sleeping bag and my camera.

I loved living with friends in this way, there was a real sense of community and family.

It was my life and normality to me but part of me also knew it was a very hidden underground scene that not everyone had access to in the same way. And as it was the days before smart phones and social media there weren’t many of us that were taking photographs. I am so grateful now that I did this. The fact I kept a diary and wrote some of it down too really has helped to keep the memories alive.

Tell me about some of your favourite people/characters along the way? 

There are too many to mention!

Any moments that ‘got away’ that you wish you had documented?

Yes many. After a full summer of travel in 1997/98 I had my bag with all the rolls of film from the trip in the back of my friend’s truck I was travelling in. We realised when we got to Calais that some of the bags had fallen out along the road somewhere, sadly it included mine. I still feel gutted sometimes when I think about that.

And there was a specific party – ‘The End of the World party’ in Gerona, Spain 1999. The police turned up after a few days to close it down and were being quite aggressive. As me and my friend drove off-site she encouraged me to take a photo of one of the police officers. He got very angry, stopped us and insisted I pull out that roll of film. So as a result I have minimal documentation of that party which is a real shame.

How were these parties advertised without social media, how did traveling around Europe, without Google maps and mobile phones work?

It was a very different experience from how I imagine the process to be today.

In London, there was a party line number that you would call on the night with the party address details, from a payphone. In Europe, there were often DIY flyers handed out with party details or we’d hear by word of mouth from one party to the next.

We’d use actual ‘physical’ maps to navigate the roads. Which sometimes meant you would be driving around all night trying to find the party. I remember one small party in France which we were really struggling to find. We ended up with a convoy of 20 vehicles of ravers behind us all in the same situation and presuming we knew where the party was. And I’m happy to say we figured it out and got them to the party in the end. Which felt like a sense of achievement at the time!

The first line from the book describes these images as being ‘emotionally buried’…why do you think that was? Was there anything that had to happen for you to work with these images? 

After 10 years of my life evolving around the free party scene, I removed myself from it after the tragic loss of my best friend Ben at a party in France. Many of the journeys in my book were taken when I was travelling in his converted army truck. It was a big turning point for me and in some ways, it may have saved me.

My life went in a different direction. But after 15 years I felt enough time had gone by and I was ready to revisit that period of my life.

I felt it was time to share my lived experience as I realised there wasn’t a lot of documentation of that era and it was precious.

There also seemed to be an increased interest in 90s rave culture so the timing was right.

Why do you think these images resonate so much with people? 

The rawness of it. The early stages of that scene that I captured can not be repeated in the same way because the world is such a different place.

I think the images resonate to people of my generation as it brings back a feeling of nostalgia and youth. And for the younger generations maybe it’s an era that they idolise and wish they could live through. That was even before the pandemic set in. Since 2020 there is even more of a longing for those times of innocence and simplicity.


Tell me about how the exhibition in Paris and then your book came about? Going from private to public - how did that feel? 

I had been thinking for a little while that it was time to share my archive and then it all fell into place. Pete from galeriepcp wanted to do an exhibition relating to that era and scene and then he discovered I had this collection of photographs that had never been shown. So I was offered a solo show there in 2019.

Going through my archive and making the selection for the show brought back floods of memories.

With the addition of my diary entries, I did feel very exposed and vulnerable in a way. I was worried at first how the people included in the photos or mentioned in the entries would feel.

Part of me thought I would be judged in a negative way. But luckily I was reassured when it brought joy to those that viewed it and I was blown away by the great press responses to the show.

After my book was released so many people from back in the day that I hadn’t seen or spoken to in 15 years contacted me to reconnect and let me know how much they enjoyed the book. Some of them were in tears as it brought up so many emotions. So it was a very healing experience for me.

Is there anything that you feel you learned from these experiences that you carry with you - creatively or otherwise?

It definitely formed me as a person. I was much more ‘tough’ back then, it was quite a hardcore way of life. Sometimes when I’m going through challenges in my life now I remind myself of that side of me to give me strength.


When did you stop taking photos and move to collage work? Why? 

I never really stopped taking photos. But I started to take them less on a night out with friends when selfie culture took over. And with the overuse of mobile phones, the magic was lost for me. I still enjoy photography and look at the world through a photographic perspective a lot of the time.

I started to create my hand-cut collage worlds over 10 years ago. I think for people that know my photographic work and are aware that I was part of the free party rave movement, they can see where some of the inspiration may have come from – with my collages there are clearly psychedelic overtones which may relate to that era

Who or what is your community now? 

I guess for a while it was ‘The art world’ in London. I was going to a lot of private views, exhibitions and after parties for many years. But then I moved from London to a small village in Oxfordshire 3 years ago with my husband.

At first, I didn’t expect to have a social life here, I had London for that. But then the pandemic happened with endless lock downs so we were forced to spend time here and meet our neighbours and other people in the village because we kept bumping into them on our daily walks. As a result, we have made good friends with people in the area which has turned into a really nice community. So some positives have come out of this strange moment in time we are all living through.

You can see more of Seana’s work on her website or connect with her on Instagram.

Dublin Digital Radio

Claire Prouvost