The 90s, Acid House and its influence on British designers

Gareth Davies
By Gareth Davies 4 min read
10 Mar 2023

It’s 1992 and dance music culture (Acid House, Rave or Jungle) had exploded in the UK. Like many other teenagers at the time, it meant morning strolls to school with cassette tapes of the latest tracks and mythical tales of raves across the country (which we were way to young to get to).

Yet for those a few years ahead,  your experience of those fabled years was probably more like this (see video below and more  here). Amazing tales which mirror those of countless older friends equally entranced.

It was an amazing moment in time, where music, new technology and experience perhaps mixed for the first time in history. The birth of a generation. Even the New York Times recently wrote “Times were so hard in ’88, you know” said the D.J. Paul Oakenfold, who ran pioneering acid house nights. “You had Margaret Thatcher closing down the mines and the steel and all that. It was really tough.“ But acid house changed that, he said. “Suddenly you could go to a place and express yourself through music. You felt like you were part of something really special.”

But for me, it was simply our first taste of an infectious culture and one which would stay for life. Importantly for me and many others designers to be, it would evolve and encompass our first taste of graphic design, branding, marketing and for some even running your own in events.

Into 95′ and the explosion of Mix CDs

Night clubs were financial gold mines. Club culture had officially taken hold. The advent of the DJ Mix CD became the new media of visual & audio communication as hundreds of CDs and their visceral box art packed the shelves in local music stores. With competition for your attention fierce, graphic designers pushed the medium further at lightning speed. Renaissance and Cream releases lead the way with beautifully crafted afterwork and packaging.

It was an art form maturing in front of our eyes. We we’re amongst it, playing our part, with design students up and down the country sharing the dream that one day, maybe a CD they’d designed would be standing on the shelves of HMV.

Perhaps the first British ‘superclub’. Industry giants with massive budgets for design and marketing during the print only era.
Nottinghams Renaissance quickly became as the connoisseur choice for beautiful events and graphic design. It was the Rolls Royce of clubland.

In 1997 that Newcastle based ‘Global Underground’ took things further with their global expeditions blending photography, typography and trance like progressive sounds to take their crown as the global kings of graphic design (Shout out to Shorty (designer), Scott (label manager) and Dean (Photographer) who I’m now lucky enough to call friends.

This album I loved so much I painted my bedroom walls the same colour and hung it’s box art front and centre.

I stand with hundreds (maybe thousands) of British graphic designers who have been on the same journey and love these images and experience dearly. Despite a deep passion for video games and technology, it’s the music industry which gave me a way to put my teenage design skills into practice. It was a life changing experience that’s is the foundation of creative careers up and down the country.

Here’s 10 tracks that summarise this time for me…

Mr.Fingers – Can You Feel It (1986)

Sueno Latino – Paradise Mix (1989)

UNDERWORLD – Dark And Long (1994)

808 State – Pacific State (1989)

Rhythm is Rhythm – It is What it Is (1988)

Adonis – No Way Back (1986)

Renegade Soundwave – The Phantom (1989)

CeCe Rogers – Someday (1989)

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