Punks, Goths, Disco Queens, Rockers and Ravers: Portraits of U.K. Nightlife

I spent four decades capturing images of alternative London’s unique counter-cultural history

Derek Ridgers
Jun 29, 2016 · 7 min read

he Dark Carnival is everything I’ve shot in U.K. nightclubs. It starts off in December, 1976 and it goes through April, 2015. Forty years of counter-culture photography, give or take a few months.

It was a lot easier in those days, in the 70s. Occasionally I was photographing people that had never been photographed before. Not just people that have only been photographed by their family, but once in awhile I’d meet people who told me they had never been photographed at all. Nowadays it’s much harder, because they don’t need me to record their current look, they can do it themselves.

I felt I wanted everything in black and white in this book. Some of these pictures have been taken in color and I converted them. Towards the end of the book, from about 2004, everything was digital. I wanted everything to have a consistent look, so I put a little bit of grey onto the black and white images as well.

Now that the book is published, I’ve thought: I’ve got that stuff out there, so I’m going to do something different. Having said that, I have started to take pictures in clubs again. I’m just going to do it a little bit, on an ad-hoc basis, when I get permission. I want the project to be finished now, but I’m still fully engaged and very interested in photography. If it continues to take me into nightclubs, fine…

The following images are excerpted from The Dark Carnival: Portraits from the Endless Night.

This was at The George in 1977. It was quite a rough pub in Hammersmith. It was a pub that I’d seen for many years and if I was walking, I’d walk right past it quite quickly. I went in there once and found that everybody was very friendly and happy to be photographed.

I don’t know what her name is, she was a punk at The Vortex in 1977. The Vortex was a fairly short running punk club that was started by Andy Czezowski as soon as he was ousted from The Roxy, which was in Covent Garden.

That’s fashion designer Jane Kahn and her friend Patrick at Venue 80. If you look closely, you can actually read the schedule of all the bands that were on. There’s quite a few decent bands: Marmelade, Eric Burdon, John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett, The Zebras, and the poet John Cooper Clarke. It was a good place for music for a while, but that was another very short-lived place.

That was taken upstairs at The Blitz in 1980. That’s quite a quip that guy’s got, isn’t it? There must be some sort of frame in there, I think.

This is also at The Blitz, in 1979. I think it was Karen O’Connor — the daughter of famous comedian Des O’Connor — with singer Peter “Marilyn” Robinson. Marilyn went to have a few pop hits a year or two after that. There was a lot of big hair and teasing in the early 80s.

That’s my friend Jessica at the Wag Club in 1983. She doesn’t really like to talk about the 80s at all now. She doesn’t go into detail, but I guess that is up to one’s imagination as to why she doesn’t like to talk about it. But what she did tell me was that when she tried to take the bullet belt in the photo through customs at the airport, she discovered that one of the bullets was still live.

The Batcave, 1984. I don’t actually remember anything about her specifically, but The Batcave was a really interesting place. I believe it was the first Goth club, actually. I don’t know how the Goth movement started, but I think it really came from people like Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Damned. It was a good club, The Batcave, one of the best.

That’s Tasty Tim at the Limelight in 1987. He’s a DJ and he’s still going, dressing up and not looking that different 30 years later. I think that cross-dressing has been fairly common in clubs throughout the whole time I’ve been taking pictures. There’s a lot of it still. There’s a really fantastic club called Sink the Pink. I went there about a week ago and it’s filled with men dressed as women.

This was at the Rubber Ball in 1995, which was a yearly event in the world of fetish. It took place at the Hammersmith Palais, which was a big old fashioned dancehall in West London, which is no longer there. Several thousand people from all over the world would turn up. It was a good night, I miss those nights, actually.

This is Kitty at Submission in 1995. I like that photo, those glasses make her look crazy, don’t they? But she wasn’t, she was a quite sensible, interesting woman. I spent quite some time chatting with her.

That was Club Montepulciano in 1998. It was a dance club in far reaches of South London. Very, very old fashioned. Why this woman is dressed up this way, I have no idea, because most people weren’t dressed up. She looks like she has come from the French Revolution. I have no idea why, but I photographed her because she was looking good.

This was at Torture Garden in Brixton, probably 2005. It’s no longer there because they can’t get the location any more. But it was really great with this big, spiral staircase going up to the club. I used to hang about up there quite often, because it was the only place with any space, as it used to get very, very packed. I think these are both guys. I thought they were quite sweet, actually.

That is Natalie, I think that was 2005. I like this picture because she is wearing a door handle as a necklace. I’ve always liked people that were prepared to style themselves with accoutrements that were not necessarily meant to be worn. There’s always been a lot of people like that in the London club scene.

Anne-Sophie and Jenni at Torture Garden in 2010 — they both look good, wearing these halloween-type outfits. In fact, that may have been Halloween. I really didn’t have to do anything, I mean, they are doing it all for me there.

That is Lisa Carrodus at Torture Garden in 2015. She is an ex-World Champion body-builder. We’ve become friends. She told me that she couldn’t quite think of what to wear, so she went to a men’s fetish shop and saw this apron. She asked to buy it and just cut it down to fit her. I love it, it was a great look for her. I had her to the house recently and took some other photos of her wearing the same thing.

Photographs excerpted from The Dark Carnival: Portraits from the Endless Night, available now from Carpet Bombing Culture. Order your copy via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine retailers.


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Derek Ridgers

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