“It’s almost like drug dealing,” laughs Rob Ford, a 52-year-old author and music producer, who spends his evenings meeting strangers in car parks and exchanging cash for bags brimming with old skool rave memorabilia. “Meeting someone somewhere and buying a bag load of flyers off them. Occasionally there’ll be a membership card in there, too.”
What started as a hobby eventually transformed into an obsession. “I thought to myself, ‘nobody’s collecting these things’,” he recalls. “I ended up becoming a bit addicted to collecting the membership cards.” During the lockdown, the collection grew and grew, and so did Ford’s reputation as a collector. “I even got a bit of a name for myself,” he says. “It just became a thing, especially with lockdown, because it pushed so many people into their outdoor sheds and loft spaces. The next thing I knew, people started contacting me saying, ‘I understand that you’re the guy for membership cards’.”
Five years of this activity has resulted in a 432-page book — Members Only: The Iconic Membership Cards And Passes Of The Acid House And Rave Generations. The book is a treasure trove, containing over 500 pieces of original rave memorabilia. What’s really interesting is the diversity of the people who designed these pieces. What do we know about the different types of designers featured in the book? “I think basically you’ve got these two main categories,” Ford says. “You’ve got people who were just grabbing images out of magazines — the Dreamscape image itself, I think, was ripped from a 1984 science magazine.
“Some of the really iconic images were completely hacked off other stuff,” Ford continues, speaking to the DIY nature of how these events were promoted before the proliferation of the internet. “But then you had designers like Spectrum’s Dave Little, who’s professional and still doing that kind of work. And you’ve got designers like Pez [who worked on designs for Raindance] and Junior Tomlin [dubbed by many as ‘The Salvador Dali of Rave’] who are professionals.
“Then there are mates doing stuff,” Ford says. “I know, for example, that the guy that ran Humanity literally did everything himself. So it’s a mixture of professionals and people who would just rip stuff from big designers; Salvador Dali is a classic one in rave designs.”
Below is a selection of the membership cards, and some commentary from people who were there when electronic music culture first landed in the UK — bringing with it new music, fashion and drugs which are still dominant 30 years on.
Note: quotes are edited for length and clarity