Launch night – The Agony & The Ecstasy, Episode 1 of 3
The acid house FOLLOWING: was ecstasy the only element that mattered?
For the first of our Film Followed nights, we gathered to watch part one of The Agony & The Ecstasy, a three-part series shown on Sky Arts. Part one, presented by Norman Jay MBE puts across a persuasive argument that the acid house scene of the late 80s was the ultimate social following.
With Thatcher in power and conditions seeming appalling for young working class people, acid house provided an escape and a means of protest. Through a shared love of House music, people in their teens and twenties came together to subvert the social, racial and class boundaries of late 1980s Britain.
It’s eloquently argued (not for the first time) that acid house was the biggest youth revolution in decades and the perfect Following. As the agency that Creates A Following for brands, we wanted to see what we could learn.
Firstly it had that necessary ingredient – tension. That is to say: something to feel passionately for, or against. In rave’s case it found its enemy in the hardship of the day. The country and the prospects of young people felt bleak. They desperately sought a way out. Acid house was that release. And seemingly, the more the authorities bore down on the revellers, the stronger the force became. Feeding off media attention and attempts to oppress it, acid house just got bigger and more important to people.
Then it had an exciting and rabble-rousing call to action in “let’s ‘ave it” or “what’s the ku?” meaning where’s the party. The repeating of which seemed to have a dopamine inducing effect all of its own.
And what of a badge? Every important Following has one. Acid house was no exception with its dystopian smiley face. The smiley face was plastered on t-shirts, flyers and club walls. By accident or design it was the perfect expression of the Following and the energy within. At once representing feel-good and menace. That determination to have a good time at all costs you can still feel when you look at that badge today.
It also got its big breaks through sparks. Pirate radio and the hijacking of BT Voicebank allowed the Following to pick up momentum and become by sheer numbers unstoppable. Tech was the spark that made it travel. And then, the most important spark of all – ecstasy.
Ecstasy bought barriers down, allowed for unity and a sense of belonging. And whilst the documentary is at pains to explain that not everyone was riding the ecstasy high it’s hard to overstate its importance to the Following.
So rave culture offers a lot of insight for us when creating Followings for brands. Whilst ecstasy is the difficult element to reproduce we can take from the other areas! A strong cultural context or tension is needed. An invitation to think, feel or do something in response to a challenging or misguided situation. This purpose should be perfectly embodied in the right call-to-action and badge. And any Following should be planned around the perfect launch moments, points of relevance or breakthrough in media landscape or tech.
But this makes it sound like a recipe. Mix these elements together in the same way every time and you get a Following. Not necessarily. Because acid house felt unforced, spontaneous and raw. Rawness sat behind each element and that’s what made it ultimately intoxicating.
It was a Following in the making and that seemed important to people. They were discovering something still taking shape. Everyone that was invited to the party was invited to shape the Following. It was a truly democratic experience. The music was experimental, the venues were makeshift, the tech was tried but untested, the badge was more than a little rough around the edges and the drugs… they were the most unpolished element of all.
So probably the biggest lesson when creating Followings is to allow for that rawness. People are magnetically drawn to a work-in-progress; an unfinished article they have discovered and can leave their mark on. Memes are probably the very best example of this today: a broad idea that gets its energy from the people. So if it’s possible communication ideas should balance that invitation to a new experience with the confidence to leave things tantalisingly open-ended. Where next for a campaign? Maybe the Followers decide.