From punks, to teddy boys to ravers

The Youth Club archive is a one-of-a-kind photo archive, featuring images that capture decades of subculture and youth movements in the UK. ICON Printing have helped produce t-shirts for their merch range, and we wanted to take a moment to share a bit more about their work. We caught up with creative projects lead Jamie Brett to hear the back story behind the archive, and what the future holds for Youth Club…

Hi Jamie! Tell us how Youth Club came into being?

Jon Swinstead, who is still our director, started Sleazenation back in 1993. It was a free hand out for clubbers at the time, but would feature everything from the rave scene to teddy boys and started to grow as quite a comprehensive photo collection.

By 2015, Sleazenation was long gone, but the photo archive was still running and was licensing photos to magazines, newspapers, documentaries, mainly photos of punks and skinheads. We realised that we were about a lot more than just licensing – there was a bigger purpose to the archive – and we founded Youth Club as a non-profit organisation. It was the first time Heritage Lottery has funded something that’s not a church steeple or tapestry…Right now it’s a photo archive – but the ultimate goal is to build a museum of youth culture.

How do you want people to respond to it?

The idea was to create a centralised location for youth culture so people can see what’s happened in the past. We realised our archive gives a good view, but we need to open it up to the public to fill in the gaps. We’re starting a big submission campaign with Time Out to reach out to London. We don’t view our archive as the gospel of youth culture – more like a skeleton – but we want to make it a call of action. It could be a photo of your mum in a big jumper in the 80s – as long as it reflects a moment of time in fashion, music, it can go in.  

What kinds of images are people most interested in?

At the moment there’s a real fascination with 90s protest and rave culture and its been going on a while now. It changes over the years, but people are always looking for an experience that feels quite radical in comparison to current times. I’ve noticed definitely with the 18-year-olds coming to us, that they see the 90s as something mystical, they can’t believe it really happened and that’s quite interesting. Every year that things change, people want to focus on different moments. But there’s a message there; even your grandparents might have been more out there than you are.

Want to print t-shirts for your band, record label or club night? ICON Printing offer fast turnaround printing with a wide-ranging catalogue from t-shirts to caps to bagsGet a quote in 2 minutes online. 

Some people bemoan the death of youth culture – what’s your take on this?

I think we’ve moved away from subcultures in the sense of those tribal movements where everyone is standing on the street corner wearing the same stuff. The tribal subcultures were the result of something very specifically happening and we’re too interconnected now to have those kinds of interactions with people.

But we’re still in an infancy in what’s going on with youth culture. It only really started after WW2, when the economy was booming and there was a reaction against the traditional – like wearing a suit all the time. There was no teenager before the war. You were just an adult the moment you could put a suit on. All the youth movements were a real rebellion against that.

But underground culture is still thriving, and club culture in an underground way has such a huge demand. It’s never going to die. It’s going to look different, and we don’t know what it’s going to look like.

T-shirt merch for Youth Club archive

Youth Club archive produced a series of t-shirts, printed by ICON. This Up Yours long sleeve combines punk and rave aesthetics. It’s currently on sale via the Youth Club online shop.


What elements of youth culture today are you most excited by?

At the archive, we tend to say that after 20 years is when something becomes interesting. The latest work we’re looking at is nu-metal. It’s been amazing seeing how that emerged, then there’s been some early dubstep stuff. You don’t realise how much it was a thing until you see the way people were dressing and all the rituals going on. In terms of what’s going on now, I’ve been really interested in the way that clubs and club nights are trying to party in a city that’s telling them not to. For me the foundation of subculture/underground is about taking a stand and doing it yourself. The way DIY parties are happening now, it’s very 90s, and it follows the same principles of the raves after the criminal justice act. It’s a terrible thing how many clubs are closing, but the positive is it’s forcing people to take things into their own hands. That’s when things evolve.

Tell me about the museum element – how do you see this emerging?

Jon’s always wanted to give a legacy to the archive. We want to open a museum but we don’t want it to look like the kinds of museums that are out there. We’re very keen to avoid a neo-classical building in Trafalgar square.

It’s still very early days but there will be a physical space you can visit to see these collections. But will it be a pop up? Will it travel? By the end of this year we’re going to have an “online museum”. This will make it more than just an archive, by adding stories to the work so people can understand about youth culture/subculture even if they’ve never been part of these movements themselves, and help them understand why these movements are important.

To find out more about Youth Club visit:

Want to print t-shirts for your band, record label or club night? ICON Printing offer fast turnaround printing with a wide-ranging catalogue from t-shirts to caps to bagsGet a quote in 2 minutes online.