Melbourne Nightclub Photography in the Excessive 80s

Jacqui Riva was a social photographer for exclusive clubs such as Inflation and the infamous Razor during the mid 80s.

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Jul 7 2015, 4:59am

Images: Jacqui Riva

The Melbourne nightclub scene in the 1980s was a heady mix of high fashion, open drug use, irresponsible service of alcohol and sexual freedom. Jacqui Riva was a social photographer for exclusive clubs such as Inflation and the infamous Razor, capturing crucial shots of Melbourne’s cultural elite for photo spreads in magazines such as Beat and Stiletto. We caught up with her to find out the stories behind the shots.

Noisey: Hi Jacqui. How did you get involved with club photography?
Jacqui Riva: I was working in the cocktail bar at Inflation - it was 1985 or '86. Someone told the boss I was a photographer and that’s how it started. George Huxley's International Velvet performed there, and Miss Dorothy and his Fools in Love, and a few musicians would come after their gigs. I would photograph them, their friends and the people who came to see them. That moment at Inflation was glamorous - there were a number of designers who were making fantastic clothes like Martin Grant, Kara Baker, Brighid Lehmann, Sara Thorn, Bruce Slorach and Fiona Scanlan. Stockings with suspenders and matte red lipstick were mandatory.

What were the club like at this time? What kind of clientele frequented clubs like Razor?
The Hardware Club was very exciting. I was young and a bit in awe of the people who worked there - everyone seemed so sophisticated. Desbina Collins, who worked in the cloakroom, wore a big pointy bustier (pre-JPG). Siobhan Ryan came to work one night wearing a headband of painted flowers that she had made out of bread dough and baked that day. She just looked so punky-chic. Razor somehow was all of that and more, if you got through the door you were in 'the club'. It was cool and edgy, traversing post-punk, 80s pop, jazz, house, all mixed with booze and drugs. The people who went there looked amazing, fashionable, different and free. A lot of music people frequented the club - Big Pig played there, Nick Barker, Vince Jones. Ollie Olsen was always such a cool guy. People went there for different reasons, some people to dance, some to drink, some to take drugs, some to talk, some to watch from the shadows, most to find someone to have sex with.

Your photos feature a lot of well-known local and international faces - from pop musicians to actors, artists, comedians, gallerists and designers. How hard was the club to get into?
The club was housed in the Light Car Club's Melbourne premises and you had to be a member (or a guest of a member) to enter. Everyone had to sign the member’s book. I guess it was hard to get in - you have to exclude to be exclusive. The girls on the door had to determine how the people they let in were going to behave to some extent. It was a place where you could do anything, and provided you were not aggressive and remained standing, it was tolerated. If they thought someone was going to end up being uncool, or they were drunk at the door encounter, they wouldn't let them in. Policy was: as soon as someone was asleep in a chair or slumped against a wall, they were put outside by the mild-mannered bouncers (who were actors and comedians, like Greg Fleet).

What was the musical focus at Razor?
There was a big focus on dancing at Razor. An under-age Mark Forrester was on the dance floor every week for a while. Music styles traversed late disco and house and I remember dancing to a Prince remix of "Put A Spell On You" and Filthy Lucre's remix of Yothu Yindi's "Treaty".

You must have seen a lot of waves of fashion come and go, in both how people dress in and the drugs of choice - what can you tell us about this from the perspective of a club photographer?
At Razor there was a beautiful mixture of post-punk, shabby-chic, glamorous, queeny, gay. Troy Davies somehow seemed to traverse most of these styles himself. The drug thing at Razor was pretty interesting and yes the drug of choice changed. Heroin use was okay, provided those people remained standing. If anyone was asleep in a chair, or slumped against a wall, they were warned or taken outside. Lots of people used speed and occasionally a bit of amyl nitrite on the dance floor. Then ecstasy was the big thing. I'm not sure that the photographs reflect this - by the time the person poses for the photograph and the flash floods the atmosphere some of the subtlety that might reveal something deeper is washed away. Of course not everyone took drugs and dealing was not tolerated.

You must have seen some crazy things go down over the years.
The drug taking was pretty crazy. It might sound negligent but there was something interesting about it. Heroin always has the bad, sad aspect to it - the broken-hearted person's drug - and that scared me. But there was also, dare I say, the heroin-chic thing in Melbourne. I knew a lot of people who tried or used heroin, there was something about it that was attractive. Nevertheless, some people died, some people got hep C. Some girls ended up working at the Daily Planet to support their lifestyle. And I didn't like seeing people on ecstasy so much, all the misplaced lovey feelings. A friend who was gay and his long-time platonic girlfriend decided, one night on ecstasy, that they were meant for each other and moved in together - which of course ended predictably.

How would you say clubbing in Australia has changed since the Razor days?
I have no idea. After Razor I retired. It was too much of a good time and a good experience for me to move onto the next thing, and I was more focused on my career as an artist and my boyfriend by the time it ended.


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