A Brief History of the Smiley Face, Rave Culture's Most Ubiquitous Symbol
In a new edition of his riveting Off the Record series for THUMP, music historian Michaelangelo Matos educates dance fans on the history of an iconic rave symbol: The smiley face.This article originally appeared on THUMP
In Off the Record, rave historian Michaelangelo Matos takes a critical look at the culture surrounding dance music—from food to clothes to design and writing. For this installment, he dives into the storied history of rave culture's most ubiquitous symbol, the smiley face.
2016 has been such a horrible year that the continuing ubiquity in dance culture of the smiley face symbol makes a perverse kind of sense. Sometimes the smiley was used as simple nostalgia—specifically, for the way it connotes the late-80s flourishing of acid house in the UK, when the smiley became the fledgling dance scene's semi-official mascot. For instance, last spring, Sankey's club owner David Vincent announced a series of nights called "Dance 88/89," featuring smiley-festooned flyer art and a who's-who of first-wave UK acid-house DJs. In November, UNDRGRND Sounds released a pack called They Call It Acid, festooning its cover art with you-know-what.
Nostalgia certainly played a role in the way London's fabric nightclub used a modified smiley as a talisman in its fight to continue business after it lost its license and subsequently shut down in the fall. When the Houndstooth label issued the 111-song #savefabric benefit compilation, the cover art (and a slew of T-shirts) cleverly substituted the club's logo for the smiley's right eye). (Apparently, it worked; fabric's reopening in January.) This version of the symbol wasn't merely cute—it was defiant, and therefore resonates with the way smiley was used in dance culture to begin with...