Scroll down for a taste of this epic tale which is yet to be properly told – and if you have your own piece of the story to add then don’t let it crumble, we want to know about it! Contact us here.
1984 – ‘86: The Beginning
In the post-punk 1980s Britain was developing a looming sense of apocalypse, Reagan and Thatcher’s nuclear tactics meant that a ‘red button’ could end it all. In addition, their economic plans promoted a ‘progress’ that steamrollered over anyone that stood in its way. Society was changing. There was growing tension as counter-culture communities protested against a government bent on silencing their dissenting voices. This disruption reached a critical point in 1985 at The Battle of the Beanfield when the Police stooped to assaulting the Stone Henge free party gathering – an action later deemed criminal by the High Court. But in these turbulent times something was stirring in The Apocalypse Hotel, a squat in Ladbroke Grove’s Republic of Frestonia. Joe Rush and Robin Cooke mutated from this primordial soup of conflict and capitalism and The Mutoid Waste Company emerged! This Hugh Laurie / Andy Harries documentary sets the scene…
1987: Car Henge
Today, the Mutoids are a cornerstone of Glastonbury Festival; but their first appearance was in 1985 – straight after The Beanfield. Civil liberties had changed and the free party movement fractured. Conversely, Mutoid numbers swelled, but it wasn’t until ‘87 that the Mutoids made their name with Michael Eavis. Arriving in the infamous Skull Bus, Joe and Sam Haggerty drove straight up to the Pyramid Stage and parked on the toes of Mr. Eavis and his security guards The Hell Angels. Joe began to preach his demands for the Mutoid crew when, after some heated discussion, the Angels clocked Joe’s Robot Centaur Motorbike. Friendships were made. But it was no easy ride as Joe recounts in this Guardian article, “We’ve always been very volatile, me and Michael, but we’ve developed a good relationship over time.” That year, although not with out controversy, was later described by Eavis as being one of the best ever thanks to Mutoid’s construction of Car Henge – a towering artwork built from scrapped cars that paid homage to the end of the first stage of free party culture.
1989: Battle Bridge Road, Damien Hirst & The World Tour begins
‘89 was the Summer of Love, the hippy influenced free party scene had mutated to become a new kind of warehouse and rave culture. These were important times when much of today’s counter-culture was forming its identity. Once again the Mutoid Waste Company were pioneers and took up a residency at the Battlebridge Road warehouse in Kings Cross. Today’s household DJ names were making themselves heard as tracks like Rhythm is Rhythm took thousands of Eed up ravers to new heights. The Mutoids brought their own style to proceedings using the industrial scrap left in the wake of Thatcher’s relentless progress to make giant sculptures that were the back drop for some of the best parties – a point not lost on a young Damien Hirst. Hirst saw the impact that warehouse art could have and went on to set up the first Frieze Art Fair in 2003. Hirst is a collector of Joe Rush’s work. For a sense of Britain at the time of the renegade Mutoids, watch this BBC news piece:
The Press went mad for Acid House, and not in a good way. As the scene became a phenomenon the government sought to suppress it and the inevitable police raids and gang activity started to fragment the party – so the Mutoids took the vibes on a World Tour. Beginning with a convoy to Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin. Europe wasn’t prepared… the Mutoid invasion was victorious and their positive party message became legend in Europe. As the centre piece of their mad party was a giant Robot sculpture made from a VW Beetle that towered over the Berlin Wall, it’s metallic digits offering a peace sign in the weeks before the wall fell.
1991 – ‘94: Mutonia, MIGs, Tanks in Berlin and The Spiral Tribe
Joe, Strapper, Debs, Lyle and a host of other mutational humans (get in touch here) first settled near Rimini in North Eastern Italy in 1991. The Italians had a very different mentality to Thatcherite Britain – the local Mayor invited them to occupy a local disused quarry, where they still keep a base that is the ancestral home of the Italian Mutoid tribe. Here’s what it looks like today:
‘91 was also the first year that Robin, co-founder of the Mutoids, first visited Australia. Although he returned to Berlin in ‘94 he made Oz a permanent home and set up the outback version of Mutonia – a truly Mad Max style sculpture park. After some time in Italy a return trip to Berlin was planned, the wasted military scrap metal left in the wake of the Russian retreat was too much for a Mutoid to miss out on! In 1992 mad things happened. Tank Henge was built outside the Reischstag and a MiG 21 Fighter Jet was ‘liberated’ and put to a use as the centerpiece of the mad Mutoid traveling rave! This video shows the Mutoids in their guise as ‘The Lost Tribe of MiG’ as they took the jet plane on a rave tour. Yes, that’s right, they built Stone Henge out of tanks and toured a fighter jet, week after week, across Germany to Prague and every time they stopped they had a massive smash up party! Watch this:
By New Years Eve 1993 the Spiral Tribe had met the Mutoids at the Tacheles warehouse in Berlin, the Spiral Tribe were a music producers and a free party sound system who had gained a significant reputation following infamous Castlemorton Rave. Having been acquitted of any perceived wrong doing, they saw that the Mutoids had blazed a trail in Europe and set off on their own mission. When the two groups met, it made for parties on an apocalyptic scale – as Joe explains in this video.
At the same time the Mutoids never lost their footing in London. Sam Haggerty, Lyle Rowell, Jeff, Luke, The LS Diesel Crew and others kept the West London connection strong by building sculptural floats for Carnival, as well as a host of other scrap artworks that the Mutoids drew together as a magnet makes iron filings arc into intricate patterns. This documentary was discovered in 2011 and had been lost for over 10 years… that’s Jeff at the start. Magic.
1995 – 2003: Mutech, Fuji Rock and the return to Glastonbury
Finally, the Mutoids began to ’settle down’ – for want of a better phrase. Joe has kids and Mutonia became an established residence for the Mutoid family. During this period Mutech, a touring virtual reality stage show, also came to life, toured Italy and gained them many fans. The Spiral tribe returned to Mutonia in ‘95 and the party kept on keeping on up until the Millennium, when the final Mutech gathering saw in the next 1000 years in the hills above Rimini. Although the ‘95 period onwards saw a more fragmented Mutoid Waste Company with factions distributed across the World, mutation was much more than just the party. There was an ethic, a spirit, an idea greater than the the sum of it’s parts that kept the Mutoid Waste Company united even when it appeared dysfunctional. This point was not lost on Jason Mayall one of the key promoters behind The Fuji Rock Festival – and in 2001 The Mutoids began exporting their unique party style to Japan. Joe, Wreckage, Sam Haggerty, Cabs, Dave, Fang and the rest of the gang led the resurgence and the Mutoids re-established their position as Kings of the true festival spirit. In 2002 they also made a creative return to Glastonbury with Lost Vagueness, bringing with with a collection of Robots and aeroplane parts – at the time no one knew that these pieces would mutate to become the foundations of Trash City.
2004: Holiday in Cambodia!
In January Joe went to Cambodia visit his friend Sasha Constable, a descendant of Constable the great painter. Cambodia is a country with a recent history rifle with violence. Sasha’s Peace Art Projects use decommissioned weaponry as a means to promote peace and awareness of the disarmament programmes operating in Cambodia. Joe was a major force in the creativity of this project and on arrival he threw a series a photographs of Mutoid sculptures onto a table around which were gathered young Khmer men. Joe told them that all they had to do was imagine what the thousands of machine guns that lay about them could become. Soon an amazing series of sculptures began to take shape under Joe’s creative stewardship.
2007 – ‘09: Trash City & Mutate Britain: Behind the Shutters
Joe’s partnership with the singer, artist, party monster, event-organiser Ruby Blues led to the friendships made during the Mutoid’s return to Glastonbury, and Joe’s reconciliation with Michael Eavis, result in Glastonbury backing the Mutoids to create Trash City. These were memorable years for Glastonbury as the connection with the Mutoids returned and the festival’s unique atmosphere was strengthened. The Mutoid’s brought their dystopian vision – and the night time party people went mad for it. Lyle and Paka’s robot animals roamed free and the sculpture of Wreckage, Sam Haggerty and the ever increasing crew gave the whole event the edge it had been missing since ‘87. Joe also introduced his brother Pip’s incredible Arcadia Spectacular to the Trash City line up, this video gives a taste of the ‘07 atmosphere:
Shortly after Joe and Wreckage returned from a triumphant trip to the Burning Man festival they went on the hunt for location for a Mutoid sculpture show. It was then that they first met Garfield Hackett and Liam Hayhow, who were looking after a large warehouse in Shoreditch called Cordy House. Hackett and Hayhow had their own ideas and the two parties combined efforts. One part Mutoid Waste, one part Cordy House street art style – and together Mutate Britain became new kind of inner city art event. 25,000 visitors over two months enjoyed the art of the party that made this first event a significant underground success – particularly at a time when contemporary arts locations such as the RCA dreamt of attracting such numbers. In this video Joe gives an introduction to the Behind the Shutters show:
2009 – ‘10: Mutate Britain: One Foot in the Grove & The Unfair Ground
The success of the Behind the Shutters event led to a stronger bond between the Mutoids and the Cordy House family – and as the crews worked together on the Mutoid’s final Trash City show ideas of the next Mutate Britain began to form. Garfield was adamant that it had to happen and found a perfect spot – under the Westway road bridge on Portobello Road – just around the corner from where the Mutoid’s were first conceived in the Apocalypse Hotel way back in 1987. This spot was also the birthplace of UK Graffiti/Street Art as it was here that Futura 2000 (an original New York Graffiti writer then touring with The Clash) had first scribed his tag. The location could not have been more perfect. It was now that video and online production became part of Mutate Britain too – this video gives a one minute tour of the ensuring show that was built within a months and lasted for three months until the end of 2009:
In 2010, the Mutoids invited the Cordy House crew to Glastonbury for the first time. This year they created a new area called “The Unfairground”, named thanks to Sam Haggerty and Dotmaster’s entertainingly macabre sideshow installations, it brought back a serious old school Mutoid party – with a new Mutate Britain style. Street art from Shepherd Fairey (Obey), Dotmasters, Teddy Baden, Bleech, Zadok, David Walker, Dan Hillier, Snug and the inflatable wizardry of Flithy Luker gave the event a retro-progressive vibe that made the Mutoid history relevant and the new Mutate Britain style important. Expect much more from Mutate Britain.