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You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970

Image Credit: Installation image for You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 - 70. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

We take a look at the V&A's latest exhibit dedicated to the revolutionary and counterculture period 1966-1970.

The V&’s newest exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966- 1970 investigates the political upheaval, the explosive sense of freedom and self-expression, and the legal changes that rocked this five-year revolutionary period, causing a fundamental and lasting shift in the mindset of the Western World.

The V&A’s exhibit delves into how the youth culture of the time catalysed a new, optimistic idealism, motivating people from all walks of life to come together and question the prevailing conservative powers and social ideals of the early 1960s. Young people were fuelled with a desire for a better world and channelled this into rising up against the established power structures that had shackled previous generations.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966- 1970 encompasses more than 350 objects, including posters, music, fashion, literature, photographs, and artefacts to illustrate the radical counterculture that was ignited and how this revolutionary spirit has shaped our past, our present, and will continue to shape our future. The exhibit is made up of six distinct sections that each present a separate revolution within an immersive environment. What makes this exhibit so innovative and exciting is the sound technology that has been used to accompany it. As you wander through the exhibit, music is played through Sennheiser headsets using innovative audio guide technology, which adapts the sound to the visitor’s position in the gallery.

Here’s a look at what you can expect as you travel back in time through the six highly atmospheric sections of this revolutionary exhibit:

Revolution in youth identity in 1966

The first section begins by immersing visitors in a recreation of London’s famous Carnaby Street, which was at the heart of a new, thriving fashion scene for the younger generation. 1966 was the year Time magazine dubbed London “The Swinging City” due to the city’s rise as an epicentre for culture, fashion, music, and art. On display are Biba minidresses, a Mary Quant skirt suit, a flamboyant striped suit by Mr. Fish, and costumes designed for Mick Jagger and Sandie Shaw, highlighting the importance of pop music during this time. Also in this collection are dresses from Twiggy’s eponymous boutique and accompanying music by the Kinks, the Beach Boys, and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas.

Revolution: clubs and counterculture

The exhibition’s second section revolves around clubs, counterculture, experimentation, and alternative lifestyles. Drugs, psychedelia, and the occult feature heavily, as do examples of underground literature and pirate radio. Walk through this section of the exhibit and find yourself immersed in an evocation of London’s UFO club, a venue known for its experimental shows and avant-garde film screenings, where Pink Floyd were the house band and pioneering liquid light shows entertained tripped-out youths. Psychedelic music from Cream, Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd immerse visitors into this hazy world, and of course this particular section wouldn’t be complete without devoting a large part of it to the unprecedented influence of The Beatles. A large display dedicated to the 1967 release of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has pride of place, with John Lennon and George Harrison’s original Sgt Pepper suits presented, as well as George Harrison’s sitar and original handwritten lyrics for Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Image Credit: Installation image for You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 - 70. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Revolution on the Street

The third section takes a very political look at 1966 - 1970 and how youth solidarity crossed causes and continents into politics, leading to physical and non-physical expressions of protest during this time. The 1968 Paris student riots were of prime importance during this period, as was the widespread opposition to the Vietnam War. Visitors can see propaganda material collected by an American soldier and walls of protest posters that call for solidarity, featuring famous revolutionary figures like Che Guevara and Martin Luther King. Ephemera relating to gay rights and women’s liberation are also on display, as well as Black Panther outfits and other literature, posters, and photographs relating to the Panthers’ militarisation and their fight for social change.

Revolution in Consumerism

The next area explores how 1966 - 1970 was a period of rapid increase in personal wealth. 1966 was the year the UK’s first credit card was launched and the following years were dominated by the 1967 Montreal and 1970 World Expos, which provided tens of millions of visitors with a view of a consumer-led future. V&A visitors will see original posters and footage from these world expos, as well as other articles that illustrate this era’s preoccupation with consumerism, such as futuristic furniture and fashion. This section also acknowledges the rise in television ownership and how this allowed people to watch the Vietnam War covered by real-time news, and be able to witness other world events such as the 1969 moon landing. Indeed, on display is William Anders’ space suit that he wore on the Apollo 8 mission, alongside a moon rock on loan from NASA.

Image Credit: Postcard from the Montreal World Expo 1967, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Revolutions in gatherings and festivals

This section takes a look at how record-breaking numbers of people began to gather to listen to music and share a utopian vision of living together in peace and in nature. The room allocated to this section has been kitted out with large screens that play festival footage from Woodstock, while live tracks from this iconic festival boom out from the immersive sound-speakers. Wander around the space, decorated with fake grass and comfy beanbags and couches where you can take some time to relax and experience what it must have been like to be present for these four days of peace and music. Performers’ costumes are on display around the room, including Mama Cass’ kaftan, Roger Daltry’s native American-style jacket, and a jacket and guitar belonging to Jimi Hendrix. A unique opportunity to see what Woodstock behind-the-scenes would have been like, as the exhibit has a display of how the festival was organised, from artists’ contracts to the canteen menu for staff, to notes from Woodstock’s poetry tree - a way in which attendees could communicate with each by leaving notes hung to a tree, before the age of mobile phones.

Image Credit: John Sebastian performing at Woodstock, 1969, © Henry Diltz Corbis

Revolution in communications

The final section focuses on alternative communities living on the West Coast of the USA during this period and how it was here that the revolution in communications began. Californian communities were all about psychedelic rock, sexual liberation, rebelling against institutions, and a “back to the land” philosophy. Living alongside these nature-loving free spirits were the pioneers of modern computing, who shared a common belief that human knowledge should be shared amongst everybody in order to make a better world. On display in this section is a replica of the first ever computer mouse designed by Douglas Engelbart and a very rare Apple 1 computer. Also featured is the original poster for the first Earth Day designed by Robert Rauschenberg, as well as the Whole Earth Catalog, the American counterculture magazine published by Stewart Brand that Steve Jobs called “Google in paperback form.”

As you exit the exhibition, a large screen plays a sped-up timeline of the cultural and political events that have happened since 1966 and we are reminded of the idealism that the late 1960s inspired and how far we have come since then. The exhibition pushes us to reflect on how these revolutionary ideals shaped the world we live in today and encourages a rediscovery of this same sense of optimism and hope in order to envision a new and better tomorrow.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and rebels 1966 - 1970 will run at the V&A from September 10th 2016 - February 26th 2017. Tickets are £16 (concessions available), book online.