Cyberthon Hero 3
Collage of video stills taken from the Cyberthon Archive
Stories & Ideas

Tue 22 Dec 2020

Cyberthon: capturing the rave scene in 90s Melbourne

ACMI CollectionArtInternet culturePreservationTelevision
Candice Cranmer

Candice Cranmer

Time-based Media Conservator

The collective memory of rave culture in Melbourne in the 1990s is being made accessible for future generations thanks to the efforts of Adem Jaffers and ACMI’s Preservation and Collections team.

Embedded in Melbourne’s rave scene of the 90s, Adem Jaffers (aka Tekno Mandala) was one of the creative forces behind the guerrilla TV broadcasts known as Cyberthon. Described as energetic marathon style events, these broadcasts and a wealth of archival material capture the zeitgeist of this uniquely Melbourne experimental scene. Now, in collaboration with the ACMI Collection, this archive is being made accessible for the first time in 30 years.

Occurring between 1990–1995, the Cyberthon events ran on a passion for rave/techno culture and on a shoe-string budget. For Jaffers, nascent experimentation (with all things ‘Tekno-Cyber’) began in a St Kilda share-house where electronic artists Ollie Olsen and Jeff Jaffers (Adem's brother) brought people together to discuss computers, modems (expensive tech at the time), experimental graphics, virtual reality, chaos theory and all things electronic.

Melbourne’s rave scene was simultaneously exploding. Rejecting the over-commercialisation of the club and music scenes before it, the rave scene offered a new and inclusive platform for collaboration. Occupying abandoned warehouses, a DIY ethos permeated these spaces that favoured dancing, space and creative opportunities not previously available.

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DJ Claude Young Jr (2120) taken from 'Cyberthon III' and 'Cyberthon Spectrum 3 Yellow'

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Richard Cheese & Cracko (image taken from MAD CLUB segment), from 'Cyberthon Spectrum 3 Yellow'

Techno, rave and Cyberdelia

It was this emergent and distinctly Melbourne techno scene that RMITV were also keen to capture and transmit to their audiences. Having just created RMITV’s new station id for their upcoming 7-day test transmission, Adem Jaffers and collaborators were invited to create a 30-minute documentary on the subject. Signal and syncing issues on the day of broadcast however prompted a swift change of thinking and what was to be a pre-recorded segment became a live broadcast and remixing event. Having never experienced anything like it before, Jaffers recalls that RMITV were so blown away by the impromptu format that they were encouraged to keep going even after they had used all pre-recorded material. As Jaffers said, "we documented what we were living, and we transmitted it". This mantra and event format would set the scene for all subsequent Cyberthon events.

Collaboration and remix culture

The unpretentious and energetic world of remix and rave culture attracted a wide range of talented artists pushing the boundaries of their own artistic practices and each other’s in new collaborations. Moving image content was not only created, re-used and remixed but broadcast and re-mixed again with emergent technologies and a freedom seemingly not afforded elsewhere. As Jaffers explained in the THUMP special, Rave Days: the Birth of Melbourne’s Rave Scene:

“What we essentially did was hijack public TV. It wasn’t illegal, although what we were broadcasting was; samples of people’s artworks – repurposing it, remixing it, mish-mashing it together and kind of regurgitating it out the other end, so in that sense we were breaking all copyright laws. We didn’t care about that sort of stuff. We were one of the only groups that were allowed to broadcast our shows without actually showing the programming staff what we were actually going to broadcast. Things were not scripted or programmed, a mixture of people dancing and moving around, interviews ... We made it in a warehouse and spewed it out, live into Melbourne.”

The Light Warrior, pictured above in Cyberthon V: Spectrum Red [excerpt], became Cyberthon's 3D animated mascot conceptualised as an embodiment of ‘cyber-tech’ and guerrilla broadcasting ideals, a figure that travelled the Universe on board a retrofitted clipper sailing ship called the SSPD (Public Domain).

Technology

Beginning in RMITV’s studios (Cyberdelia, 1990 and Cyberthon I, 1991) and subsequently branching out to TVU’s warehouse space in Footscray Melbourne, the Cyberthon events grew in scope and ambition with each iteration. Artists and collaborators utilised a mix of high and low-tech hardware and software as well as studio vision mixers and cameras, turntables, audio cassette players and Amiga computers to create in a freeform and uncensored manner.

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Des Amos (audio tech) and Troy Innocent (Cyber Dada), at TVU warehouse studio Footscray, Melbourne. Photo taken at 'Cyberthon II' by Alan King

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TVU warehouse studio Footscray, Melbourne. Photo taken at 'Cyberthon II' by Alan King

Experimentation with early Amiga hardware and software such as Deluxe Paint and Imagine 3D allowed Cyberthon artists and The Amiga Users Group (who wrote using Assembly Computer code) to deliver complex animation and audio in realtime, something that would normally take hours to render. With the addition of video editing, digital and analogue effects, fractal generation, optical and camera effects as well as embedded electronic music sequencing, these works were pushing technological boundaries and as Jaffers elaborated, “they were all created using math calculations, displaying text and 3D animations generated purely via code – no drawing per say appears at all – it’s all code, everything.”

Cyberthon IV Poster

'Cyberthon IV: Epic Omnicast Poster', art by Mel Carr (ARTVAARK DESIGN) and James Widdowson (Imagec)

The Cyberthon events were also pioneering in their adoption of online platforms long before they were commonplace. An event first (possibly even world first) in 1994, Cyberthon IV: EPIC Omnicast was an interactive, live streamed event that utilised a range of technologies (a Bulletin board system [BBS], Multicast backbone [Mbone] and CU-SeeMe streaming network technologies) to bring in new participants and audiences. Cyberthon artists were also early adopters of promoting their events via webpages, globally challenging the unchartered territory of legislation regarding the re-broadcasting of television and radio material.

ACMI Collaboration

Adem Jaffers has been prolific in sharing the stories and digitised material from the Cyberthon archive. Many of the magnetic media masters, submasters, remixes and original concept drawings, however, have not been digitised and or seen since their creation. Having moved the archive from the cool, dry archive space at SKA-TV, and prior to that, the cool, dry recesses of his parent’s house, Jaffers reached out to ACMI in 2013 to make the collection accessible. This collaboration has seen the Collections team take original Cyberthon audiovisual carriers condition report, inventory, digitise and quality check the now digital derivatives, a process that has occurred over many years in consultation with Jaffers.

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Cyberthon II original poster art by Dale Nason and Adem Jaffers

Cyberthon-III tape log master design

Cyberthon III design for the compile of 1 hour master version by Adem Jaffers

Cyberthon VI Telstra Edge: exterior concept design

Cyberthon VI: VAT, concept drawing for exterior of proposed redesign for Telstra's Edge exhibition, Melbourne CBD by Voodoo (Phil Woodman)

CyberthonVI Telstra Edge: interior concept design

Cyberthon VI: VAT, concept drawing for interior of proposed redesign for Telstra's Edge exhibition, Melbourne CBD by Voodoo (Phil Woodman)

Working directly with creators such as Jaffers and the Cyberthon community presents a unique opportunity in conservation practice to capture an artist’s original intent and first-hand accounts of what makes an authentic version of a work. This is especially critical when understanding archives where artists have pushed the material, technological and conceptual boundaries within their practices. An example of this can be seen at the start of Cyberthon IV: Epic Omnicast, where a sync issue caused by the use of both a Macintosh and Amiga computer video signal output synced together. What could have appeared as several frames or instances of signal drop-out at the beginning of this title (not unexpected after over twenty years of not being played), Jaffers has been able to confirm was intended and should not be ‘digitally restored’ but kept as the authentic version of this title.

Access

Collaborating tirelessly with ACMI’s Preservation and Collections team, Adem Jaffers has guided the preservation of the Cyberthon archive and we’re thrilled to be able to make such a significant collection – one that contributes to the collective memory of 90s rave culture in Melbourne – accessible for future generations.

To see more of the Cyberthon archive visit the Collections channel, ACMI website or view us in the preservation process in the Media Preservation Lab in February.

Adem Jaffers would like to thank all of the artists involved in Cyberthon throughout the years and Peter Lane at SKA-TV for donation of many SP-BETACAM tapes and 24/7 access sub-mastering and logging facilities at Trades Hall.

Thanks to Nick Richardson (Head of Collections & Preservation) and Ben Abbott (Digital Preservation Technician) at ACMI.

Explore the Cyberthon archive

Further reading

A History of RMITV

Tripping Down Memory Lane with a '90s Rave VJ, Ingrid Kesa, Vice, 27 Oct 2015

Cyberthon: The Reconnaissance Unit 1990-95 (@CyberthonTV) – Facebook Group

An oral history of Melbourne's rave scene, '88-'97, Jim Poe, Red Bull, 25 Jul 2017

Cyberdelia >2> Cyberthon.. my two bobs worth... Pat Malone [Adem Jaffers], unpublished article, 2013-2014