Rave legends Altern8 are back and this time they want to be Christmas number one. Cliff Richard they are not. But what can the rave duo teach comms people? Quite a lot, actually.
By Dan Slee
Back in the early 1990s a band from Stafford emerged from the rave scene to make a dent in the popular imagination
Dressed in RAF chemical gear Altern8 played hardcore techno music that spilled out of clubs and from cars onto the radio and onto Top of the Pops.
Mark Archer and Chris Peat for three years were the face of rave music. Only they weren’t. They dressed in yellow face masks and refused to have their pictures taken without them.
So how did a band from an unfashionable Midlands town signed to a minor label in Birmingham take the charts by storm when so much of what was produced was by anonymous people in baggy clothes?
Well, it was the music, obviously. But Altern8 cut through the noise far more effectively than most other bands of the era. But how did they do it? Key to any strategy were stunts and wheezes that saw them blaze a trial of publicity.
1. The one where they wouldn’t be photographed
Altern8 attracted publicity by shunning publicity. They were never photographed with their masks off. Originally, this was because they were on the bill at an event alongside their main project Nexus 21 and quite fancied being paid twice hence the masks. Only they stuck as a memorable image.
The lesson: Strike a memorable image
2. The one when they played a live PA until the police came along
Back in the late eighties and early nineties techno was played in only a handful of places across the country. Shelley’s in the Longton area of Stoke-on-Trent was one of those places and built a global reputation leading to major queues. Altern8 would often be seen out of their stage gear seeing what worked on the dance floor. One night after the night came to a close and the revellers filed out they hired a flatbed truck and played a live PA in the car park until the police came and ordered them to stop. The footage was used for a video. Word of mouth for weeks after spoke of where they may be playing next.
The lesson: Do a memorable event
3. The one where they released a tenth of what they could have sold
At the peak of their powers they released 'Frequency' and rather thgan the full on chart assault everyone expected they pressed just 10,000 and distributed them in varying quantities to record shops across the country. My local store got one copy. Just one. It turned it into a sought after item overnight. They claimed to have burnt the master tapes on Cannock Chase. They never did, of course.
The lesson: Be word of mouth
4. The one where they stood for Parliament
Back in the 1993 the police, the Press and MPs were getting increasingly annoyed with the rave scene. Repetetive beats were outlawed as a way of clamping down on illegal raves. So, Chris Peat stood for election in Stafford for the Altern8ive hardcore party promising techno on every street corner. They didn’t win. But they had a good time trying.
The lesson: Publicity stunts work.
5. The one where they shared sharable content
When the campaign was launched for the Christmas number 1 in 2013 Altern8 used social media to mobilise support with a strong Facebook page and Twitter. But it was the use of sharable images that helped keep the message alive. Film posters were Altern8’d with yellow face masks added.
The lesson: Remix the iconic and make it sharable.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.