The RAT party archive is part of a larger collection of objects documenting RAT parties. During the 1980s in Sydney's inner-east, a series of more than 35 parties organised by the Recreational Arts Team (RAT) formed a key element of an emerging subculture. The core of the self-styled Recreational Arts Team was Jac Vidgen, Billy Yip and Reno Dal. Vidgen, an energetic party-thrower who had come to Sydney from Brisbane, became the de facto promoter and organiser of these so-called RAT parties. Yip was an artist with a wildly creative imagination who developed well co-ordinated themes and design concepts for the parties. His striking graphic concepts were applied to posters, fliers, badges and banners. Reno Dal was the team's original technical designer and producer, who started the events with Vidgen and Yip in 1983 and remained involved until 1986. Mark Taylor was the technical producer for the peak period 1986-1990, while Wayne Gait-Smith was technical designer.
Vidgen threw his first public party for 200 guests at a rat-infested house on Cleveland St on 2 October 1983, because his own private parties had become too large and expensive. He had no idea he was setting in train a phenomenon that led to a multitude of dance parties every year. Each party had a special name, usually conceived by Billy Yip, incorporating the word 'rat' in its title. The first official RAT party, titled 'Ratsurrect' and advertised through word-of-mouth, was held at the Bondi Pavilion on Easter Sunday, 22 April 1984. The early parties, particularly 'Ratizm' at the Paddington Town Hall (April 1985), created a buzz, attracting an inner-city party-going crowd that included heterosexual bohemians as well as gay men and drag queens. RAT parties typically had audio-visual presentations, bizarre props, party drugs, innovative lighting, underground cabaret groups, the best DJs in town and unusual live performances by people like Martin Harsono and Simon Reptile, who performed at most of these events.
What began as a creative exercise became a business. In 1987 Vidgen registered Recreational Arts Team Pty Ltd as a company. The events became larger, and were no longer exclusive eastern suburbs affairs where it was necessary to know the right people to obtain a ticket. The parties became famous for their spectacular entertainment and celebrity guests. 'A Ratty New Year', held on New Year's Eve 1988 and featuring a 4am live performance by Grace Jones, was so popular that it filled both the Hordern Pavilion and the Royal Hall of Industries. The audiences ranged from 200 to 14,000 guests, with budgets from $5,000 to $400,000. However Vidgen's motivation was not financial gain. Business was risky, profits were slim, and money made on one party was frequently lost on the next one. Vidgen described himself as 'an event producer committed to celebration' (Sydney Morning Herald 13/9/89).
RAT parties provided a venue for a circle of creative people to express themselves on a larger scale than had previously been available, providing a stepping stone for some to move to other levels of expression. Billy Yip is now a painter of fine art. Tobin Saunders, who is now better known as Vanessa Wagner, used to help on the decor team and performed at many of the parties with his dance group. Other contributors were the visual artist Anthony Babicci, the entertainer Ignatius Jones, and Tim Gruchy, who was responsible for much of the video production and recording at the events, particularly in the later years. The parties were vividly documented in photographs by William Yang.
The RAT parties were forerunners of the dance parties and raves of the 1990s. In the early 1980s pub rock was still the mainstream, and dance music was an underground phenomenon. Any music that utilised electronic instruments other than guitars was regarded as weird or avant-garde. RAT party enthusiasts eschewed rock, preferring recorded electronic music and dance music provided by pioneering DJs like Tim Ritchie, Robert Racic and Pee Wee Ferris.
Spearheaded by these DJs, Australian dance music took off in the 1980s. Ignored by major record labels, the dance movement followed the same path as the punk ethic: do-it-yourself. Following Vidgen's lead, competing independent promoters booked nights at tired old venues like the Hordern Pavilion and transformed them into vibrant, packed palaces. Sydney's gay community, in particular, took to dance parties. As well as RAT parties, the Mardi Gras, Sweatbox and Bacchanalia are now spoken of as some of the best parties held, featuring DJ sets from the likes of Ritchie, Racic, Ferris, Stephen Allkins and Paul Holden. The buzz of these parties spread to the UK with that country's top DJs keen to take part. Warehouses emerged, some becoming the foundation of local rave culture. By the end of the 1980s parties flourished all around the country, with promoters booking a constant flow of influential overseas DJs such as Paul Oakenfold. While established rock venues suffered from lack of attendance, dance parties were frequently sold out.
The RAT parties altered Sydney's night life, starting a craze for giant dance parties that lasted in to the 1990s. They provided a diverse range of entertainment based on visual and aural stimulation, provided a creative outlet for talented people and set the tone and style of Australian dance music culture.
As a child in Brisbane in the 1950s and '60s Jac Vidgen would put on puppet shows and hold parties for his family and friends-for some parties he would hire lights.
After moving to Sydney in 1976 Vidgen again began throwing parties. He initially brought in Ellis D. Fogg as lighting man. In the early '80s Vidgen hired Reno Dal to do the lighting for a party at his Elizabeth Bay flat. Seeing the popularity of the party, Dal, who had brought mirror balls for the night, suggested Vidgen start charging people to attend his elaborate events - thus the idea of the RAT party was born.The name RAT Party was coined following the first Rat Party, RAT ROCK WRECK, held in October 1983, in a run down, rat infested house on Cleveland Street, Redfern, which Vidgen had rented out for the night from some hippies. This was followed on Easter Sunday 1984 by RATSURRECT at the Bondi Pavilion. As RAT (Recreational Arts Team) Director, Jac Vidgen took on the role of party co-ordinator, organising ticket sales, publicity and the eclectic range of acts featured at each party. Along with Reno Dal, who became responsible for lighting and production,Vidgen brought in another friend, Hong Kong born Billy Yip. With a background in graphic design, which he had studied in Vancouver and Paris, followed by a stint in art direction in Hong Kong, Yip had undertaken further training in sculpture at East Sydney Technical College on his arrival in Sydney in 1982.
Yip was called on to design the posters, fliers and tickets for the RAT parties. His designs had a psychedelic appearance to them, both in their graphics and in the colours used.
Tickets for RAT Parties, the earlier ones in particular, were often handmade and took a number of forms, often reflecting the theme of the party. For Ratsurrect, which was held on Easter Sunday, 1984, Billy Yip added paint, stickers and graphics to printed religious cards. Plastic masks, in the form of Luna Park faces, were the tickets to LunRATic, held
in 1985 at Luna Park, while small plastic bags containing sand, shells and plastic mermaids were created for OceanRATting, which was held at the Bondi Pavilion in 1986. And tickets in the form of small plastic dolls painted dark green and glued to printed cards were created for the (RAT) Recreational Arts Team's sixteenth RAT Party, 'SupeRATural', which took
place in the Paddington Town Hall on Easter Sunday of 1987. The wide variety of acts included drag queens Doris Fish, Miss 3D and Cindy Pastel, performer Simon Reptile, stripper, Elizabeth Burton, Follow Me Boys, with singers Ignatius Jones and his sister, Monica Trapaga and electronic music group Severed Heads. Sometimes fashion parades featuring the creations of local and international designers and performance art were also incorporated into the parties; artist Harold 'Kangaroo' Thornton who attended several parties did a live painting at the 'Eat Rat' Rat party and a number of guest DJs, including Tim Ritchie, John Ferris and Pee Wee Ferris became an integral part of the later Rat parties.
The parties attracted a loyal group of followers dubbed Ratizens - they were often friends of the RAT Team and as regulars they were entitled to special benefits such as access to the VIP bar. Magazines and newspapers of the day regularly featured RAT Parties in their social pages-the diverse range of fashions worn by partygoers and performers were captured by a number of high profile photographers, among them Robert Rosen, John Webber, Sonny Vandevelde and most
notably William Yang, who was first hired by Vidgen to take photographs at the Ratizm party in 1985. From November 1988, after a number of parties at various Sydney venues followed by several Rat on the Road Parties on the Gold Coast, Wollongong and Byron Bay and Exprat in Brisbane, the Hordern Pavilion became the home of the Rat Party. By this time Wayne Gait-Smith had taken over from Dal as technical and lighting designer and Mark Taylor was the team's technical producer. Some of the later RAT Parties were Festival of Sydney Umbrella events produced in partnership with the ABC Radio's JJJ, which broadcasted the events live. Triple J DJs Andy Glittre and Maynard F# Crabbes featured in a number of these broadcasts.
Over the years RAT Parties were attended by a number of celebrities and artists including singers Michael Hutchence of INXS and Dave Mason of the Reels, fashion designer, Akira Isogawa and jewellery artist Peter Tully. Vidgen described himself and his team as 'shocking businessmen'- the more ideas they had, the more money they'd have to spend to realise them. By the early1990's, following several more mainstream parties, for which big names such as singers Grace Jones,
Adeva and Boy George were brought to Australia as headline acts, Vidgen realised the parties were no longer financially viable. RATrave 93, held on New Year's Eve, 1992, was his final RAT party although he and Billy Yip did have two very small and intimate RAT events in Bali in the 1990s.
RAT PARTIES and events
1] RAT Rock Wreck, Redfern, October 1983
2] Ratsurrect, Bondi Pavilion, Easter Sunday, April 1984
3] A Midsummer's RAT Dream, Balmain Bijou, January 1985
4] Ratizm, Paddington Town Hall, Easter Sunday, April 1985
5] RAT-Around-&-Square, Roundhouse & Squarehouse, Univ of NSW, June1985
6] Chez Rat, Rumours Nightclub, East Sydney, Surry Hills, September 1985
7] Lunratic, Luna Park, December 1985
8] Oceanratting, Bondi Pavilion, January 1986
9] Ratparade, Paddington Town Hall & Chauvel Cinema, Easter Sunday, April 1986
10] Ratarama, Enmore Theatre, June 1986
11] Praty, Paddington Town Hall & Chauvel Cinema, September 1986
12] Rat-Above-SydÂ?s, Darlinghurst, October 1986
13] Moombaratarama, The Powerhouse Ballroom, Melbourne, November 1986
14] 19Ratty7, Luna Park, New Year's Eve, December 1986
15] Hyperative, Hip Hop Club, Paddington, January 1987
16] Superatural, Paddington Town Hall, Easter Sunday, April 1987
17] Rat-Time-Follies, The Cuckoo's Nest Nightclub, Sydney, June 1987
18] Eratcipation, The Banquet Hall, RAS Showground, July 1987
19] Ratafricarnivale, Paddington Town Hall and Chauvel Cinema,September 1987
20] Murder by Perfume, The Museum Cafeteria, Australian Museum, November 1987
21] Celebrat '88, Hordern Pavilion and Forecourt, New Year's Eve, December 1987
22] Congrats (21st Rat Party), Bondi Pavilion, Easter Sunday, April 1988
23] Rat Rapping, Hordern Pavilion, July 1988
24] Exprat '88, The Roxy and Patch's Nightclubs, Brisbane, August 1988
25] Eat Rat, Hordern Pavilion, September 1988
26] Laseratrance, Hordern Pavilion, November 1988
27] Dispensation, SLATS Warehouse, Christmas Eve, December 1988
28] A Ratty New Year, Royal Hall of Industries & Hordern Pavilion, New Year's Eve, December 1988
29] Rat on the Road, Wollongong, Byron Bay, Surfers Paradise, March-April 1989
30] Expratic, World Expo Fun Park, Brisbane, April 1989
31] Back to Rat, Hordern Pavilion, May 1989
32] Unite, Hordern Pavilion, July 1989
33] Mega U-18s Dance Party, Hordern Pavilion, July 1989
34] Colors de Benetton Dance Party, Hordern Pavilion, September 1989
35] Glitterati, Hordern Pavilion, November 1989
36] Accelerat, New Year's Eve, December 1989
37] Opening Night Party, Sydney Biennale, April 1990
38] Ratmania, Hordern Pavilion, April 1990
39] Rat On, Hordern Pavilion, New Year's Eve, December 1990
40] NYE 1992 (with FUN Party organisers), Hordern Pavilion, New Year's Eve 1992
This adminstrative history was prepared using the following references :
(RAT) Recreational Arts Team archive
Interview with Jac Vidgen and Billy Yip by curators, Glynis Jones, Anne-Marie Van de Ven and Peter Cox, 18 Dec 2002
Article 'Where the wild things were', Rachel Olding, Arts and Entertainment, p8 The Sydney Morning Herald 28-29 Nov 2009
Information supplied to archivist by Jac Vidgen 2005, 2009-2011 and Billy Yip 2005.