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The Chemical Generation: Boy George investigates how Ecstasy changed the world

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It’s the analogy of a young happy couple moving into their first home. They decorate it. They like to fill it with those things that best represent their tastes, likes and overall loveliness. Sometimes they might add an extension, put in new windows, or knock down a few walls. One day the couple moves on to another house and a younger couple moves in. The fashions wrought are soon changed—but the structure of the house generally stays the same.

Every generation makes some claim to having changed the world. There may be some truth in it. Still however the furnishings may change, overall human nature usually remains stubbornly the same. Similar loves, hates, fears and worries never too far beneath the skin—or that fresh new coat of paint.

Folk singer Pete Seeger once claimed music could unify people and bring them all together as one big happy family—eliminating differences and highlighting shared pleasures. There was a similar belief held out for drugs in the 1960s when Harvard professor Dr. Timothy Leary urged everyone to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Poet Allen Ginsberg thought if every politician dropped acid then world peace would result.

But can the hedonistic pleasures of drugs and music ever really change the world?

In the 1960s, Baby Boomers claimed they had revolutionized the world—made it better, more peaceful, freer. Weed, LSD, birth control and music had liberated everyone. Yet this belief is often founding wanting by the wars, oppression, racism, sexism, corporate greed, and some truly awful music produced during that decade and ever since. Pop music may have been widely available but LSD was only there for a certain elite—if you lived outside of a metropolitan area, your drug of choice then was probably alcohol or aspirin.

Similarly in the 1980s the raved up Ecstasy Generation claimed they had revolutionized the world with their raves and pills. But was it true? Did gurning and dancing and getting sorted for E’s and wizz really change society that much? Access to drugs was far easier, sure a byproduct of the Baby Boomers in the sixties looking for new experiences. The illicit production of ecstasy was enormous, which meant more people could sample the goods. By the mid-1990s, the Observer newspaper estimated that some 52 million ecstasy tablets were taken every weekend in the UK alone. And this in a nation of 63 million people!

Did rave culture have a greater effect on the world than hippies in the trippy sixties? If so how and what exactly (if anything) changed?
 

 
Superstar, singer, DJ, and famous former druggie Boy George is the ideal host to investigate these questions in this fascinating documentary The Chemical Generation. The ever radiant George examines the acid house, rave and club culture revolution, with considerable reference to the generation’s favorite chemical: methylenedioxy-methamphetamine—MDMA or ecstasy for short.

First broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 in 2000, The Chemical Generation tells the story of British club and drug culture from the early days of Acid House. Interviewing those on the front line—promoters, bouncers, drug dealers, clubbers, DJs (Danny Rampling, Judge Jules, Nicky Holloway, Pete Tong, Lisa Loud, Mike Pickering), top cops (Ken Tappenden, former Divisional Commander of Kent Police) and those cultural figures who have written about ecstasy culture (Irvine Welsh, Dave Haslam).

As an introductory note, a brief history to rave culture in the UK goes something like this:

In 1987 four working class males, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker found themselves in clubs across Ibiza, listening to the music which was to make them legends in the dance scene and transform the face of youth subculture in Britain. Not only did they discover the musical genre of Acid House, played by legendary house DJ’s Alfredo Fiorillo and Jose Padilla in clubs such as Amnesia and Pacha, they were also crucially introduced to the drug MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy. Johnny Walker describes the experience:

“It was almost like a religious experience; a combination of taking ecstasy and going to a warm, open-air club full of beautiful people - you’re on holiday, you feel great and you’re suddenly being exposed to entirely different music to what you were used to in London. This strange mixture was completely fresh and new to us, and very inspiring”

More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Rave Years Pt 1: ‘A Trip Round Acid House’ 1988


Spectrum flyer, 1988, designed by Dave Little.
 
Acid house - the sound of a Roland TB 303 getting turned up too far that can send the most loved up dancer wild with convulsions of ecstasy . A unique sound accidentally discovered by DJ Pierre and friends in Chicago 25 years ago and that can still wreck dancefloors to this very day. A type of music which for a period of time in the late 80s infested the upper reaches of the UK’s charts and spawned a youth culture all of its own. Let me hear you say ACIEEED!

I was way too young to have any first hand experience of clubbing during the acid house years, but the music and imagery still had a huge effect on my childhood brain . Who couldn’t resist the acid-washed day-glo colours, the oversized clothes, the nods back to hippie culture and the first summer of love, and chart topping tracks from the likes of D-Mob, S’Express, M/A/R/R/S, Yazz, Farley Jackmaster Funk, 808 State, Bomb The Bass and Stakker Humanoid? When I had a chance to buy my own clothes it would be Joe Bloggs, and I had quite the collection of smiley face badges for a kid not yet a teenager. My own pet theory is that disco never had the impact in the UK that it had in the States, but house music and raving had the same effect of democratising the dancefloor ten years later. A large piece of the puzzle was of course the arrival of a new drug called “ecstasy” (actually only made illegal in the UK in 1985), which when combined with the powerful filter sweeps of a TB303 can give the user incredible head rushes. It was this new drug and its implications that seemed to worry the authorities the most.
 

 
This great documentary from the BBC’s World in Action strand is like a full blown acid house flashback. Broadcast in 1988 at height of acid house fever, it follows the typical weekend rituals of a group of very young fans, tracks the working life of an illegal party promoter, speaks to some of the producers of the music and charts the the then-growing moral panic which surrounded the scene and its copious drug taking. Raving, and acid house, had a huge (if subtle) effect on British culture, bringing people together in new, democratised contexts free of class and social boundaries, opening people’s ears up to a new world of music and opening their minds to new ideas.

A Trip Round Acid House makes for very interesting viewing at a time when Murdoch Inc and News International stand accused of distorting facts to suit their own means. The program gives a fairly detailed description of how The Sun newspaper did an about face on acid house, going from being supporters of this new youth culture (even selling their own acid house branded t-shirts to decrying it as an outrage that needed to be banned (and as such sold more papers). Some of the other footage here is priceless too, and has popped up on the internet in other forms, such as the classic reaction of two old cockney dears to the description of a typical “rave”. Blimey!
 

 
Parts 2 & 3 after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment