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

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
Flowered Up’s ‘Weekender’: ‘Quadrophenia’ for the E-generation
02:35 pm


Liam Maher
Flowered Up

Every generation has at least one song that captures the essence of their era. For the loved-up clubbers of the late 1980s and early 1990s, there are more than a few generation-defining songs to choose from. Near the top of any such list would be “Weekender” by London five-piece band Flowered Up.

Released in 1992, “Weekender” was Flowered Up’s ironic paean to rave culture—a hedonistic life of partying all the time, living life for drugs and music. It was the band’s biggest chart success, just skirting the UK top twenty and was deservedly hailed as their “masterpiece.”

Formed in 1989 by brothers Liam and Joe Maher, Flowered Up had a short but bright career that promised much more than was delivered, with the group sadly disbanding before achieving their full potential.
Apart from being a classic rave song, “Weekender” became a short film written and directed by W.I.Z. (aka Andrew “W.I.Z.” Whiston)—a hip young promo director who went on to direct music videos for Primal Scream, Oasis, Massive Attack, Manic Street Preachers, Kasabian and Dizzee Rascal, amongst many others. W.I.Z. took Flowered Up’s song and created a film that captured the hedonism of “E” culture and tied it back to its musical antecedent The Who’s Quadrophenia. Flowered Up were often “lazily compared” to “Madchester” bands like Happy Mondays and Northside, but as W.I.Z. once wrote in his obituary for Flowered Up’s lead singer Liam Maher, who died in 2009 from a drug overdose, Flowered Up were:

...much closer to The Clash or The Who, sharing the contradictions of white boys within a black music scene, Liam articulating with incandescent anger the doubts hidden by the prevailing euphoria.

W.I.Z. described Liam as “a vital poet, like Pete Townshend before him”:

...he was the first of his generation to eloquently question the sincerity of its unbridled hedonism. Nowhere more savagely succinct than in their swansong, ‘Weekender’.

W.I.Z.‘s film Weekender opens and closes with the iconic image of lead actor Lee Whitlock staring directly at the camera as he slowly descends on a window cleaning platform, while Phil Daniels’ dialog from the film Quadrophenia plays underneath.

As W.I.Z. points out:

There’s nothing romantic about this, as when ecstasy culture finally expired, [Liam] like many of his peers were cast-offs, left skint with crippling drug addictions, unable to reconcile the comedown and the missed opportunity (for social change) that he, before anyone else, had had the honesty to admonish.

A quarter of a century on, Weekender has lost none of its power and daring in capturing the hedonism of rave culture—and here it is in its uncensored glory.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Is raver cop the best anti-police art of 2015? (Yes. Yes it is.)
10:42 am



Cops and donuts are a cliched pairing, sure, but just when you thought the final joke had been wrung from our collective psyche, someone does something so… amazing, that you just want to stand up and applaud. This 3D animation of a raver cop titled “Antonyms for Prejudice” is from a Spanish animator only known as “ofortvna.” The sparse caption—“donut mess with a cop”—doesn’t give us much of an artist’s statement either, but it really doesn’t require that much of an explanation.

So maybe it’s not explicitly political or particularly insightful, but hey, absurdist cop-mockery is a pretty easy message to digest, and once you see our boy in blue start dancing hypnotically beneath a cascade of donuts to a very earnestly soulful cover version of “Maniac”—the song made famous in Flashdance—you just kinda sit back and enjoy.

Via The Creators Project

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Blueprint’: the best of the pioneering 808 State
06:42 am


808 State
best of

“Pacific State” by Dawn Gardner
From the beginning “rave” was supposed to be a faceless musical form rebelling against the cock-and-coke excesses of 80s hair metal, and the drab “woe is me” insularity of indie rock. The emphasis was to be taken off the performer, and turned back onto the all-important audience who, in this new era of dancing and drug taking, were the true stars. For the most part this anonymity was the norm, to the point where acts became almost interchangeable, and the distinct whiff of novelty began to creep in. The name of the act with the rave version of “Hong Kong Phooey” may be lost to history now, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Despite face masks and aversion to Smash Hits interviews, there were a few acts of the rave era who managed to become recognisable brands in their own right. 808 State were arguably the first and definitely one of the best, building up a devoted fan base through relentless touring and a series of great albums and singles released at the tail end of the 80s and throughout the Nineties. You might not recognise any of these guys if they passed you in the street, but their music has become iconic in its own right.

The band formed in mid-80s Manchester around a nucleus of Factory stalwart Graham Massey, Eastern Bloc-owner Martin Price and Gerald Simpson, who would later leave to peruse his own successful career under the name A Guy Called Gerald. 808 State were one of the first acts to take rave out of the clubs and fields and into the British charts, and by extension the nation’s living rooms, with influential hits like “Pacific State” (a chill out classic and the birth of ambient house) and “Cubik” (whose riff is to dance music what “Louie Louie” is to rock’n'roll). Back in school in the early Nineties, a few of us would pass round a cassette of the 808 State album ex:el, its rock hard beats and swooshing synths fuelling our imaginations to what raving might actually be like, long before we ever could. Twenty years later and I know that we weren’t the only kids listening.

Now the Manchester pioneers have released a sort of-best of compilation that pulls together some of their career’s highlights alongside a bunch of unreleased bit-and-pieces, remixes and previously unreleased out-takes. 808 State were a huge influence on the second wave of UK dance pioneers from the mid-Nineties, like Autechre, Orbital, Future Sound Of London and Aphex Twin and even a quick scan through their list of non-dance collaborators proves the kind of respect the band command. Blueprint kicks off with a remix of 1988 “Flow Coma” by Aphex Twin, it features liner notes by Orbital’s Phil Hartnoll and elsewhere on the album you’ll find spots from Brain Eno, Bjork, Trevor Horn, Ian McCulloch, Elbow’s Guy Garvey and Manic Street Preacher’s James Dean Bradfield.

Blueprint is a good album, and one recommended for long term fans and newcomers alike, though I’m still waiting for a straight-up greatest hits comp with the original extended 12” mixes of these classic tracks. Alternatively, I might just go and pick up the remastered, double CD packages of four of their original albums (90, ex:el, Gorgeous and Don Solaris), which have all been re-issued with bonus material and are available from the official 808 State website. The band are also currently giving away a free “21st Anniversary” remix of “Cubik”, which you can get right here:


808 State’s music still sounds great after all these years, whether you simply want to travel back to a different, more innocent, era or even if you want pumping-up, ready for action in the right now. The intro to “In Yer Face” (an all-time, hands down dance classic) is still chillingly prescient to this very day, a reminder that maybe the past wasn’t so innocent after all, that we’re still facing some of the very same problems today:

There are new forces in the world
A conflict between the generations
A powerful feeling that the American system
is failing to deal with the real threats to life…

808 State “In Yer Face”

808 State Blueprint is available here. The remastered 808 State albums are available from the band’s website, click the album titles above for direct links.

After the jump, some more 808 State classics, including “Pacific State”, “Cubik”, “Olympic”, “Flow Coma” remixed by Aphex Twin and more…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
The Rave Years Pt 2: BBC North’s ‘Rave’ 1992

Skip along four years since “A Trip Around Acid House (which I posted yesterday) and you can see the changes which had occurred within the UK’s dance scene. By 1992 raves had become massive outdoor events attracting thousands of punters, they had been cracked down on heavily by the police, and promoters had begun to put on licensed raves with professional security, a police presence and mandatory drug searches to minimise trouble and maximise profit.

BBC North’s Rave follows the set up, running and aftermath of one of these very large (but legal) outdoor raves, and highlights how attitudes had changed between 1992 and 1988. The moral panic surrounding acid house and ecstasy culture had peaked by this point. The police were aware that this new outdoor dancing movement was not something that was going to go away any time soon, so rather than trying to stamp it out they instead focussed on regulating it. It’s interesting to see the individual police officers interviewed in ‘Rave’ and their opinions on the culture - unnerved by the “spaced out” demeanour of the participants, but also very aware that they are not violent and cause very little trouble. There were still the supposedly “moral” campaigners who saw the trend as entirely negative, of course, and campaigned to have any event of this nature shut down due to the supposed dangers of drug “pushers”. The inability to compute that people were taking drugs of their own free will, combined with the relatively harmless effects of those particular drugs, give these campaigners distinct shades Mary Whitehouse. It’s all about looking good rather than engaging with reality.

By 1992 the music had now morphed too - four years on from the happy-go-lucky spirit of acid house (with its sampling of different genres and its embracing of the Balearic scene) the music is more streamlined, and beginning to form more regimented genres like techno and rave itself. DJ Smokey Joe does a pretty good job of describing the difference between the German and Belgian strands of techno in this show:

Parts 2 & 3 after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Raver Kid reacts to Bin Laden’s death

Hmm, I think the subtitles on this clip are not an accurate representation of the conversation taking place. But still, it made me laugh, and it combines two currently popular memes - Bin Laden dying and a look back at rave culture.  

Edit - turns out this guy’s name is Dimitri - thanks Tara and Woody!

In all seriousness though, the reaction of the rave generation to the clamping down on personal freedoms since 9/11 is to me one of the greatest cultural disappointments of the last decade. Especially as the rave “scene” in the UK was born out of opposition to police and government harassment. I touch on this topic in my article “2001: All Eyes on New York”, part of a retrospective series on Noughties music for for the Weaponizer site. Contrast the reality of what has happened these last years to how the ravers themselves imagine they have changed society in the 2000 documentary “The Chemical Generation”, posted by Paul on this site only a few months ago. It’s grim.

But anyway! Enough of that, let’s have a laugh:

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment