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What’s the Rush?: On the integration of ecstasy into mainstream society

“Dancing in another world - the warm, the richly coloured, the infinitely friendly world of soma-holiday. How kind, how good-looking, how delightfully amusing everyone was!” — Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

“I’m interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that appears to have no meaning. It seems to me to be the road toward freedom.” — Jim Morrison, Time magazine (24 January 1968)

The object of this article is not to advocate drug use - I would not encourage people I do not know (especially given the medium in which this writing is presented) to meddle with any herb, fungus or chemical. (Drugs are not compatible with everyone.) Nor is it an argument for the legalisation, decriminalisation or general acceptance of drugs into society.

ecstasy pills

Although I have included some academic theory on “rave culture” and drug use, this article is not wholly objective: it is intended as a researched, planned and studied presentation of an opinion on the recreational use of some drugs in mainstream society. Most young people in the UK have either taken drugs recreationally or know someone who does, whether it is a beer and a spliff in the evening or a pill or two every other weekend.

For the past 16 years I have encountered drugs in many forms and have made many friends who hold the use of certain drugs sacred and see a deeper meaning behind their use than getting a “buzz”. I have shared deep spiritual and intellectual discussions under the influence of psychedelic substances and find that cannabis can aid concentration and stimulate creativity. The nature of my personality has allowed me to use psychedelics recreationally - without serious negative effects, and in some cases providing me with enlightening experiences.

Admittedly I have occasionally experienced mild fear during the initial stages of LSD intoxication, but I attribute those feelings to the surroundings (i.e. cities) rather than the drug itself. Besides, a little anxiety is usual in such situations, and bravery is rewarded with more positive experiences. In contrast, misuse of alcohol can often bring out the worst in people’s personalities, yet it is the most widely accepted drug in the world.

Ecstasy can have ambiguous effects on behaviour: I have seen teachers, sports journalists, managers, chefs—everyday folk—turn into tongue-chewing, sweating freaks under the influence of something sold to them as “Ecstasy”. MDMA can often be observed to help people overcome shyness, however, and is known to bring about a general feeling of happiness and wellbeing. It is not always an enjoyable experience to the user, and they may experience memory loss, poor vision, sweating (hot and cold) and become generally clumsy.

On the other hand, many users report having had some of the best times in their lives on Ecstasy - as well as the best sex in their lives. I do not question the good points of MDMA; but it seems to me that the drug is being misused, over-consumed, unappreciated and impersonated. Firstly, for a lot of people having a pill is the main determinant in enjoying a night out (I refer to the clubbers that take pills on a regular basis). I have seen people become dejected and miserable because they can't score a pill, and this sort of reliance (on any drug) gives responsible users a bad name. The sheer popularity of mass music forms like “trance” has increased the number of UK Ecstasy users massively, and hedonism is an accepted way for office bods to let off steam.

If we consider the number of pills that pass through popular nightclubs at the weekend, surely it would seem foolish to believe that they are all pure MDMA - do people know or care what they buy anymore? In any other marketplace this inconsistency of product would be totally unacceptable, so why do many of today’s clubbers cheerfully part with their money? And why do they limit their use of drugs to a) one specific drug, and b) one specific type of environment? I have friends who can take huge doses of Ecstasy, or, more accurately, pills, but would turn down a good draw on a bong or a clean batch of LSD. Given that there is a definite relationship between drug and user in terms of individual experience, and that there is a wide choice available to those who choose to use, why are so many people choosing “pills”?

Academic studies on cultural trends (which are few) generally point to “rave culture” becoming incorporated into society following the Criminal Justice Bill of 1994: the government effectively moving the problem into nightclubs and sanctioned events, where it would be easier to regulate and control. This has had the effect of making clubbing “trendy” to the point of it becoming a cultural phenomenon. Yet by taking the partying masses away from the freedom that sound-systems in the countryside provided the dance-music scene has become more restrictive and elitist. No longer can we dance in the fields with dogs running at our bare feet - instead we must adhere to codes of dress and behaviour; we must arrive and leave at set times and, worst of all, we must listen to a pasteurised, diluted form of the music we once loved (author’s opinion, but a valid one). Admittedly, it is far more convenient to pay the door fee at the local club than it ever was to haul a load of mates halfway across the country - but the key word here is “freedom”.

Today’s clubbers had the most noble forefathers in the form of the “new age travellers”: men and women who shed blood for people’s right to party in the beautiful landscapes this country has to offer. Beanfield at Stonehenge in 1985 typified their plight - their homes, livelihood and animals were under threat of destruction by the police from then onwards. Their strength, solidarity, devotion, hard work and cunning helped to unify people in the fight for freedom - without them “rave culture” as we know it wouldn’t exist. The travellers had the fire within them to stick two fingers up at the government, though they knew they would have to face armies of brutal policemen.

Yet if you look around the average “dance-music” oriented nightclub their legacy is severely difficult to find: how many of the pasty-faced students or uber-fashion victims gurning away to the latest pop-house today are aware of the travellers’ struggle over the last 20 years? In short, where is the anarchy that was associated with acid-house and techno?

In addition, the monopoly of the market by “pills” is creating a culture of “buy-before-you-try” - in my opinion the current fervour for all things pill-like is high on enthusiasm and distinctly lacking in knowledge. Of course there are many people out there who know what Ecstasy should really look, taste and feel like, but I doubt if many of the thousands of weekend clubbers in Britain are really aware of exactly what chemicals they are ingesting.

It’s possible to argue that “if it feels good, do it”, and I know myself that horse tranquiliser and speed is a potent mix which can give the taker feelings which could be interpreted as a “high”, but it is certainly not MDMA Ecstasy - which it’s often sold as. Therefore I argue for education and regulation, not by the state, but by experienced individuals: if you are truly knowledgeable on drug-use my advice is to befriend a group of young but enthusiastic pill/pot/acid/coke-heads (delete as applicable) and teach them everything you know.

If you know how to cultivate a drug, pass the skills and knowledge on. More importantly, though, teach them to appreciate the drug properly - that is, teach them the spiritual benefits of the substance, and encourage them to try the drug in varied environments and situations and not just down at the local 4/4 factory. Get them reading Burroughs, Thompson, Huxley and Castaneda.

Preach the benefits of under-dosing: the subtle ways a drug can make its presence known, the joy of being just high enough to get a “rush” but not so high that you become confused with excitement. Instill in your students the need to learn, teach them to approach psychedelics as a warrior on a spiritual journey, help them to focus on internal signals during drug-use, not external stimuli (fancy lighting rigs and whistling/shouting/dementedly-dancing fools do not make a good night out).

For example, without Jeff Mills’ mammoth techno set (my faith was reaffirmed briefly) Tribal Gathering 2003 would have been an expensive and rubbish inner-city funfair that was full of coppers, had no beer and stank of piss and cheap burgers. It could be argued that music can transcend all the negative factors that modern, corporate clubbing throws up, but I feel that the consumer is being swindled - and, in fact, should the enjoyment of music and dance really be within the realm of big business?! To me it was an insult to use the licence, as Tribal Gathering used to be a guarantee of a quality event, which travellers were involved in - now it has become a corporate, capitalist money-spinner which really fails to grasp the essence of a good party.

My opinion is that this is indicative of clubbing on the whole, that the revolutionary aspect of acid-house, etc. has been lost to the marketing men (this relates to everyone who produces/sells half-hearted products in the clubbing industry). A once exciting, varied and unifying scene has been swallowed whole by the state and big business and spat out as a lifestyle package. The power was once in the hands of the people; those who had the equipment, skills and backbone to put on a party, did.

Today, choosing where to spend their money is the most power the average shmo gets to exercise. Youth culture has had a tradition of rebellion and has often pushed both musical and social boundaries to their limits; the Teddy Boys, Mods, Skinheads, Rudeboys, Punks and Hippies all went against the grain and allowed the participants freedom of expression and a sense of identity.

Looking back at such movements, it is hard to see how modern “club culture” is pushing any boundaries at all: the music scene has become slightly stagnant in the last few years, and clothing is inspired by whatever is the height of fashion that week. (Mullets, wristbands and sleeveless t-shirts - “retro fashion” instead of creativity and originality.)

It is essential that music producers become braver for the scene to progress. It follows that individuals who “club” must also try to be more daring: they should lose the mullets, become politically aware, take drugs other than “pills” and try to experience the bits of the world that mankind has not forged. For those who are inclined to subvert, do everything you can - our culture has been pilfered, therefore pro-active re-appropriation is needed: take drugs (and music!) back underground and away from the hands of the state. Unity and anarchy in the face of fear and apathy, love and devotion in the production of all mind-expanding substances and music associated therewith - if we lead, they will follow.

Remember, your country(side) needs YOU.