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With the explosion of house music came the drug Ecstasy, a series of Ecstasy-users’ deaths and a tabloid outcry that was to change the face of clubbing. Thom Dibdin gives a personal view of the drug scene behind

the music.

outh cults can often be defined by the music they listen to and the intoxicants they take while doing so psychedelic rock + LSD = hippies; northern soul + speed = mods; punk rock + glue = punks.

So when a heady mix of new music and the so- called ‘designer’ drug Ecstasy was brought back from Ibiza in I987, the recipe for a whole new youth culture was being imported to Britain. Actually. the ingredients had existed for a while but no one had thought to mix them.

On the music side, early house music out of Chicago and techno out of Detroit were based on repetitive beats and, vitally, were capable of

12 The List 24 Jan-6 Feb I997

being mixed. But the drugs were the catalyst. In 1982. l was offered Ecstasy by an associate who had a contact at the gay club Heaven. Costing £10 a time. the drug known as ‘XTC’. or simply ‘X’ among the South London punks I hung out with seemed a bad deal. especially as LSD could be had for as little as £3.50 a trip.

But when you took Ecstasy. or E. in a large room packed with other people who were all taking the drug. and dancing to a repetitive beat. the difference seemed worthwhile. The realisation that you were doing your favourite thing. they were doing their favourite thing. and all of you were doing the same thing. verged on the spiritual.

Don’t forget this was the end of the 805. the years of Thatcherite greed when a few got very. very rich. but tnost of us just got the Poll Tax. Spiritual highs were rare. particularly for the generation of school leavers who had no reason to doubt the promise of the green shoots of recovery until they hit the real world.

In a society which had a pill for every ill. Ecstasy provided instant access to a modern utopia. All that stuff about the ‘love’ drug and feeling ‘luved up‘ was true. At raves. football supporters all danced on the same side. everyone was friends and. to complete the recipe. the drugs helped you get into the music. Indeed. many people didn’t understand the music until they took the drugs.

All that was needed was a decent advertising campaign for the rave culture. Help was on hand in the form of the tabloids. Always ready for a

By 1992, an estimated halt a million people were taking Ecstasy every week in Britain. In Scotland, 20 per cent of all young people had tried the drug. But the long honeymoon was drawing to a close. Behind the scenes, kids were dying.

good scare story they advertised E and the whereabouts of parties on their front pages. What more could a hack ask for than 10.000 kids. all out of their heads on a strange narcotic. dancing around in the Welsh countryside and pissing in the water?

The news spread like wildfire. the music made kids want to stay up all night dancing. and the drugs gave them the energy to do so.

By 1992. an estimated half a million people were taking Ecstasy every week in Britain. In Scotland. 20 per cent of all young people had tried the drug. But the long honeymoon was drawing to a close. Behind the scenes. kids were dying.

Between January I988 and July 1992. the National Poisons Unit (NPU) noted fourteen deaths where it was confirmed that Ecstasy had been taken. In Scotland. May I994. three people died after dancing at Ayr‘s Hanger l3 nightclub two after one event. The deaths led to a full-blooded media outcry. However. all but one death (where asthma was the cause) were caused by heatstroke. It did not seem to be the drug that was killing the kids. but the way they used it.

‘Sal‘cr raving‘ and ‘harm reduction' became the watchwords with drugs workers. Then. just to confuse everybody. the tragedy of Leah Betts occurred. Leah had not been raving. was not overheating. but was in her parents‘ Essex home celebrating her eighteenth birthday when she took some Ecstasy and died. To make matters more confusing. she died as a result ofdrinking too tnuch water.

The Betts's personal tragedy changed the dance scene and the way we look at Ecstasy. The two are not now synonymous. Music based on repetitive beats is ubiquitous. more people are going clubbing. but it seems that fewer are taking Ecstasy while more are taking alcohol or mixing it with their Ecstasy.

The dancing. however. goes on and we are still in that pre-millennium. hedonistic fervour. l was recently offered some ‘2CB’ a new drug. related to Ecstasy in chemical makeup. It seemed a bit expensive. but someone is bound to find the right kind of music to go with it and create a whole new youth cult.