Music is the Drug

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Persons who feel they have done nothing wrong become confused and resentful as formerly protective institutions become persecutory. There is social danger in such confusion. If scapegoats reject the deviant label, they may also reject society's other norms. And as persecution increases, individual scapegoats begin to develop a group cohesion. An outlaw group can evolve from individual citizens who were once as law abiding as everyone else. And when that group comprises the next generation ,..73

It is in music culture that drug warriors have consistently sought to curtail freedoms and it has also been a sphere of cultural resistance. However, in recent times, particularly since the rise of 'acid house' or dance music, active protest has dwindled from mainstream culture. This could be related to the acceptance of this alternative lifestyle and it's merging with traditional leisure activities. Today, especially in Manchester, the use of drugs is clearly understood to be part of the nightclub scene, which in turn is considered to be an integral part of the city's economic vitality. The drug MDMA, in turn demands uplifting, positive music for optimum results - hence the drug culture has adapted to embody pure enjoyment - hedonism, ecstasy.

In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, there is an extended flashback sequence that portrays the excitement of the club where Thompson first took LSD. The camera sways from side to side and arms reach for the ceiling in ecstatic rhythm to the music. It is a visual image that is drawn from popular consciousness and memory rather than from description in the book, and like the familiar perception of hippies at Woodstock, it is instantly recognisable as the '60s'. However, apart from the murals of love and acid on the walls, the scene looks comparable to the contemporary club today, although with the band usually replaced by a DJ.

So I stuck with hash and rum for another six months or so, until I moved to San Francisco and found myself one night in a place called 'The Fillmore Auditorium.' And that was that. One grey lump of sugar and BOOM ... A victim of the drug explosion. A natural street freak, just eating whatever came by.74

So I stuck with hash and rum for another six months or so, until I moved to San Francisco and found myself one night in a place called 'The Fillmore Auditorium.' And that was that. One grey lump of sugar and BOOM ... A victim of the drug explosion. A natural street freak, just eating whatever came by.74

Thompson emphasises his belief that it was invigorating to be part of that scene, to belong with other people that understood that environment. Equally today, the club culture positively instils a sense of community to patrons and when combined with the empathetic qualities of MDMA, creates a collective through which identity is shaped. Gilliam idealises the scene, emphasising the ecstasy of dance and the sense of love in the room with a fluid camera that lolls through the crowd as though it was another reveller. The use of slow motion and jump cuts are utilised to alter the perception of time and space and also to emulate the drug as it multiplies dimensions within the experience. Gilliam also makes full use of the film soundtrack to trace the cultural and social history of the period through song. As the plot swings from excess to calm, from fear to pleasure, songs from the era signify the shifts in emotion. At ^ " different times, mainstream love songs indicate society's desire to locate culture in an idealised dream world; songs of peaceful protest signify the hopes of a generation; while others express the realisation that this won't be achieved. Finally, there are songs that seek to gratify the drug user by stimulating senses with sensuous, complex rhythms and knowing lyrics.

Figure 37 - The ecstasy of dance

The scene where Thompson first takes LSD in the toilet is significant because culturally, it is the location where users typically administer their drugs when in a club. It is a place away from the prying eyes of authority figures, and also an opportunity for people to share experiences and gauge dilated pupils in mirrors. In this sense, it develops new meanings, becoming almost like a confessional booth in a church - a place of sanctuary.

Figure 38 - The location for experimentation

Where the hippy scene was antagonistic toward the dominant society, today's clubbers generally embrace a culture that has been refined over the years to emphasise leisure and consumption, but also individualism and experience. Increasingly, it is at music events that people are first persuaded to try harder drugs, particularly amphetamines. In order to fulfil desires of living as '24/7 party people' they are compelled to stay awake (and of course, dance) for as long as possible.

The music scene has always affected commentary on youth culture and behavioural patterns - from the scenes of drug-addled revellers at Woodstock, to rebellious mods, to punk, and finally to present day rave culture. However, this latest movement, inspired by dance and the communal experience has progressed beyond mere fashion and its popularity shows no sign of waning. Rather, it must be accepted as a genuine form of contemporary cultural expression. As music has evolved, especially since the electronic programming of repetitive beats, the experience has become one of escapism rather than as a form of protest or social comment.

Popular music and drug are two products, which, by their very success, indicate the spread of behaviour previously reserved for the elites: the right to explore one's interior or social space. They are tied to the growth of the industries of dream and relaxation.75

The commercialisation of this scene has spread across all forms of popular music. Ten years ago, the British dance scene was estimated to be worth up to £2 billion a year, similar to the book or newspaper industry. 76 Traditionally black forms of music such as hip-hop and rap embraced drug culture and extolled its virtues in lyrics and on music videos. For popular consumption, these are often censored, which simply increases their popularity since they need to be purchased in order to enjoy the complete versions. The kinetic energy and basslines from dance music have been incorporated into much of the pop music that is aimed at the teen and even pre-teen audience. The videos, featuring unprecedented technology and budgets, increasingly depict an adult world, and of course sex is always inferred. It is always party time and more often than not, the setting is within the club or concert hall. To a young generation weaned on this most popular aspect of modern visual culture, the club is becoming a symbol of adulthood and a rite of passage. The club is the modern-day church, and God is a DJ.

The music video has had to adjust to the increased bpms (beats per minute) of dance music. This has meant that more complex imagery has combined with computer generated graphics to mimic the kinetic energy of the music. As a consequence, the music video has become a powerful aesthetic form that influences

many other kinds of visual culture. As the music itself has grown in popularity, so it (and the visual forms that describe it) has been absorbed into the mainstream in advertisements, television programmes and cinema. This effect is even evident in the style of contemporary 'blockbuster' films that attempt to attract a young audience, weaned on MTV, with sharp, explosive cuts, shocking imagery and carefully choreographed action scenes. In a bizarre chain of events, it would seem that the energy of a collective, stirred into defying society's drug laws, are responsible for major shifts in the consumption of visual culture. Shifts that reflect their own urgency and desire for excess, dance and pleasure.

"Turn up the fucking music!" he screamed. "My heart feels like an alligator!

"Volume! Clarity! Bass! We must have bass! He flailed his naked arms at the sky.

"What's wrong with us? Are we godamn old ladies?"11

Excess is often the only way for the modern clubber. The hours are long, the conditions are often difficult, but they understand what needs to be done. While alcohol is still a massive part of the scene, for many it is diluted with energy drinks. The many clubbers who take numerous drugs are a collective, but for the majority, their energy is focused only on good times. In terms of resistance, most consider themselves perfectly normal citizens whose only crime is to take an illegal substance. Resistance against what? Society has normalised the clubbing experience to a point where the act is no longer deviant. For many people (as has always been the case), the weekend pleasure counters the toil of the working week. In Manchester, there is an increasing reliability on insecure, part-time jobs that don't offer satisfaction, nor praise an ambitious nature. Society itself is adopting pleasure-oriented goals. Films such as Human Traffic and 24 Hour Party People also make explicit these contradictions of the exploitation of youth music culture. The latter defines major changes in city life through the music event, in a part-fact, part-fiction narrative. The film celebrates the spirit of Manchester and the creativity of its residents yet without drugs, the entire history would have been different. In the sense that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas contributes towards historical knowledge, so does this film, yet the lessons that it offers about the drug culture are not understood by society. If the dance aesthetic is so attractive and the experience so exhilarating, how then can society denounce and persecute the drug user who is simply following a pattern laid out by visual culture?

Figure 39 - Recreation of the Hacienda in 24 Hour Party People (2002)

In the text, Thompson takes a temporary step outside his culture into a far more conservative one. From there, the energy and relevance of his scene resounds against the backdrop of die-hard gamblers, washed up singers and prejudiced locals. In the final scene of the film he is happy to return to 'safety, obscurity, just another freak in the Freak Kingdom'.78 This sense of separation continues to exist today, posing one generation against the next: parents against children. The notion of the 'freak' has also never been more relevant. For how does one identify the drug user? Today, it is easier than ever with the conscious branding of oneself to signify difference. The popularity of piercing and tattoos has far exceeded any expectations.

It was understood by most people to be a symbol of punk rebellion and of course it can be - it can also be a fashion statement. However it is becoming more likely that it is a collective, almost subconscious movement based upon a rejection of the contradictions of the dominant culture. It is also a consequence of altered consciousness - seeing the world in a new way and adapting (or withdrawing).

This English nation, will it get to know the meaning of its strange new today?79

'Acid house'80 was coined after a nostalgic reinterpretation of the hedonistic impulse of the '60s generation and has begun an ever-expanding collective that lives and breathes within a drug and visual culture. Illegal and legal drug use is, for good or ill, an essential part of the music industry. Due to the criminal nature of this form of culture, a growing portion of youth is playing with a form of resistance in a way not seen since the 1960s. However, the type of resistance is markedly different. For example, mass civil disobedience of drug laws at festivals has always been common. But in protest to the commercial encroachment into music, recent events such as the infamous Woodstock '99, and Carling Leeds Festival '02, suffered from rioting and violence. Those who felt the need to carry out anti-social acts were not protesting so much as transgressing. The Leeds festival ended with up to 500 people setting toilet blocks, and temporary buildings aflame, and during the music, bottles were thrown into the crowd in scenes reminiscent of punk rebellion - wilful destruction and possible self harm. Such acts are petty and trivial, with no particular aim or message. The rebellion is simply for its own sake, almost a kind of anger at being safe, at

79 Thomas Carlyle, 1843, Past and Present, quoted in Haslam, D, Op. Cit, p. 9


having little to rebel against. An interesting point is made by Malbon, who describes the music scene as an escape attempt, and ultimately harmless to the dominant culture. A convincing portrait of clubbers in the film Human Traffic (2000), whilst fictional, is an indication of this playfulness. The characters tread water through their unfulfilling, 9-5 jobs, with all expectations of happiness rooted firmly in the weekend's pleasures. Ideas of revolution and demands for equality are realised only in lucid highs and in private fantasies of role reversal.

Playful vitality, then, is not 'resistance' as conventionally theorised, especially with reference to so-called 'youth-cultures' and their supposedly resistant practices -this is not a resistance to a parent or 'dominant' culture. Playful vitality is, rather, partly a celebration of the energy and euphoria that can be generated from being together, playing together, and experiencing 'others' together .is also partly an escape attempt, a temporary relief from other facets and identifications of an individual clubber's own life - their work, their past, their future, their worries. Playful vitality is found within a temporary world of the clubber's own construction in which the everyday is disrupted, the mundane is forgotten and the ecstatic becomes possible.81

Similarly, Redhead notes that in this sense, the 'rave' scene is akin to virtual reality, almost a leap from earthly concerns into a hedonistic play-world,

... adapting our nervous systems, bringing our perceptual and sensorial apparatus up to speed, evolving us towards the post-human subjectivity that digital technology requires and engenders.82

81 Malbon, B, Clubbing: Dancing, Ecstasy and Vitality, Routledge, GB, 1999, p. 164

82 Redhead, S (Ed), The Club Cultures Reader, Blackwell, GB, 1997, p. 90

The evolution of the nightclub in Manchester has a history of intervention by the authorities and subsequent renewal to cater for youth tastes. For example, Alan Lawson notes that the coffee shop, with its jukebox and social space, was 'probably the first sign of social emancipation'.83 By 1958, the British coffee bar was threatening the traditional 'pub' that has been attempting to modernise to attract a youth market ever since. The Manchester Corporation Act of 1965 closed down most of the clubs that had sprung up with the relaxation of alcohol laws because of health and safety issues, and the use of 'uppers' like Dexedrine. In the late '80s and early '90s, the acid house scene was encouraged by high-profile busts at illegal raves, meaning it was only a matter of time before it was neutered and commercialised for city consumption. However, the relationship between drug use and gang warfare, as well as the pressures applied on club owners to curb dealing have meant that another shake up of the current scene is perhaps inevitable. In 1991, the Hacienda nightclub distributed flyers, possibly as a legal requirement, which asked for a change in the habits of its clientele.

This must involve the complete elimination of controlled drugs on the premises. In this we continue to rely upon your help and co-operation. Please do not, repeat NOT, buy or take drugs in the club, and do not bring drugs onto the premises. Please make sure everyone understands how important this message is. Thank you for your support.84

Recently, many people were confused by a Government backed policy that might be introduced to curb drug-related deaths in nightclubs. They were shocked because it

83 Alan Lawson, It Happened in Manchester quoted in Haslam, D, Manchester England, Op. Cit, p. 86

84 The flyer that was distributed to promote the clean Hacienda, reprinted in Redhead, S (Ed), Rave Off, Op. Cit, p. 16-7

recognised that drugs would be taken and called for measures to alleviate, rather than punish the individual. The measures are to include: monitored air quality and temperature; 'chill-out' facilities; free drinking water; advice on how to avoid problems with drugs; trained staff who can spot symptoms and provide help. These same measures were introduced to Manchester City Council as long ago as 1987, but have never been forced requirements.85 Since many of the health risks associated with drug use in clubs, can be attributed to the above measures, it would appear to be a sound idea.

However, it could also be damaging to the scene because effectively it would be a revitalisation of the 1965 Act and clubs that didn't (or couldn't afford to) adopt the measures, would be closed down. Meanwhile, in America there is an almost perverse movement to carry out the opposite of the measures proposed above. The RAVE Act (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy) is similar to the Criminal Justice Bill in that it can prosecute the organiser of any event if drug use is known to be happening. Unsurprisingly, fans of dance music believe they are being unfairly targeted and that such legislation would actually encourage a more dangerous environment as promoters attempt to appear drug free. Chill-out rooms, even glowsticks, could attract the attention of the law. The act could ultimately drive the rave scene back underground where safety is even less of a priority. Americans have not yet embraced the dance culture as Britain has.

Figure 40 - Raver with pacifier

The modern British music festival is heavily sponsored by mainstream brands like Orange or Carling. In the weeks leading up to it, a massive advertising campaign by radio, television and print media announces the line-up and promises the experience of a lifetime. At the Leeds festival this year, shops sold salvia extract, one of the strongest psychedelics known to man, but, like ketamine, it is completely legal since it has yet to be classified. These events are also seen as a rite of passage, forever imbedded into the minds of a generation who 'missed out' on the sixties experience. The image of Woodstock is repackaged and resold every time. For one weekend, they promise transgression and excess, but now it is under the familiar safety net of a branded experience. Spontaneity has been diminished by the familiar visual reproduction and the ensuing commercialisation runs counter to the ideals of counter-culture.86 The events no longer inspire the masses for positive action, rather they endorse and support the dominant culture - you can even recharge your mobile phone. Modern standards of living for many people in England and America are so high now that the urge to right the injustices of the capitalist system are often overshadowed by the urge to protect that way of life. Such is the natural progression of the free enterprise ethos. The ideals of counter-culture look ever more remote and impossible. In fact, the people who don't follow the rules of the dominant culture are often the people lining the streets of Manchester, begging for change.

Anarchy and social action today is distilled in various ways that ultimately conform to accepted modes of behaviour. Reclaim The Streets and the anti-capitalist protests that occur every May Day across the world have become a novelty in the eyes of the British press. Anticipated well in advance, policed to cause minimum visual impact

86 Ryan, M and Kellner, D quoted in Mintz, S & Roberts, R (Eds), Hollywood's America, Op. Ctt, p. 270

and reported as the last desperate struggle of a group of throwbacks to the 'flower power' era. A recent march through Manchester city centre sought to protest the arrest and detainment of Colin Davies (the man who opened the Dutch Experience Coffee Shop), who refuses to acknowledge the law prohibiting medicinal cannabis. The police reaction to this small gathering was to blockade it from view. As the march progressed, they were almost outnumbered by horses, vans, cars and police on foot. Despite the blatantly peaceful demonstration, their aim was to instil fear into the populace and generate a climate of danger, of illegality into the procedures. Despite the massive police presence, the strong smell of skunk filling Oxford Road made a parody out of the scene.

Today's youth can exercise their anarchic yearnings through virtual reality. State of Emergency is a video game that pits the player against The Corporation - a Big Brother Government that has seized control of the country. The people have taken to the street and the player can use any method to fight for 'freedom'. Ethically, the game promotes a healthy scepticism of corporate power and the need to fight to protect cherished values of humanity. However, the same company (Rock Star Games) also released Grand Theft Auto 3, a game whose objective is to raise the player up the crime ladder through violence, theft, pimping, and murder. Both games utilise incredible, never before possible, technology that enables a total immersion (and almost free will) in the massive world created within the game. The transgression promised by these games highlight the contradiction inherent in all passive entertainment. While the user revels in extreme fantasies (spurred by crime documentaries, films, newspapers, television and the mythical image of the eco-

warrior), the developers of entertainment lifestyles keep them safely flaccid. The player is another consumer, permanently frustrated by the partial realisation of these fantasies, and ever hungry for the next, more extreme dose. As with television, and increasingly, the Internet, the user is a non-threat, surrounded and to a degree, pacified, by the warm radiation of an electronic screen. The surveillance age is upon us, and new media technologies provide powerful forms of social control through more efficient, subtly concealed techniques of indoctrination and manipulation.87

Thompson remembers the period when the 'energy of a whole generation' appeared to come to a head in a 'long fine flash'. Over his words, more documentary footage appears, this time cut with ecstatic images of music, 'flower power', demonstrations, dancing - the promise of change.

There was madness in any direction, at any hour ... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning ... that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting - on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.88

The final scene is a reappraisal of the movement in retrospect, facing the realities of an economic climate that favours the strong and kills the weak. 'The realities were already fixed; the illness was understood to be terminal, and the energies of The

88 Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 67-8

Movement were long since aggressively dissipated by the rush to self-preservation'.89 The political administrations of American and Britain from then, right up to the present day have emphasised individualism, capital and conservative politics. It is the myth of the '60s' that prevails - an era of excess and change, but also of failure. Ultimately, history recognises that the freedom to protest, or even to express resistance through art, film or music, can only arise through the advantages and technology that the capitalist system provides. This is the contradiction that finished the hippy movement - they could only exist in a system of surplus value, the music of that generation could only exist on the basis of commercial viability and distribution methods.

We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fuelled the Sixties ... This was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary's trip. He crashed around America selling 'consciousness expansion' without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him too seriously. ... All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create ... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody - or at least some force- is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel.90

89 Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 180

90 Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Ibid, p. 178-9

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