Title: Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House
Author: Matthew Collin
Source: The Resonance Project
Review by Kymmco
Music and drugs have been intertwined in countless cultures over the ages. Youth cultures in the US and Europe have played out this dynamic over and over again in the past decades: the psychedelic movement produced psychedelic rock, reggae music celebrated the marijuana plant, and grunge supposedly glamorized heroin. One of the most striking recent partnerships of drug scene and music scene, that between Ecstasy and Acid House, is chronicled in the illuminating new book Altered State, by Matthew Collin.
Readers looking for a collection of 'trip stories' will be disappointed, but those who stick around will be treated to a well reasoned history of the roots of Ecstasy culture and the corresponding development of a musical form known variously as garage, house, acid house, and jungle. Collin and Godfrey, who collaborated on the planning and research of the book, are both former editors of i-D. Collin has written for The Face, Wired, and The Observer on such topics as popular culture, travel, music, technology and drugs - all strands that come together in the story told here.
Collin has placed the rave scene of the late '80s and early '90s Great Britain squarely in a political and historical context, examining the effects of Thatcherism on British youth and the corresponding liberalizing effects of Ecstasy culture on British laws and mind set. He traces twin trails - the rise of Ecstasy from early psychological trials in the States and the rise of house from its early manifestations in the black and gay disco clubs of New York and Chicago in the '70s, through the glory days of the London rave scene where blissed-out ravers felt that the world would surely be a better place if only more people would open themselves up to the E experience.
The parallels between the Ecstasy scene and the early days of the LSD explosion are duly noted. Collin also deals with the inevitable coming down stage, when idealistic trippers were confronted with police crackdowns, increased violence as the criminal element moved in on the lucrative E trade and the realization that seemingly lifelong bonds formed under the warmth of an Ecstasy rush didn╝t stand up to the pressures of a bona fide youth uprising. For American readers, Altered State is also interesting for its insight into the laws, culture and traditions of Great Britain - both familiar and jarring to an American reader.
If I have a complaint about the book it is that the pattern that Collin points out so convincingly, that of the first rush of enthusiasm of new E converts, followed by the burgeoning of a new culture, followed by a crash, and then a morph into a new manifestation of culture, while seemingly sound becomes somewhat tedious in the last third of the book as the rave cultures of the '90s get somewhat short shrift.
On the whole though, Altered State is well written and packed with information. All the big names are here - both bands and provocateurs, yet it is the innumerable interviews with lesser known DJs, rave organizers and tribes that pay off, offering a hype-free glimpse into a dynamic culture.