A Decade of Electronic Music and All the Drug Parties That Entails
Daft Punk trying their robot helmets on for size in Los Angeles, November 2000 – a photo from a time before VICE UK.
I used to buy acid from an old trance DJ. Judging by his wispy demeanour, he was a connoisseur. I’d first encountered him at an all-night free party in the summer of 2001 in a derelict depot that backed on to the Thames, right next to Battersea Power Station. I was fuelled by powdered mushrooms that night, and remember sitting on a surprisingly plush sofa in the depot’s car park the following morning, glugging a bottle of champagne and thinking life doesn’t get any better than this.
So the DJ and I would meet in the afternoons for a cup of tea in a café by Waterloo station, and as he would tell me softly about his most recent trip to Thailand with his mad staring eyes and boundless enthusiasm, I’d inspect the little plastic vial of Ice Drops breath freshener that contained 3.2ml of what he promised was “California Sunshine” and what I called liquid bliss.
A drop or two on the wrist of this brownish juice, when licked, would provide hours of pleasure: an ecstasy-like rush, giggles, the brilliance turned up on your senses – everything you looked at had the shimmering quality of satin. Everything was beautiful. Never a bad trip. No such thing as a comedown. Or so I thought.
Aphex Twin at Cocadisco, London, October 2003.
For three years, this tiny bottle and its delicious minty contents accompanied me everywhere. Travelling abroad with it in my wash bag proved no trouble at all – why would security suspect this breath freshener that even tasted of spearmint? – and it inspired numerous good times. Floating in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland and being driven across the lunar landscape back to Reykjavik listening to Autechre’s Amber album. Negotiating the crowds, clubs and thundering techno at the Love Parade in Berlin. Rolling around fields on Dartmoor with the Warp and Rephlex crews. Scraping friends off the walls at Sónar after-parties thrown by DJ Hell and his Gigolo posse in a tiny Barcelona sweatbox off the Ramblas at the height of electroclash, where someone had a gun pulled on them upstairs in the gents and then the DJs – Tiga, Miss Kittin, Casey Spooner – ripped out the ventilation tubes from the ceiling and blasted the crowd with cold air at the end of the night. Walking back through the passageways at 8AM, furious residents dropped plastic bags full of piss and bleach on the gabbling ravers.
By the end of Sónar 2004 I’d had enough. After one of VICE’s annual Sónar parties – I’m sure Chromeo played – I remember lying on the beach with some random German (or maybe Austrian) DJs barking away as the sun came up, more or less sober save for the acid tingling around my body, sharpening reality to reveal that the hotel was a long way away and there were no taxis anywhere. But more than that, I felt I’d had enough of raver’s guilt, of stumbling home at 6AM practically every Sunday morning and slumping on to the bed and promising God that I would never do this again, ever, I’m sorry, and please, please tell me everything’s going to be OK.
And yet, by then, VICE had been going strong in the UK for a couple of years – by 2004 we’d already witnessed the demise of rivals The Face and Sleazenation, and we were intrigued when Channel 4 sent a camera crew to our first-floor office on Leonard Street to document the crazy creativity that went into running the UK’s hottest new title, only for their “research” to emerge in 2005 in the form of a parody in Nathan Barley when Jonatton Yeah?’s Sugar Ape ran a special “Vice” issue, though Charlie Brooker denied it was a direct dig. The show also featured a funny fake Selfish Cunt act called The Bikes doing a song called “Terrorists Are Gay”.
There had been a tremendous VICE party at Glastonbury in 2003 when we took over the Rizla tent for one night with DJs Raf Daddy (now one of the 2 Bears) and Erol Alkan (now a superstar). Our publisher famously lost the plot that year at Glastonbury, doing a Colonel Kurtz in his caravan. Ketamine had crept into fashion and it seemed like a fantastic idea to give it a try – what could possibly go wrong? In tiny amounts it always did the job, framing one’s world in this weird cubist zone, and that Glastonbury in particular was all the more memorable for it.
Richie Hawtin DJing at some party on Beat Street, Berlin, in January 2005.
But things took a turn for the worse at VICE’s second birthday party at Café Royal on Regent Street when I had too much while some group like Teens of Thailand were playing and suddenly I was underwater, slumped in a K hole and unable to move, humiliated on a sofa, everything distorted and muffled. It seemed to take two hours to fish the cloakroom ticket out of my pocket, and as I was helped up the stairs to the entrance, the sensation of being brought to the surface like a diver slowly swimming towards the light, breaking through into the cold night outside and gulping down mouthfuls of fresh air was one of incredible relief.
Luckily, all through this, my love of electronic music and going out to hear it in nightclubs meant that I was uniquely qualified to write a column in the magazine called Electric Independence. This was inherited from a couple of Canadians named Raf and Vince who started the column in the North American edition of VICE during the late 90s. The UK version stopped a few years back when the internet made it seem even more pointless to write about new releases on a monthly basis, when currency is key. In any case, Electric Independence has since blossomed into a successful TV series via The Creators Project that looks in forensic detail at the lives of lonely men who spend way too much time with expensive collections of analogue synthesisers.
Speaking of which, we covered the Dutch disco movement in some detail early on, well before anyone else. In late 2002, we ran a feature on the west coast sound of Holland after I’d been smitten by lots of early Legowelt releases and tried to work out who I-F was and what it all had to do with the Clone shop in Rotterdam. Legowelt was tricky to track down and when I did finally call his number, I was greeted by this peculiar, nasal voice that sounded like a cartoon private detective who wasn’t in the mood for giving any straight answers. He’d just released the awesome Squadra Blanco album Night of the Illuminati on I-F’s short-lived Holosynthesis label, an album he’d struggle to top in terms of drama and romance, and was soon to put out a handful of smudgy house EPs as Polarius and Gladio.
Jackson and Chris Cunningham at Cocadisco, January 2005.
Out of anyone these past ten years, it’s Danny Wolfers who’s been the most consistent and interesting producer, creating his own planet of sound in which dozens of damaged characters – war vets, librarians, computer programmers, spies, pimps and players – look for meaning in a messed-up world. From Macho Cat Garage to Catnip and Franz Falckenhaus, Nacho Patrol to the Chicago Shags, Wolfers has played the puppet master with aplomb, dispatching his marionettes to strange new settings.
There were dalliances with minimal techno when it minced into vogue around 2005 and Richie Hawtin’s Minus label put together the fantastic Minimize to Maximize compilation that still sounds wild and raw today. Otherwise there was too much fluff released on labels like Traum and Trapez, which then encouraged lesser talents to clog up record-shop shelves in Berlin and Soho with absolute rubbish. Dubstep was ignored completely because it didn’t do anything for me, and still doesn’t. Sorry, dubstep. But I think you somehow managed to do OK without the coverage.
Music is necessarily subjective, of course, which is one of the main reasons VICE started a little night in March 2003 in central London called Cocadisco, named, with the blessing of I-F himself, after the Parallax Corporation’s 2002 album. This fell on the second Thursday of each month at The Social and ran for a few years, and the idea was to get well-known and not so well-known DJ and producer friends to play the more eccentric and weirder disco records from their collections.
Over the years, the likes of I-F, Aphex Twin (as Bradley Strider), Chris Cunningham, Luke Eargoggle, Richard X, DJ Benetti, Jackson and His Computer Band and Leila played. And no one ever complained about being paid peanuts or finishing at midnight.
All photos by Piers Martin.
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Wild Things: The Wolfman
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I Smoked Hash and Watched Cute Animal Videos with Syrian Rebels
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Fringes: Stories from the Edge: Cult Kids: Westboro
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Fringes: Stories from the Edge: Cowboy Capitalists
For maverick entrepreneur Ian Cox, Africa is the last frontier of free enterprise.