My First Pill is a series where writers tell the story of the first time they, well, took a pill. Previous entries in the series have seen Clive Martin, Joe Bish, John Doran and John Calvert wax lyrical about little white pills. This time round, it's the turn of THUMP and VICE contributor Tom Usher, who wants to take us on a journey into deepest, darkest Suffolk. It's a tale that takes in hatchbacks, bongs, isolation, and the importance of those early experiences in parts of the world where everything seems stuck in the past.
My tenth summer on earth started like this: my mum picked my brother and I up from school and said we'd got a holiday house in Suffolk. Being ten years old, and not used to much more than Power Rangers, fizzy strawberry laces, and the goalkeeping heroics of David Seaman, you can probably imagine the disdain I felt for somewhere that from name alone contained precisely zero levels of sugary treats or Green Ranger related activity.
Given that, you can probably also imagine how distraught I felt when, two hours after arriving at a dilapidated holiday home, two removal vans pulled into the drive with all my stuff in it. This wasn't a holiday, was it? This was my new life.
Suffolk was never a county imbued with excitement. The danger and mystery that lurks round every corner in London just didn't exist out here in the sticks. For a young person growing up there, every field, every hamlet, every idyllic country lane is suffused with a rank combination of agoraphobia and claustrophobia. In a way, you're imprisoned by those lanes, those meandering country roads, hemmed in by those big, open, gunmetal grey skies. The nearest dead-end town is an hour's walk away and when you get there you're greeted by nothing more than the sorry sight of hunched, miserable men, silently drinking pints in a silent pub until they die.
By the time I'd reached 16, most of my friends had started driving. This meant I got to see the something, the anything, that this quietly forgotten part of the world had to offer. What I saw changed my life forever. Everyone says that, though, don't they, about their first pill. Everyone says they were transformed, altered, radically changed. I was no different. In a night i went from being a dyed-black, studded bracelet Slipknot fan to an Andy C loving skinhead in a New Era cap.
My transformation came on a Friday night. One of my best mates had come to pick me up from my house. We were going down to Stradbroke, to hang out with a group of lads who, rather imaginatively, were the self-styled Straddy Boys. Like all my other mates, this particular friend drove a hatchback, and he drove it insanely fast, to the point where you felt like you'd be thrown into a particularly gritty reboot of Mario Kart. As dangerous as these cars were, and I mean these were the kind of vehicles that'd crumple like accordians if we drove into a strong headwind at the right speed, they were cheap and functional and exactly what you needed when all you wanted to do was escape. Fast.
The night went like every other night had: hanging out in people's bedrooms, banging the cheapest tinnies we could find, arching our necks every five minutes to blow bong smoke out of the window so whoever's parents we were annoying wouldn't be alerted to the thick plumes of skunk that were slinkying down the staircase. I thought this was as wild as it'd get.
The Straddy Boys had different ideas. They were a few years older than me and they'd decided that tonight was the night they introduced me to the joys of raving in a forest. Now, as we've already established, Suffolk is an empty, desolate, wasteland. But it's a wasteland that's actually really good at hiding massive, illegal, massively illegal raves, and pretty much every weekend of the year there'd be a huge party held in the kind of space where no one can hear a scream. Or twelve solid hours of turgid, grinding psytrance.
This all happened in 2004, before smartphones and GPS and Citymapper. On those nights, we drank our beers and smoked our bongs—or 'tooters' as we called them—as usual, and around midnight one of our 3310s would beep and we'd have a location for that evening's shindig. At that point we'd bundle into the hatchbacks and hot foot it cross-county armed to the teeth with D&B cassette packs and an AA road atlas. Yep, we used an actual road atlas. There was no namby-pamby Google Maps for us.
I can't lie. That first time I was pretty nervous. As we hurtled through the darkness, serenaded by the dulcet tones of MC Det and Skibbadee, I'd been asking the Straddy Boys a lot of questions. About pills. What are they like? Are they safe? How long do they last? Does it feel anything like drinking vodka or smoking weed? I like drinking vodka and I liked smoking weed and I hoped it felt like drinking vodka or smoking weed. The Straddy Boys smiled sagely, ecstatic versions of Mr Miyagi. "Don't worry," they said to me. "You'll love it."
After a few pit stops and a succession of road atlas consultation sessions, we heard a faint thump in the distance. We turned down our in-car stereo. There it was. The glorious, muffled "DOOF DOOF DOOF" of the speaker stack, yonder, beyond the trees!
This was it. We parked up. What I found, outside the car, out in the woods was fantastic, wild, and like nothing I'd ever seen or experienced before. We'd ended up in Thetford forest, and hidden amongst the tall pines was my Friday night ecstasy absolution, a party called Brains-Kan. My best friend was being designated driver but his older brother took me to one side, chomped a pink Mitsubishi in half and shoved the crumbly remains into my hand. Bosh.
I decided to wander around the site, soaking up everything I saw and heard while my pill kicked in. It seemed like the dress code for women was "furry boots, neon hot pants, and multi-coloured dreadlocks," while most men opted for a pair of muddy shoes, a Technics t-shirt and something camouflaged. As you walked among the woodland every now and again you'd catch little sparks of light, giggling or a smiling face appearing in the darkness. To some it seemed like a way of life, I saw caravans, families and campfires.
The dancefloor itself just consisted of a muddy pit in front of a huge black wall of speakers, called a stack. The only music that pumped out from the moment I arrived to the moment I left was relentless, chest caving psy-trance. The wall of speakers was a thumping shrine, a furious altar, and the heaving mass before it infinitely bounced in worship. Also, I don't know if I was just tripping really fucking hard from the pills that had just kicked in, but I swear I saw a tiny feral looking child bobbing around near the front of the speakers. I couldn't tell if it was on pills or not but it was grimacing at me in some rudimentary smile, and had matted hair down to it's knees. I say 'it' because I still to this day have never guessed it's gender.
Over the course of the night I continued to munch down another five halves of these pink Mitsi's, and let me tell you, I was rushing my fucking nuts off. I'm talking 'stripping down to a thin white vest in the dead of winter' rushing. I'm talking 'doing a weird dance that could only described as a mix of slowed down skipping, incoherent arm waving and a classic fist pump' rushing. I'm talking 'approaching a woman in the dance and asking if I could have a sip of her water then downing half a litre bottle of it only to be told it was straight vodka but kind of finding that not terrifying but hilarious' rushing. I was basically invincible.
That's not to say they were the best pills I've ever done. I've had some yellow UPS' and black Harley Davidson's since then that were so strong that I literally got into emotional and ambient techno against my will, but those pink Mitsubishi's will always hold a place in my heart because of the sheer force of nature that it made me. Maybe it was the combination of wild-eyed youth, teenage hormones and nerves, or maybe it was just the power of love, man.
Before I knew it, the grey overcast wash drifted in between the pines again and reality began to creep up and tap us all on the shoulder. Maybe it was the numerous amounts of people I saw K-holing in their front seats or maybe the ecstasy was starting to wear off but I began to get bad juju emanating from the shrubbery. That, and also the police had turned up and weren't too fucking happy that there were 400 odd dreadlocked psy-trance fans dancing illegally and terribly all over a site of special scientific interest.
So it was time to leave this magical forest. Our designated drivers at the ready, we piled into our convoy of hatchbacks, heading back to our parents places once more to carry on smoking skunk like it was going out of fashion and listening to more D&B tapes but now at a really low volume so as to not wake anyone in the house up.
Throughout the rest of my teens I carried on going to these mad little locations, each time collecting ever more strange and bizarre stories. Soon enough the magic faded and I felt like I'd outgrown them, and kind of, y'know, hated psy-trance and white people with dreadlocks. But I will never forget the awe and wonder of the first time.