Remembering Things

25 Years of "Ebeneezer Goode": Were the Es Really That Good Though?

It’s been a quarter of a century since The Shamen dropped our national drug anthem, so we spoke to some ex-pillheads about it.

by Daisy Jones; illustrated by Esme Blegvad
24 August 2017, 9:30am

Illustration by Esme Blegvad

I would love to say my first pill was taken in a crowded field on the outskirts of Manchester at 2AM to the euphoric piano plonks of Liquid's "Sweet Harmony" – but it wasn't. It was during one bored summer's afternoon when I was 15, in someone's flat in Hackney, which smelled like old cats, while watching a film starring Jim Carrey (it might have even been The Mask?) during which I came up halfway through.

Even so, despite the unromantic setting, it was a completely revelatory experience. I still remember the overwhelming rush of happiness, the confusion as to why my jaw was clenching of its own accord (nobody had warned me about that) and how I suddenly couldn't stop the words from spilling out my mouth and into the ears of my frankly freaked-out looking mate. It still floors me that these pills were so pure, even though I knew nothing about drug safety and had flogged them for £4 off some kid I vaguely knew from school who I'd bumped into on the street literally hours beforehand. I didn't realise then that this would be the first and probably last time I would ever experience a feeling like that. And I didn't realise that such a thing was actually kind of rare at the tail-end of 2008. After all, this was two decades after ecstasy's golden era, when such drugs "weren't what they used to be" – if you are to believe anyone over the age of 40 anyway.

All of which is to say: it's been exactly 25 years since The Shamen released "Ebeneezer Goode", a song in which the chorus is literally some bloke chanting "Es are good! Es are good!" like your wreckhead uncle from across the Christmas table, and what I like to refer to as our real national anthem. We could have marked the anniversary of this ode to pill-popping by writing a very sincere op-ed about how it articulated the loved up, anarchic drug culture that defined that particular era and went on to shape the future of art; film; fashion; everything. But, I'll be honest with you, none of us are old enough to remember the acid house years, or even this song coming out. I was actually born the same day it reached Number 1 in 1992, and my mum wasn't exactly raving while she was giving birth.

To that end, I spoke to a bunch of people who do remember the song, were taking a fuckload of pills at the time and can tell us whether the Es were all that good anyway.

TOBY, 49

Weirdly enough, by the time The Shamen released "Ebeneezer Goode", a lot of the raves had already started to die out... or at least changed into something more clubby, widespread and commercialised. The fact that it did reach number 1 in the charts is perhaps an indication that, by then, acid house and everything that came with it wasn't an underground youth subculture anymore, it was just mainstream British culture. That said, the pills were still really good in 1992, so the sentiment remains. I remember them just giving you a really pure, euphoric, lovey-dovey high followed by an almost gentle, glowing, cushiony comedown that you stopped getting by the time it got to the late 90s and everyone was boshing speed and getting into garage and the pills were pressed with whatever cheap gunk was available. I stopped taking E for a decade or so, and then took a couple for my birthday a few years ago and it just made me feel sweaty and wired; it definitely wasn't the same!

JOHN, 54

The first pill I ever tried kicked the shit out of me! I was living in east London and it was around the time of SHOOM and all those clubs – so 1990-something-or-other? The pills definitely changed in later years. Back then, you'd only need to take one and you'd take it really early, then it would last for 24 hours. So you'd take it at six o'clock to go out, then by nine o'clock you'd be at the venue, by midnight you'd be at the next venue, then you'd be out all night and up all the next day. Now it just seems like everyone is having to neck them continuously! With the pills back then, you'd get a really strong rush and your eyes would be rolling all over the place – it was terrifying to look at, but when you were in the experience you'd feel great.

RACHEL, 48

Before E came along, nightclubs were actually quite shit places where you'd just go to get drunk and find someone to shag and there would be a lot of fights. But after E came onto the scene, the whole culture around it changed, and the point of going out was more to dance and enjoy the music and have intense chats with strangers. That probably sounds like a really obvious thing to you now, but you have to remember that back then it was completely new, so it was such a weird thing to be happening all of a sudden. It was like... what? Why is everyone so friendly and happy?! What the fuck's going on? Haha!

Back then, the Es were way more of an "event"; you'd plan your whole night around them because they were so strong and lasted for ages, so there was no point taking them casually because they'd just take over your body, you'd experience a real loss of control. The only way I can describe it is like a tidal wave of joy that you were riding for hours and well into the next day. Of course I had decent pills in later years, but I don't recall them ever having that same huge, euphoric "whoooosh" that you'd get with the early ones.

Illustration by Esme Blegvad

ARI, 44

Wow that song is fucking ridiculous but I would say the Es were good, yeah. They weren't just stronger, but they felt cleaner and the high was more intense and the comedowns didn't make you feel like your soul had been sucked out your body – probably because the purity was higher, or maybe it's just because I'm older! I must have taken my first E around '88 or '89 or so when I was about 15 at one of illegal raves in Blackburn in Lancashire, where I grew up. My older brother gave it to me because I used to tag along with him and his mates. I actually remember coming up in the car on the way to one of the raves – the traffic would get so nuts because people would drive from towns all over the country – and I remember getting this sudden incredible swoop in my belly and being like "stop the car! Stop the car! I just want to walk! I want to feel the fresh air on my skin! I want to speak to other people in their cars!" and my brother was like "please, mate, just stay in the car!"

MARK, 55

I took my first pill in 1991 at a mate's flat in Hackney. I was living in a shared squatted house at the time, so it was nice to be in a clean space. I don't actually remember very much about it. I was really nervous beforehand because not many people I knew had taken them and we managed to track a couple down. And then we took them and I got into the bath and then it was the morning.

It used to be around £25 a pill and I didn't have very much money so that was quite a big investment. It was worth it though because it was harder to get hold of pills back then – they weren't produced in anywhere near the same scale. But I think that good quality E now is the same as it was then. If it's not cut with too much other shit then E is E. The first pills are always more magical than later ones because you become accustomed to it, and you never get to the same place after a while, so that's what people confuse it with.

ANDREA, 47

Es were probably just as good back in the 80s and 90s as they are now. I've heard there are really strong pills floating around at the moment, so they might even be better than when I was going out. Every generation just loves to think that they made a more important mark on the world, which is probably why people my age get so sentimental about the acid house years, including the drugs we were taking – although they were obviously great fun.

I must have been 18 when I took my first pill, which was old for my friend group at the time, but I was quite an anxious teenager. Someone would borrow their parents' car and we'd drive down to raves at the weekend and I remember those years opening a whole new world for me, psychologically and spiritually. I feel like you haven't experienced true unity or empathy unless you've taken ecstasy – like, good ecstasy – and danced all night with a crowd of people doing the same thing. I honestly think people who are in their forties now are some of the nicest, friendliest people you'll ever meet, and that's because we were brought up on ecstasy, and that drug teaches you how to be nice to each other and expect nothing in return.

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