This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
When a raver is standing on some greasy dance floor among the pale, sweaty hordes, about to bite off half of a pill, it's unlikely they're thinking about the rich history of what they're about to swallow. They'll want to wash it down as quickly as possible, which means there's no time to ponder how the chemical makeup of other generations of ecstasy pills have led to the one they are about to take.
But there's a story to tell about almost every sort of ecstasy pill. In many cases, for example, the logo on the pill alludes to the ingredients or its intended effect. In others, pills are part of a type of family of several generations of the same pill. Some are only on the market for a few months, others for years on end.
I have a friend who has been looking into the story behind pills over the years. He'll remain anonymous for obvious reasons, but he's been collecting ecstasy produced in the Netherlands since 1995. His collection grew pretty organically – he used to be a dealer, and, as he tells me, "when you buy them in bulk, you always end up with leftovers." He started saving and storing away those leftovers, which eventually became a collection. Every now and then he'll dip into it, to give a rarer specimen to someone he knows who could appreciate it on a special occasion – on their birthday, for example.
I recently went over to his place, to photograph a few highlights from his collection and learn their story.
The love pill
These are three generations of pills with the word "love" on them, all produced in the Netherlands. The original pill – the diamond-shaped one on the left – arrived on the market in 1993 and because of its quality, the demand was immediately much higher than the supply.
It remained a success in the house scene, though according to the collector, later generations of this pill didn't have the same, purely ecstatic effect on users. That's likely because of a change in recipe, but it's hard to say exactly what changed. Yet, the heart-shaped ones are still one of the most popular types of ecstasy in the country.
"Druifje" (Little Grape)
This guy's Dutch name was "druifje", which translates to "little grape". They came on the market around 1996 and contained about 180mg of MDMA – which was a massive quantity at the time.
According to the Jellinek institute, a Dutch centre specialising in providing information on alcohol, drugs and addiction, ecstasy would usually not contain more than 80mg to 90mg of MDMA until 2009. That year, MDMA as an ingredient had apparently become pretty scarce, but when the supply matched the demand again in 2010, the amount of MDMA in ecstasy suddenly started increasing exponentially. If that's right, these cherries were a very early exception to that rule.
After the first Mitsubishi pill was released around 1997, it quickly became legendary. The Mitsubishi logo on this pill might not have made the car brand very happy, but users were pretty ecstatic about the whole thing. Pretty soon, other manufacturers started using the logo too.
The collector tells me that in the early days of the Mitsubishi, he only needed a third of one to be set for the entire night. He had no idea of its potency the first time he tried it, so when it kicked in he had to sit and wait in a bean bag for a few hours before he could get return to the party.
"Raketje" (Little Rocket)
This pill, with a logo of a little rocket ship on it, appeared in the early 90s and found its audience in Dutch gabber culture. The name and the logo referred to the amount of speed in the pill, which was much higher than in other pills of the time and served as a kind of fuel for gabber parties throughout the 1990s.
This pill was first produced in the early 2000s, and contained about 140 mg of MDMA. This particular specimen was the product of some great event marketing – the collector got his hands on it in 2003 or 2004, when an organiser known for throwing regular techno parties on a boat in the Netherlands, handed them out for free to everyone at the door of his functions.
This pill first came on the market in the early 2000s, and though the logo of a dove remained the same, every new production round came in a new colour. It was on the market for several years, and according to the collector, he'd have a great night taking just half.
Because of their age, these pills are almost falling apart and you'll notice in the picture that different components have started to clot together. The collector tells me, that doesn't mean he chucks them – at a house party with a nostalgic 90s theme a few years ago, he sold a bunch of pills he'd had lying around for 20 years. They may have been falling apart, but they were still a hit. At the users' own risk, of course.
Twee Halve Cirkels (Two Half Circles)
These pills, which owe their name to the fact that the logo is, indeed, two half circles, joined the collection in 2007. The collector had them tested, and found that they contain about 100mg of MDMA.
This pill with a Starbucks logo has been on the market since about 2015 in the Netherlands, but the logo is used by producers everywhere. This particular one contains about 120mg of MDMA.
The Flügel, a pill named and styled after the popular vodka energy shot that's for sale in many a Euro-trash establishment around the continent, is relatively new to the market – the collector first came across a batch in 2016.
He took a Flügel and a half one night last year, and doesn't remember much of what happened after. When he woke up the next day, the only piece of evidence he had of what had happened the night before, was a selfie on his phone of him and Dutch rapper Lil' Kleine (of 2015's Dutch summer hit Drank en Drugs ("Booze and Drugs") fame).
The newest significant addition to my friend's collection is the Donald Trump. This guy recently reached the UK via the Netherlands, and was subsequently gleefully reported on by the likes of Metro, the Mail Online and The Sun. The collector says the Donald Trump comes from the same manufacturer that made "the sim card" before, and that it contains a huge dose of MDMA. Just huge.