|Rave New World|
In Britain, the seeds planted during the flower power era of the 1960s blossomed twenty years later, when the children conceived during the Summer of Love seized upon a 'new' psychedelic drug and staged a riotous Summer-long love-in of their own. All of a sudden, in the Summer of 1988 the tabloid press was filled with tales of huge crowds of young people congregating in open fields where powerful sound systems had been set up, in order to dance all night to acid house music under the influence of expensive tablets sold as 'Ecstasy'. MDMA had been invented as far back as 1912, but was re-synthesised in the mid sixties by a biochemist called Alexander Shulgin, was experimented with by psychotherapists who called it 'Adam' and became phenomenally popular in the 1980s when marketed as Ecstasy.
Taking MDMA produces the unique effect among recreational drugs of promoting empathy and it also relaxes muscular tension in a way that appears to make people feel more like dancing. As Nicholas Saunders noted: 'The combination of the drug with music and dancing can produce an exhilarating trance-like state, perhaps similar to that experienced in tribal rituals or religious ceremonies. It seems to dissolve the internal dialogue and with it self consciousness, allowing the music and movements to blend and producing an exhilarating feeling of group celebration'. These unlicensed and semi-legal celebrations - 'raves' - rapidly became so popular that the powers that be, galvanised by sensational press reports of the dangers associated with taking Ecstasy, moved to put a stop to them.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, 1994, was formulated to give police new powers to determine what constitutes a rave and to disperse gatherings of '100 or more persons at which amplified music is played during the night and is such as, by reasons of its loudness and duration at the time which it is played, likely to cause serious distress to the inhabitants of the locality'. Rave music, in its various permutations, is described in the Act as 'sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats' and is frequently devoid of lyrics or melody. It's the opposite of interesting, but is not intended for passive listening, rather as a soundtrack for individuals to lose themselves in marathon dance sessions.
After all that frenetic activity on the dance floor, a body needs a place to recuperate, to 'chill out'. In the chill out rooms, bodies exhausted but minds still racing, ravers relax and inter-relate, talking with the intimacy of fellow travellers and the warmth kindled by the shared experience of hours spent compulsively twitching in the darkness. In Ecstasy & The Dance Culture, Saunders remarks that 'Cannabis is widely smoked in the chill out period' when a soothing joint helps the user come down smoothly from the effects of the Ecstasy. Not surprisingly, when formulating their anti-rave legislation, the Government also upped the maximum fine for possession of cannabis from £500 to £2500.
The Shamen started as psychedelic revivalists, led by Colin Angus, and began to get into sampling when Will Sin joined the band. The pair moved to London during the 1988 'Summer of Love' and attended the legendary Clink Street parties, where they met future collaborator, DJ Mr C. The Shamen launched their own club, Synergy, "....a cataclysmic culture clash on the cutting edge, a riot of colour and sound designed to blow your brains out ... indie bands on the dance floor in communion with the house tribe..." In other words, a non-stop party that toured the UK for nearly two years.
When Pro>Gen, a single from their third album, Entact, blew up into a rave anthem, The Shamen re-recorded it with an eye on crossing over into the mainstream singles chart, shooting a video for it in Spain. After the filming, Will Sin went for a swim and he drowned. Move Any Mountain - Progen 91 was re-released in July, 1991, catapulting The Shamen - minus Will - into the realms of pop stardom. The first single from their fourth album, Boss Drum, satirised an e-dealer, the Staggerlee of rave culture, as Ebeneezer Goode. It as a no.1 hit in August, 1992, complete with it's lunatic chorus of 'Eezer Goode, Eezer Goode, He's Ebeneezer Goode' and Mr C's speedy cockney rhyming slang rap, including the sly phrase, 'Has anybody got any veras? Lovely Ya ha ha ha ha ha... Veras = Vera Lynns = Skins (cigarette papers).
The Shamen's subsequent releases did not equal the success of Boss Drum, which spawned further hit singles and sold over a million copies worldwide, but it wasn't just another pop record. It featured, over the trancey groove of a track called Re-Evolution, cult author, thinker and philosopher Terence McKenna spoke of the connection between plant psychedelics, human evolution, all-night dancing and eco-consciousness.
The Shamen's work continued to explore these themes, through music and via their pioneering web site, Nemeton. In 1996, The Shamen released their sixth studio album, Hempton Manor, inspired by and dedicated to hemp, the premier plant of ecology conservation. Recorded in just five days and track titles including: Cannabeo and Indica, Hempton Manor 'hybridises tripped out techno, spacey dub and frenetic drum 'n' bass styles into a typically Shamanic futuristic fusion', according to the press release. Harking back to their roots, Colin Angus and Mr C did some low-key gigs around the clubs as The Shamen Soundsystem, performing stripped-down, instrumental versions of the new tracks from Hempton Manor in conjunction with Mr C's highly regarded club, The End.