Suggested Audio Candy:
We all come of age one way or another. For Keeper, I did so in a warehouse filled with neon light displays, repeating strobes and strawberry flavored smoke machines. I recall with some clarity, stepping from the arena to scoop a load of coal-like sludge from my nostrils created by the steady inhalation of these fruity toxins. There was an open-air chill-out zone for those requiring a back rub or a few minutes gurning time. And we gurned…boy did we gurn.
Every Friday and Saturday night in ’92 without fail my chums and I would frequent a place called The Berwick Manor. Its reputation having proceeded it, this den of iniquity was the meeting place for all manner of disposable teens looking for that perfect high. The buzz in question was obtainable via MDMA, Amphetamine Sulphate and LSD for the come down.
The door men ran the drug racket and, should you wish to peddle your narcotic under their roof, you would be required to pay a tax of sorts. Anybody attempting to sidestep this payment plan would be swiftly removed from circulation, taken roughly and bundled through the back gate, with neither hide nor hair seen again.
For the rest of us, the 500+ revelers just looking to dig on the music, we were left to our own devices. Bottles of amyl-nitrate made their rounds and it wasn’t unheard of for a total stranger to smother your neck and temples with vapo-rub, just to coax out that rush some more. Jaws would jut and peepers were known to roll back in our heads as we became slaves to the delicious rhythm.
The audio narcotic was breakbeat rave, a fleeting craze which was borne from the ashes of the Acid House era. For an adolescent primed on rap it was a logical progression. You see…I was a big beats man. Rap breaks were dismantled, sped up and transmogrified to offer incessant rhythm, persistent hi-hats and sweeping gruff bass tones. As a sweetener, organ licks were ladled on and lines such as “no one can compete ‘coz I heat like a fireball” threaded in to a tapestry of shrill sirens and luscious loops.
I was one such raver, my garments attested to that. Each week I would arrive in my trademark bandana with the letters XTC shaved into the back of my crown and spangly fresh pair of British Knights ready to cha-cha. Beforehand I would guzzle a fistful of Class A and sit in an old camper van, swaddled in blankets, whilst waiting for that buzz to commence. When it did, my buddies and I would make our arrival known and gather around the floor awaiting that first brave tone-deaf douche setting the bar low with a mesh of mismatched shapes and no apparent grasp of timing.
Once the floodgates were opened we would shuffle to the hub, safely concealed by rhythmic strobing designed to make even that first victim look half-adept. Ordinarily a particular rabble-rousing anthem would herald the intent to crank shit up a notch and would be met by blown horns and whistles as we leapt into the fray akin to epileptic salmon. Those plucky enough to stand out would make a b-line for the poky stage in the center. Here they would be provided with a pedestal to stand sentient from, while they contorted their shells to the delight of hundreds of hardcore members.
There was an over-whelming sensation of love which swept across each of our gormless grinding faces; united by fate, we all shared a common goal…it was the music which unified us. There were those present immune to the love bug and these consisted of nodding coke-heads, looking all melancholic at the sides. For the rest of us, it was the closest we would ever get to Woodstock. As much emphasis was placed on our after-parties, ordinarily at some dingy flat where everybody began to look a little more weathered and narked.
We’d drop our acid then, watch The Doors and massage one another until the morning rays began to filter through. This was the lowest point, any subsequent trips to the bathroom revealed every filthy pore and reminded us that the night had taken its toll. I worked every Sunday in a local video store and arrived for my shift unrested and looking like death re-heated. Fortunately, my duties involved chilling and repeat-viewing L.A. Story and Kuffs on constant loop each week so it was a relatively seamless transition.
There was a club called Labyrinth we frequented after The Manor doors closed for the evening and this was in Hackney, London. If you are from Stateside then think Compton and you will have fairly stark indication as to the perilous locale we visited en masse each week. We were like a procession, several shipments of twitching numbskulls intent on reaching for lasers, whilst chewing off our own faces. Unwittingly we would pop more happy pills, which often consisted of elephant tranquilizers, just to make you aware. It may floor a wooly mammoth but, in humans, it concocted the perfect brew of euphoria and mild paranoia. We lived for that shit.
There was a basement sub-aqua which housed a solitary strobe and a jolly Rastafarian selling Chupa Chups and bottled water. Here the audio selection was more industrial, less anthemic and far more down and dirty. Topside, amongst the labyrinth of tunnels were the Stairs to Nowhere. A dead-end of sorts, this offered the ultimate place to meltdown, rub shoulders and taste some face should you have snagged yourself a jaybird.
Each visit would afford us the opportunity of having our automobiles stripped to their framework. Over half would be soundly ventilated and missing a back windscreen for the journey home and I recall fondly one obnoxious belle having her £300 mink coat lifted from the back seat, only for us to pass a street vendor selling it on less than a mile down the road. Needless to say, we were street enough to just drive on, although the sound of her whining the whole way back accompanied by sub-zero temperatures creeping in through newly fashioned cavities was enough to cite something of a bad trip.
I was incarcerated outside a nearby slum in Peckham. Undercover cops busted my ass, catching Keeper with a clutch of Speed, eight wraps in total and relatively pure to make my odds even less favorable. Two hours in an airless cell was rotten enough but the strip search was plain horrendous. I had already guzzled two grams of this potent powder and, as a result my monster had practically inverted.
So when the Chief Superintendent requested I drop my kecks and lift up my beanbag I was ill-prepared and bore the penis of a shrew. I went back six weeks later to learn my fate and a letter I composed got me off with a caution but the whole debacle left its mark. “Now let your pants drop to the floor, turn around and bend over to touch your toes” [GULP] Until things began to veer ominously towards the dark side, I rather enjoyed my time as a hardcore raver. It was the music which kept me coming back, the rolling beats which afforded the highest high and, twenty years on, there are a select few tracks still capable of raising the hairs on the back of my neck even now.