Rock journalist Reynolds (The Sex Revolts) chronicles how MDMA (a psychedelic amphetamine, aka “ecstasy”) and MIDI (computer sound technology) together spawned the unique dance culture of the “chemical generation.”
While America has never quite caught on to electronic dance music, techno and acid house have been the last decade’s dominant European pop music genres. Reynolds, a writer for Rolling Stone, Spin, and iD, has been watching the scene since the late 1980s, when England, Germany, and Holland began transforming imported Detroit techno and Chicago house. Once ecstasy was introduced into British clubs, its sense-heightening and empathy-elevating effects fused with the soundtrack, becoming for house what LSD was for psychedelic rock. Reynolds, declaring a “rockist” bias, mostly prefers discussing recording artists, DJs, and subgenres over describing rave culture’s underground dance clubs, illegal mass parties in warehouses and country fields, pirate radio stations, or the music’s sociological significance. For the uninitiated, his taxonomy of acid house’s descendents (Manchester indie-dance, bleep and bass, Belgian hardcore, breakbeat ‘ardcore, ambient techno, trance, darkcore, Dutch gabba, happy, jungle, to name a few) may seem obsessive. This encyclopedic overview, however, dispassionately charts the inevitable rise and fall of drug-based musical fashion. As dopamine and serotonin abuse left the formerly blissed-out ravers with a need for faster tracks—up to 300 bpm—and additional drugs such as heroin, ketamine, and speed, the original aficionados decried the bastardization of their sound and moved on to different electronic experiments. Reynolds does have some vivid passages of field research, such as his experience of one of Spiral Tribe’s 20,000-strong raves in rural Castlemorton, but they can’t compare to the E-fictions of Irvine Welsh (The Acid House) or Alan Warner (Morvern Callar).
Although neither Reynolds nor anyone else can predict post-rave’s future, his hardcore history of its first decade is a heady remix of the soundscape’s greatest hits.