Music: When everything ended with an E

Who killed the Second Summer of Love? The clubbers, the drug dealers, the police: they all played their part, says Dominic Utton
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The Independent Culture
Every 11 or so years there's a revolution in youth culture - a massive shifting of cultural and musical values. In 1955 it was rock 'n' roll, in 1966 psychedelia. Punk rock appeared in 1977, and, if the myth is to be believed, in the summer of 1988 it seemed all of England dropped a pill, pinned on a smiley and took off to the Hacienda in Manchester or Shoom in London to dance all night to House music ... Rave on! was the cry. Top one! Sorted!

In fact most of England was too busy listening to Bros or Kylie at the time to notice what was happening in the clubs - the bright new wave of dance music being played by DJs John Da Silva and Mike Pickering in the North and Danny Rampling in London; the sudden energy, optimism and sense of community this music was inspiring in the kids; the new drugs ...

It wasn't until a year or two later, when the scene was less exclusive, more an open secret, that the nation's youth as a whole got mad for it.

And for a little while it seemed House music was everywhere: Happy Mondays and Stone Roses on Top Of The Pops, "Everything Begins With An E", bandannas and dungarees, "Aciiiid!", traffic jams at Knutsford Services, parties on the M25, Ibiza, Madchester

And in the best tradition of pop-cultural revolutions, it was something parents couldn't understand. The music - looped, repetitive beats, mixed in and out so it could seem the same track lasted all night; the clothes; the drugs - Ecstasy, an American anti-depressant inducing feelings of togetherness, love, brotherhood ...

Old hippies tutted. Old punks sneered. Middle England was outraged. Questions were asked in the House.

The so-called "Second Summer of Love" actually lasted from 1988 until about 1991, three years that, to those who were involved in it, seemed like the most important, most exciting and most revolutionary period in British youth culture yet.

Imagine the optimism, togetherness and sheer belief in the future of the Sixties tempered with the savvy, energy and arrogance of punk ... For the first time there was a scene that went beyond fashion, that disregarded politics, that united kids from all classes.

It was simply about dancing, about having a good time all the time. Going to the Hacienda in 1988 or 1989 was a beautiful experience... no stargazing, no posing, no fighting, no pulling even - just dancing.

On the floor, on the stage, on the balcony, at the bar, behind the bar, in the street outside ... everyone moving, everyone smiling, everyone with their hands in the air like they just don't care ...

It was probably the drugs. There can be little doubt that E was as important as the music. It was Ecstasy that brought everything together - in the same way that LSD had defined psychedelia, or speed did punk. And of course it was E that turned the simple beauty of 1988 sour.

A number of high-profile Ecstasy-related deaths, an escalation of gang activity, a couple of hysteric column inches in the tabloids and suddenly House music was seen as a threat to the fabric of society. Things became political - the Hacienda shut down, the Criminal Justice Bill was passed ... and the cash-ins started

It was realised there was (legitimate) money to be made. Cue endless sub-House tunes flooding the charts, the rise of "superclubs" such as the Ministry of Sound, and big one-off "raves" - often poorly organised, overpublicised and costing anything up to pounds 80 a time. No longer the community, the beauty, the optimism of 1988-91. The dream was over.

This was business.

It's not all bad, though. As we teeter on the brink of the next youth revolution (1977, 1988 and then 1999?) the aftershocks of the last can still be felt.

Musically (think Norman Cook, the Chemical Brothers), socially (club culture, Irvine Welsh), even politically - Tony Blair's 1997 election campaign theme? The Ecstasy anthem "Things Can Only Get Better"... Rave on, Tony!

The Impresario

In 1988 Anthony Wilson was boss of Mancunian independent label Factory Records and co-owner of the Hacienda.

"It started in Ibiza in 1987 ... Everybody was taking Ecstasy and dancing to Balearic Beats. And then they all got back home to England and the cold winter... So then there was a culture, a dance thing, looking for a music. At the end of June I turned up at the Hacienda and it was astonishing... everyone had their arms in the air, and I thought `My God...' You can almost smell it - teen spirit or whatever."

The Clubber

Adam Turner, 28, now a teacher, was a Hacienda-goer in 1988-90.

"A lot of it started with Dave Haslam's indie hip-hop/dance nights, and the `Nude' nights, with the swimming pool in the Hac. Suddenly all the kids that had been listening to the Smiths were loosening up. The whole scene wasn't just new to that generation, but a genuinely new, fresh young vibe.... Obviously people were getting into Ecstasy... But in the end it was the music. Sometimes it took your breath away."

The Dealer

James (not his real name) dealt Ecstasy in Manchester nightclubs in the late 80s and early 90s.

"In the early days it was just a great buzz... it really felt like everyone was your brother or sister... everyone was beautiful. I started dealing by accident. By about '90, I was making quite a bit of money. It was '91 that the gangs moved in... The Es started going shit then as well; so I just stopped."