E Generation: Summer of love
For a few thousand clubbers, summer 1988 meant non-stop partying fuelled by acid house music and a great new drug called Ecstasy. Sheryl Garratt was in the thick of it. Ten years on, she recalls the beginning of a youth revolution. Overleaf, Polly Williams finds out what happened to other survivors
Saturday 15 August 1998
Yet despite the numerous dealers now working openly in the clubs and already starting to organise into gangs, Ecstasy was still our secret. It felt like we'd opened a door and stepped into the future, leaving the dull reality of Eighties London behind us. Other initiates were instantly recognisable: the bright, baggy clothes, the beads and ethnic accessories, the music blaring out of their cars, the girls without make-up and the boys growing out their hair. People were shedding their black clothes and opening out like brightly coloured flowers. The traditional English reserve seemed to have disappeared. Once-surly security men laughed and joked with the queues outside clubs. Strangers would talk to each other freely. The regulation cool club pout was replaced by ear-to-ear grins. The most extraordinary music was being made, some of it by people who were dancing alongside us, like Baby Ford's abrasive acid anthem "Oochy Coochy", or the song "Everything Begins With An E" by the EZ Posse - an alias for Jeremy Healy, working with MC Kinky, a white girl who rapped in a Jamaican reggae style.
You would end up in the unlikeliest places, with people you'd only met an hour before on the dancefloor, in the toilet queue, in the street outside. A grand house in Stockwell owned by a foreign diplomat. A squat in Hackney. A penthouse overlooking the Thames owned by someone who did something in the City. A house available while someone's parents were on holiday. Sometimes you'd be driving and pull up alongside another car full of people drinking water and shaking their heads to the music, you'd make eye contact and smile and simply follow them to wherever it was they were going.
Tintin Chambers, a public schoolboy who promoted his first big acid party, Hypnosis, at the end of August in the Brixton Academy, was another tie- dyed T-shirt in the crowd at clubs like Spectrum at the start of that summer. He remembers the atmosphere in London late at night: "I'd be coming back from a party, walking down the King's Road where I used to live. A car would drive past and you'd hear some acid house music, and you'd just put your arms in the air. They'd stop, you'd get in the car, you'd go and have a smoke and a chat with them. Because it was such a small thing then. There were a few thousand people in the whole of London going to these parties. You'd meet someone on the street, and you might not know who they were, but you'd be wearing exactly the same style of clothing - baggy, Day-glo, Mambo-style tracksuits, pink-tinted glasses. And you'd get talking. That sort of thing happened all the time."
One night after Future, almost everyone in the club piled into a convoy of cars and went to carry on the party in a gym in Dagenham owned by one of the members. "Every time one car stopped, we all stopped and got out," remembers one clubber. "Not in service stations. Just on the A13. That unity that was so embedded. If one stops, we all stop! Whether it was for a wee, a water, a fag or a chat. It was like a party on the motorway. How we got away with some of those journeys ... I mean, obviously the police weren't thinking that everyone was drugged up and off their knackers on E."
The DJ Danny Rampling remembers a party in a flat above a cafe in Chapel Street market in north London which started on a Sunday night and finished around Tuesday. "On Monday morning the market was setting up, and there were just people dancing on the rooftops and out in the street while everyone else was going about their daily life. London was swinging, for the second time since the Sixties, with different groups of society mixing with each other in different areas of London. There were parties every night. It was quite a special, underground thing."
Acid nights began to spring up everywhere. Westworld opened Enter The Dragon and MyAmi. The Wag's Love night spawned one of the summer's best T-shirts: a beatific image of the Virgin Mary under the words "Love . Love . Love". Club MFI (Mad For It) at Legends showed the change most clearly: in the ground-floor bar, the monochrome set sat talking and drinking in designer suits just as they had before. Downstairs, the once-cold chrome dancefloor area was transformed with smoke machines and strobes while clubbers danced in tie-dye, beads and cut-off jeans.
Ecstasy was a drug that worked well in crowds, giving users the sense that everyone was feeling the same warmth and joy, moving in the same direction. It quickly spread to the football terraces, and it was common to see younger fans going to the match sporting smiley T-shirts and dilated eyes, and to see them later on the dancefloor in the same state. Some referred to them, somewhat patronisingly, as "love thugs", but this also reflected a genuine belief that everyone could be changed for the better.
The extraordinary optimism of the time is perhaps best illustrated by the story of Cymon Eckel of the club Boy's Own. He had a job building film and theatre sets, and was working on a set for a George Michael video one morning when he was involved in an industrial accident and lost all the fingers on his left hand. He was in hospital for six weeks.
"What is amazing to this day is how positive I felt. I'd always wanted to study furniture design, but I'd never been able to give up the money, because I liked going out, buying clothes and taking drugs. So I had an operation, and when I came out of the anaesthetic my mother started talking about the future. I was saying, "I'm all right. It's great, now I can go to college. Fuck working, I'm never going to work again!" I came out of hospital, I had a week in Windsor convalescing and then I went to Ibiza, dancing with my hand still in bandages. It didn't matter, because I was in this whole new world. What should have been a very traumatic period didn't seem at all traumatic to me. That was the gift it gave me. Whatever you were doing, it grabbed hold of you, gave you a shake and made you look at yourself?"
`Adventures in Wonderland: a decade in club culture', by Sheryl Garratt, is published by Headline, pounds 9.99, on 20 August
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