In the ten years since acid house emerged in the UK, it has developed
from a largely underground scene to a dominant force at the end
of the ’90s. This dominance has entered the mainstream in a mass
of contradictions, all of which serve to show the far-reaching
influences of a scene that no-one expected to last. The government
outlaws ‘repetitive beats’ while the Post Office encourages us
to get ‘sorted’; police push for power to close clubs while drug
imagery surfaces in commercials for ice cream to fruit juice.
In this confusion between condemnation and cashing-in comes a
collection of nineteen short stories from ‘the chemical generation’.
As dance culture moves from the margins to the mainstream, it’s
easy to be cynical about publishers who are more interested in
pounds sterling than the kind of Dollars you can buy for a tenner
but, motives aside, there are some excellent stories in this collection.
Sarah Champion’s introduction takes a celebratory tone, while
the stories themselves chronicle both the highs and the lows of
ten years of drugs and dancing. The best stories here are those,
like Gavin Hills’ ‘White Burger Danny’, that don’t feature drugs
as both character and plot. Just as the unnamed narrator of ‘White
Burger Danny’ notes, ‘I realised that it wasn’t inevitable that
a night of ecstasy was a guaranteed good time,’ so the better
writers understand that it is substance, not just substances that
made for a good story.
Perhaps it’s because writers like Irvine Welsh make it look so
simple. His ‘The State of the Party’ tells the story of Calum
and Crooky who, while tripping, find themselves with a heroin
fatality on their hands. They drag Boaby, blue-lipped and with
the beginnings of rigor mortis, through the streets, stopping
for kebabs and a brief fight in which Boaby’s body is the loser.
Despite the evident black humour, Welsh doesn’t neglect either
the horror of the situation or the (only partially) drug-induced
indifference of the characters towards the corpse: ‘They silently
finished their kebabs. Crooky took a bite out of the extra one,
then slung it over the hedge. Looking at Boaby’s body, Gillian
seemed sad for a bit, then she put lipstick on the blue-tinted
Boaby is not the only casualty of the drug scene in this collection
– the scene itself becomes the casualty in Jeff Noon’s apocalyptic
‘DJNA’, in which ‘natural-born’ DJ s are outlawed by a Christian
police state which imposes its own music and its own drugs – ‘the
wafer and the wine, … Disco biscuit and Jesus blood’. While
in ‘Mile High Meltdown’, passengers on a holiday jet find themselves
held hostage to the pilot’s crack habit and penchant for drum
‘n bass: ‘ The Captain was so far out of it by now that he was
forcing the passengers who’d dared to complain, to toot on his
crack at gunpoint’.
Although it’s a mixed bag, the important thing about the collection
is that this is writing for people who think they don’t like reading.
Stripped of multiple literary references and intellectual élitism,
it documents the experiences of a generation who haven’t before
seen their lives recognised in print. In doing so it offers a
validation of dance culture both to the mainstream, who are more
likely to read about it than to experience it, and to those for
whom this is a way of life. It’s not a perfect collection by
any means (why are all nineteen stories by men, for example?)
but it’s a valuable reflection on a scene that continues to evolve.
It will be interesting to see how the writing itself evolves
from here – what will the 10th anniversary of Disco Biscuits
have to offer?
Reviewed by Pippa Wright