With acid house knee deep in it’s tenth anniversary, it is only appropriate that someone seriously document the music, the movement; the people and the culture.
Enter Matthew Collin. As former editor of the English magazine I-D, frequent contributor to Mixmag, and a journalist who’s been covering and experiencing house music since the beginning; it is similarly appropriate that he be the one to rise to the call. After two years of research and writing, the end result is exceptional. “Altered State” should be required reading for anyone remotely interested in house music, rave culture, and the illicit elements which often accompany them. If you want to know your future, check out your past… this is the best source thus far.
Brad Massive got up early to chat with the esteemed author…
First off, what possessed you to take on the task of writing this book?
(Matthew): I got the idea towards the end of 1993. Acid house was something I had been involved in for years and I felt that it was worthy of not only documenting and celebrating, but also casting a critical eye over. I also felt that our generation deserves to have it’s own myths like the myth of punk or the 60’s. The culture that we’ve created deserves to be taken seriously in that same kind of way.
How did the process of researching start for you?
I tried to first find every single press clipping published on the subject in Britain and then interview as many people possible connected to the culture, which amounted to hundreds.
Who was the most interesting person you spoke with while researching the book?
One of the retired police officers… he was the most honest, entertaining, and interesting. Since he was retired, he didn’t have a career to protect and could just mouth off completely. He had this little box of secret internal documents he kept reading things from. I was just sitting there looking at that box… drooling. I think for a lot of the police involved at the time, it was as exciting for them as it was for the party organizers. Trying to catch these pirates before they pulled off their scam.
When acid house first began in Britain, were you a part of it and what was the original feeling?
There was a small house scene before acid house in a few cities in Britain. I was fortunate enough to live in one of them and to be involved at that time. I was also lucky enough to move to London in 1988… right place at the right time. It was a very optimistic time; a small set of people discovering the same thing at the same point… developing a real sense of collective mission. I don’t think anyone realized that this was going to change the course of popular culture. It was just amazing hedonistic activity.
Do you think house music would be what it is today without Ecstasy?
No. Obviously, the music would have increased it’s profile anyway but I doubt it would have accelerated at the same rate and converted as many people. House music would have happened anyway, but the developments wouldn’t have been the same.
Describe the difference between the English club and rave experience of the late 80’s – early 90’s.
It was kind of going from an enclosed urban environment to this sort of oceanic feeling; being out amongst the stars. It was taking it to the next level of total freedom… liberation- the boundaries of human experience. The festival movement brought a wider set of social values to “rave” that it didn’t have before. It brought serious utopian viewpoints and the idea that it is possible to live a different way whereas before it was simply pure hedonism. People would talk about how this had changed their lives, but it had no social agenda to it. When the travelers got involved, it brought question to issues like land rights and how people live their lives.
How was the political environment of England changed since? With the recent change in political control, will that affect the situation of those who choose to live a nomadic lifestyle?
I think that most of the travelers have been harassed off the road or out of the country. That sort of cultural thing has been decimated over the past five years. I don’t see that altering in any way. Youth culture will most likely be business as usual with the new government.
How has the Criminal Justice bill affected things?
I think the Criminal Justice bill has had a positive effect because it’s made people more conscious. On the other hand, it has brought a shadow over illegal parties. There’s a lot more paranoia, a lot more fear, a lot more people going abroad to continental Europe or the states as the Spiral Tribe have. There’s been quite a few moves in France to follow suit as well. Especially in the south where there’s a lot of conservative councils who do things like clearing beggars off the streets and harassing immigrants. In Germany, I think they are taking a completely different view. With the Love Parade… it’s the biggest tourist event of the year… they love it.
How do events like the Tribal Gathering represent the original house music experience?
It’s gone from outside the walls to the center of the establishment. Tribal Gathering is a great event, but there is a sense that it’s Rave Disneyland. It’s all layed out for you… you don’t have to invent anything for yourself. That’s why I find what the Spiral Tribe are doing to be completely fascinating because they are still trying to uphold the Utopian/DIY ethic.
What do you find musically interesting these days?
I like Ed Rush, Fierce, and Trace… for techno, Jeff Mills and all the Network 23 stuff. I think jungle is taking it to the next level… it was sort of the soundtrack to the last year of writing the book.
What do you have planned now that the book is done?
Keep writing I guess. The book has had an embarrassingly positive response… it’s quite touching really. I think that my book will be the first of many on the subject and other people will follow with different points of view. I think that’s when it will get really interesting… when there are a number of different angles on the same subject. I don’t see myself writing another book in the immediate future, however.