Nick Gilmartin's Weblog

And he used to be such a nice, quiet boy

We Called it Acid House

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The famous Smiley logo

The famous Smiley logo

Acid, ecstasy, rave, underground, tripping, shoom, rampling, larging it, acid teds, Mitsubishis, LSD, giving it some, weekender, tribal, sorted, lovely.

None of the above were words in common usage in Britain in 1987.  If you heard the word rave it was most likely spoken by your parents to describe their halcyonic youthful antics.

But by the end of 1988 all that had changed.  The Second Summer of Love had come and gone, it had loved us and threw us out in the morning, dazed and confused.  But what the hell was it and where did it come from?

Britain in 1987 was a fairly grisly place.  Jobs were scarce, Youth training schemes were rudimentary and hope was at an all time low.  Margaret Thatcher was still in power, supported by her closest and most ruthless advisors.  The IRA bombing campaign reached an all time high with the Eniskillen remembrance day bomb.  My home county of Yorkshire was struggling to find work for thousands of unemployed ex-miners.

London too, was having a rough time of it, with millions being wiped off the price of shares in the financial crash of the autumn.  The days of long liquid lunches, designer suits and expense accounts abruptly stopped.  In the same weeks the biggest hurricane to sweep Britain hits London and kills 23 people.

The Heysel Stadium disaster was a high-watermark

The Heysel Stadium disaster was a high-watermark

Britain’s youth had little to look forward to.  We had a Government we hated and a police force that did little to earn respect.  We were best known for one curious mid-eighties activity, football violence.  English fans were notorious for being the worst behaved in Europe.  Nasty, violent, lairy, booze-fuelled and intimidating.  The tragedy of the Heysel stadium was a case in point.  Liverpool fans clashed with Juventus supporters and a wall collapsed, crushing 39 lives, and injuring 600.

The cover of the track 1987

The cover of the track 1987

A pair of music producers release a song called 1987:  What the fuck is going on?  It captured the mood of the year perfectly.

So that was Britain, skint, stressed and ready to blow off a shed load of steam.

Meanwhile in a loft in downtown Chacago…

A small group of music enthusiasts, synthesisers and a disc jockey were working away getting their new sound accepted in the underground parties that they frequently held.  Their group was called Phuture, and the boys in question were DJ Pierre, ‘Spanky’ Smith and Herb J.  They were the first to use the TB-303 synthesiser in house music.  They recorded it on to a tape (remember those?) and got a local DJ, Hardy to play it at his club, Music Box.

At first the music was not popular and DJ Hardy played it four times in one night until the crowd began to like it.  Acid House was born, but it was far from popular.  Regular raids by police on underground clubs occurred and the genre looked elsewhere for a fan base.  A small, grey island off the coast of western Europe looked in need of a little cheering up.

Amnesia was Danny Rampling's road to Damascus

Amnesia was Danny Rampling's road to Damascus

Meanwhile Danny Rampling was just back off holiday.  He had been to Ibiza with his DJ mates for a week and had sampled the music and drugs out there.  He had had quite a time of it, sampling the new acid house music   That same evening he had tried his first pill of MDMA, soon to be better known as Ecstasy, or the ‘love drug’.

When he came home he began importing and playing as much Acid House music as he could get his hands on. This was no mean feat in the days before MP3 downloads and the internet.  He introduced a very strict door policy, hazy smoke and a somewhat dreamier, less threatening vibe.

Another DJ who was on holiday with Danny was Nicky Holloway, who opened his new club, called Trip.  This was a purpose built venue that played exclusively acid-house.  Ecstasy was soon sold by the handful and it complimented the music and atmosphere like strawberries and cream.

Ecstasy Pills came with many prints which gave them their names

Ecstasy Pills came with many prints which gave them their names

So a quick chemistry lesson:  MDMA is an amphetamine, psycho-active drug.  It is highly unusual in that it breaks down inhibitions, and promotes a sense of intimacy and well being.  It diminishes fear and anxiety and it became a huge part of people’s lives.  Believe it or not it was developed in 1912 by a chemist called Anton Kollisch while he was trying to prevent abdominal bleeding.  He patented it that Christmas eve.  It first appeared on the streets in the mid 1970s and became popular in Dallas gay clubs by the early eighties.  As homophobia levels fell gays and straights slowly started to mix and swapped drugs.  Ecstasy found itself a whole new market on the rave scene.

So the whole of London was soon back in the swing.  The first psychedelic revolution took place since the late 1960s.  Furthermore it was hard for parents to condone the very actions they themselves had carried out twenty years earlier.
One of the more positive affects of ecstasy was that it stopped football hooliganism in it’s tracks.  A Leeds fan walked into a club in Manchester where he normally would have been fighting in minutes.  Instead a sweaty, bug-eyed lad offered him an ‘E’, and before he knew it the Yorkshire lad was dancing like a loon, arms in the air, blowing a whistle.  Such was the unifying power of ecstasy.


If London was the place where the drug culture learned to walk, it was in Manchester where it learned to run and jump.  Home to new Indie and electro bands such as Inspiral Carpets and the Happy Mondays, Manchester turn overnight into ‘Madchester’, and it was the place to be seen.


Exactly why Manchester underwent this metamorphosis comes down to a number of factors.  It had a larger than average population of under 30s.  It had a high unemployment rate which meant the under 30s had a lot of time on their hands.  And finally, in the post-industrial age, it had a lot of empty buildings that were used for raves.

Rave is a throwback word to the mid sixties, and it’s basic definition hardly changed down the years.  Basically it was a large music party, sometimes spontaneous, playing a certain genre of music.  These would often take place in fields or abandoned warehouses or factories.  There were a lot of those in Northern England in the 80s, thank you Maggie.

Acid House party

Raves scared the living shit out of the Government, much as they had done 20 years earlier.  Vast numbers of youths high on drugs out of controllable areas, often roaming the countryside looking for a field full of gurning idiots.  You would think the Government would breathe a sigh of relief that the football violence had subsided, but no.

Ravers were a different type of criminal.  While they may be breaking a few bylaws and misnomers they never felt they were doing anything premeditated or malicious.  Nor were Ravers in any way political, like their counterparts of the late sixties.  They had no war to protest or any civil rights bill to challenge.  They just wanted to have a good time, that wasn’t so bad was it?

Rave news

Perhaps not, but it wasn’t long before organised crime started moving in on a huge money-maker.  Men serving terms for armed robbery netted a few thousand.  They found their new cell-mates were young lads who netted hundreds of thousands in door money and small drug deals.  Contacts were made in Holland and ever larger shipments of ecstasy were shipped over.

The young raver lads had no real answer to the bull-necked burly men who offered to provide ‘security’ (read: protection money) for a large slice of the takings.  And as ever with big boys, even bigger boys moved in on them.  Soon turf wars were breaking out all over the country.

Tony Tucker, Craig Rolfe and Pat Tate

Tony Tucker, Craig Rolfe and Pat Tate

These wars ultimately cumulated in the deaths of Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolf in the back of a Land Rover in deepest Essex.  Who ever killed these gang members clearly realised how lucrative the drug business had become and sought to move in.

There has even been suggestions that the three were killed by Irish Republicans, possibly in some kind of deal gone wrong.  No arrests were ever made and it was all very strange.

The ecstasy tablets were often of dubious quality.  In the early days they had been ‘pure’, but the new class of dealer mixed them with all kinds of substances to make more profit.

LEah Betts had jsut turned 18

LEah Betts had jsut turned 18

One of the most famous cases was that of Leah Betts.  Leah had just turned 18 and she lived with her father, a police officer, and step-mother, a nurse.  It was not, as was first reported, the first time she had tried the drug, but tragically it was her last.  The exact circumstances surrounding her death have been somewhat ambiguous.  After she took the drug she felt very hot and unwell and began to drink water.  At this time it was common practice to re-hydrate when taking ecstasy, but no clear guidelines were given as to how much to drink.

It was reported in the press that Leah had drank 7 litres of water in 90 minutes, causing a drop in sodium levels, diluting her blood and a swelling of the brain.  One of the side affects of ecstasy is that it can prevent urination, so her body had no way of releasing all this excess fluid.  Her official cause of death was water intoxication, but it was widely known that recreational drugs had played a parallel part in her demise.

Leah Betts coma pic

A huge media storm erupted.  A poster campaign sprung up around town centres and night clubs all over Britain.

‘Bad E’s’ are surprisingly rare, but always lethal.  It was many years later that a ‘bad E’ claimed the life of the brother of my next door neighbour.  The lad was barely in his twenties.

Fatalities aside the Summer of Love proceeded apace.  New bands made their name, the Inspiral Carpets, the Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses, 808 State, D-Mob and the KLF to name just a few.  New youth TV programmes like ‘The Word’ took over late night telly depicting a new attitude of hedonism and adventure.

The role of the DJ in music underwent something of a metamorphosis.  Once a humble turn-table operator, the DJ became something of a high priest who could manipulate the mood of the crowd just by playing the right song.  They could suddenly command four-figure fees for a single night and realistically expect to get it.  They became club and business owners in their own right, with a celebrity lifestyle.

The DJ became the high priest of a new religion

The DJ became the high priest of a new religion

DJs like Paul Oakenfold, Judge Jules, Fatboy Slim and Danny Rampling became household names.

The bands found themselves strapped into a rollercoaster on a creaky track.  The media followed every party, every fight, every split up an every reunion.

By now Manchester was firmly on the map as ‘Madchester’, a melting pot of hedonism, music, media, drugs and creativity

As in Liverpool in the early sixties, all the ingredients were there. The music, the talent, the fans with just enough money and more than enough enthusiasm.  And they had their own special place of worship.


It was known as the Hacienda.

Now is a good time to introduce the cast of characters of Factory records.  Led by a TV presenter, Tony Wilson, this wild bunch founded a label with a unique constitution.  Written in Wilson’s own blood, the Factory constitution stated that all artists owned the rights to their own music.  Factory owned nothing of theirs and they could walk away at any time.  Few did.

Factory records bought the Hacienda in the early eighties when it was a Bollywood cinema.  Their idea was to use it as a venue for a new musical scene.  Eventually it would, but they were eight years ahead of their time and they had a lot of trouble keeping the doors open in the meantime.

In 1986 the struggling club started to play house music every Friday.  Two DJs played, Mike Pickering and Little Martin.  Within a few weeks every Friday night was packed to capacity.

When the Acid House scene arrived in the Hacienda it was like throwing a lit match into a hayloft.  The whole place just lit up and it would stay that way for many years.  As I stated, Acid House music and Ecstasy complimented each other like Carlsberg and Curry.

Theoretically the Hacienda should have been raking the money in, but it wasn’t.  The Hacienda, in common with every club, sold alcohol, but not drugs.  Nobody drank anything except bottled water.  The door money just about paid for the DJ and security.  This left a huge minus figure that was only kept at bay by one thing.  The band New Order were part owners in the club, in lieu of payment.  The royalties from their music were the one thing financing the club.

No wonder everybody needed the drugs!

Dummies prevented the spontanious jaw movements

Dummies prevented the spontanious jaw movements

The Madchester scene played host to some rather weird and wonderful characters called the Acid Teds.  These were the poor, provincial cousins of the original clubbers Danny Rampling had seen in Ibiza.  Their style of dress was, shall we say, somewhat interesting.

They loved wearing:  Hi-visibility vests, shorts and vests (it was hot), dummys (to stop the chattering jaw common amongst ecstasy affectionados), day glow face paint, white gloves, whistles, odd coloured kicker boots, and most often, smiley face t-shirts.

Yes, they actually wore this

Yes, they actually wore this

This last item was a badge of pride among the clubbers of the day.   It was a very simple yellow circle with a painted on smile.  Sometimes with a blood streak down the eye.  Even the papers gave them away for a short while.

The Acid Teds could be the parallel to the Flower power people of the later sixties.  Some kind of quasi-hippy gone wrong somewhere.

But Acid House, in common with everything else, lost momentum, sub-divided, and eventually made it’s peace with the establishment in many ways.

The early ravers calmed down and got proper grown up lives, and proper grown up drugs.  As one may go from drinking weak lager to real ale, another would go from ecstasy to cocaine and cannabis.  These two are the drugs of the current generation.

Other ravers just lost it, sold their possessions and ran naked down the street.


The huge sums of money earned on the door of raves went on to bankroll a generation of superclubs.  The Ministry of Sound, Cream, Gatecrasher, Space and Amnesia to name just a few.

The small acid parties gave way to established superclubs

The small acid parties gave way to established superclubs

The DJs are millionaires with kids in private education, houses in LA and their own record labels.

Acid House music gave way to Urban, Acid Jazz, Garage, Drum n’Bass and Hardcore.

Cool Brittainia

Britain became ‘Cool Britainnia’ with a Prime Minister like a groovy young teacher.  The artists of yesteryear joined him for drinks at number ten.

The rest of us who survived just have our memories and a few stories to bore our kids to death with.

Until, that is, the day they decide to go clubbing and we find ourselves pacing the floor at 03.30 waiting for them to come home.

Further reading:

Class of 88

Class of ’88  Wayne Anthony

Altered state
Altered State  Matthew Collin and John Godfrey

Clubbed to death

Clubbed to Death  Dave Courtney


24 Hour Party People

24 Hour Party People

Human Traffic

Human Traffic

Copyright 2009 Nick Gilmartin


Written by Nick Gilmartin

July 9, 2009 at 8:25 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Hey Nick, great post you’ve written! Just finished reading Peter Hook’s Hacienda “How not to run a club” book. Sounded like pretty wild times.

    I’m sure someone has pointed this out, and I’m probably wrong about it, but weren’t New Order part owners in the Hacienda and bank rolled it from their royalties, not Depeche Mode? I don’t think Depeche Mode were ever on Factory records.

    Anyway, small thing. Awesome work mate!


    Damien Radford

    December 30, 2009 at 12:30 pm

  2. Hello! Great concept, but could this truly work?


    February 28, 2010 at 8:24 am

  3. Hi nick, just need to point out that it was New Order that part owned the Hacienda and was in reality funding the place with royalties. Just a minor thing that needed pointing out though !!!


    March 17, 2010 at 5:34 pm

  4. cool post, i started raving in 91′, this is some great background.



    April 2, 2011 at 7:00 pm

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