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Pill life: New photobook is celebrating the unsung beauty of MDMA

'Vintage Disco Biscuit' is sharing the music industry’s favourite ecstasy memories

  • Words: Gemma Ross | Author & artist: Rupert Scriven
  • 26 April 2022

After uncovering a stash of ecstasy in his dad’s garage, author and artist Rupert Scriven had a light bulb moment. What better way to celebrate, commemorate, and parody a collection of 25-year-old pills than by turning them into an artbook alongside witty stories and a snapshot into the lives of those who remember the very early days of the 'E's?

Following four years of labour and love, Scriven’s newly released artbook delves into British club and drug culture of the '80s through to the noughties. With tales from famed producer Mr. C to The Happy Mondays’ Bez and everyone in between, Vintage Disco Biscuit: The Art Of Ecstasy both educates and pokes fun at the glory days of acid house. 367 pages span the birth of house music, free parties, Ibiza, and dancefloor epiphanies accompanied by photography of those long-lost pills in macro-detail and artwork inviting the reader into a world that now lives in the rose-tinted memory of many.

Read this next: We spoke to an ecstasy dealer from the acid house era

“I wanted to share life and clubbing stories from a diverse selection of people. I’ve attempted to make the book a piece of art in its own right, by creating the theme of an ‘after party’ experience that binds all the artwork and stories together in an environment where the sharing of experiences always occurs,” Scriven says on the artbook. “I wanted to look outside of the box, to include contributions from unsung heroes, clubbers and personas.”

“The book has a serious purpose too in contributing a percentage of Vintage Disco Biscuit sales to the selfless work of The Loop, an essential national drug testing and awareness charity that is close to my heart after volunteering as a ‘pilltographer’. The Loop’s sole purpose is to create a safer environment for the youth of today in city centres, clubs and festivals across the UK,” he adds. While this coffee table book serves a purpose of entertainment it also hopes to educate and spread awareness by donating 10% of all profits to The Loop.

Find out more about Scriven's artbook here, and laugh along to some stories from Vintage Disco Biscuit: The Art Of Ecstasy below.

Bez (The Happy Mondays):

Since I was at school I’ve always been known as Bez, an abbreviation of Berry. You don’t pick your own nickname, you get given it, don’t you. I grew up in Salford. In Salford, you had to be twice as hard as everyone else to get by and with my old fella being a copper that added a sense of our rebellion in my life. I did my first burglary when I was seven, I was with this other copper’s son and we got into this school, into the nun’s office and found all the 50ps — and we started chalking outside the houses with all the chalk we had stolen as well. Yeah, it was just like that growing up in Salford. I never really knew what I wanted to be when I was a boy. Meeting Shaun changed all that. We both grew up in the same area and schools and all that. I had just got back from being abroad and everyone’s like that, ‘fucking hell Bez, you’ve got to meet Shaun!’ And everyone’s saying to Shaun, ‘fuck, you’ve got to meet Bez!’. So, when we did actually meet, we was a bit standoffish for everyone, but everyone was right. We became as thick as thieves getting up to mischief together.

Read this next: Happy Mondays' Bez on getting COVID: "I seriously thought I was going to die"

The title of our first album ‘Pills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches’, you can take it any way you want really. I think the bellyaches were referring to when you’re coming down off ecstasy. Shaun is a modern-day poet, he would get a lot of one-liners on TV watching shows and he’d hear one good line, write it down and fucking throw it in there. His inspiration for his one-liners has been through observation from everywhere, but that’s what all writers do, init? We’re thieving cunts. The album was produced by Paul Oakenfold. It was at this moment that Paul introduced Rowetta’s vocals, changing the dynamic of The Happy Mondays for the better. It all came about as we’ve known Oakey for years, from the early days when I was bringing E’s back Ibiza at the start of the ecstasy explosion back in 1985. It’s hard to say what role ecstasy had in shaping our band as we were The Happy Mondays before the ecstasy. What it did do was make everyone realise that what I was doing was right. I am responsible though for giving nearly everyone I know their first E, I’ll take credit for that. Everyone in Manchester!

I used to dream about this drug, and when I actually found the one I was dreaming about I was like, ‘fucking hell, this is the one!’. I couldn’t believe it. We was romanticising the ‘60s when we had our own thing on par, the fucking acid culture and all that.

Adamski:

This one particular story was a bit of a head fuck: It was the second Energy Rave which must have been mid-summer ’89. I have no idea where it was because I used to just get in my manager’s car and arrive somewhere in loads of traffic jams and hyper party people. I could have been in the car for two hours or twenty minutes, I have no idea, but it was in what was reportedly an aircraft hangar, it was a massive building. I remember there were a couple of trucks and I was told it was Motorhead’s soundsystem.

That’s not part of the story, but I just love that I could make a track in my bedsit above the kebab shop on a Saturday afternoon and then play it through Motorhead’s soundsytem that night. I mean, not so impressive now because you can do anything, anybody can make a track and post it around the globe in minutes. Anyway, I’ve got this really good friend Richard Lynch who’s been my friend since the ‘80s when we lived in Camden. This was before acid house when we used to drink around Camden together at The Devonshire Arms, The Good Mixer, Camden Rock & Roll pubs, and then we both got into the whole acid house scene in ’88. At the time we looked very similar: A similar height, we both had really short cropped bleached hair, blue eyes, to the point we used to get mistaken for each other quite often with Richard even getting asked for my autograph, and sometimes he gave it for a laugh. At the Energy Rave they had these portaloos at the side of the aircraft hangar and so we both went into these adjoining portaloos. There was a ventilation grid of the side of each one, and simultaneously, I looked to my right as Richard looked to his left, obviously both high on ecstasy at the time.

Read this next: The keyboard wizards of acid house

We both thought we were looking in a mirror, proceeding to move our heads from side to side, checking for zits and size of pupil dilation in unison. It seemed like 10 minutes before we realised that is wasn’t actually a mirror and we were looking at each other. It was probably only a nano second, but in the time warp of the rave mindset it seemed like a lot longer.

Russell Small (Phats & Small):

My E-xperiences started in ‘98. My first 'love dove', always the most memorable and now 51-years-young, still the best. I don’t think I’ve ever made so many connections in one night, a lot still going today. I don’t think I’ve ever told so many people that I loved them and I don’t think I would be doing what I do today if it wasn’t for this life-changing moment in my life. This was the moment when I decided: I fucking love house music!

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Dave Beer (Back To Basics):

I can remember going to Jackie 60 once in New York which is a notoriously gay fetish club and they played amazing music. I went to the door and there was a guy fully dressed in rubber and a big masquerade mask with a massive penis for a nose, a bit like A Clockwork Orange. The first club I’ve ever been to that I haven’t had to blag it in. I went in, paid at the door, and there was a guy gaffer-taped to the wall, the only thing sticking out was his genitals which everyone was happy slapping as they walked past. I slapped his genitals a bit too hard and the guy nearly fell off the wall.

Trevor Fung:

So, I got the chance to rent this bar, The Project Bar. I ran it for the whole summer of 1987. At first, I did it with my cousin Ian Paul but he got more involved in the partying side of things and left after a few months. It was the first time we’d done ecstasy. This German guy used to come in every night and sell 50 E’s, he used to bag them up in little orange and white capsules and they would fly out every night.

Read this next: Ecstasy island: How MDMA reached the UK in 1988

The first time I had one was right at the beginning of the summer of ‘87. I thought I’d do half and I was violently sick all up the wall, and I remember that very clearly. I was going to Es Paradís. I was like: "what the fuck is this?," then I got really into them and we used to have them almost every night after work - 3-4 o’clock in the morning as we started to go and have fun as things went on 'till 12 the next day anyway. We used to go to places like Amnesia, Manhattan’s and Glory’s. The big club of 1987 was Amnesia.

Our little place, The Project, was as big as a living room with a bar against it, there was another club downstairs. We used to have about 20 inside and 100 outside. It was full with 20 people in it, so everybody was outside with the soundsystem and speakers pushed out towards the street - it was very busy. The whole of Westend used to be packed and was playing dance, pop and indie music, and at the same time, I was selling records to the DJs and record shops. I was the main man with the music in Ibiza, you have to find your own little niche, don’t you? I had a good little business going, selling t-shirts and vinyl and working at the bar, I used to love it! That was the summer that created everything. I asked Paul to come out to see me in May, he was going out with my cousin at the time who had just dumped him, so he didn’t really enjoy it and was only there for about two nights. So, I got him back again. This time he came over with others and they were like kids in a candy shop, honestly. Paul was sat there going, 'what the fuck is going on here…wow!' They were just totally transfixed. You have to remember we’d been doing it all summer. The rest is history.

Paul Roberts & Russ Morgan (K-Klass):

It’s the summer of 2002 and we've been booked to play the after party for Run to the Sun, an annual VW camper van rally held at a campsite near Newquay in Cornwall. It’s an event that always attracts a great crowd of party people and is always a good one to play. This one was no exception. We finished our set around 1:AM and looked for an after-after party. Always at the back of our minds was the thought that we had to get to Winchester for an afternoon set at Homelands Festival the following day. After a few questions, the party venue was secured - a caravan on the campsite where we joined some of the resident DJs and a journalist from a well-known VW magazine who was also a massive house music enthusiast. A small soundsystem in the van ensured a good vibe for the party. As the hours passed, we reminisced about house music, old and new. Drink and chemicals were in plentiful supply. Then that horrible realisation that we actually had stuff to do and places to be not that much later in the new day.

Read this next: We went undercover in a Chinese MDMA factory

Time to call time on proceedings! Right, let’s call a taxi to the hotel and try and grab a couple of hours of broken sleep before we head on to the next gig. Thinking things would be just like a city centre, we were more than surprised to be told that there was only one taxi working at that time on a Saturday morning and it would be 3 hours before it could get to us, cancelling out any chance of sleep before we had to head out. As we sat scratching our somewhat dazed heads, one of the party-goers said: "don’t worry I’ve got a plan!" and disappeared off into the misty morning light. The music and chat resumed and we forgot that he’d gone to find a solution. That was until the sound of a large diesel engine outside the caravan. Our saviour had returned with a JCB! He excitedly informed us, "these things are easy to hotwire! Do you want a lift or not?" No time to lose, we place a record box on either side of the single driver’s seat and climb aboard. Before we know it, we're navigating single-track country lanes back towards Newquay town centre. We were getting some very funny looks from the few people we passed on the way. The plan was working like a dream until about 3 miles into the six-mile journey where a police car pulls out from a side street and starts following us turn for turn. Hmm, this isn’t going to end well, completely smashed, and sat on record boxes on the back of a stolen JCB at 8:AM on a Saturday morning! Thankfully, to our surprise and massive relief, the police car turned off from us two streets short of our hotel. We thank our driver and stumble to our rooms laughing uncontrollably at what had just taken place.

Sleep, we got none. The next day was equally as messy. Well, what we can remember of it anyway!

The Vintage Disco Biscuit artbook is available to buy now. Grab your copy of The Art OF Ecstasy here, and find out more about it.

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