On Friday I went to a drum and bass night.
The most popular reaction I have when I tell people I appreciate this genre is that I “don’t look like someone who likes d ‘n’b”. By this people mean that I’m not a hoodie-wearing law-breaking drug taker.
Unfortunately these events are dominated by illicit substance fans. It seems people are either addicted, feel peer-pressured, or claim that ecstasy helps them to appreciate the music, that sound turns into colour.
I have always appreciated the genre and have never needed anything extra to enjoy it. I sometimes went out with people who dosed-up beforehand. Most of them respected my choice not to mess with my internal wiring. One asked me why. I told him that I want to avoid the damage it causes, and he still did it. Takers will boast about its effects, but they rarely talk about how they were up for two days or how they bit their tongue so badly it needed stitches. Like smokers, they seem to ignore its ill effects.
Then there’s alcohol, another misused substance, and a massive problem with my generation. When I was younger it was cool to drink in excess and then tell proud stories about what you or others did under the influence. You had a badge of respect if you’d manage to blag a beverage underage. At university there would be drinking competitions. In my halls the annual challenge involved running to the four corners of the main square and drinking as much as you could as fast as you could of different beers. Losers would start gagging and run off. The winner got their name on a silver plaque. People did “Centurions” where a group would drink all day aiming for 100 units. A member of my family tried it and “lost” – luckily he threw up.
I’ve heard of a heavy drinkers who got cirrhosis – liver damage in their 20s. The government thinks they can help by raising taxes on it and imposing limits, but it’s the culture that needs to be addressed. With 10.5 million of us drinking to excess, alcohol misuse costs the NHS billions every year. It has been suggested that teenagers should be introduced to alcohol early on in small amounts, so that it’s not seen as something forbidden and therefore exciting. This was an attitude I encountered among drug users. I think if it was legal like it is in the Netherlands perhaps it would not be so popular or exciting, and could be better regulated. It was good that drug testing kits were available, just as needle exchanges are.
I wonder why Brits feel that we need alcohol and drugs to release ourselves and have a good night out. I was enjoying the beats on nothing but Red Bull. Everything in moderation though – I had 7 in a row once and ended up twitching as if I’d been electrocuted, and was wide awake until the sun came up. I never did it again, just as someone who knocked himself unconscious on a weed never did. Hopefully if we do overdose on a substance we know not to go back there. But sadly in a BBC series, Junior Doctors an A and E doctor told how regular users sometimes returned.
I like the drama and atmosphere of drum and bass, its melodies interlaced with a beat I enjoy dancing to – it’s all about jumping to the snare! Its liveliness, energy and frivolity appeals to me. I like most aspects of a beats night. Most ravers are friendly and non-judgemental. You can dance however you like and plenty of people do.
It’s like no other music night and that is what keeps me coming back, other than the talent of the DJs. If you have ever tried beat-matching at that speed you may understand (beat-matching is where you get two records running at different speeds playing at the same time, one record in each ear). You have to be careful of flying elbows and people standing on your feet, and if someone’s had too much it’s best to stay away as they have very little control of their body. I’m also different from most ravers in that I always wear ear plugs, and wax ones. That way I hear the bass clearer and don’t get tinnitus, which a friend got after one too many club nights.
From a non-substance perspective, the dance floor was heaving with enthusiastic, bug eyed, love-sharing, sweaty swaying ravers. They probably didn’t know who was playing and perhaps they wouldn’t care.
I have been to raves since 2005 and this was the first time I had seen it. There I was bouncing away to Shy FX when there was a commotion next to me. A guy was on the floor. At first I thought he’d fallen over, until I saw the convulsions. He was white and his eyes were shut. I was looking for a bouncer when one came charging over. They put him in the recovery position. He was then carried off unconscious. A pill-head asked me what had happened. When I told him he yelled “there’s always some that take it too far”. I shouted “I don’t understand it, I don’t need drugs to have a good time”, and he looked at me like I was from another planet. To think that I could just go to enjoy the music seemed like an alien concept to him.
Again it’s the culture. Drugs seem on a level footing with alcohol now. They’re taken socially to enjoy the night.
Where is the line between social drug-taking and addiction? It’s similar to “social smoking” perhaps. But a smoker can laugh about the tar collecting in his/her lungs and say that life is short and that everything kills you in the end. An ecstasy user has made changes to their brain. Why do both feel so good? Because they’re altering chemical levels in the brain. Smokers become dependent on nicotine, the relaxant and ecstasy users to serotonin, a “happy” chemical. I’ve seen both smokers and ecstasy users being jumpy and twitchy in anticipation of their next fix. Ecstasy depletes serotonin meaning that users can suffer depression. Regular users are more likely to get it for longer.
The question is, what can we do to treat substance misuse problems in the UK? We were all taught about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, but education is clearly not enough to impact on a culture which seems here to stay, and more prevalent than ever. A Leeds taxi driver told me he had seen a sharp increase in cocaine users in the past 5 years and that they were from all walks of life, from CEOs to students. He was shocked that people were taking this substance which electrocutes the brain as if it was normal. Cocaine is one of the most addictive drugs out causes permanent damage. It also alters personality. I once dated a guy who earned more money than he knew what to do with. His brother took coke so he thought he’d try it.
Before long he was going out to parties doing it every weekend, and became depressed and tired. When I asked him why he did it, and told him how damaging it was he said “yes but have you tried it”. I told him that as you can get addicted from two goes I wasn’t going to chance it. I prefer to live in reality.
I once saw a video on YouTube by a Buddhist monk where he said that the Westerners’ love of drink and drugs was because we were scratching an itch. They were temporary pleasures, in doing it people scratched the itch but it didn’t cure it, it just made it worse. He suggested that people need to look at why they need to take drugs/drink in the first place, what were they trying to escape from?
Trying to escape from a feeling or a thought means that it’s still there in our mind. The saying goes “turn the dogs of fear on fear itself”. When I worked in law a client took heroin partly to escape memories of her traumatic childhood. This caused her to lose her children and sucked her into an addiction spiral. Have the courage to solve your problems or move on, don’t try and deal with them by distraction.
But my point is this. Is a night of pleasure really worth the risk and damage, permanent or impermanent, to the body and mind?