Monday, 29 August 2011

Sorted for E's and whizz on Planet Neptunes

Britain's famed, filmed and fantastically infamous Summer of Love strikes in 1988, centered on the legendary Hacienda Club in Manchester, or 'Madchester', as it is rechristened; a house etched in acid, baptized in the blood, sweat and cheers of a happy throng of hooj loons, and propped up by the profits from New Order's back catalogue. Hong Kong's very own sweat-drenched lovefest strikes some years later, midway through the naughty nineties. With copious quantities of Amsterdam’s finest ecstasy pouring into the place along with a steady stream of the world's best DJs, the entire island suddenly goes stark raving mad.

Despite my innocence and sheer ignorance of the scene, I quickly become intrigued. It is my duty, I decide, to chronicle this weekly descent into shamanistic trance states that seems to have seized some of the territory's best and brightest, along with its worst and dumbest. The film of Irvine Welsh’s book Trainspotting has just erupted onto Hong Kong screens, and buoyed by repeated viewings, as well as a careful reading of Ecstasy, Welsh’s seminal short story collection, I feel ready for my first rave. It is at Jimmy’s Sports Bar, a long, narrow afterthought of a place overlooking the Hong Kong Stadium behind Causeway Bay. For its standard crowd of thirsty rugger buggers, it will just about do. But stormed by a teeming league of dancing, drug-twunted nutters, it hums with an ever-present hint of panic and a sense that things could go awry at any moment. Tonight, the DJ hails from none other than the Hacienda. Graeme Park is headlining.

As I stand in line to get in, I notice people surreptitiously rummaging in pockets and wallets and ingesting what I presume to be the drug du jour. Inside, a great pulsating bass slaps me in the face, as a smoke machine burps and hisses and strobes stutter. On the narrow catwalks that skirt the bars, bottlenecks are already forming as punters swig from bottles and neck pills. I say hi to some faces I recognize, then run into Biscuit in a darkened corner, nattily attired, kangol-bonced, saucer-eyed, and with a pink plastic container hung around his neck. We have met once or twice before, in my quest to procure some of his powdered good times. He is the man in demand, the hero of the hour, the cat in the hat. He's your pusherman.

   'Hello old mate, old mucker, old son. You sorted or what?'
   'Er, not really mate. It's not like that. I'm here working. Doing a story on the rave scene.'
   'Heavy, geezer. Tell you what, you probably want one of these then, innit?'
He unscrews the tiny tupperware and hands me a small pink tablet. It doesn’t have any kind of logo pressed into it – I was expecting a Dove, or a Mitsubishi or a Barney Rubble, the pills I had been told were doing the rounds.
    'You sure this is real?’
    'Would I lie to you, mate? Three hundred, yeah? Cheers.'

Biscuit, I later learn, makes regular trips to Amsterdam to bring back hundreds of pills embedded in plaster casts. I hand over my cash as sneakily as I can, which is not very sneakily at all, and expect to feel the grip of a detective’s hand fall on my shoulder like an executioner’s axe. But nothing happens, Biscuit fades into the crowd and I decide I’d better buy a beer so I can take my pill. I hesitate for a moment, wondering if I’m about to become one of the rare ecstasy casualties you read about, overheating in a corner and going into a coma. Then I think: cover the story. So with a quick glance around, I gulp the pill and wonder if I'm really in for Welsh’s 'rocket ride to Russia’.

Ten minutes pass, fifteen, then I feel a queasy churning in my bowels. I weave across the staggered platforms of dance floor, stumble up and down darkened steps. Writhing bodies have begun to coalesce into larger organisms, as if controlled by some benign hive mind. I'm vaguely aware of dilating pupils, goofy grins, hugs, affirmations of everlasting affection and the ridiculous, ubiquitous glow sticks. Finally I burst into the men's. As I perch on the porcelain throne, my loosened guts giving way, I’m overcome by wave after wave of euphoria. It’s nothing like the sharp crystalline kick of coke. This is all warm and fuzzy and gooey. I almost keel over on the crapper, enjoying the greatest dump I've ever taken.

I wash my hands and marvel at the mystery of water, its soft liquid kiss on my skin. But some insistent force has taken over my body, impelling motion, propelling me to the dance floor. I pass a mirror and pause. A silly rictus has meandered across my mug. My pupils have waged war with my irises and won. I stare, mesmerized, thinking, damn, I’m really looking quite splendiforously spiffing. Then some idiot throwing crazed shapes careens into me, and I resume my mission. Which is … er … who cares when you feel like this? Forget the story. I'm looking for a friendly face but it's needles and haystacks because they are suddenly all friendly. The entire dance floor has been engulfed by this wild tide of good vibes and smiles, as cascading slabs of synth fall from towering stacks of speakers and gut-busting bursts of bass crash through thudding cones.

I spot a couple of friends from work, who judging by their deranged grins are as off their tits as I am. Without a word, we’re suddenly pogo-ing about in a group hug, all sparking teeth and flashing eyes. Time passes, how much is anyone's guess, and the initial rush recedes enough for me to remember I'm supposed to be working. I spend the rest of the rave quizzing clubbers about their experiences in the scene in between bouts of inane jabbering and bursting bubbles of glistening bliss. I can see what this is all about now. I blink, wipe the sweat from my face, and it's four in the morning. Bodies in varying states of undress buffet each other, little eddies and swirls form in the crowd. The DJ is dropping rapid fire depth charges which shudder through my belly.

Around five, a new current begins to sweep through the crowd. I keep hearing the same name. 'Neptunes.’ 'You lot off to Neptunes?’ 'Neptunes, innit geezer.’ Neptunes? I’m wondering about this sudden enthusiasm for a grotty basement bar in Wan Chai usually filled with off-duty maids, decrepit hookers and beer-swigging businessmen hoping to get lucky. But I go with the flow, my brain still surfing a serotonin tsunami, piling into a taxi with a bunch of smiling strangers.
    'I think Hayden is spinning tonight,’ says one of the women, heavily made up, dressed in Adidas track suit pants and a halter top, sporting clunky looking Reebok trainers.
    'Hayden?’ I enquire.
    'Yeah mate,’ says one of the blokes. 'Best fucking DJ in Hong Kong.’
    'On the planet,’ giggles the chick. 'Planet Neptunes, anyway.'

We pile out of the taxi into early morning Lockhart Road, dodging packs of drunks. We float and stagger down the stairs. I’m struck by a strange changing of the guard. Pie-eyed posses of ravers are arriving, as the thinning legion of housemaids drift off to get ready for church, leaving floundering beer-bellies clutching at thin air. Stygian scarcely begins to describe the gloom, but pockets of ultra-violet light illuminate psychedelic swirls on the walls. At the decks is an aloof and impossibly pretty fellow who is wearing an expression of rapt concentration as he prods at vinyl, stabs at buttons and gives vicious little tweaks to dials.

The music is beautiful, washing over the crowd. Hands wave in the air. It’s Sunday morning, and I wonder why the maids are leaving. This is church. The flock has gathered to worship at the altar of ecstasy, although by now people are drifting off to the toilets to do little bumps of coke to keep the buzz going. The music and the drugs seem like some great egalitarian leveler, at least for a few more precious hours, until the comedown comes calling and the piper has to be paid. For now, every man is Everyman. No one cares how much you earn or what you do for a living, hot topics of conversation in Hong Kong's more conventional nightspots.

I drift towards the back of the club, where pretty young things in various states of disarray slouch into moth-eaten sofas. I’m just taking it in, sucking on a beer, enjoying the fading final stages of the high and beginning to ponder what damage I may have inflicted upon myself when suddenly out of the shadows Biscuit materializes.
   'How was that then, eh mate? I told you the pills were sound.’ His eyes are almost popping out of his head. I do believe he’s been getting high on his own supply.
    'Yeah,' I nod. 'I can see what all the fuss is about.’
    'Word to the wise, though, eh? Don’t overdo it. Law of diminishing returns, innit.’
    'What do you mean?’
    'You'll find out.'
My eyes are drawn to the pink plastic container still dangling around his neck.
   'Got any left,’ I ask, suddenly desperate to recapture the rapture.
   'How about a cheeky half?’
    'Yeah, cool, cheers.'
He fishes another pink pill out of the container, blatantly bites it in half without even bothering about who might be watching, swallows, and hands me the remainder.
    'What do I owe you?’
    'Nothing mucker. It’s on the house. Just remember your old Uncle Biscuit next time you need some gear. Ok?’

Neptunes is now heaving. I push my way out to the dance floor and wait for the freight train to hit me again. And of course it does. But it's not quite as good this time. I'll dance like an idiot until some ridiculous hour, then venture vampire-like into the lost weekend. It will take a couple of days before my brain feels normal again and I can attempt to pen my piece (which will be published in the local rag to no little ruckus, mainly thanks to some disarmingly candid quotes from local DJ stalwart and star in the making Lee Burridge). There will be a day of fuzzy muted numbness, a faint echo of the euphoria, then a day overhung by dark clouds of depression. None of which will stop me doing it again the very next weekend. But it won't be as good next time. Or the next. And it never really is, ever again. But I'll keep on trying, at least for a couple of bent, mental years which will be the best of times and the worst of times. The next rocket to Russia is leaving. All aboard. Everyman for himself.


  1. You're making me sorry I missed raves... almost.

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