And about time too! I’d been waiting ages for someone to write an account of the free party scene in the UK. This is fiction but it paints a very vivid picture. ‘Spannered’ covers just one night at a Bristol warehouse party, but it’s a long and eventful one. It’s as if all the narrator’s free party experiences have been compiled into one marathon night. Personally speaking, I can remember tiny little fragments of lots of parties very well, but certainly not enough about any one particular party to fill even one chapter of a book, let alone a whole book.
Every chapter is named after a tune. I would suggest making a CD available with the book, however, this is a small publisher so cost is a factor. Besides, these days it couldn’t be easier to just cue up a load of Youtube videos and then play them as you read the book. I haven’t done this myself, but perhaps I should. [ As if by magic… The author just tipped us off about this youtube playlist: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDD677C9031644439 ]
The descriptions of music and drugs and people (and of the interaction between them) are brilliantly written. The acid house and rave scenes were an accidental synergy between a certain drug, a certain music, and certain people, and this is something the book portrays incredibly well.
There are perhaps too many characters for the reader to get a deep insight into anyone’s personality apart from the narrator. However this doesn’t matter, as the descriptions of the moments when the narrator is surrounded by people he knows and loves are very evocative and remind me of times when we put on free parties in a local barn, and, when I turned to look at the usually anonymous sea of faces I was accustomed to seeing at raves, I realized that I knew almost every person in my eyeline. Pretty much everyone else did too, and everyone was smiling at each other.
The book is mainly about the mid-nineties Bristol warehouse free party scene, but also refers to other events, including the legendary Castlemorton, which the narrator reminisces about. The drug-taking in the book is relentless but also realistic. Towards the end we realize that our hero has perhaps overdone it a bit. This is an honest portrayal of overenthusiastic youthful recreational drug-taking. There is no tabloid shock horror overdramatic overdose episode in this story, but we do realize near the end that the narrator could have stopped caning it several pages ago and still have had a whale of a time! I think a lot of us have been in the same situation. In the early ninetie, one pill was enough. Within a couple of years other substances began to be mixed in. I actually tried totting up the narrator’s drug consumption and it totalled two pills, half an MDMA wrap, one and a half trips, and a mug of mushroom tea. The ensuing paranoia, confusion, desperate need for the toilet, and losing/confusing what’s in his pockets is painfully true, frightening at times, and hysterically funny at others.
Annoying Ketamine users were already an unavoidable feature of free parties at the beginning of the nineties, and their portrayal in this book really made me chuckle. They drive their car onto the dancefloor in the morning and start honking their horn out of time to the music. It’s customary to blame the ‘darkening’ of the free party scene (especially the London squat party scene) on K-heads, but, even though he acknowledges what a pain in the arse they can be, the author doesn’t make this mistake.
This reviewer’s mother (who wasn’t involved in the rave or acid house scenes but was around for the first Summer of Love in the 1960s) found herself having to skip several sections as they made her feel ‘dizzy’! I lent the book to her after I’d read it just because I was interested to know what an outsider would make of it. As my next experiment I’d like to administer a large dose of Spannered to someone who has no experience whatsoever of altered states and see what happens to them. I’ve a feeling that they probably wouldn’t respond to it in the same way as a hippy or a raver would.
The book includes illustrations by various different artists and features a few photos too. These enhance the book and also give a platform to a handful of talented young artists. There is an experimental approach to typography in some sections, with fonts growing and shrinking and bouncing all over the shop. This also helps to build a suitably unhinged vibe at certain points in the story.
This is an intense and accurate portrayal of the free party scene in the UK in the mid-90’s and contains some of the best depictions of raves that I’ve ever read. I hope we’re going to hear more from Bert Random in the future.