Sheryl Garratt, author of Adventures in Wonderland, tells Andrew Calcutt how club culture has changed the world
'I was trying to weave it into a story where you'd want to read the next chapter.' Former Face editor Sheryl Garratt has taken 150 interviews, months of painstaking research and more than a decade of her own personal experience, and mixed them down into a HiNRG account of raves, clubs and cultural shifts. Zooming from New York to London via Ibiza and a flashback to Northern Soul, Adventures in Wonderland is a ripping yarn about people having the time of their lives, and changing our times while they did it.
'Club culture is as important as punk but much bigger', says Garratt. She believes that the past decade of British club culture represents 'a seismic shift in attitudes which advertising is still chasing', and suggests that it played a key role in 'democratising pleasure' through new 'technologies of pleasure such as Ecstasy'. Recalling 'how quickly it spread to small country villages', Garratt reckons that 'this really was every kid on the street'.
Garratt is equally effusive about the 'communal experience' afforded by clubs and raves 'at a time when people were told there is no society. Clubs are all about belonging - it's going somewhere and saying "these are people like me"'. Garratt's kind of clubs are 'closed worlds' offering a communal experience for those who have been shut out of the wider world. Noting that 'the best clubs cater for people on the margins', like the blacks and Puerto Rican gays who were the original constituency for house music, she concludes that clubs 'are about alienation and community, about excluded people coming together'.
Garratt concedes, however, that the togetherness of club culture may be 'an illusion in some ways'. The friendships of her clubbing years have often not withstood her transition to motherhood ('my soulmates never came round to see the baby'). But she maintains that 'it was quite reassuring while it lasted', and compares favourably to the fractured sisterhood of the early eighties. During her days as a dj at a women-only club night at Brixton's Fridge, there would be complaints about the sexism, racism and disablism of every other record. Whereas in those days she was 'badgered by older women who'd been to consciousness-raising groups', the rave years of '88 and '89 were 'incredibly liberating for girls'.
Now 37, Garratt still buys 'enormous numbers of records and I still go clubbing, only not so often'. She is not ashamed to be part of 'the generation that won't admit we're middle aged', while recognising that 'it makes it harder for youth culture to have anything of its own, which must be bloody annoying if you're 19'. But Garratt has no doubt that youth will out. The last chapter of Adventures in Wonderland is imbued 'with the sense of an era coming to a close...the Es are so bad that without any help from the law the cycle is burning itself out'. But for Garratt 'that means a new one is about to start'. There is always something to rebel against, and there are always new kids coming up, so that youth culture 'is constantly renewed from the bottom. It's fluid and dynamic and can't be controlled from the top'. Noting that 'heaven can be the backroom of a pub' and that 'your dream club will probably be sanitised' in the time it takes to finance it, Garratt keeps faith with the underground and its capacity to break the prevailing consensus.
Adventures in Wonderland is published by Headline, £9.99
...but counterculture veteran Jeff Nuttall reckons all that sex, drugs and rock'n'roll has degraded art and life'
A revolution that was turned on its arse, a vocabulary that was stolen and used against it.' This summation of the counterculture comes from a man who was there at the start. Born in 1933, Jeff Nuttall has been a poet, cartoonist, painter, performance artist, art lecturer and character actor. In 1968 he wrote Bomb Culture, which exposed the cynicism that complemented the naivety of the flower children and their predecessors. Three decades later he has just finished thefollow-up, to be published early in 1999 either as The Destruction of Art or (Nuttall's preferred title) The Degradation of Awareness. Whatever the name, the message is the same: the countercultural triptych of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll has brought us to a new and degraded existence.
'We believed that violence was due to sexual repression', Nuttall explains. Hence the proverb 'fuck a bloke and stop a fight'. But it all went 'badly wrong'. Where 'people previously embraced politics, now [from the sixties] they merely embraced and went off into their corner'. Sex became mere masturbation assisted by others, 'preferably a stranger'. Counterculturists, Nuttall recalls, 'compared orgasms like possessions' and craved bigger and better ones, 'borrowing a psychological pattern from narcotics addiction'.
'My pleasure is mine, my stash is mine.' For Nuttall, the drug experience was soon as solipsistic as the new sexuality. He thinks it is relevant that 'drugs are receptive of and productive of information that is not true' and he is wary of the falsehoods which they catalyse. He dismisses marijuana as 'a great postponer which silences all alarms and renders people incapable of punctuality'. He thinks cocaine is 'murderous', and that 'incontinence' was the only contribution made by the recreational use of barbiturates. As for LSD, Nuttall notes that despite the separate character of each individual's trip, in the visions experienced by the tripper, 'each object is restricted to its genre, obscuring the unique character of unfolding events...each fuck is just a fuck'. In this respect the LSD mindset 'assists structuralism' and reduces experience to a mere cipher.
Nuttall believes that the counterculturists, who were 'previously disdainful of anything commercial', bought into rock'n'roll because, convinced that mainstream society was on the road to destruction, they wanted 'instant survival, immediate inoculation' to put 'cultural distance' between themselves and the rest of the world. From then on 'you didn't have to read Being and Nothingness to step outside society'; you could just turn on Jimi Hendrix and be nothing instantaneously.
Nuttall is scathing about the supposed revolutionary connotations of rock'n'roll. He remembers a meeting in 1969 with the music editor of IT (the premier underground paper) who told him 'if you want a revolution, Jeff, you have one'. He does not believe in the fabled optimism of the sixties either. In a comment which recalls the title of his first book, Bomb Culture, Nuttall maintains that the choice was 'to die in a nuclear holocaust or burn ourselves out like fireflies'; hence the 'feckless fashion for risk and self-destruction' and the absence of 'a vocabulary for old age' - or even adulthood.
By 1970 as Nuttall recalls it, rock'n'roll was the core element in a 'cultural package deal' that was simplistic (the promotion of 'Attitude removes the need to ask "what attitude?"'), conservative and repetitious, while peddling 'delusions of genius and historical import-ance'. While 'history was lost in a soup of generalisations', the alternative initiates 'munched afterbirth' and felt 'protected by the belief that they were the bearers of a new, explosive consciousness a special wisdom'. They were 'brave' in their way, he concedes, but three decades later their outlook has turned into a smug superiority along the lines of 'the world is damned but I am not'.
In a chapter in his forthcoming book headed 'Dumbing down the law', Nuttall describes how the cultural package deal has now been translated into new forms of social control which he labels 'ludic cruelty' - playpower as coercion. Describing himself as 'a very disappointed Marxist', he looks with fear and loathing at today's 'homogeneous consciousness' based on 'the suburban ethic of personal space', and asks, belligerently, how so much conformism can have come out of the rebellious aspirations of his contemporaries.
Signs of the times
Signs of the Times was away during the World Cup, but some things are better late than never...
'Now that we don't have a war, what's wrong with a good punch-up? We are a nation of yobs. Without that characteristic how did we colonise the world? I get fed up with everyone saying how evil these yobbos are. I don't agree with broken glass and knives, but what an English tough guy does is to fight with his fists, which is a good clean fight. With so many milksops, and left-wing liberals and wetties around, I rejoice in the fact that there are people who keep up our historic spirit'
Dowager Marchioness of Reading, 79, who doesn't have to hide behind 'self-defence' justifications for hooliganism, unlike Alan Clark MP and other wetties
'I've seen the Barmy Army and don't want anything to do with the buggers. They make you ashamed to be British'
Tony Rider, MCC member and wetty
'In this country we've got to start cheating like the rest of the world. I'd rather win by cheating than lose and be brave and honest'
Rodney Marsh, whose cheating never won him much if memory serves
Paul Gascoigne was on a train from London to Newcastle during the England v Argentina game. When asked if he'd watched it he replied sarcastically, 'Aye, they've got satellite on trains now'
Meanwhile Jo Brand, supposedly a football fan these days, was sat downstairs at the Groucho club talking with another unfunny comedienne. (The TV is upstairs and was showing the match)
Reproduced from LM issue 113, September 1998