Feeling the FX: Fictional drugs in Trip City

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and currently holds a position at the University of Liverpool.

Trip City Book and Cassette 1989
Trip City (1989) book and soundtrack. Image courtesy of M HKA Ensembles.

The year is 1989, and a new designer drug is sweeping London. No, not Ecstasy—that was last year’s news. This new intoxicant is a green powder, a “product … for high rollers … It could make a day’s rest like a long holiday … FX was to be the catalyst for the ultimate leisure society.” But FX is not the consumerist panacea it promises to be. “In small doses it was harmless,” but the “wrong people abused it”; and death and violence followed in its wake.

This is the premise for Trevor Miller’s Trip City, recently reissued by indie publishers Velocity Press and originally published in November 1989. Trip City was the first “acid house novel,” a pulpy melange of Beat rhythms, Clockwork Orange riffs, and an unhealthy dose of Bret Easton Ellis’s yuppie nihilism. Despite being picked up by Avernus Creative Media—an imprint founded by Brian Aldiss who is best known for writing the short story that formed the basis of Steven Spielberg’s film A.I.Trip City largely eschews the tropes of science fiction. Indeed, according to the introduction of the new edition, much of the book is based on Miller’s own personal experience, a nocturnal world in which “Red Stripe [beer] had run like piss”’ and there was “[e]nough [ammonium] sulphate to sink the Middlesex Hospital.”

Aldiss described Trip City as “quite brilliant … in line with Thomas de Quincy’s Confessions of an Opium Eater,” and, in the intervening years, the novel has become something of a cult classic. This is perhaps as much for the novelty of its presentation as the quality of the writing. Released with an accompanying cassette soundtrack by A Guy Called Gerald, (famous for the acid house classic “Voodoo Ray”), original copies of the soundtrack fetch upwards of £100 on the second-hand market. In the liner notes to the reissue, Miller muses that the music is less a soundtrack and more “an atmospheric companion piece that may well transport you back to those sweaty nights in a smoke-filled club when too many pills took hold.”

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Call for Papers: Pop Cultures and Ecstatic States of the Body, 1950s-1980s

Conference: Pop Cultures and Ecstatic States of the Body, 1950s-1980s

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

September 30 – October 2, 2021

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In September 1967, the British weekly New Society published an article entitled “Pot, pop and acid.” As the title indicates, the author closely related pop music to the use of intoxicating substances:  “Everyone knows that almost everyone in pop music smokes pot: has done, and will do.”[1] Also, Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, a German music producer and the main organizer of the Internationale Essener Songtage 1968,  construed a close relation between pop culture and states of ecstasy. For him, the use of psychedelics, on the one hand, constituted a driving force for the creation and the spread of certain types of music. On the other hand, he attributed to pop music and pop cultural settings (for instance, concerts and festivals) the potential to create ecstatic states of the body.[2]

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Challenging “The Great Disconnect”: The History and Changing Role of Psychiatry in Drug Use

(Editors Note: This post was written by Dr. Lucas Richert, a lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan.)

In recent years, the modification of marijuana laws in the United States, multiple doping scandals in professional sports (from Lance Armstrong to A-Rod), and the right-to-die debate have helped focus the public’s attention on drugs. At the same time, academia, policy-makers and interest groups all have a need for superior information about the complex role that recreational drugs and pharmaceutical products play in our lives.

According to Alan Leshner, “There is a unique disconnect between the scientific facts and the public’s perception about drug abuse and addiction. If we are going to make any progress, we need to overcome the ‘great disconnect.’”

Progress, whatever that meant for Leshner, will certainly be accompanied by a public discussion. And psychiatrists will continue to play a major role in shaping our understanding of drugs.

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