22 June 2011

A Brief History of British Drug Policy; 1950 – 2001

Following the establishment of the so-called “New British System” (based on the recommendations of the Rolleston Committee in 1926), numbers of recorded opiate and cocaine addicts fell significantly in the early 1930s and remained stable and at a relatively low level for the next two decades. It was in the latter part of the 1950s that reports of a new drug “epidemic” began to circulate. Concerns centred on the use of drugs by ethnic minorities, notably black West Indians and Africans in ‘blues clubs’ and visiting black American musicians in jazz clubs.

Over the last four decades of the 20th Century, the use of drugs by young people (and the attendant treatment industry) has grown exponentially and the focus has moved from individual treatment to public health and infection control to the current preoccupation with drugs/crime connection. This brief history attempts to summarise these developments in a short article chronicling the major milestones and events.

Once again the drugs epidemic was associated with jazz (“jungle”) music and colour. By the end of the 1960s, young white teenagers had become involved too and the world had seen the student riots in Paris; the birth of Swinging London with its attendant Merseybeat; the hippy revolution in San Francisco; and a growing youth protest, both in the USA and Britain, over western military involvement in Vietnam. Politicians and journalists invariably associated these events with the use of drugs by young people.

Absolute Beginners

Despite the unimaginable cost - both economic and in terms of human life - of World War Two, post-war Britain of the 1950s was an extraordinary period of self-confidence and optimism. Even the instinctively austere new Labour administration of Clement Atlee was prepared to spend huge sums on the mounting of a Festival of Britain with its vision of a future Britain of stainless steel and formica.

To some extent, the 1950s resembled the 1920s. Both decades began with a flurry of interest amongst the young, in new music and new fashions; in dress and language. In both decades, jazz was an important precursor to the development of new musical forms.

Perhaps the essential difference between the two decades was that the depression years of the 1930s had proved to be a great leveller. Whereas the 1920s of the flappers was almost entirely the preserve of the rich, the new leisure / fashion / music phenomenon of the 1950s had an impact upon all classes. The radio (and in the 1960s, the television) brought music into thousands of working-class homes. No longer was new music and dance the exclusive preserve of an Edwardian elite. Furthermore, the abolition of restrictions on hire purchase in 1958 added further impetus to the burgeoning youth industry. By the early 1960s, it was quite common for clothes, musical instruments (particularly guitars and drum kits) and household electrical items (particularly record-players for teenagers’ bedrooms) to be purchased “on tick” (Yates, 1998).

Throughout the decade, the official addiction figures climbed steadily upwards with most of the increases being of young heroin users. The increase in young heroin users - and the increasing reporting of it - should be set against a growing unease in Britain about the ‘teenage problem’. James Dean had become a youth cult hero overnight with the film Rebel Without a Cause. The Wild Ones, starring Marlon Brando, another youth cult hero, was banned in British cinemas (Thomson, 1994). 'The Blackboard Jungle', an otherwise unmemorable film featured the song Rock Around the Clock. The singer, Bill Haley, an aging, overweight bandleader, was an unlikely hero, but the song caught the imagination of the Teddy boys; an emerging youth movement. The filmmakers hastily produced a second film entitled Rock Around the Clock as a vehicle for Bill Haley and his Comets (Clayson, 1995). When the film was premiered at the Troccadero in London’s Elephant and Castle, the Teddy boys went wild and destroyed much of the interior of the cinema. Rock ‘n’ Roll was born in Britain (Yates 1999).

From the beginning of the 1950s there were some limited indications that the existing pattern of middle-class morphine addicts ministered to by largely sympathetic medical practitioners was beginning to change. In May 1951 a young drug user broke into a hospital dispensary just outside London and stole large quantities of morphine, cocaine and heroin.

Much of the morphine was recovered; which perhaps indicates that already the opiate of choice - at least amongst the young - had become heroin. It would certainly suggest that the young man and his acquaintances had little social contact with the established addict group.

By the end of the decade, over sixty heroin users in the London area who traced their drug using career back to this one episode had been identified (Spear, 1994).

Many were jazz musicians or regular visitors to jazz clubs where heroin, cocaine and cannabis were regularly used. These newer, younger addicts were increasingly gravitating to the West End of London where a small number of general practitioners were becoming known as ‘junky doctors’ as a result of their willingness to prescribe.

Of this small group of London doctors - some genuine in their belief that they could help; some weak (and occasionally corrupt); some simply gullible - Lady I. M. Frankau is perhaps most notorious; though not necessarily best remembered. Lady Frankau, a Wimpole Street psychiatrist claimed to have treated approximately 500 addicts between 1958 and 1964: an astonishing number given that Home Office notifications in 1964, for the UK as a whole, were 753. The figures for the period were 1959, 454; 1960,437; 1961, 470; 1962, 532; 1963, 635; 1964, 753. In comparison to the stability of the figures for the previous quarter of a century, this five-year increase represents a quite unprecedented upward spiral (Glatt, Pittman, Gillespie and Hills, 1967).

Public opinion, steered by the media and quoted by them with great authority, was ripe for reaction to the flood of drugs epidemic stories which began to appear with increasing frequency in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the 1920s it had been the dilettante rich and the louche, now it was wayward youth. Youth was out of control. They wore different clothes; they listened to “jungle music” and they scorned the attitudes and ideals of their elders. The “generation gap” had been identified and, probably, no-one expressed it better than Colin MacInnes:

“No-one could sit on our faces no more because we’d loot to spend and our world was to be our world, the one we wanted” - (MacInnes, 1980)

Despite this growing public unease, the report of the first Government committee to consider drugs and addiction in thirty years was a model of complacency - superficial in its consideration of the evidence and almost totally without vision. The emergence of new drugs such as methadone (physeptone) and the discovery that some tranquillisers (at that time thought to be non-addictive) could be used in the management of withdrawal prompted the government in 1958, to establish the Interdepartmental Committee on Drug Addiction “to review......the advice given by the Rolleston Committee in 1926 including the possible application of any new suggestions to other addictive or habit-forming drugs; and to advise on any possible need for additional special treatment facilities or administrative measures” - (HM Government, 1961).

Their report (usually called the First Brain Report after its chairman Lord Brain) was published in 1961. It found that there was little need to make any radical change. There was, they said, no significant increase in numbers (there is some suggestion that the Home Office failed to provide the Committee with adequate evidence) and the small post-war increase was mainly the result of increased vigilance (Spear, 1994).

Members of the Committee who attended the annual symposium of the Society for the Study of Addiction later that year were embarrassed to hear a London pharmacist point out that he himself was dispensing heroin and cocaine to more patients than those identified in the Committee’s report (Glatt et al, 1967).

Over the next few years, newspaper reports of the heroin ‘scene’ in London’s West End and of the ‘purple hearts’ (drinamyl) craze in Soho dance clubs increased the pressure and in 1964 the government reconvened the Committee. At Lord Brain’s insistence, the terms of reference were narrowed to: “review the advice they gave in 1961 in relation to the prescribing of addictive drugs by doctors” (HM Government, 1964). This seems to have been mainly because annual reports by the Home Office Drugs Inspectorate appeared to have already identified the problem: the over-prescribing of heroin and cocaine by a small group of doctors in London (Spear, 1994). But the net effect of this narrowing of the focus meant that the Second Brain Report virtually ignored the emerging patterns of drug use outside London and the widepread use of amphetamines.

The Second Brain Report was published in 1965. It was a further two-and-a-half years before the recommendations of the report were implemented within the provisions of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967. Most of the major recommendations of the Second Brain Committee were implemented. In the future, although the basic tenets of the Rolleston model were to be retained, prescribing of heroin and cocaine would require a special license to be issued by the Home Office. Licenses would normally only be granted to psychiatrists working in specialist treatment units (based upon a model pioneered at All Saints Hospital, Birmingham) which were to be established across England at Regional Health Authority level. These were to be called Drug Dependency Units (DDUs) although almost every drug user subsequently referred to them simply as ‘the Clinics’. No parallel provision was envisaged for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland where there was not thought to be a problem (Yates, 1981).

The establishment of the DDUs was paralleled with the growth of a significant and often influential range of drug services in the voluntary sector. By the mid 1970s the vast majority of beds available for rehabilitation (though not for detoxification) were managed within the voluntary sector (Rawlings & Yates, 2001). Non-residential services were also provided by the voluntary sector although most of these were London-based (Yates, 1992; Turner, 1994).

Many commentators, particularly American commentators (Schurr, 1963; Schur, 1964; and Trebach, 1982) have pinpointed this moment as the time when Britain abandoned the ‘New British System’ and opted instead for a US-style penal policy. This is however, a misreading of the facts. Although it is true that the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967, in line with the recommendations of the Brain Committee, extended the powers of the police, this was not at the expense of the old Rolleston model of substitute prescribing which was left intact though it was restricted (in theory, though perhaps not in practice).

Firstly, Britain did not abandon the Rolleston principles though it did restrict the prescribers who were eligible to carry them out. The fact that this was not resisted by doctors is further indication that most doctors were unwilling anyway to treat this kind of patient. In other words, the restriction in numbers of prescribers may have been in theory only. Kenneth Leech, then curate at St. Annes in Soho was of the opinion that there were only around 12 doctors in London prepared to treat addict patients - the new arrangements saw the establishment of fifteen specialist treatment units (Spear, 1994).

Secondly, by the time these changes were introduced in 1968, the numbers of users - particularly those under thirty - had already begun to spiral out of control and blackmarket was already established; in London at least. In other words, the new arrangements in 1968 did not cause the changes in the drug-subculture; rather, they were an early response to those changes.

Thirdly, the analysis fails entirely to take account of the establishment of a National Health Service with treatment (and medication) free at the point of delivery. It seems hardly surprising that the majority of addicts in the 1930s and 40s were middle-class professionals when we take into account that at that time, they would have had to pay for their supplies.

Finally, the analysis also fails to take into account the enormous cultural upheavals - particularly amongst the younger generation - that were taking place in Western society at that time. These were often changes with which drug use became associated (although the use of drugs was not necessarily fundamental to them) (Yates, 1994).

There seems little doubt that a blackmarket in drugs would, sooner or later, have become established in the UK but there is some truth in identifying this time as its genesis. In London, the uncertainty, both of doctors and of their addict patients, during the interval between the publication of the Brain Report and the enactment of the recommendations may have been the reason for a significant increase in the use of blackmarket Chinese heroin; often by drug users who had been struck off their doctor’s list as soon as the report was published (Yates 1992).

Outside London, where the impact of the DDUs was less significant, users turned to the use of barbiturates and mandrax, opioids such as palfium and diconal and pharmaceutical heroin or morphine diverted from pharmacy burglaries (Yates, 1981).

Throughout the 1970s, the numbers continued to grow. The punk revolution in the mid-70s caused an outbreak of concern about the sniffing of volatile solvents. It seems clear that the punks deliberately chose glue-sniffing (often combined with lager and cider) since this was perhaps the most visibly distasteful substance they could use. When the dramatic expansion of the heroin blackmarket began in 1979, the punks were among the earliest recruits (Savage, 1992).

Smack City, UK

The arrival of heroin in 1979 in cities throughout the UK took most observers by surprise. Most of the new heroin flooding into the UK was Middle-Eastern smoking heroin which was unsuitable for injection without being first changed into a heroin salt by the application of lemon juice, acetic acid etc. (Griffiths, Gossop and Strang, 1994). This fact, coupled with the existence of a large population of Iranian students apparently able and willing, both to sell heroin and to induct novitiates into the art of heroin smoking, resulted in a huge increase in heroin users. Many potential users who had been deterred by the thought of injection were attracted to this apparently painless method. For some time, there was an unshakeable belief in some drug-using circles that heroin was ‘non-addictive’ if smoked (Yates, 1999).

To some extent, heroin smoking became most prevalent in areas where there was a tradition of non-injecting drug use. Where injecting was part of the culture, the new heroin was mainly injected and lemon juice or citric acid became simply another item on the drug injector’s shopping list. But the expansion, like the existing drug subculture was patchy and unpredictable. Most of the new heroin went to those areas where there was an existing drug using culture of some kind. It was some time before it broke into completely ‘clean’ areas. Even in those cities and towns where there was a well established drug-using tradition, prevalence could change dramatically from district to district (Power, 1994).

In 1982, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) published their report: Treatment and Rehabilitation (ACMD, 1982). The ACMD was a body set up within the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971; an Act which was introduced to rationalise and consolidate an untidy bundle of UK laws on dangerous drugs. The ACMD was charged with the responsibility of advising the government on “measures....which....ought to be taken for preventing the misuse of drugs or dealing with social problems connected with their misuse” (Shiels, 1991).

Previous ACMD reports, throughout the 1970s, had received little attention from the government. But by 1982, the issue of heroin addiction in inner-city housing schemes had become a serious political issue. Ironically, the main impetus for this had not been the press or right-wing backbench MPs but the deputy leader of the Labour Group on the Liverpool City Council. Contemporary reports would seem to indicate that it was Derek Hatton who deliberately orchestrated media coverage of Liverpool as ‘smack city’ in order to highlight the plight of the inner-cities and the failure of the Thatcher Government to address the needs of the young, unemployed, urban poor (Parry, 1991).

Almost overnight, the media spotlight was turned onto the growing heroin problem in th UK’s inner-city areas. By the time the ACMD was due to publish its report in the late summer of 1982, ‘heroin in Britain’ had become almost constant headline news. The publication of the report was held back until December when it was announced in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for Health that not only had the Government accepted all the reports major recommendations, but that it was providing a substantial sum of central money to ‘pump-prime’ an expanded network of treatment services. The initial sum announced was £2 million but over the course of the next two years, the fund was increased for a variety of reasons and ultimately reached a total of just under £18 million (Yates, 1983; MacGregor, 1989).

In Scotland, similar central funding was made available under the usual 10% formula and a smaller fund was established in Wales. No provision was made for Northern Ireland which was adjudged not to have a drugs problem at that time. Outside England (and even within England in many areas), this effectively meant the establishment of a completely new network of treatment services since virtually no dedicated services had existed prior to that.

The net result of this activity was a dramatic expansion of treatment services. Most of the new money went into community-based services with almost 60% going to new community services (voluntary and statutory) and a further 10% going to existing voluntary agencies; most of which were also community-based. The extent to which the DDUs had been marginalised by the rapid expansion of the blackmarket can been seen by the fact that they secured less than 15% of the allocation (MacGregor, 1994).

However, the role of the DDUs and in particular, the consultant psychiatrist (the prescriber), remained crucial. The report had recommended that each Regional Health Authority Area (the report failed to recognise the distinctive nature of the Scottish NHS structure - perhaps not surprising since the Committee had no Scottish representation) should establish a Regional Drug Problem Team (RDPT) with District Drug Advisory Committees at the local level. The ACMD made no specific recommendation for service provision at the local level but this soon began to emerge with the development of a blueprint in North West England for multi-disciplinary Community Drug Teams as local specialist providers (Strang, Donmall and Webster, 1991).

The proposed new RDPTs were, in effect, revamped DDUs and in many areas, little elsechanged for a number of years. But the central funding initiative did usher in a new period where specialist drug treatment provision was overwhelmingly community-based and largely non-medical.

The Public Health Imperative From the middle of the 1980s however, the emergence of HIV/AIDS began to bring about a fundamental change in direction. The concern that those who continued to inject drugs (and therefore, by implication, continued to share injecting equipment) might be instrumental in spreading the infection led to a change in agency priorities (Berridge, 1994).

In 1988 the ACMD published its report AIDS & Drug Misuse Part 1 (ACMD, 1988). Once again, the ACMD had produced a highly significant and influential document. The reports conclusion that: “HIV is a greater threat to public and individual health than drug misuse” has since become firmly established in the lexicon of drug field mantras. Few practitioners and planners refer to the remainder of that recommendation.

AIDS & Drug Misuse Part 1 was not, as some have claimed, a u-turn in British drug policy legitimising ‘low threshold’ maintenance prescribing. It was in many respects, a restating of the central tenets of Rolleston for a modern era. The recommendation goes on to say:

“.....The first goal of work with drug misusers must therefore be to prevent them from acquiring or transmitting the virus. In some cases this will be achieved through abstinence. In others, abstinence will not be achievable for the time being and efforts will have to focus on risk-reduction. Abstinence remains the ultimate goal but efforts to bring it about in individual cases must not jeopardise any reduction in HIV risk behaviour which has already been achieved” (HM Government, 1982).

The implication here is clear. There was no sanction for prescribing forever. (There was no such sanction in Rolleston either). The goal is abstinence. Achieving this goal can legitimately be delayed in two circumstances: where circumstances dictate that it cannot be immediately achieved and where to attempt an abstinence intervention may undermine risk reduction initiatives already underway These are significant caveats which have often since been lost or distorted in the retelling.

Prior to the emergence of HIV/AIDS, most treatment agencies had seen their customer base consisting primarily of those who had decided to modify, or abandon altogether, their use of drugs; with a smaller number who had not yet reached that decision being offered soupkitchen, day shelter and detached work provision. Now the priority was to be making and maintaining contact with those drug users (often deeply suspicious of specialist drug services) who were at greatest risk of continuing to share needles. In other words, those who had no intention of stopping.

In order to encourage these drug users into services, community-based agencies were provided with a prescribing capability. Methadone became more readily available with many agencies also offering an injection equipment exchange service. In fact, in South Wales, one GP group practice had been quietly offering this facility since the early 1970s in response to a local hepatitis outbreak whilst some voluntary sector services had originally offered this facility in the late 1960s (Turner, 1994).

The move towards the prescribing of methadone as a central plank in drug treatment services has brought general practitioners back into the field although to some extent they have continued to show the same reluctance to be involved as was the case in the early 1960s.

Much of the service development and planning throughout the 1980s was led by the National Health Service with local authorities merely providing background support in most areas. This came about mainly as a result of the channeling of the additional central government funding through the NHS. Both the new network (CFI) money and funding to develop HIV/AIDS services later in the decade was allocated through the health service.

However, in recent years, a number of trends have conspired to increase the relative importance of the local authority contribution. Firstly, with the implementation of Community Care, local government has been allocated a central gate-keeping role in the allocation of resources; mainly, though not exclusively, access to residential rehabilitation.

Secondly, as HIV/AIDS-related health concerns have receded, the twin issues of community safety and crime prevention have increased in importance and there are sign that these imperatives may be significantly altering the directional flow of policy away from the public health priorities of the previous decade (Stimson, 2000). Thirdly, as the age range within the drug-using community becomes more reflective of that within the wider community, there are increasingly more drug-using parents the care of whose children is, by definition, an issue for local authorities.

The Re-emergence of Psychedelia

In the late 1980s, the UK experienced an almost totally unprecedented and unexpected wave of drug-taking which centred on the use of ecstasy in dance venues or ‘raves’. The sheer scale of this development was staggering. By 1995, the Home Office’s own estimates were that 1.5 million ecstasy tablets were being used every weekend. Moreover, the apparently distinctive nature of the development (there were little or no links with the pre-existing injecting drug scene and users saw themselves as quite different to injecting drug users whom they generally disparaged) made existing drug treatment services almost irrelevant.

To some extent, this development had its roots both in the continuing interest in the use of stimulants (particularly in conjunction with dance events) (Yates, 1999) and in experiments (in psychiatry and amongst the lay population) with the use of hallucinogenic or psychedelic drugs to unlock the unconscious (Melechi, 1997).

Interest in the possibility of “unlocking” the unconcious through psychoactive drugs had been heralded by both Jung and Freud (Stevens, 1993). By the 1950s the use of drugs in mental health was widespread and a number of forward-thinking practitioners were experimenting with a new drug called Delysid (LSD 25) both as a psychotomimetic, to mimic (and thus explore the origins of) schizophrenia in selected study groups (including doctors themselves) and as an aid to psychtherapeutic intervention.

In the UK, Dr. Ronald Sandison was conducting experiments in LSD therapy at Powick Hospital using a combination of group and individual therapy, coupled with dramatherapy techniques and the administration of LSD (Sandison, 1997). The Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing and other collaborators in the Philadelphia Group were conducting similar studies in London. In Canada, Humphrey Osmond who in the early 1950s had introduced Aldous Huxley to mescaline, was claiming to have achieved extraordinary rates of success in using LSD in the treatment of alcoholics (Stevens, 1993).

This relatively uncontrolled experimentation with a powerful new hallucinogenic led inexorably to the promotion of LSD (by Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Michael Hollinshead and others) as the central ingredient of a mass youth experiment characterised by new, introspective forms of music, Eastern mysticism, pacifism and a return to nature (Reynolds, 1997). However, the interest in psychedelic (a term coined by Osmond) drugs was shortlived.

The demonisation of LSD by the popular press effectively stifled the interest within psychiatry (Melechi, 1997) and within youth culture, the interest in psychedelia was largely confined to a middle-class intelligentsia which proved incapable of sustaining popular interest (Yates, 1999). By the mid-1970s, LSD had all but disappeared from UK streets (Yates, 1992). There was a resurgence of interest in the 1980s, but this was largely swamped in the media by the spiraling interest in ecstasy.

In the summer of 1987, young British holidaymakers on the island of Ibiza discovered the combination of ecstasy and ‘acid house’ music. ‘Acid house’, or ‘Balearic beat’ was an amalgam of British ‘indie’ music of the time with American ‘hip-hop’ and the new ‘house’ music emerging out of the gay dance-club scene in Chicago (Yates, 1999).

By the summer of 1988, afficionados of rave culture were proclaiming the ‘second summer of love’. But once more, the innocence and euphoria were short-lived. Exponents of the new heroin distribution system had already branched out into cocaine and rock cocaine (crack) in the early 1990s. By the middle of the decade, they had muscled into the distribution of ecstasy too. Raves became more tense as dancers were increasingly subjected to assaults, knifings and shootings (Champion, 1997).

Specialist treatment services have struggled top respond to this new phenomenon. In most cases, the new drug users have been reluctant to make use of services which they perceive as services for ‘junkies’. Some established services have managed to make and maintain meaningful contact through the production of information leaflets. Others have organised detached work services offering on-site advice and information. Many of these new services are finding that they are also being called upon to offer advice and information about the increasing use of alcohol by young people (Calafat et al., 1998).

However, the use of ecstasy and other stimulants appears to be leveling out – particularly amongst teenagers – and alcohol has returned as a major mood-altering substance amongst this age group (Alcohol Concern, 2000; Drugscope, 2000).

Into a New Millenium

The final decade of the 20th Century has seen dramatic changes in policy. The expansion of the treatment service network and the subsequent changes in operational focus as a result of the concerns around HIV infection in the early 1980s marked the opening of a period of some instability within the field.

The response to the emergence of HIV/AIDS saw treatment agencies move into the public health arena as part of the vanguard of infection control policy (Berridge, 1996). For many agencies, the concern over the use of ‘dance drugs’ further consolidated this change through the development of their emergent health promotion capacities.

But it is in the area of designing, commissioning and evaluating services that Government policy has seen the most dramatic upheavals. In the last years of the Conservative administration, the Leader of the House was given the job of co-ordinating Government policy on drugs and overriding the territorial concerns and traditional rivalries of the ministries responsible (mainly the Home Office and the Department of Health). This central co-ordinating unit was further strengthened by the incoming Labour administration in 1997 with the creation of the post of UK Anti Drugs Coordinator.

The framework for a national strategy for the constituent parts of the UK had already been established (HM Government, 1995; Ministerial Drugs Task Force, 1994) in a somewhat loose format. The new UK Anti-drugs Co-ordinator – almost universally described as the “drugs czar” - set about the task of drawing these together into a single UK-wide policy (HM Government, 1998).

The new UK policy is significant particularly since it signals a change in government attitude to drugs. For the first time in two decades, there is a recognition of the role played by social exclusion and other environmental factors in fostering drug problems in deprived communities. In some respects this is merely an official government echo of the findings of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in their report: Drug Misuse and the Environment (1998). Published in the spring of 1998, the report was quickly overshadowed by the publication of the government’s own strategic document.

Some commentators (Stimson, 2000) have detected in these developments the tightening of the policy reins by a government reluctant to allow dissenting voices in the war against drugs. Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain, when discussing the role of the ACMD


“Its composition and focus of work need to be harnessed as closely as possible to the thrust of this long-term strategy and to the work of the Coordinator, and its future work priorities will evolve in that context”. Many commentators have suggested that this might indicated a determination on the part of the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator to stifle the traditionally independent voice of the Council.

Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain also signals a change in the role of DATs in Scotland from a co-ordinating and planning role to one of directly commissioning and evaluating the quality and value for money of the drug response (both treatment and other) at the local level. It is by no means clear how DATs will adapt to this new challenge incorporating as it does, a responsibility for resource transfer and open "cross-disciplinary" evaluation which runs directly counter to the budget protectionist inclinations of most, if not all, of the partner organisations.

Finally, within the past few months has come the news of an apparent downgrading of the role of the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator and a transfer of the levers of power to the Home Office. Whatever else may happen in the 21st Century, it seems clear that the issue of drug misuse is now a critical policy issue which, at least for the time being, is seen as inextricably linked to crime.

Author: Rowdy Yates



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SPEAR, B. (1994) The early years of the ‘British System in practice, in: STRANG, J & GOSSOP, M (Eds.) Heroin Addiction and Drug Policy: The British System (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

STEVENS J. (1993) Storming Heaven: LSD and the American dream (London, Flamingo)

STIMSON, G. Blair declares war or the unhealthy state of British drugs policy, in Methadone and Beyond: Expanding and exploring drug treatment options: Methadone Alliance Conference London, March, 22, 2000, Methadone Alliance, forthcoming.

STRANG, J., DONMALL, M. & WEBSTER, A. (1991) A Bridge Not Far Enough: Community drug teams and doctors in the North West Region, 1982 – 1986 (London, ISDD)

THOMSON, D. (1994) A Biographical Dictionary of Film (London, Andre Deutsch)

TREBACH, A. (1982) The Heroin Solution (New Haven, Yale University Press).

TURNER, D. (1994) The development of the voluntary sector, no further need for pioneers, in: STRANG, J & GOSSOP, M (Eds.) Heroin Addiction and Drug Policy: The British System (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

WHITELEY, S. (1997) Altered Sounds, in: MELECHI, A. (Ed.) Psychedelia Britannica: Hallucinogenic drugs in Britain (London, Turnaround)

YATES, R. (1981) Out From the Shadows (London, NACRO)

YATES R. (1983) Four commentaries on the report of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (1982): Treatment and Rehabilitation - view from a street agency: Money-shy. British Journal of Addiction, 78, 2, pp.122-124

YATES, R. (1992) If it Weren't for the Alligators - A history of drugs, music and popular culture in Manchester (Manchester, Lifeline Project)

YATES, R. (1993) Drug Use in Scotland: Evidence submitted to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, (London, HMSO)

YATES, R. (1998) From Johnny B. to Ebeneezer: Goode times on the dancefloor, Druglink, 13.6 pp 15 - 18

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From https://dspace.stir.ac.uk/dspace/bitstream/1893/1135/1/1950-2001.pdf

Isn't it awesome?

S'funny isn't it? A bag of fresh tunes, a car full of petrol, a whole weekend of great bookings to mess about in and an idealistic head filled with dreams and hopes of full dancefloors and smiling faces. An awesome weekend.

black and white cat at The Smack
Had a reasonably prolific DJ week for a change. I forgot about how much energy it takes to pull off a really good two hour set but having spent £118 on new records this week I was determined to get them out there and get my monies worth playing them to as many people as possible. I say as many people as possible but I really mean as many people who would appreciate them as possible. Which does not include, and I apologise here in advance before I say it, Si’s sister’s wedding. I flatly refused to DJ at it after the last 10 weddings I have played at have gone disastrously wrong. So I guess I missed out there.

Oz Top 15 June 2011

1. KRUSE and NUERNBERG feat NATHALIE CLAUDE - Silk City (Fred Everything remixes) - Lazy Days US LZD 021

Martin Bird and Si
2. GIOM - Forgotten Files EP - Black Cherry - US BCR 008
3. Pete DAFEET, That's Life One Dice EP - Ornate Music - ORN 004
4. Chris GRAY - FMlk3 EP - Freebeat - FREABEAT 001
5. Tom MIDDLETON - Cicadas - Lo:Rise - LRISE 001
6. Dennis FERRER - Hey Hey - Objektivity US OBJ 014
7. JR SEATON - Yphsilon - Nocturnes Germany - NOCTURNES 00
8. MODELERS - Marbelle Is Up - Geopark Germany - GEOPARK 007
9. 6TH BOROUGH PROJECT - One Night In The Borough Part 3 - Delusions Of Grandeur - DOG 018
10. DAN D - African Market EP - Geno Germany - GENO 01
11. Ricardo MIRANDA - Floorwax - Hour House Is Your Rush Holland - HHYR 14
12. Lance DESARDI - Only You! - Bang The Box - BTBO 005
13. ALEXXEI N NIG - I'm A Disc Making Jokey EP - Exprezoo Italy - EXPV 007
14. COYOTE - Always - Needwant - NEEDW 013
15. RILLS - Everything Changed EP - 8 Bit Germany - 8BIT 042

I mixed these with my favourite 20 so from January 2011 till June 2011 and chucked in a few of all time favourites of all time because I love them and always think that if I get the chance I’ll definitely dust them off and ensure they get an airing. That’s it. A 50 capacity shoulder bag full. That’s a 50 capacity should bag of records. Remember them? Black discs of pressed plastic that DJ’s mix with their feelings and not a synch button. I'm not having a pop at digital DJ's here. Just gently ribbing the synch button and it's ability to remove beat mixing skills which used to be a hard won target for all vinyl DJ's.

Any fool can spin a few tunes but, as we know, the hard bit comes in the programming of the set and making it flow like it was meant to at the time that you play it. This means taking people with you and  not spanking away furiously to yourself shouting to no-one in particular 'wassamatterwichadon'tyageddit?' This approach just doesn't get you any work these days.

First stop was tVCabbaged at the Smack. We had guest DJ Martin Bird down there and he played a bit of an old school vinyl stormer for the ageing and creaky tVC ma-hoosive who rammed themselves, as they do each and every month, into the tiniest pub in Whitstable to hear that rare and precious commodity, deep house music for deep house lovers. It’s not a cattle market or a fight ring or a place to get arseholed in; there’s no puking up shit drugs or electric blue WKD’s or fighting because someone looked at their bird or spilled their drink nor any of my old Whitstable friends’ teenage kids being little kiddy ravers pissing their pants in wide eyed wonder at how fantastic it is being out in the dark after 10pm.

No, of course, none of that. Well, sometimes a little drunkenness and over friendliness and big old bear hugs can sometimes be a shock especially from the men. Of course the young people who do attend are wonderful, friendly and mature and would never even dream of making an appearance in one of them cop shows on TV that show knickerless pissheads slashing in the gutter whils waiting for a taxi.


Anyway, Oz and Si, not Si and Oz as Si would have it these days, warmed up the night till Martin arrived and then finished the night off after he left. “I heard that Si has taken over tVC", says ‘everyone’ from Big Dave Burner “I live in a caravan me" to our Little Scouse chum. Well, actually, not everyone; just them two. The only evidence of that I have seen is the Si / Oz, Oz / Si thing and even then I’ve ‘put him right’.

Besides Si deserves a lot of credit in the new improved and revitalised tVC Sound System (ahem) that has taken place over the last year or so. Humping kit; yes. DJing; yes. Arranging the odd gig here or there; yes. So it’s all looking rosy. What with Mike SU back in the fold and Ed Millard playing again and new guys Stuart Boldt and Leanne it looks like tVC is rocking and a rolling into the summer.

Martin Bird of course arrived with the fresh controversy of being splashed all over the local rags headlines as he’d been arrested, charged and fined some months before, as it happened, so fuck knows why he was on the front of the local papers for what he did; whisper; he got caught with some drugs on him.

"I was staggering down the road Oz", he told me in an exclusive interview for tvcabbage.net. "I was all over the shop, staggering from one side of the road to the other when a police car passed me. They came back, got out and asked how I was. I said I was OK and was going home. So they left but soon after came back and pulled me, searched me and whisked me off. They found a few drugs on me and I was fined £80 and that was that.”

Standing on the
shoulders of giants
So, even as he played a cracking little set, catch it here on Soundcloud, people were coming into the pub and pointing at him and going ‘there he is; that’s the one on the front page of the paper’. No there weren't Martin. I'm joking.

Yeah, of course that’s all really fine but when’s the review going to start Oz, you might be saying? Where is the meat and two veg of the review? You know, where you wax all inarticulately and up your own arse about how great deep house music is for the soul and how ancient our ties with the drum beat are and togetherness is strength and all that malarkey? Where’s the jokes, you say? (Thanks to that Stuart Lee there for inspiration).

That first bit when you have new tunes and, yeah, you’ve listened to them a bit at home, but you haven’t heard them have you? Not really. Not loud. The first loud hearing is the first hearing isn’t it. Or louding as I call it. So I had my first real hearing down the pub that night not through my shitty stereo at home which isn't a stereo but a wedge monitor with a 200 watt amp powering it. that's not hearing it at all is it?

My second real hearing, the real louding, on a louder sound system was at Jamm when I played at Pendragon – which, I hate to say, though it might be louder that the tVC rig was down the smack it wasn’t as good. No; it fact it was a bit of a pig of a rig and talking, later, to, like, people, who didn’t want to come to Pendragon for a second time with me they explained it was not because of Pendragon, au contraire, it was because of the pig of a rig they have in Jamm. Now, some people I had extended conversations with as to the merit of a 'club' professing to love music, who are quite happy to charge people £10 to get into and are quite happy to charge £4 a pint, but spend no fucking money on keeping their sound system up to speck. What does it all mean?

top DJ
Now on Sunday at the free party the rigs there might have been what some purists scoff at as ‘free party’ rigs but they fucking sounded awesome. They really did. Did you hear that? Awesome. They might have looked like bashed up hodgepodges of different speakers and amps of different makes and colours and all that but they sounded fucking awesome. Their sound engineers really, and here's a word you don't often associate with club owners and their shitty sound systems, cared about the sound and lovingly crafted and tinkered and listened to their rigs. And it was on one of these free party rigs, the Subsdance Sound System rig, at Rebound in Sellindge in Kent, that I, and the lovers of deep, chilled house that I managed to attract to the tent I was playing in, that I finally heard, in all its fucking awesome glory, the power of the records that I had bought and brought out with me that weekend. There was real tops and mid and sub bass and vocals and they were all clear and demarked; separate and crisp and punchy and warm, oh so warm, and of course it was all sounding fucking awesome. The peole danced and smiled and gave me spliffs (one joy of playing outdoors!) and drinks and it was great.

The thing all three of my gigs had in common was that each venue was filled with such a variety of great, original friendly people who really love their music, love dancing, love socialising and loving and, you know, that is what weekends are for are they; why can't they have the very best that these venues can provide and that we know they are capable of providing? We all spend enough bloody money in the places. If it wasn't for the hard, dedicated work that promoters and club owners do, for us, then we'd have nowhere to go and do what we want to do.

So, whether you are a deep house lover or not, a WKD drinker who can’t hold their stomach down or a jealous wanker with anger management issues; you can find a venting venue for you to expose your thang out and about at a club, pub or field near you at the weekend.

Now that’s what I call freedom. And isn't it awesome?

17 June 2011

Meditations on the Death of Vinyl

"And vinyl is dead; it's dead. It's gonna be a special item for collectors, and probably will exist forever in that way, but that's it. It's over. You can really count on two hands who's carrying vinyl bags around the world. It's dinosaurs like Sven Vath or Ricardo Villalobos, and for them it's great because that also makes them special. But at the same time, no one really gives a shit anymore. You have to feel comfortable with what you use, whether it's vinyl, CDs or any digital gadget".

DJ Ali Schwarz of Tiefschwarz, quoted in Golden 2010.

While this was definitely not the first time that the "death of vinyl" had been announced in the history of recorded music, there is little question that 2010 marked an important technological crisis in electronic dance music history, particularly for the DJ. Vinyl DJ culture had already been taking a beating from the increasing popularity among DJs of compact discs and computer-based systems, and at the end of 2009, Pioneer announced the release of the CDJ-2000, a fancy (and overpriced) CD player that many speculated would sound the final death knell for turntables in club installations. Twice that year rumors surfaced on the Internet, finally confirmed in October, that Panasonic would cease production of the Technics series of turntables, including the iconic SL 1200 line that had become so emblematic of DJ culture. Panasonic made the announcement official at the 2010 DMC World DJ Championships, and the DMC, for its part, announced that this would be the last year its competition would be strictly vinyl-based: for the first time, this bedrock of analog culture was opening its doors to users of Digital Vinyl Systems (DVS) like Serato Scratch Live and Traktor Scratch Pro (Samoglou 2011; Tokyo Reporter 2010). And "controllerism" emerged into the mainstream as music conferences and trade shows that year showcased a dizzying array of new devices that allowed laptop performers to manipulate sounds with neither turntables nor CD players. Indeed, it was also in 2010 that one company announced that it would press vinyl records out of recently deceased customers' cremated remains (Solon 2010)—as if to confirm with chiastic cruelty that not only was vinyl now dead; death was now on vinyl.

And yet, even as DJ culture began to grapple with the pace and meaning of technological change, the music industry was celebrating a huge spike in vinyl record sales (Green 2010). Schwarz's interview, in fact, took place only three days before Record Store Day, which saw significant increases in vinyl records purchases worldwide (Cardew 2010). But as DJs are well aware, this recent surge in vinyl enthusiasm was driven far more by hipsters and audiophiles than EDM audiences. Even turntablism subcultures within hip hop—only very recently hailed for remaining "resolutely analog in a digital age" (Katz 2010: 130)—have moved away from vinyl recordings, if not yet from the turntables on which they spin.

DJ Hideo Sugano, recognized in the Los Angeles hip hop scene as "the hardest working DJ on the west coast", passed away from cancer on 24 April 2010. I knew Hideo from the Los Angeles branch of Scratch DJ Academy, where I had taken a number of classes and been part of an emerging community of hip hop DJs and turntablists since 2005. Scratch DJ Academy had for me epitomized the ideals of vinyl culture; aspiring DJs were taught how to handle records first and foremost before mixing skills were addressed. Instructors and students alike prided themselves on their ability to manipulate wax and their almost fanatical devotion to collecting it; nevertheless, one of the last times I saw Hideo playing, he, like most of my Scratch Academy colleagues, was using Serato's DVS technology, and he had even demonstrated controllerist techniques on a Vestax MIDI controller at a major trade show in 2009.

I informally polled several DJs about the issue at one of Hideo's memorial events and their responses were the same—they still carried a handful of records to gigs for backup, but when they played out they consistently turned to DVS rather than actual vinyl records. This was usually admitted in a tone of shame and loss, as if confessing a fraud, as well as a reaffirmation of their preference for wax. They used DVS for the convenience of not having to schlep around bags of records and the ability to access large libraries instantly (though some begrudgingly acknowledged the advantage of being able to more extensively manipulate sounds in the digital realm with loops and cue points and the like), but made clear that they preferred the sound, feel and physical virtuosity of the older format.[1]

Such reactions were manifestations of a crisis in the relationship between technology and identity that had for some time been mediated by discourses of authenticity and virtuosity rooted in the vinyl format. In EDM culture outside of hip hop, a similar crisis had passed some years earlier with the wide acceptance of CD players designed for DJs. Hip hop DJs, on the other hand, emerged into the digital world somewhat surreptitiously—DVS technologies allowed them to spin music from digital collections without giving up the tactile dimensions of the performance interface—DVS DJs play digital music using vinyl records and turntables as their primary interface.[2] It is clear from the expressions of anxiety surrounding the shift (not to mention the vehement denunciations among the vocal minority who hadn't made the leap to digital technologies of any sort) that within perceptions of the format lay an as yet unexamined crisis of identity.

Music technologies have always been cathected with discourses of authenticity and virtuosity. Of course, these discourses are intertwined: a "real" DJ is defined in part by his or her technical proficiency with the instrument. What is at issue, however, is the "instrument" itself: both the format of the musical recording and the interface through which that recording is manipulated. Sarah Thornton's studies of club cultures have shown that the dynamic of authenticity and technology is fluid rather than fixed; new musical technologies are first perceived as phony and threatening to the "truth" of musical virtuosity. They may be skeptically incorporated into musical subcultures in the beginning but they carry audible traces of inauthenticity in the sounds they produce, sounds that audiences find unnatural, even unsettling. "Once absorbed into culture", however, "they seem indigenous and organic". Underlying this movement is "the fact that technological developments make new concepts of authenticity possible" (1996: 29). New technologies, in other words, undergo a process of authentication that is tied to the emergence and consolidation of new subcultural communities. These communities—Kenney (1999), following Paul Valéry, calls them "circles of resonance"—legitimize new conditions and standards for what is considered musical expression and skill. Eventually, as the new technology is incorporated into larger circles of resonance, it no longer sounds artificial and unsettling at all. This sequence of events has accompanied developments in music technology at least since the invention of the phonograph (Kenney 1999).

The only thing new about the current crisis is the speed of technological change. Vinyl DJs had been frowned upon by mainstream musical culture until the turntable could be authenticated as a performance instrument in the 1980s (Schloss 2004). These same DJs, threatened by digital technologies in the 1990s, looked down upon CD-DJs and decried their efforts as inauthentic and unoriginal. DVS technologies emerged in the early 21st century, with many DJs, both vinyl and digital, expressing disdain for this latest innovation. In just a few years, DVS has been authenticated in some communities, with some of its users now questioning the authenticity of a new generation of performers increasingly known as "controllerists". And even these new button-pushers were outraged seeing their own authenticities under attack when in April 2010, Rana June Sobhany, a "social media maven" with no DJ experience at all, suddenly went viral with a YouTube video declaring herself "the world's first iPad DJ", and proceeded to book gigs at major venues thanks to the backing of shrewd publicists in the technology industry.
The phenomenon of the iPad DJ in particular seemed to take the question of authenticity to its most absurd extreme. Here was a young woman with rudimentary DJ skills at best (but plenty of marketing savvy) generating a storm of press (and landing coveted gigs) for DJing with nothing but a couple of video screens.[3] Many DJs and controllerists alike felt her sudden popularity made a mockery of the skills a DJ was supposed to have. Some blamed the technology—of all the instruments one could be known for playing, Sobhany had perhaps picked the one most symbolic of the increasing technological mediation of everyday life—while others pointed the finger at her skillset and criticized what they perceived as her arrogant appropriation of the "DJ" title without the requisite proficiency. Don't blame the tools, some argued; in the hands of a true virtuoso, the iPad could be a very effective DJ instrument.

Whatever the skills of this or that performer, the history of recorded music generally and DJ technology in particular confirms that nobody holds the corner on authenticity—new technologies appear deceptive at first but they can be authenticated within particular circles of resonance.

Nevertheless, this authentication takes place within a material physical context. While we can dispense with the idea that one technology is inherently more "truthful" than another, we can perhaps say that it can be ineluctably so. The materiality of recorded sound as physical reality is often missed in academic discussions of digital DJ technology in perhaps too quick a rush to avoid technological determinism. For analog and digital recording technologies are materially quite different, and the notions of authenticity that emerge from the different subcultures involved are tied to these differences. As Rothenbuhler and Peters (1997) argued in a remarkable essay on "phonography", the physical traces of sound required in vinyl recording have a direct and non-arbitrary relationship to the reproduced sounds themselves. Farrugia and Swiss (2009: 42) write off Rothenbuhler and Peters' analysis as a value judgment against CDs, misapprehending the material basis of their argument. For the vinyl record, the relationship between the sound being reproduced and the technology of reproduction is a relationship governed by the laws of cause and effect—the grooves of the record press were carved by a needle vibrating to the frequencies of the sounds being recorded.

This relationship is in some ways the shadow of the physical dimension of visual art that Walter Benjamin (1968) once described as the "aura" of the work of art, an aura that allegedly had been lost in an era of mechanical reproduction. Benjamin, too, has been misread as arguing for the inauthenticity of film and photography; such readings ignore the fact that his idea of the "aura" is explicitly tied to physical processes, as well the ways in which the work of art's liberation from this aura opens up new possibilities for art as a vehicle of social change. Rothenbuhler and Peters (1997: 246) explain that in the world of recorded music, digital technology stores numbers:

These numbers are related to waveforms by a convention arrived at in intercorporate negotiations and established as an industry standard, but they could be anything. . . . By contrast, the phonograph record and the analog magnetic tape do contain physical traces of the music. . . . The hills and valleys of those grooves are physical analogs of the vibrations of the music. . . . When we buy a record we buy music, and when we buy a CD we buy data. If that key claim is true, then the end of the age of phonography will be marked by the spread of attitudes and practices that take advantage of that difference (emphasis added).

Their essay was written in the 1990s, when CD distribution had become very widespread and a very different "death of vinyl" had been announced. While it's clear that vinyl never really "died", the "spread of attitudes and practices that take advantage" of the new technologies have clearly been embodied in the practices of digital DJs. While digitization of recorded music separated it from the material conditions of the production of sound, it also opened up possibilities for musical expression that could only be dreamed of by vinyl DJs.

The fact that a vinyl recording is indelibly linked by natural physical processes to a specific moment in space and time makes the phonograph a medium in the spiritual sense: vinyl records are literally a window into another world. Vinyl may not be dead, but the dead speak to us through vinyl. Indeed, it is telling that among the earliest suggested uses of the phonograph was the preservation of the voices of deceased loved ones (New York Times 1889). "The phonograph speaks from 'the other side,' as if in a séance" (Rothenbuhler 1997: 245). The DJ is an interpreter of the past, and when s/he works with vinyl recordings, s/he works with literal reproductions of past events. As Jeff Chang (2010: 119) writes, DJs are "historians of the future. Who knows better the possibilities of the past than the one who will plunge a needle into it blind?"

On the other hand, to work with digital media—whether CDs or MP3s—is to work with reconstructions rather than reproductions of past events (Rothenbuhler 1997: 252). The digital medium cannot physically hold a piece of the past the way a vinyl record does; it can only hold symbols that have an arbitrary relationship to that past. While one is tempted to mourn the loss of the reproduction and declare digital media inauthentic, it bears emphasizing that while a reconstruction is not necessarily a reproduction, a reproduction is always a reconstruction. In other words, the vinyl recording is also an approximation of reality rather than reality itself; it's just a different kind of approximation, one connected by physics rather than symbolics. One can just as easily read digital technology not as the "death of vinyl" but rather as liberation from the physical limitations of the natural world. This liberation allows for the manipulation of sound in ways that simply aren't possible with vinyl. It wasn't very long at all after the invention of the phonograph that George Prescott (1878: 858) mused about the possibility of developing from it a "musical kaleidoscope, by means of which an infinite variety of new combinations may be produced from the musical compositions now in existence". While the phonograph may have opened the door to thinking about such possibilities, digital technology offered tools with which to implement them. Electronic musicians have explored the possibilities of the synthesizer and digital sampler for many years now; DJ culture, in many ways, is perhaps finally taking stock of these developments.

For the vinyl DJ formatist, of course, there is another discourse at work here that concerns not just the medium but the interface between the medium and the performer. Part of the vinyl DJ's virtuosity lies in the way that s/he negotiates the risk of "trainwrecking"—of failing to match beats accurately and destroying the energy on the dance floor. But a lot of the computer software available to DJs today eliminates this negotiation, or, more precisely, removes it from the performance situation. The notorious "SYNC" button allows DJs to match tempos perfectly, without having "paid their dues" with the months of practice it generally takes to learn beatmatching by ear (Golden 2008a). Some argue that the SYNC button eliminates the one technical skill that constitutes the DJ's virtuosity (van Veen 2002); others say that if that's all there is to the DJ in the first place, then good riddance. DJ Lorin (aka Bassnectar) said as much in an interview, after declaring beatmatching "obsolete":

Although I can beat match as instantaneously as the next DJ, I don't give an at's rass about doing it and making people watch me do it. I'm rather much more interested in creating and collecting awesome sounds, and layering, combining and broadcasting them as a means to conjur [sic] up an energetically cathartic experience for other humans (Golden 2008b).

While the debate over such software will likely continue, it is worth reminding ourselves that new instruments have always been viewed with skepticism in the world of music. Jim Samson reminds us in his study of Liszt that "our puritanism echoes Plato, who regarded instruments as an excess". He continues:

instrumental music deals with a material base that needs to be penetrated and transformed by 'collective human action,' to be purposefully humanized and socialized, before it can become music. However it can also resist that process, allowing the mechanical to stand in opposition not just to the natural but to the human, notably through a reification of instrumental technique (Samson 2003: 85).

The SYNC button is of course the ultimate reification of instrumental technique, and many would argue that it functions precisely in this manner—the antithesis of musical experience. But for controllerists, new techniques and ultimately new virtuosities are developing around the new tools, "humanizing and socializing" them so they can be considered instruments for musical performance.

Ultimately, when we focus on authenticity in relation to technologies we tend to ask the wrong questions. New technologies will always face a dynamic of authentication within circles of resonance, and old technologies will never really disappear. It behooves both the scholar and the DJ to consider the possibilities of new technologies without getting caught up in taking sides and choosing weapons. I was not close to DJ Hideo, but I count myself among those touched and influenced by his spirit. When he died, the people around him made a conscious decision to celebrate his life rather than dwell on what the world lost. The qualities that he brought to the world were not buried with him; his friends and family made those qualities a part of themselves as they celebrated his memory. Similarly, rather than mourning the death of vinyl, we should celebrate its life even as we explore new technologies and new possibilities.

Author: Bernardo Alexander Attias


I am grateful to vinyl junkies Anna Gavanas and tobias c. van Veen for pressing me on the arguments in this essay as well as for constantly reminding me to take heed of the physical dimensions of the art. I'm also grateful to the teachers and community at Scratch DJ Academy in Los Angeles for continuing to promote the values and skills of vinyl DJ culture while preparing students for the digital age in which we live. This piece is dedicated to one of those teachers, DJ Hideo Sugano.

Author Biography

Bernardo Alexander Attias (Ph.D., University of Iowa) is Professor of Communication Studies at California State University, Northridge. His research is primarily in cultural studies, performance studies, and critical theory; his current projects focus on the legal, aesthetic and cultural implications of the phonograph. He has been a DJ for over twenty years, spinning eclectic sets incorporating house, hip hop and drum 'n' bass as well as funk, jazz and swing. He occasionally blogs at .


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[1] The evidence here is anecdotal, to be sure, but these assertions are quite consistent with published research on the issue; see, for example, Montano (2010), Ferguson (2009) and Katz (2010).
[2] Digital vinyl systems work through standard turntables and special "timecode" vinyl records that are played as one plays any other record. Instead of music, however, the record contains a high-pitched sound that can be read by computer software in order to determine the position of the needle, its direction, and its speed on the record. This gives the DJ to manipulate the sound of a digital file housed on a hard drive with virtually the same physical actions as playing or scratching an actual record (see Kirn 2008 generally).

[3] Technically, she used a mixer as well, though as is evident from some significant gaffes in the YouTube video, the mixer is hardly an instrument she is familiar with.

From: http://dj.dancecult.net/index.php/journal/article/viewArticle/96/138

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