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Tripping on Madchester

Smile! Acid house is back

Raver graybeards are dusting off beanie hats and swallowing the first two tablets — the Happy Mondays' Bummed: Collector's Edition (Rhino) and Paul Oakenfold's Greatest Hits & Remixes (New State) — of what's sure to be an intoxicating yearlong revival. It's just in time for the upcoming 20th anniversary of the summer of 1988, which the British music press dubbed the "Second Summer of Love." The heady period is frequently cited as the apogee of "Madchester," a club-based dance-rock movement that spun the UK dizzy and influenced the rave scene on this side of the pond.

Madchester is a study in hard contrasts. Countering Eighties indiedom's prevalent, anti-Thatcher rhetoric, participants were decidedly apolitical, yet polarizing nonetheless thanks to their drug-addled lifestyles. Pure self-absorption was the norm, but Ecstasy (nicknamed "the hug drug") fleshed participants into one big, loved-up mass. And then there was the garish fashion, which stood in stark contrast to the city of Manchester, an industrial center known for its drab, dreary landscapes.

The movement's most notable personality was a stumbling contradiction himself: the Happy Mondays' frontman, Shaun Ryder, who walked that fine line between yobbish profligate and eccentric intellectual. Over the sloppy, indie-kids-do-dance textures (almost twee guitars mixed with funky drumming) of "Wrote for Luck," Ryder sneers through a narcotic haze: "I wrote for luck/They sent me you/I sent for juice/You give me poison."

Meanwhile now-superstar DJ Oakenfold first sampled the movement's preferred poison during a 1987 trip to Ibiza. The soundtrack to the 24-hour party island was dubbed "Balearic Beat": a Hydra-like beast of house, soul, rock, and Italian disco that Oakenfold slayed and brought to England.

Greatest Hits & Remixes isn't a Madchester museum piece like Bummed, but it does display the dance-floor prowess that made Oakenfold an acid house name (he later produced the Mondays' Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches).

A celebration of Madchester is meaningful: The pop movement featured stimulation's last pre-Internet victory over hopeless and helpless ennui. Somewhere a smiley-faced hooded top is coming out of mothballs.

 
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