Comedy writer Jane Bussmann was a champion raver, a regular at Shoom, mates with the Farm and once thought that the dancefloor at Heaven was in fact a galleon, with Anton The Pirate its captain. These days she's an award-winning comedy writer whose credits include Brass Eye, Smack the Pony, The Fast Show and South Park. She also wrote one of the best (and certainly the funniest) books about rave, Once In A Lifetime: The Crazy Days Of Acid House And Afterwards. We caught up with Jane to discuss Interpol, wearing dungarees to office meetings, half a century old acid, and how faxing the fire department doesn't really work.
How did you first get involved in the rave scene?
I was going out with a bloke who was much older than me and who was friends with a bunch of people from the Limelight club. They also had a brilliant drug dealer and one night at dinner he put and E on the saucer of my coffee cup and it sort of went from there. I also found out at the same time that a bunch of school friends from Muswell Hill had started going to Shoom and then we just started going absolutely everywhere. I went from going to like stuffy, shitty you know London post-’80s clubs where you all wore black suits to full on dungaree mayhem in about a week and it was just.... brilliant!
Do you ever cringe about the clothes you used to wear?
No! I wear them today and at meetings to get more respect. My only regret actually is that I didn't buy Kickers because I thought I had slightly missed the boat fashion wise, as they had been going for a couple of months before I got into it. Whereas looking back, I just think you ponce, you could have had a big red pair of kickers but you were too much of a snob. I Love those, I am going to wear Kickers and dungarees to meetings tomorrow.
What are some of your favourite memories of the time?
The main thing I remember is just being in places you never would have normally got to. Like you would end up on the roof of some tower block in Elephant and Castle with a bag of croissants and a bloke who mended televisions and you'd try and trace back how this had happened and of course you'd taken so many drugs you would kind of nod out and then you come back round and you'd forgotten it all again. Then you'd go off and meet a whole load of new friends and that was just the vibe of it, constant new people and constant partying.
Another time, the group The Farm, we destroyed their life in about a week in Ibiza. They arrived as sort of rock stars of the Balearic scene and by the end of it they were all sitting with us on the ground having a water melon pip spitting contest. Their driver had already gone, really angry at the behaviour and left this indignant handwritten note about how this wasn't what he joined the music industry for, and I just thought... You twat!
There also is a story in my book that I put in anonymously but was in fact mine. A bunch of people had come back to my flat and got so off their faces they tried to sniff a bottle of ether that I had been given by a doctor in France because I'd banged my knee. He gave me ether to clean the wound the way we'd get TCP and these people started sniffing it. They were already so off their face on ecstasy they managed to somehow set fire to my bathroom. I didn't know this until they ran through my living room a couple of times filling up tea cups full of water and going down again to try and put out this enormous fire in my bath tub and finally they said, ‘Jane, your fucking apartment’s on fire’ and I went down and they were trying to fax the fire brigade. This was in the days when you had fax phones and I wondered what they were trying to do. Faxing a picture of a fire? Twelve firemen turned up and I had to make excuses about nail polish remover. That was pretty standard of the time.
Was it about the music for you as well?
All the lyrics were about 'this is a new age', 'we can live as one' etc. We can get on and have a great time as people together and all the lyrics reflected that, even the clothes were about getting along; they weren't competitive. That to me was what was so incredibly poignant. I don't really think there has been fashion with meaning since. Literally I cannot think of one thing that has happened since in street fashion that has had meaning outside of what little hoodies are doing now. I still listen to house music every day, still when I am running around cleaning up whatever.
Do you think that it all actually changed anything?
Yes absolutely, it certainly did. It basically made it incredibly hard for an anti-social government to carry on. It created a whole new questioning generation, but a generation that was questioning in a good way. It wasn't sort of fake misery like the punks or the CBGB set, it was all about can we make this thing better and I really do think that held. Look at the Labour government. You try telling me in the mid-’80s that we would have 13 years of ostensibly Labour government I would have laughed! I'd had endless years of the Conservative government that was all about eroding any kind of social responsibility or social freedom. Just niceness basically, niceness became a fashionable thing. I cannot think of another era, even the ’60s, that was about mind expansion and grooviness. The idea that niceness would be cool, that's fucking staggering!
Also because at the time the police sort of thought that drugs were evil, they thought something would happen like people with guns and dogs would attack them. When they were just up against vast numbers of people just having a good time it sort of fried their brains because they didn't have a legal or the psychological response to it. What do you say about 4000 people who are really happy? What is the appropriate police response?
I remember at Sunrise, they tried to stop the party, and I may have hallucinated this but I think people started chanting the chorus to the record and the police just had to retreat because there was so many of us and I thought that was brilliant because it really was a victory of a new age of having a good time over the silly Thatcherite quasi police state.
Then of course they got the Entertainments Bill which was sponsored by Graham Bright and put through by a lobbyist who had taken a bung from some cab companies or something (actually he'd taken a bung from the breweries to try and shut down raves). It was being presented as a sort of social protection order, to protect us from the illegality of raves. Bollocks! It was to try and get Whitbread's profits back up, they'd taken a ten grand knock because of rave. It's because ecstasy was a completely anti-British pill, everything you couldn't do as a child because it was embarrassing or it was silly, everyone was just doing it around you.
Were there any people you especially remember?
I remember there would always be the tall black bloke who was always nice to everybody, or the short ginger bloke. Actually I remember the Tibetan couple at Shoom. They would come out every week dressed as a pair of – as far as I know – Tibetan peasants. I think they ran a shop called Bond. But again it was just that thing that to walk through London in the late ’80s dressed as a Tibetan peasant that took fucking nerve. It just represented that you can actually pretty much do whatever you want and it's harmless and fuck all that Janet Street-Porter bullshit Network 7, trying to look cool, you know, absolute fake shit! This was just something completely new and lovely.
I've got a diary entry from about 1989 outside haven stables about Brandon Block from when he was very young and and it contains the line, I watched Brandon Block running up to families who were trying to have a picnic, trying to improve their vibe and I remember thinking I really hope he isn't clinically mad, I really hope this is part of an overall plan, rather than just genuine clinical insanity.
People like Anton the Pirate were important because they just showed how far you could go (laughs) in your dedication to the thing. On the bow of the boat and the boat being Heaven, he basically took it upon himself to be a pirate-in-charge of a boat. Heaven was an enormous vaguely boat-shaped club and it seemed to just work and there is a point when people think yeah essentially we are on an 18th century Spanish galleon that has been hijacked by Anton the Pirate, I wonder where we'll end up and that was really funny.
What were your favourite clubs?
I really liked Heaven. I thought it was brilliant, just a dream! I remember it was built so you had to go through tunnels to get there. The best clubs should be like you are emerging into a fantasy land and that's what this was. Particularly the dance floor, it was like an explosion of colour and the DJ booth was set up so you felt you had entered this brilliant dance place. Even the VIP room was brilliant, anyone could get in if you had a reasonable attitude, but also it was up a flight of stairs so it had that strange magical vibe. Also though in such a sweet way it had this other Goth club still going on at the same time. So every so often you would bump into this lost Goth!
Also Clink St, because it was in a seedier area and because it was in a jail it was fucking nuts! I liked the slightly sleazier places, it felt much more dangerous and much more underground, physically underground because it was in these dungeons. The atmosphere there was great, meeting dangerous people with rap sheets as long as my arm and having brilliant conversations with them. There was also something really good about the Lea Bridge Road, just because it was so huge and foul and you really would see some middle age woman jacking in a florescent top as the sun came up.
How many summers did you spend in Ibiza?
Maybe four? It was always a case of gearing myself up for going. Actually one time when I was there I ended up being wanted by Interpol or some other kind of international law enforcement agency. We'd rented the villa of my art teacher who was basically this slightly sketchy character who had a house out there. Of course millions of people turned up. We didn't wreck it or damage it or anything though. In fact I repainted it for him. I'd taken some quite speedy pills and I had nothing else to do so I white washed his house for him.
One of the boys I was staying with was a bit of a sod but I let him put the deposit for his hire car on my credit card and because he knew he'd kept the car for an extra couple of days he thought if he left the car outside the rental office with the keys in it he wouldn't have to pay for the extra couple of days. What he didn't get his brains round was that some scally took the car because he'd left the keys in it and proceeded to drive it round Ibiza for 8 weeks and then run it off a bridge, or cliff or something.
The first thing I knew about this was my dad calling me saying, "I just got off the phone with your art teacher, your car's been stolen and you're wanted by Interpol. Sort it out, bye!" My credit card company had billed me for eight hundred pounds that I couldn't get back and I ended up having to sue the tosser because he tried to say it was my fault for lending him the car. I think that was kind of the end of the acid house era, when that type of mentality crept in, but there was a great moment when the police had put some sort of warrant out for me because they were trying to follow this stolen car around the island.
Was there a moment when you thought this isn't the same anymore?
When people actually started taking coke, rather than just taking it because they had run out of E, and they thought coke was great. I just thought this isn't gonna work is it? Everyone's just going to talk shit and be selfish and mean again. Ecstasy had been the catalyst! Clubbing is by nature snobby if you're not committed to the idea of a bunch of people having fun together and it slips back into me being better than you, then you lose what house was all about, which was community. If you start taking cocaine it instantly removes community.
What other drugs were you taking then?
We took acid but looking back that staggers me, we were taking acid because it was cheaper than ecstasy! (laughs) Fucking hell I've got in my fridge some acid that is supposed from the ’60s or something, I don't know, it's supposed to be the world's greatest acid and I'm so scared of this acid it's been there for four years and this is just one tab and I was taking this shit every weekend. The things we did and just the dancing, I mean the phenomenal dancing you can do on acid, you basically become Tron!
But I think I was quite lucky I was going out with a bloke who was quite a lot older than me and he said, 'You do know that you're taking acid every weekend?' I just said, 'So, what's wrong with that?' and he said, 'Well you're a fucking drug addict'. And of course I was very impressionable and stopped taking it. I didn't think much of it until about eight weeks later when I realised the people on the bus didn't have funny faces anymore. I'd basically been off my face on acid for months. We were taking acid and going on the tube and really hardcore things, no bunnies and fields. It was totally the urban acid experience, bouncers, clubs, rotweillers, police raids and large numbers of criminals. I mean losing all your friends in four thousand people it probably actually toughened me up psychologically. Well, it prepared me for a career in the television comedy industry.
Did you used to go to all the big outdoor raves as well?
Yeah some of them at first, I went to Biology and Sunrise. There is quite a funny chapter in the book where I described some of the raves as evil raves. When people started doing scary raves with DJs called Dr Evil and techno records called like 'Where's Your Child', with a distorted police announcement saying, 'Do you know where your child is? He's probably dead.' It had definitely taken an unusual turn, maybe it was sort of a satirical response to the Sun's articles about evil ravers but I suspect it wasn't. It was just a bunch of blokes who thought that Whitesnake album covers were cool and producing these flyers the size of newspapers with pictures of women being raped by snakes on them and somehow this supposed to be a communal experience. No I didn't go to those.
Boys Own did an hilarious piece on evil raves, I think I reproduced some of it in the book. They were sort of interesting, I do hope that some of the money that people made was turned into property, I mean there were bin liners of cash, I'd hate to think it all just disappeared. I'd like to think that there is some really tacky pink Italian style villa half way up a hill in Ibiza that was paid for by drug money, happy drug money.
When did you decide to write the book?
It was when I realised my memory was going and also because people started telling me stories and they were stories that I had heard many times, like snorting coke off a railway line or breaking into some mad old millionaire's house and having an enormous bath all wearing top hats. These stories though had started to lose their detail, so I thought it was time to write them all down but I wasn't really that high up in the rave scene, part of the A team as the original lot were called. I thought I didn't really have the right. Then Phil Perry said I ought to do it and I thought, fuck it Phil Perry's great and he says I can!
Then I just went around getting as many interviews as I could and got people in Manchester to do the Manchester stuff, travelled to Belfast and all over just collecting stories and that was all it was meant to be, a very accurate record of the time because people were telling me their stories. It was meant to feel like you were there, that's why everything's in the first person. A couple of people said couldn't you have made me seem more intelligent because I left it in their speech exactly how they talked with all the umms and errs and ahhhhs but I really like that about it, like people are talking to you.
That's exactly what I am going to do with this interview, or do you want me to make you seem more intelligent?
(laughs) Jane, half asleep in a bed in Los Angeles holding a singing teddy bear!
One thing though, I definitely wouldn't be able to do what I do if it hadn't been for the acid house scene, if I didn't have that sense of of optimism, which I certainly didn't have before because I grew up in London in the ’80s and if I didn't have that basic sense of people being worth it I wouldn't have traipsed around 18 fucking different rotten countries like the Congo trying to make to make stuff work!
It really changed your outlook then?
Completely! I work to the point of exhaustion at least two days a week, like six o'clock to midnight and I wouldn't do that if I didn't think it was going to be worth it in the end. Fuck that shit I'd be down the pub, relaxing... or being drunk. It gave me the sense of, not purpose, but just like it's worth it, whatever you're trying to do is going to be worth it. Bollocks if I had that before (acid house) and certainly in an industry like comedy that is so depressing it really helps to have an upper colon that is basically pebbled dashed with E.
Rave gave you a positive mental attitude?
Yeah exactly PMA. I think you could basically say that having some of my upper digestive tract pebble dashed with E's is probably the only thing that sustains me in ten-hour script meetings. I run on a residue of speckled blue drugs.
© DJhistory.com 2010
Interviewed by Mark Treadwell in London 06.03.10
Armed with nothing more than a rucksack full of comedy, Jane has been over in Africa recently attempting to single-handedly bring down one of the continent's most oppressive regimes.
If you want to find out how she got on, then order yourself a copy of her latest book, The Worst Date Ever right HERE