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Books fact and fiction: On a global trip; Decca Aitkenhead's travels around the world in search of the dream club and the perfect E, shed new light on rave culture.

Byline: Henry Sutton

The Promised Land

by Decca Aitkenhead

(Fourth Estate, pounds 12.99)

The joy of any great travel book is that you can follow an author's intrepid adventures from the comfort of your own armchair. You don't have to go there too. Nowhere near.

This is an especially comforting thought having just experienced the full force of Decca Aitkenhead's full-on, bigged-up and downright battered account of clubbing around the globe. Oh, and her search for the ideal E while she's at it.

Before you get the wrong idea, Decca is no ditzy E-head, hell-bent on misspending her youth as well as large sums of money. She's a columnist on The Guardian - university educated, over 30, and married.

Her urge to travel in search of the world's best clubs and drugs began as a joke. For years, Decca and her friend Charlotte would spend evenings in London reminiscing about their wild, E-filled university days and a particularly hot Madchester club called Strangeways. "One day," they'd say, "one of us will go in search of the perfect E."

After an especially dismal London night out, Decca decided it would be her. But to finance the escapade she'd have to write about her experiences, and because she was now married she would also have to bring along her clubbing novice of a husband.

The resulting book, however, while often very funny is no joke. Taking in the US, Thailand, South Africa and Holland, Decca has created not just a wacky travelogue, but a smart discourse on the E generation, the pursuit of unattainable dreams and the real menace behind drug barons.

Decca and hubby Paul's first port of call is Detroit, home to both Motown and Techno - "an amphetamine-fuelled fury of metallic beeps" and the step-sister of House music. But as happens throughout the book, they fail to find anything resembling a "scene", let alone an E, and wander Detroit's crime-ravaged streets in fear of their lives.

The couple hastily move on to Chicago, where House music was invented in the mid-1980s. But they find the locals are keener on stuffing their faces with deep pan pizzas and double chocolate chip cheesecake than getting out of their heads and dancing. Which makes Decca ponder the fact that while it was the Americans who invented both Ecstasy and House music, it took the British to put the two together.

San Francisco being the home of Ecstasy's early pioneers, is the next stop. A club called End-Up is a little more in the spirit of Madchester circa 1991, but a meeting with the legendary E-manufacturer and all-round chemical wizard Doc Vadis collapses when the wild Doc skips town to, er, spend Thanksgiving with his parents.

Clubbing, Decca realises, is much like travelling. It's great to begin with then along come the wrong people and ruin it. Or rather the wrong people start abusing everything that makes something good. In Ko Pha-Ngan in Thailand, attending the Full Moon rave, she's horrified by how rude the stingy Western backpackers are to the desperately poor locals.

In Cape Town, having given up on the sad yuppie dance scene, Decca and Paul explore the gangster-ridden ghettos, and in so doing question the part their own drug purchasing plays in all this. While being willing to admit that if there weren't people around to buy drugs there wouldn't be any gangsters to sell them, they believe that what really stokes dealing and gangsterism is social and economic deprivation.

And these are two things they find impossible to locate in polite and dignified Amsterdam, which is their last port of call. It comes as no surprise, then, that it is in Amsterdam where they finally locate the club and drug of their dreams. Yet just when things seem to be lifting off, the sound system packs up.

I'm glad Decca's produced this terrific book because it'll save me, and I'm sure countless others, the time and effort of attempting to recapture our own youths - always an impossible task.


LARGIN' IT: Decca gets in the mood for a world party
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 25, 2002
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