Music, OldVenue

Drugs and music

Over in America the 70s was a decade of new and exciting smooth funk and disco music, sprinkled with sugar sweet pop songs. Over here, music was pioneering in an altogether different way.

The punk movement of the mid-70s has been a notorious period in British musical history for a few reasons: the loud anti-establishment lyrics; distinctive clothing of thefans and musicians; and most of all, the widespread use of hard drugs throughout the bands of the time. Most famous of all drug using punks were the Sex Pistols, whose bassist Sid Vicious became infamous after tragically knifing his girlfriend Nancy Spugden to death during a drug-fuelled argument and dying of a heroin overdose shortly afterwards.

However, Heroin was a drug for the rich and famous; there was no widespread usage throughout the punk fan base, although the message of Anarchy in the UK did spread through the youth, causing social rebellion in the general attitudes of young people.

Not all punk bands were as tragic a case as The Sex Pistols – The Clash for instance went on to have comparably long-term success and healthy lives.


The early 80s were a miserable, miserable time in British music thanks to the post-punk movement, acting almost as a musical hangover to the drugs binge that was the 70s.
Drug usage took something of a back seat during the post-punk years. Bands such as Joy Division, The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain made dark, brooding music with elaborate, metaphoric lyrics – a pretty far cry from the Sex Pistols.

In the second half of the 80s pop music became more popular than ever before, creating super rich and super famous stars, most famously from England: Duran Duran, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Culture Club and Pet Shop Boys. With these musicians enjoying unprecedented fame and wealth, drug use was inevitable. Duran Duran reputedly demanded cocaine before many performances, and Boy George is still being caught out with marijuana and cocaine to this day.

However, unlike the 70s before it and the 90s after it, the 80s did not have a distinctive niche of the music industry associated with drugs – which, when considering the hair, clothes and buzzing high energy of the late 80s, is quite hard to grasp.


The 1990s marked the birth of British dance music as we know it today, as well as the all-important rave scene.

Compared to the decadent use of cocaine among rich popstars in the 80s, the 90s music scene gave drugs – namely cheap ecstasy – back to the masses. The rushing effect of ecstasy worked as the perfect partner to the consistent, high-energy beats and ambient tones of the dance music being produced at the time. Ecstasy is even credited with the development of the “drop” in dance music, something which is still widely used today.

It’s often been speculated that the building up and stripping down of sounds that so characterised 90s dance music was developed to replicate the anticipation felt after taking a pill, followed by an extended wave of excitement.

The influence of the 90s ecstasy boom was not limited to dance music; 90s pop heroes Pulp reached number two in the UK charts with their single Sorted for E’s and Whizz – which, if you didn’t quite catch that, is a song about securing ecstasy for a night out.

Even Blur’s Damon Albarn, the face of British pop in the 90s got caught out when he took ecstasy before appearing on Top of the Pops, the very cornerstone of British pop music.


Recent music, although largely watered down by the rise of music management, auto-tune and The X Factor has retained some elements of the drug culture so visible in earlier decades, particularly the indie scene.

Two figures from recent music stand out particularly as being drug users – one being Pete Doherty, whose career began brilliantly with The Libertines and continued promisingly with Babyshambles, only for him to slide into obscurity and the pages of The Sun in recent times, thanks to his openly acknowledged use of heroin.
The other is Amy Winehouse, whose recent death followed several years of drunken performances, TV appearances, and strange drugged up YouTube videos alongside the aforementioned Doherty.

Whilst hard drug users in the public eye are demonised by the press, both Rihanna and Lady Gaga have publicly smoked marijuana and faced little wrath.
Nowadays drugs are more often than not viewed in parallel to the music industry rather than embedded in it. Thanks to the huge presence of the press, a musician caught snorting cocaine today can face the loss of their career rather than glamorisation, as was the case in the 80s.


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November 2021
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