Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 3.41.13 PMWhen Karina moved to Miami Beach from Eastern Europe in 2007, she used no nicotine, no alcohol, no drugs, nothing. Although she’d had a problem in her midteens with booze and MDMA, the 22-year-old was determined to begin her new life in America clean and sober.

Soon after she arrived, however, she fell in with a crowd of hard-partying Russians and began drinking again. Before long, she started snorting cocaine to wake herself up when she drank too much vodka. But it was only when she met a group of local gay men who hung out at clubs that her drug use really took off.

Now Karina (not her real name) was doing not only coke but also molly, GHB, and the animal tranquilizer ketamine. Strangely, when she tried crystal meth for the first time, she fell asleep on the toilet and missed work. She was often seen on the dance floor wearing a fanny pack — which she dubbed “the crack pack” — containing not just drugs but also sugar packets, Pedialyte strips, and a banana that helped her ease the inevitable crash. Her friends called her “Dyson,” after the vacuum cleaner, because of her ability to suck up large amounts of cocaine. Still, she remained functional — she held down a demanding day job as a computer programmer that often involved 12- to 14-hour shifts. And she never took drugs at work.

But then a couple of her comrades became addicted, and others lost their jobs. She found that the older she got, the longer it took to recover from drug binges. Today she restricts herself to alcohol and cocaine, but, she admits, even that’s difficult, especially given the environment. “It’s hard not to take drugs living in South Beach,” she says in heavily accented English. “Different types of drugs are everywhere, and people share them all the time. This is not a town where it’s easy to be straight-edged.”

So-called polydrug use — mixing various street drugs and/or prescription drugs either sequentially or simultaneously — will probably be in evidence this week as Winter Music Conference and then Ultra Music Festival hit Miami. Some of the estimated 300,000 people expected to attend the events might consume potentially dangerous drug cocktails while ignorant of the potential pitfalls. Just how dangerous was recently underscored by the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was discovered last month on the bathroom floor of his Greenwich Village townhouse with a needle stuck in his arm. What was initially reported as a suspected fatal heroin overdose turned out be a polydrug death involving not only heroin but also cocaine, amphetamine, and prescription tranquilizers. A combo of heroin and alcohol is bad enough. That’s what killed Glee star Cory Monteith, who was found surrounded by empty champagne bottles and drug wrappers in a Vancouver hotel room last July. Combining heroin and cocaine — a “speedball” — is even worse. That’s what killed comedian John Belushi. But two stimulants piled on top of two depressants? Reason columnist Jacob Sullum speculates the stimulants might have masked the effects of the depressants, causing Hoffman to take more heroin than usual.

Celebrities and electronic-music fans aren’t the only ones consuming dangerous drug cocktails. Increasingly, ordinary consumers are turning to perilous polydrug use. In Florida, there were 117 heroin-related deaths in 2012 (the last year for which numbers are available), only one of which was heroin on its own, a single case in Sanford, according to the state medical examiner’s office.

And it’s not just heroin. In Miami, there wasn’t a single cocaine-related death that didn’t involve other substances. The most common ingredient found locally in fatal drug mixes is the prescription tranquilizer benzodiazepine (followed by alcohol, oxycodone, and cocaine), not surprising perhaps because in recent years Florida has stood at the epicenter of a massive wave of prescription drug abuse that only now is subsiding.

In 2009, James N. Hall, a drug epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University, conducted an analysis of 1,185 Florida oxycodone deaths in which the drug was considered to be the main cause. Seventy-two percent also had one or more benzodiazepines in their systems at the time of death, and 42 percent had at least one other opioid in addition to oxycodone.

On the national level, drug deaths have doubled in the past decade to surpass automobile fatalities and gun homicides as the leading cause of accidental death in America. The reason is not that more people are using drugs but that people are using more dangerous combinations. “Substance abuse in America has become more dangerous, more addictive, and more deadly than any other period in our lifetimes,” says Hall, who recently warned of an “emerging heroin epidemic” in Florida.

The list of famous actors and musicians killed over the years by polydrug use is long. Jimi Hendrix died from barbiturates and alcohol. Janis Joplin expired from heroin and alcohol. Whitney Houston was killed by a toxic combo of alcohol, cocaine, Xanax, the antihistamine DBH, and a muscle relaxant. Chris Farley, River Phoenix, Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley, and Philip Seymour Hoffman all died from mixing cocaine with heroin or morphine.

Not just in America but also in the UK, the ’90s rave scene played a particularly important role in popularizing polydrug use. “Modern patterns of polysubstance abuse go back to the mid-1990s rave scene when ecstasy was usually MDMA,” Hall says. “Yet even back then, ecstasy did not always live up to its name. Users who expected more of a stimulant rush would begin their weekend with a snorted line of cocaine [or] try LSD… More experienced crashers would ultimately turn to heroin to bring them down after the weekend binge.”

Flash forward to today, and the rave scene has been reborn as EDM, and ecstasy has been rebranded molly. Many EDM fans believe they are safe because they take only one substance, molly, which is supposed to be pure MDMA. The reality is that most molly contains little or no MDMA and often consists of some hideous polydrug combination of various cathinones (bath salts), methamphetamine, and whatever the drug dealer happens to have lying around when he or she fills the capsules.

The role of alcohol in these mixes is particularly problematic. Many polydrug users don’t think vodka or tequila is a drug because it’s legal and ubiquitous. But sometimes it can act as a hidden catalyst that turns a hazardous combo into a fatal one. How many people have woken up after a night of binging on cocaine, opened their fridge to find an empty bottle inside, and wondered, How the hell did I drink a liter of vodka last night?

Similarly with prescription drugs, there’s a widely held belief that because a doctor prescribed the drug, it’s pure, and pure means safe. With a few obvious exceptions — such as fentanyl-laced heroin, the cause of more than 80 deaths in the Northeast within only the past few weeks — oftentimes pure drugs are just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than adulterated ones.

Another problem is that polydrug users think because a drug’s high has worn off, the substance is no longer active in their bodies. That’s simply not true. The toxic half-life of opiates, for example, can last for days after the initial high, so when the user redoses with more opiates or another type of drug, he or she can turn already-dangerous levels of toxicity into a deadly poison.

As the old saying goes, choose your poison (or poisons) carefully — because chemistry is not a DJ mix set.

But there is good news: The wave of prescription drug abuse so prevalent in recent years has begun to decline. The bad news: Lately, a new wave of drugs, so-called research chemicals from Chinese factories, has flooded the market. Adding another x-factor to an already-volatile mix, some of these substances are so obscure that not even DEA chemists can identify them.

“Polysubstance abuse is not new, but it has exploded in the 21st Century, fueled by wide-scale prescription drug diversion and now the emergence of hundreds of synthetic chemicals from labs in China which are sold online and delivered by worldwide overnight delivery services,” Hall says. “In just the last two years, small cohorts of heavy club drug users have been identified in London as well as other European cities, the United States, and, of course, South Beach. Most have consumed numerous different drugs over the past three months and continue to mix three or four substances daily.”

Originally printed in Miami New Times

Fab 5 Freddy & Max Roach: Hip Hop Bebop, Spin, October 1988

Max Roach says the new Charlie Parkers are in hip hop. The inventor of modern jazz drumming celebrates the new generation with wild stylist Fab Five Freddy.

MAX ROACH — legendary drummer with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk; a key figure in the creation of the music known as bebop; University of Massachusetts professor and recipient of a MacArthur, or “genius” fellowship; and now a collaborator with Fab Five Freddy on a hip hop/bebop project — is screaming at me at the top of his voice: “I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it. Don’t talk no more. Just get the fuck out of my house, you racist motherfucker, you supremist cocksucker.”

Max Roach

Max Roach

Larry Levan: Paradise Lost, Vibe, November 1993

For over a decade, Larry Levan ruled the dance-music world from his roost in the DJ booth at New York’s legendary Paradise Garage. Last November, his weak heart — made weaker by years of excessive drug abuse, gave out. Was it a gradual suicide? Frank Owen looks back on the day the music died.

A TYPICAL NIGHT at the Paradise Garage began after 4 a.m. At a time when most clubgoers were finally heading home, Garage devotees were trekking through the near-deserted Soho streets. They came from New Jersey via the PATH train, from Brooklyn and Queens by subway, from uptown in cabs, and the nearby West Village on foot. They came for the atmosphere, the electricity, the “religious experience.” But mostly, they came for the music: the “garage sound” — that classic combination of booming bass, honky-tonk piano, and soaring gospel-derived vocals.

Larry Levan at Paradise Garage

Larry Levan at Paradise Garage

Scott La Rock: Wasted In The Zoo, NME, 26 September 1987

Less than a month ago, the Bronx rap supremo SCOTT LA ROCK was tragically shot dead in a street brawl, the very day he’d signed a high profile contract with Sleeping Bag. FRANK OWEN, who did the last interview before Scott’s death, here pays tribute.



“The mystery powder in the clear capsule cost $10, a dead giveaway it wasn’t the substance the dope peddler was claiming it was. Nobody sells the real deal for that price. Examining it under the light, one could see yellowish rice-shaped crystals shifting around inside the half-filled capsule. It didn’t even look like the genuine article.”

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frank-owen-interview-titleMichaelangelo Matos Interviews Frank Owen for Red Bull Music Academy

Interview: Frank Owen

By Michaelangelo Matos

Born and raised in Manchester, England, Frank Owen was a rock critic and feature writer for Melody Maker in the ‘80s when he began to visit New York City on a regular basis. An unabashed fan of funk, soul and the emerging strains of hip hop and house music, Owen was a fearsome, funny, often chemically-driven presence in person and on the page. (He writes entertainingly, and a little harrowingly, about this in his second book, 2007’s No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth.) He eventually came to New York and became an editor at Spin, making and remaking the magazine at the whim of its mercurial founder and editor, Bob Guccione, Jr. “The most disorganized place I’ve ever worked,” Owen recalled.

Owen was sniffing out stories and scenes early and often: seeing The Sex Pistols at 16, becoming a devotee of Larry Levan at The Paradise Garage, dancing to Frankie Knuckles at Chicago’s Warehouse and most famously, writing the definitive account of New York’s infamous club Limelight, 2003’s Clubland, detailing the rise and fall of the club’s impresario, Peter Gatien, and the murder of drug dealer and club kid Angel Melendez by Limelight promoter Michael Alig. Red Bull Music Academy’s Michaelangelo Matos spoke with Owen over the phone in January about New York club history, the late ’90s nightlife crackdown and why Alig is the new Charles Manson.

When did you move to New York?

I moved to New York in October 1987, the very same day there was a big stock market crash. I remember getting off the plane and getting a newspaper and thinking, “Oh, I guess I chose the wrong time to come.” [laughs] It was a huge crash. It was nothing like what we just went through now, but for a few years it was pretty bad.

You had been working at Melody Maker, right?

Yeah. I covered hip hop and house music, so I would come to America all the time on assignment. I would spend a couple weeks there interviewing people: “Please call tomorrow to interview Morrissey in Cleveland.” I was spending a lot of time in America – about six months of every year – and I met my future first wife at The Paradise Garage. So that’s why I came out.

I went to the final night [of The Garage]. That was funny, because you could not get anybody to go to The Garage in those days that wasn’t already part of that scene. I could not get anybody in England even interested in writing a story about it, which is ironic, because now there are stories all over the place. It was only after it closed that it assumed that kind of legendary significance. [They’d say], “What do you want to write about all these grungy Negroes in there?” It wasn’t the hip thing, The Garage. It was seen to represent an era that had long gone.

My first job when I came over here was throwing hip hop parties at The World – between B and C on Third Street. That’s where I met everybody who would subsequently be in Clubland: Steve Lewis, Michael Alig, Lady Bunny, Kenny Kenny. At the door I would let anybody in. I had trouble back then turning people away.

It was a disaster. People got shot. That was my brief career as a club promoter.

The World [had] hip hop parties on Sunday nights, upstairs. Our idea was to mix acid house and hip hop, but we stopped that after the first time some homeboy stuck a gun in the DJ’s face and told him if he played that crap again he’d shoot him. The whole thing ended when, about six months later, we threw a big party for Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation. It ended up in a huge fucking riot. People were going up and down the street, shooting each other. We basically all got fired because of that. It was a disaster. People got shot. [laughs] That was my brief career as a club promoter.

1987-88 was crazy. You’d go to shows, and you’d be dodging bullets all the time. People think it’s violent now, but it’s nowhere near as violent as it used to be. It was dangerous back in those days.

At Spin, writing the Singles column, you were sounding the horn about dance music. Did you go in there with that as a mission?

At the time that was definitely it. Nobody treated dance music seriously at all. Melody

Maker was wall-to-wall rock ‘n’ roll when I arrived. It was only by a lot of fighting with editors – a lot of fighting – and by the fact that it soon became obvious, at least for a while, that it had legs. This was still, at this point, still singles music, 12-inch singles music. It was viewed as a fad. It was only when people started to see this was commercially viable that the fighting stopped.

I’m somebody who was actually a big proponent of [electronic music], and I kind of despise it now.

I had a lot of hopes for it, especially the stuff that was coming out of Detroit. When I first heard Derrick May, I was blown away by that stuff. But it’s how many decades later? I don’t really hear that much progression anymore. Having said that, do you know how much they fucking charge for those tickets as well? It’s like $100, $200. It’s a fortune to go to a rave these days; it’s unbelievable.

I’m in Miami Beach now. I am totally amazed by [the EDM boom], because rave, for a while, was dead. It really surprised me. Dance music is now what hip hop was ten years ago. It’s fucking nothing but – if you go to a college campus nowadays, that’s what they’re into. I’m somebody who was actually a big proponent of that stuff, and I kind of despise it now. There’s just too much of it. It’s a lot to do with where I live. You cannot go out in this town – to buy a pair of trousers, to have a meal, to sit at a pool – without hearing BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. It’s everywhere. It’s become the world capital of bad techno music.

One reason dance clubs were dreary in New York for so long was bottle service.

That’s how they design clubs now. You talk to Steve Lewis about it and he’ll tell you: Over time, the way the space is used to allocate the dance floor has shrunk, and the space allocated to table service has grown. When that first started in New York, it was the whole lounge thing, [like] Spy. I hated those places. It wasn’t fun; it was just people sitting around and ogling models and drinking expensive liquor. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the future of club culture.

There were about three lounges that started up, started doing bottle service. They were playing dance music, but people weren’t dancing to it. It attracted a lot of models. It was very white, though not exclusively by any means. It seemed to me really bourgeois, really boring. You know all that comes from the south of France, right? That’s where bottle service began. The whole thing there [is], you buy a bottle and you don’t drink it. They put it behind the bar with your name on it, and you get it the next time you come in. So it’s slightly different.

That’s reflected in the club ecosystem: The cool people stop going to clubs when the uncool people start to show up.

Sometimes the energy is more with the more democratic form of club culture, the more inclusive form, and sometimes it’s with the more snootier, more exclusive form.

Right. What happened, I think, now the people who are the real celebrities in terms of [being] the center of attention in nightclubs are people who would have never gotten into Area, would never have gotten into Danceteria – probably they would have gotten into The Limelight. But the center has shifted so dramatically to these people, and catering to these people, and they’ve got money. So there’s no way we’ll go back to that other kind of nightlife now that the club owners have figured it out.

There’s always been a tension in club culture between exclusivity and inclusion. One of the nice things about the rave scene was that it was initially a reaction against that whole “We’re not going to let you in” [thing]. Studio 54 was the most famous for that – they would initially turn away celebrities. But that was a part of club culture for a long time. You remember the supper clubs of the ’50s – they were more picky. There’s lots of stories about people being turned away for all types of racial reasons, or sometimes for class reasons, from these clubs. So there’s always that kind of – especially in New York – that lowlife-meets-high-life; there’s always been that mixture of classes. Sometimes the energy is more with the more democratic form of club culture, the more inclusive form, and sometimes it’s with the more snootier, more exclusive form. But that’s played itself throughout the history of club culture.

Club culture in Manhattan was put in a bad place by the Giuliani administration, did it not?

I think it’s a mistake to think of clubs as this big thing for Giuliani. I don’t think he was out to get Peter Gatien. Peter presented himself as a convenient scapegoat. He didn’t mean to do that. But he did. Like the squeegee-man thing – it wasn’t that he got the squeegee-men off the street, or declared war on nightclubs. The squeegee-men and Peter Gatien presented convenient bogeymen. The whole campaign had much bigger targets.

Gatien made some dumb moves, and he did it in a very public way, and Giuliani pounced. He saw the opportunity. And with [journalist] Jack Newfield in tow, they turned Gatien into this evil monster who was destroying our kids. But I don’t think it was anything particularly personal. Gatien thought he was safe because he was bribing the [cops]. But he didn’t understand the ways in which the police department had changed – that there was zero tolerance for that sort of corruption. You couldn’t get away with it the way you could back in the ’80s – cops taking bribes.

Now it’s this whole new generation of club-going kids who idolize the Limelight, the way a previous generation idolized Studio 54.

He thought he was protected. He was giving money to Giuliani’s campaign. He was giving money to all the local politicians. Also, he wasn’t taking a cut from the drug dealing, so he thought he had plausible deniability. And he completely failed to see that things had changed – that this was a new regime; that the old ways weren’t going to work anymore. He did nothing that other club owners hadn’t been doing in this town for decades.

You covered Gatien extensively in Clubland. Did you cover nightlife much after that?

After Clubland I made a very conscious decision to move away from [writing about] clubs. The first thing I did after writing Clubland was a piece about the murder of Jam Master Jay. It wasn’t a music piece at all – it was about all the gangsters he knew. The second piece I wrote was a big, 9,000-word story about the murder of my brother-in-law in Detroit. I made a very conscious decision. I knew I just wanted to make a very, very clean break.

The thing that got me back into this stuff now, the truth is, [laughs] Facebook and the Limelight documentary – the incredible resurgence of interest. That died for a while, four-five years after Clubland came out. Then the next year it started to pick up again. Now it’s this whole new generation of club-going kids who idolize the Limelight, the way a previous generation idolized Studio 54.

Michael Alig has become the Charlie Manson of club culture. I get all these letters from these 18-, 19-year old Twinkies about how they want to party with Michael Alig. And you know what? I understand that. Because take away the killing – even though it wasn’t my favorite time in nightlife, it was a very creative period. These people made their own clothes – they didn’t go to fucking H&M to buy some cheap slacks. Even the invitations in those days were works of art. The smallest detail was important. Compared to how club culture is now, I can see why they look back even if they were too young to go there: “Wow, that must have been amazing. That must have been incredible. We don’t have anything like that.”

Frankly, I thought, what, ten years later, I wouldn’t really give a fuck about the Limelight. I thought it’d be a bunch of old codgers sitting around: “Do you remember the days when we used to party at the Limelight? What’s it like today?” I thought it’d be a nostalgic thing among people who went there. It’s all these new kids now, too young to have gone there, completely fascinated by the Limelight. That’s why Michael Alig is still [famous]. Who the fuck would have thought?

The Miami Zombie

“Owen’s tolerance of uncertainty and keen nose for fear-mongering bullshit sadly set him apart from most journalists covering drug issues,” Jacob Sullum, Reason

“One of the last bona fide gonzo investigative journalists digs into the media hysteria surrounding bath salts,” Francisco Alvarado, Miami New Times

“But are bath salts really as dangerous as they sound? In a great piece on Playboy’s website, Frank Owen convincingly argues that, no, they aren’t,” Justin Peters, Slate

“In a patently entertaining and well-researched piece, the author not only probes the heart of the bath salts scare but ventures into the murky legal waters around bath salts by trying them himself,” NSN News, Legal Drug Reviews

The Limelight, the Club Kids and the scene they created has evolved into a nostalgia moment for those who came of age in the late ’80s and ’90s. Rather than quaint memories of poodle skirts and greasers of the “American Graffiti” variety, our nostalgia involves platform shoes, techno music and MDMA (Ecstasy). Frank Owen explores the inner-workings of the New York scene centered around “The Limelight” and how it interlocks with the mafiosi-run clubs of Miami in his excellent book Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture. Mr. Owen, who is featured heavily in the documentary The Limelight, kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Impossibly Glamorous.

Charles (C): You lived in New York during the zeitgeist of big ’90s club scene. What city do you feel is under the world spotlight now?

Frank (F): Club culture as we used to know it is dead, buried underneath the rubble of bottle service, horrible techno music and brainless bottle bimbos. The only party that I’ve seen slightly mimic what we had back in the ’90s is Miami’s monthly fetish party called “Submission” which is run by a Limelightveteran.

C: You’ve written quite a bit about drugs including Special K, meth, heroin and more. Which is the most dangerous?

F: It’s not the drug, but the dose that makes the poison. It is ludicrous to say that one drug is more dangerous than the other. Over-the-counter Tylenol in high doses will do more damage to you than a small bump of meth ever will. Also, in most cases it is the combination of multiple drugs that’s most lethal. That’s why I never take Ecstasy anymore. It’s not just that there’s very little MDMA in Ecstasy, it’s the polydrug combos contained in the pills: Oxycodone, methylone, LSD, crystal meth, 2C-B, BZP, Special K etcetera. Less is more when it comes to both architecture and drugs.

C: You said in another interview that you like to tell stories from “the criminal’s point of view.” Which of the criminals you have written about do you still find most intriguing?

F: Chris Paciello is intriguing not because he is so interesting but because after all that he has done, all the crimes he has committed, people treat him as if he is God in South Beach. People will forgive anything for a good time in South Beach.

C: Who would win in a fist fight, Al Capone or Jack the Ripper?

F: Al Capone no doubt. Jack the Ripper was a coward. Serial killers usually are.

C: I discovered your work via your riveting book Clubland, but I always wondered in the Michael Alig case why he could not claim self-defense. Why is that, and what do you personally think happened in that apartment?

F: Well, Michael described the incident as “a sissy fight that span out of control.” I believe him. If after Michael and Freeze killed Angel, they had cleaned up all the drugs in the apartment and called the police, he could have legitimately claimed self-defense, but that’s not what they did, is it? The real horror wasn’t that they killed Angel, it’s what they did afterwards, especially the hell they put Angel’s family through.

C: Do you think he will ever walk free again or is he bound to be a lifelong jailbird?

F: They’re going to have to release him eventually, but Michael is his own worst enemy. More than drugs, Michael is addicted to bad behavior. Michael’s partner-in-crime Freeze was released because Freeze behaved himself inside. Michael would rather be infamous and in prison rather than a nonentity and free. He doesn’t help himself by continuing to give interviews to journalists. Parole boards don’t like that. Michael would have been out by now if he had kept quiet and behaved himself, but that not Michael’s way, is it?

C: Tell me what your fans can look forward to next from you.

F: Just finished a big story for Playboy magazine debunking the myth that there is a “bath salts epidemic” in this country. There isn’t. It’s a minor drug trend that has been hyped by the media. The story comes out in December. Also, I’m about to start on a new book called Kink, USA. It’s a a memoir about my relationship with a 21 year-old dominatrix and my soon-to-be spouse. Anybody who wants to read more of my writing can go to my website

C: What’s the top song on your iPod playlist now?

F: I don’t own an iPod—I hate listening to music on headphones—but the music I’m listening to at the moment: “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” by Augustus Pablo. It’s a groundbreaking early 1970s dub reggae album that is a huge influence on contemporary dance music. Also listening to the various remixes of Nick Cave’s Grinderman project, especially “Hyper Worm Tamer.”

You can check out more writing by Charles here: