We’re back once again with the renegade masters this Friday night – down at Brixton’s former Fridge venue to celebrate 21 years of Return to the Source. Anu Shukla takes a hike down memory lane…
Excitable crowds huddled in their groups along an endless queue outside the Brixton Fridge. It’s 1995. Return to the Source had become one of London’s most successful underground Goa trance nights. Luminous tentacles, totems and masked aliens blew the brains of the London party crowd. Hindu deities basked in the glory of neon lights in a fluoro heaven. Cosmic rituals raised the vibration and spiritual clubbing defined a new era in dance music culture… It was like taking acid but without the acid – and the memory, or rather, the nostalgia – remained for years to come.
Mixmaster Morris became the first to revolutionise the concept of the ‘chill out’ here and Dr Alex Patterson soothed the crowds with his Ambient Meditations. Reiki masters, massage therapists, crystal healers floated serenely under UV lights while blissed-out clubbers flashed ultra violet smiles as you downed another chai.
That was 21 years ago at one of the very first events. RTTS brought Goa to London and it didn’t quite leave. In the meantime, the event itself seemed to disappear off the face of the planet. So what exactly happened and where have they all been?RTTS is the brainchild of Chris Deckker, Janice Duncan, Mark Allen and Phil Ross. The idea was spawned in 1993 to raise money to release a friend from an Indian prison, but it took off – like a rocket into space and never really came back down – at least not in the hearts and minds of the party people… Eight years later, things came to a head.
“In one respect, the scene was swallowed up by the mainstream and became diluted” says co-founder, Phil Ross. “The people making the music wanted to evolve and move on. They all had their own collaborations, but like us, I think a lot of people got tired: tired of the commerciality, the pressure and of playing the same music…”
This Friday’s Reunion has been on the agenda for years. So when Chris Deckker called up out the blue to confirm his European tour with Medicine Drum, the timing was just perfect for all co-founders to reunite for this 21st anniversary celebration.
“It was great to hear from him after so many years,” says Phil, “so when he said it would be an ideal opportunity to do the reunion, I totally agreed. We started a group email with Mark Allen and Janice Duncan and for once, everyone was up for it at the same time.”
It’s now been 12 years since the last RTTS party. So thanks to a karmic combination of demand and timing, the legendary night with residents that also included Tsuyoshi Suzuki, Man with No Name, Mark Allen, Medicine Drum, Chrisbo and others will return this Friday to it’s original venue, now known as the Brixton Electric. The flood gates of the memory bank have already opened and no doubt it will all come rushing back for many old school party people.
Flying over Brixton Academy with ‘Rose the Raving Granny is not exactly an experience that musician, Darren Sangita, could forget even if he tried. “It was the most memorable RTTS event and after the launch of Hallucinogen’s debut album on Dragonfly,” he recalls. “The crowd was going wild and the shamanic energy of the night was unbelievably pure and powerful.”
“The most memorable gigs were also at the Fridge where, Tsuyoshi and Mark Allen could be found stirring up the cosmic cauldron. Dancers and dreamers came together to envision the future. Thank goodness for the seeds sown on the breeze of global psychedelic culture. They flowered into international spaces for celebrations that we know and love today: Boom, Ozora, Antaris, Sonica and many more.”
Goa trance imported its own brand of the Indian spirit and it had a significant impact on the likes of London DJ, Full Lotus, who has played to an underground party crowd for the best part of two decades.
“As a fan of sixties psychedelia, RTTS was my UFO/Middle Earth initiation,” he says. “I’d been to Whirlygig and Club/Mega Dog since 1991 – but what set this apart was the 4/4 beat and deco – clearly influenced by trips to India. I’m of Indian origin so I was amazed to see images I’d grown up with adorned on walls. I felt I had come home, metaphorically so to speak.”
For others, RTTS parties seemed to have depleted the memory bank… “It’s all a bit fuzzy really… Can’t really remember much.” Andy Morph isn’t the only one. “Wow, I have to think really deeply about that, it’s all a bit of a haze.” Martyn Healer evidently had a good time too.
So did Andre Power: “I can’t remember a thing Anu! But I know it wasn’t the place to be if you were looking for a sexual encounter – for that you had to be in the pub! But it’s why I loved RTTS, it was purely for the music and dancing. It was the end of the acid music era before techno and dirty squat parties muddied the waters… I guess that’s why people recall it with more affection!”
Manmademan’s Sonya joins the line-up for this Friday as well and tells us: “Those days were filled with wonder and a feeling of being a part of a global change in consciousness. Together with friends we danced, laughed, struggled and connected. We were in it together, in this incredible journey that was going somewhere so important. We dropped ‘normality’ for a dream, for a feeling, a united feeling, we were going to change the world with love and connection, all of us, musicians, artists, dancers, fans; the barriers were down… The music was alive, its voice was heard in the hearts of us all… I believe in that still, I will never stop believing in us, Return to the Source.”
Spanish DJ, and artist, Sol Shine recalls the impact of RTTS when she first moved to London back in the 90s. “It was an incredibly exciting and fresh new concept for me: amazing Goa Trance sounds, psychedelic decor and lighting transmitted with an immensely positive, spiritual and magical healing energy… It was a moving, full-on power-house of sound and vision!”
Photographer Antonio Pagano was there to capture some of those moments when he hooked up with the RTTS crew back in the 90s. “I’d just moved to London and the psy scene really caught my attention. It was the closest thing to sixties psychedelic culture. The beat was fresh and pulsating, tribal and ritualistic. It was such a natural dance-floor of choice.
“The people I’d met back then – and still connect with these days – they were the main catalyst… That’s when I began to shoot, gaining trust and be-friending RTTS organisers. They had a massive tent at the Big Love Festival – it was a great moment for the whole trance scene.
“I remember taking lots of shots on long-exposure shutter-speed – like half a second. It’s normal practice for club photography, but I had no cable connecting the flash so I fired away manually. For some reason that half a second was so immense that I could really fire the flash comfortably in that frame of time and freeze part of the image while still recording the movement of light. They were risky shots but luckily I’ve got some to show!”
Antonio’s shots perfectly captured the energy of those fluffy times. The parties were tolerant and open. There were artists, students, travellers, tourists and all other kinds of spiritual seekers. It was a tribe without being a tribe as people came together and bonded through the collective experience…
This Friday night will surely be an emotive experience, not just for everyone that was there, but also for the founders of RTTS as they look back over the last 21 years. “It was a huge part of my life for many years,” says Phil. “In many ways, the whole trance scene and 90s era defined me as a person and helped me to grow.
“I experienced a great deal of joy, pain, hard work and achievement, but more importantly, contact with special and enlightened people gave me – in a small way – a different level of insight into humanity and spirit. Over and above that, I bonded with people who will always be a part of my life.
“I share these emotions with thousands of people who came to our parties, even though I never met or spoke to many of them. But we were a tribe, we felt like a nation. Emotional? Can’t you tell?”