Oct 22

A Crystalline Exploration of ‘The Illicit Aesthetic’




“Perspective” is such a fascinating concept, especially when applied to art, in its many forms. It can delineate the gray area between “an inspired work” and an “eyesore.” The complex interaction between the artist’s cardinal intentions and the subjective interpretation, of the one experiencing the piece, yields a potentially diverse spectrum of subjective aesthetic reflection. What can be deemed beautiful and appreciated as such? Who defines these parameters and enforces that they are maintained? This article is not an outright exploration of the evolution of modern aesthetic theory, nor is it an analysis on how culture and “implied-societal” standards can influence one’s perspective on art. I would prefer to address a project, currently underway by clandestine artist, Chemical X, whose essence, alone, is responsible for initiating dialogues about the realm where: personal freedom, criminality, nostalgia, drugs, and art all intersect. The fundamental element, or essence, that inspires such dynamic thoughts is that the pieces of art in this project are constructed out of tablets of MDMA. How can this be accomplished? What precautions must be taken during creation and transport? Chemical X takes the time to illuminate some aspects of the “illicit underground” art world, his involvement and take on the evolution of the EDM scene, and the potential social awakening that could materialize from subject-specific conversations.


I have to ask. Where did you get the moniker, Chemical X?

Chemical X was the name of a friend of mine’s company. We started working together and, when I was looking for a name to hide behind, it just fitted the bill. And it’s what the Power Puff Girls are made of so that was a winner too.


Who were some of your artistic influences growing up? Who are some of your contemporary influences that keep you pushing the envelope?

Despite going to art school and working in the creative industry all my life, I’m not that interested in any specific artist. There are some amazing pieces of art out there and I wouldn’t be able to tell you who did them. I have no love for the art ‘industry’ and so I have alway’s loved Banksy’s approach. He let’s the art do all the talking and has divided the art community who either love him or hate him for not being part of the established structure of the art world.


What was your introduction to the electronic music scene like? Were you a “club kid” at one time?

I have been around a long time so I lived through the technical revolution that led to the dance music scene and the rise of the superstar DJ. EDM started out because, if you wanted to use the new, affordable multitrack hardware (this is before personal computers were rife…) then it was much easier to use a synthesiser and maybe be able to borrow a sequencer or a sampler. Any live instruments or vocals required a studio.

So, along with ability to record music, it also became affordable to press your own 12”s. We started putting on our own club nights and parties, the DJs had tracks that no one else had heard and the punters bought the records. The best DJs got the best white labels and so it began…


What notable changes have you witnessed in the electronic scene since you were introduced?

That it has gone so mainstream. EDM (or just dance music as the UK knows it) was something that bypassed the major labels – they simply didn’t know what was driving it. It wasn’t radio friendly, tended to have no lyrics and was deemed very repetitive. Perfect for raving your tits off to but beyond the reach of the music industry machine.


How did you get linked up to create the original Ministry of Sound logo?

I designed the Ministry logo nearly 25 years ago. I was approached to visualise the club while it was being built but I felt that they had an opportunity to create a club brand rather than just something that, as other clubs did at the time, just existed within their walls. For me, that logo represents something totally different. It is the last iconic logo – still in use today – that wasn’t designed on a computer. I still have the original and that can’t be said anymore. A few weeks after the MoS logo I was designing Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto logo…and that was on a computer.


What inspired the idea to make art out of ecstasy tablets?

I wanted to use a medium that no one else had considered and I loved the look and the power of a big bag of embossed, multi-coloured tablets.




The taboo nature and the logistical undertakings required of this particular theme of projects raise some immediate questions. How is source material procured for such an endeavor?



Do you sketch these out before the creation process begins? Do you keep a personal scrapbook of these sketches or anything of the sort?

Some pieces require drawing and I do those in pencil on paper but I never one for keeping working drawings – they clutter the place up. The rest is done in the computer as we use a range of technical suppliers that need cad .dwg or other kinds of digital shizzle.


Is there a significance to the respective stamps on the pills for each design?

They are all real stamps from real pills out there in the market.


What specific emotions are you trying to evoke with these pieces?

It’s not up to me specify the emotions I want someone to feel when they stand in from of thousands of pills. That person will draw on their own relationship with drugs, legality or any other subject it conjures  up when they are close enough to touch them. Everyone reacts differently to them. It’s so great to stand and watch them. But they don’t know it’s me of course.


Is the controversial element designed to spark a dialogue about societies that proliferate an attitude that criminality should take priority over aesthetic appreciation and the freedom of the individual?

It’s definitely about examining the freedom of the individual to do something to themselves that doesn’t harm anyone else. The art is only controversial because the drug is illegal and it is only illegal because it was controversial in the first place. I know doctors that are campaigning to be allowed to use MDMA in clinical treatments again as it has immense benefits to people suffering from certain psychological and emotional disorders. But the authorities think that ecstasy is MDMA. It’s not. Ecstasy is a street drug that has fuck knows what in it and the reason why that even exists is because of antiquated prohibition laws that have no benefit to anyone and learns nothing from history. Prohibition creates organised crime and prohibition causes drug deaths.

So I want people to look at it again from a new perspective. MDMA can be beautiful.


Is there something about MDMA, specifically, that speaks to you?

When I had my first ‘e’ in about 1984/5 it was the most amazing drug I had ever taken in my life – and I was semi-pro even back then. It came from New York, cost £45 and lasted until Monday with the most pleasant and relaxed comedown you could imagine. There was no ‘gurning’, no sweatiness. I remember going out and just feeling such love for everyone and got chatting to so many people and just feeling so friendly. No one I was speaking to even knew such a drug existed so I just appeared to be the friendliest, nicest geezer ever.

Once it became more mainstream the quality went down and people were more likely to say, ‘Fuck off mate, you’re on a pill.”


Is this activity commissioned and unofficially sponsored?

We do sell pieces to collectors. Those pieces are never photographed or described. The collector and the price paid is never revealed. However, the money is used to help pay for the public pieces.




What kind of safety measures must be taken when bringing these pieces to be displayed in art exhibits?

It depends. It actually pays to be as obvious as possible as no one would believe that you would have such a thing in broad daylight, so they only see what they want to see and believe what they are told.

People are always saying, “They can’t be real, you’d never get away with 20k of pills in public.” Well, we were visited by the police on the last day of the show. They’d had a ’complaint’ and were there to confiscate the work. We had heard that they were on their way and removed the originals and replaced with the limited edition prints. The video of what happened in on my facebook page. It’s hilarious. Never underestimate the stupidity of the police.


Where does the line between “international transport” and “trafficking” get blurred?

We won’t send anything across borders. If we have a US buyer or a buyer in Spain, we set up and manufacture the art in that country. One of many the reasons why the pieces are so expensive.


How are the sales of these items securely brokered? Does the very “essence” of these installations prohibit international exhibitions of the works without having to create them on location?

The public pieces are available exclusively through the Bitcoin currency. It is possible not to know who buys them that way and, if they want to cross a border whilst in possession of them, that’s up to them.


I’m sure some people immediately think that when they hear about art made with “E” pills that somewhere along the line, the art in question is going to get consumed. Does that thought ever enter your mind?

We are very strict about anything like that. All the ingredients are weighed at various stages of the process and any unused tablets are crushed and recycled. We have two machines in two locations – one for getting the colours right and the other for making the final versions.

As far as whether someone would buy them to consume, they’d have to be an idiot really. These pieces cost more than their ‘street value’ so it would be like buying a Fabergé egg and breaking it up to sell the gold and stones.


How would you like to see this series of projects evolve?

The ecstasy series have another 10 or so pieces in them. Then, I’m starting another series which, although similar, it takes a different angle.


Which is more accurate for you? Chemical fascination or chemical appreciation? Or does neither apply?

Neither really. The fascination is with the culture that surrounds it. People are more interesting than chemistry and it’s the effects that large scale drug taking has on society, as a whole, that interests me.


Do you feel that elements of the EDM global community have been influenced by the relative advancements in entheogenic chemistry? In your opinion, is the latter inclusive of the former or are they mutually exclusive?

When they started they were mutually dependent. In the US, EDM has a very different genesis from the UK. In the UK we fought for the right to party against the authorities and the police – that wasn’t because a few thousand people were dancing in a field, it was because they were taking a new drug that the establishment didn’t understand. The embracing of Molly in the US seems to cross musical genres – from Hip Hop to Cyrus – but it’s again the EDM fans that really see the benefit of the marriage of dance music that was born in the primordial fires of MDMA and a massive dance arena full of people just like you who feel just like you and you are all LOVING IT!

Ecstasy is not really a stay at home on your own kind of drug. It was made for raving.


Do you think it’s possible to change the social perception of drug use and have it viewed as a health/social issue over a criminal one, or is the infrastructure of the geo-political arena too dependent on perpetuating the demonizing of imbibing (what are presently) illicit substances?

We are seeing a slow shift towards decriminalisation but it’s a very difficult path. Everyone knows that the war on drugs is lost on the ground but it has a long way to go to make the people for whom drug taking is perceived as smack and meth heads eating their babies and stealing their handbags. Every drug Czar that has been put in place reports back that it needs a radical overhaul. Nothing happens.

So people go on taking drugs because they enjoy them, and no one gives a fuck what the law says anyway.




Was there an incident that led to you going underground or has the “Cloak and Dagger” approach always been embraced?

I have only gone underground to protect me from the authorities and the media. My kids know my name…


This might sound silly, but when members of an un-official “Brotherhood of Underground Artists” communicate with one another, in person, do they still identify one another by their call sign? Is it all meetings in poorly lit warehouses and on abandoned piers like the movies would have us think, or can you go get a coffee with your pal?

Normally just a pint down the pub comparing stories – pseudonyms are for pseudo.


How did your friendship with Banksy begin? What do you think you have learned from each other?

We met about 15 years ago in West London. His work was all over Portobello and in those days idiots weren’t dying to hack his work off the walls and flog it for hundreds of thousands. Everyone could enjoy his work and have a chuckle on the way to the shops. We had a website that was way beyond it’s time called Steal-Life.com it – it was an online magazine style thing that was sponsored by Olympus so we had loads of digital cameras to give away to whomever we thought were the influencers and opinion-formers in youth lifestyle, back in the late 90’s. Banksy was one of those people we felt. He used it to catalogue a lot of his early work and those are the shot he used on his first website.

He’s not someone that would do anything for money. He’s a quiet, thoughtful bloke who speaks best through his work but he agreed to collaborate on a campaign we were doing for Greenpeace about saving the ancient forest sod the world. He painted the Jungle Book characters with an axeman on a big pink board and I took them and put them into a decimated forest. Disney saw their arse and it was never used – we chucked a load of them in the bin and they are worth shit loads now. Even that picture on the pink board got sold for £70k a couple of years ago.

Banksy also helped us out when we were raising money for Surfers Against Sewage. He contributed a piece that we made into a longboard and auctioned it off. Damien Hirst did two on his spin painting machines and just his two sold for just under $100,000. Jamie Hewlitt from Gorillaz also got involved as I’d worked with him years before on a board game called ‘The Rave Game’. But that is a whole other story!


Do you believe that there is a way to promote a sense of empathy and social awareness through discussions, inspired by art? By your works in particular?

I’d like to think so but I’d also like to think that there would be world peace someday…


What are some of your other preferred creative outlets?

Is drinking a creative outlet?


What’s something about yourself that you have never shared in an interview before?

My eldest son is a renowned techno DJ and Producer.


If just an isolated glimpse or even a mention of a subject can inspire a spirited debate, one could speculate that a prolonged exposure or discussion could potentially yield even more illuminating results. Some crucial variables in this equation are: personal awareness, perceived objectivity, and the fortitude necessary to engage in evolutionary thought, regardless if your platform is socially unpopular. Chemical X has recognized that providing the launching point for a productive discourse is a necessary stepping stone for promoting paradigm-shifting evolutionary thoughts, although that “end-game” was not his intended purpose. He simply wanted to make a statement about the inherent power of choice an individual wields and his choice of medium has proven quite integral to the process. Who would have thought the meticulous placement of tiny pills would be able to set our minds ablaze with thoughts? Remaining subjugated and mollified eradicates the spark necessary to transcend to an elevated level of cognitive prosperity. It’s debatable whether blind acceptance of the systems that govern: entheogenic recreation, societal integration, legislative mediation, and corporatized incarceration is a catalyst for perpetuating apathy, or if apathy is simply a side-effect of the dogmatic indoctrination practices the government and media use to keep the masses docile and in fear. The time to harmonize between speaking your voice and listening intently has arrived, but, first, we must open our eyes. Our eyes must be open to the distinct possibility that what we fear and what we don’t immediately comprehend are necessary components to help us, respectively, overcome a wide variety of problems, both domestically and internationally.


Website: Chemicalx.co.uk

Facebook: @Chemical-X

Twitter: @Chemical_X_Lab