Before they worked out how to fuse rock with dance with 'Screamadelica' in 1991, Primal Scream were just another indie band - and their self-titled second album had bombed. "We were going nowhere in 1989," recalls singer Bobby Gillespie. "We weren't selling any records, and nobody thought we were gonna make it."
By then, Britain's acid house revolution was in full swing - but Primal Scream were initially wary. Jeff Barrett, then a press officer at the band's label Creation, recalls: "We spent ages trying to get the band involved. They were kind of sceptical at the time. But then they started dipping their toes in, and it took them all of about five minutes to realise what joys could be had with Ecstasy."
Creation Records boss Alan McGee was an early, enthusiastic ambassador for this new scene. "We were all bang on it," he recalls. "We were all just E heads. I was phoning Bobby up at four in the morning saying 'This is amazing! Shaun Ryder on stage in gold lame punching the air!'"
Bobby Gillespie took his first E - given to him by McGee - in April 1989. The experience would ultimately pave the way for the creative quantum leap that was 'Screamadelica'. "If the first Primal Scream album was acid," says the singer, "and the second one was speed, then the third phase was E."
However, it was meeting producer Andrew Weatherall that truly set Primal Scream on the path to 'Screamadelica'. The pivotal meeting took place at a party in Brighton. "It was one of those great nights," recalls Creation boss Alan McGee. "At the end of the rave, at 11 in the morning, Weatherall came over and introduced himself."
It was guitarist Andrew Innes who put the idea of a remix to Weatherall, "over a few drinks one night in the upstairs bar at Spectrum," as the DJ recalls. Weatherall had only ever remixed one track before, but he gave it a go. The result was 'Loaded', which received its first public airing at the Subterania club in London's Ladbroke Grove, December 1989.
Initially the track wrong-footed the band's indie fans ("They just didn't want to hear," says Gillespie). But it went down really well when DJs played it at dance nights - and it became the band's first hit in February 1990, entering the charts at Number 16 and selling around 100,000 copies. "It sounded fucking amazing," says Gillespie. We'd done it."
'Screamadelica' came together piecemeal, but the bulk was recorded in six weeks over the summer of 1991 at Jam Studios in London's Finsbury Park. E wasn't the only drug involved. "I remember [keyboardist Martin] Duffy when we were doing 'Inner Flight'," says Gillespie. "He was tripping on acid. I remember him jumping on the mixing desk going 'Bob, Bob, I'm pissing in the sky!'. It was beautiful."
Indeed, Primal Scream have always taken an equal opportunities approach to drug use. Gillespie: "If you look at our band and you look at the drug usage involved it’s not just as simple as Ecstasy. It’s basically everything you can think of. A lot of what we do is quite hallucinatory. A lot of what we do is quite strung out and quite heroin-y. And the group does love amphetamines as well..."
Naturally, this kind of chemical excess meant progress on the album was halting. Weatherall: "There was a lot of mad shit going on at weekends. There were a lot of late arrivals. I turned up a week late because someone had force fed me Ecstasy in Rimini (Italy)."
The band's secret weapon in the studio? Not drugs, but newly affordable technology. "The thing that made the difference for us," says guitarist Andrew Innes, "was getting a sampler. We got one for £2000. Before that it would have cost £60,000. That piece of equipment caused the explosion in our music. Suddenly we weren't limited! We had flutes, Indian tablas.."
'Screamadelica' came out on 23 September 1991 and received breathless reviews. "A new language has been created here," enthused Melody Maker's Steve Sutherland, going on to say the band had created "the most revolutionary music in ages... Screamadelica is truly, literally WONDERFUL." Stuart Bailie said in NME: 'Screamadelica' will be recognised as a musical benchmark for these times."
The sleeve was designed by Creation Records' in-house artist Paul Cannell. "I went to the studios quite a few times," he recalled in 1998. "I've been to a few parties of theirs and at one point it was pure sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. That was all it was. It was kind of horrible, but I was totally up for it myself. I didn't care."
The ensuing tour, with The Orb and Andrew Weatherall as support acts, was predictably wild. Gillespie: "I've got great memories of it. It was debauched, insane, euphoric, everyone fucking flying, everyone just up there in a fucking great communal atmosphere. We wanted to combine a club with a great rock 'n' roll gig, combine the euphoria of both to fucking go somewhere else."
With so much partying going on, the band's performances were frequently shambolic. "What can I say? Some men didn't come out the other side," recalls Andrew Weatherall. "I remember certain members of the band disappearing for the whole day, and literally walking on stage as the first chord was due to be played."
Creation's Jeff Barrett on the 'Screamadelica' tour: "They went and took on board everything they were experiencing and they took it on the road. It was almost like the first superclub tour. They took the whole thing: the DJs, the lights. Everything about it was like a rave."
The tour culminated in an all-nighter at Brixton Academy, which has now become known as "the ketamine gig", because so many of the audience had taken it. Gillespie: "Someone came backstage and said 'I don't know what drugs people have been taking, but it's like Vietnam out there. There's people lying on the ground and people in slow motion, everybody's catatonic.' It was a pretty strange night."
The album swept the end of the year polls, beating off strong opposition from Massive Attack's 'Blue Lines', R.E.M.'s 'Out Of Time' and Nirvana's 'Nevermind'. Gillespie: "We were really doing something new and special and exciting. We felt proud of what we were doing. There's a lot of love on that record, and I think that's why a lot of people like it."
In 1992 'Screamadelica' won the Mercury Prize, beating off competition from the likes of U2 and Gillespie's old band The Jesus & Mary Chain. They received a £20,000 cheque - but then managed to lose it. "I didn't bank it," insists Martin Duffy. "I don't know what happened to it. I might have flushed it down the toilet or given it to some bloke in the street. I haven't a clue..."
'Screamadelica' captured the imagination of the nation, and had a particular impact on other musicians. Here's Mani, who's now a member of Primal Scream, but back then was in The Stone Roses: "I think it's a fucking astounding album. It's a landmark. What the roses did in '89, they did again in '91. It catches that spirit and the zeitgeist of that time and place."
And here's Mark Ronson, who was 16 when 'Screamadelica' came out: "'Loaded' is one of those change-your-life type songs. I was only listening to hip-hop at the time, so I knew that drum break from various hip-hop records. It made me start listening to guitar music, because 'Screamadelica' proved that so-called 'indie' bands were capable of so much more."