Ecstasy Artist Chemical X: ‘Maybe we need a new drug’
Hands up who wants to come to this exhibition with me in a transit van and balaclavas, with a getaway car around the corner? For his latest work, the artist known as Chemical X has taken 10,000 ecstasy tablets to make two enormous murals that look more like something you'd find behind the altar of the world's funnest church. He's the man who designed the logo for Ministry of Sound in the early 90s, so put two and two together and you'll get the answer – this man knows a thing or two about pills.
If you want to see what Class A heaven looks like, Chemical X is exhibiting the work as part of the ARK show which runs at Bear Cub Gallery until 2 October (or until the cops shut it down). Obviously, we had a few questions for the anonymous artist, starting with "how do you even get away with exhibiting 10,000 pills"?
First things first: how on earth do you get so many pills? Do you collect them or something?
Chemical X: We buy in the ’ingredients' wholesale and make the pills in house at a secret location. We have two pill presses, one to get the colours right in blanks, then we transfer the colour recipe over to the other press hidden away so that if the studio is raided there is no ‘contamination’. We have a large selection of old school embossing tools.
Are you a big caner yourself, or is it strictly about the art?
Chemical X: Used to be. Had my first E in the mid 80s when they were coming in from New York and cost £45. Mind you, you only needed one all weekend. Trouble was the club scene wasn’t geared that way and they shut at 1am. Nowadays I’m way too busy to lose the recovery time. We are very strict that no pills are used for anything other than going in the pieces. It’s all weighed before and after and any spares are crushed up and used in the next piece. They all have an ‘X’ embossed on the back so we’d know if someone used the machine for their own ends…
You've never exhibited the ecstasy based work before. How are you able to do it now?
Chemical X: Because we’ve kept it quiet beforehand. Last time it was the head of the drugs licensing department at the Home Office that shut us down. I’d be surprised if we make it to the end of this run if I’m honest. Any sniff of the authorities getting involved and they will be removed from the show.
You go under a pseudonym, I assume to avoid the law. Have you ever had a run-in with the police over your art?
Chemical X: Not yet but we have a contingency plan to deal with that when it happens.
You designed the logo for Ministry of Sound. How has clubbing culture changed through the decades since the start of MoS?
Chemical X: When MoS opened there wasn’t much of a scene beyond Shoom and a few other more underground places. The Ministry broke all the rules - no booze, south of the river, old bus depot, but it was Justin Berkman’s vision of the dance box that made it work. When they approached me they just wanted a visualisation of the club - I told them that they needed a brand and a logo as the club scene hadn’t really taken that kind of thing on. Now that’s all there is - brands playing the same music with different packaging. We need something new, underground and edgy again. Maybe we need a new drug…