Congratulations to all the Canadians who have done dumb shit while bombed on Bombay Sapphire in the past couple of months, you've just earned yourself a hell of an excuse.
You can now explain some of it away because, as it turns out, some bottles of Bombay Sapphire were a lot fucking stronger than advertised. So, if you punched your fist through that Corvette window, slept with that person at the bar you really shouldn't have slept with, or stole your neighbor's cat, well, it's now on the gin.
We know this because an investigation by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario quality assurance team found out that some of the gin was a little more ginny than it should have been.
"This recall was initiated after an investigation by LCBO Quality Assurance revealed a deviation in the stated 40 percent alcohol content by volume," reads a news release by the board. "The affected lot... has alcohol content by volume of 77 percent."
Hell yeah, that's so much more bang for your buck.
Not everyone followed that particular line of logic though—Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland have all followed Ontario's lead in pulling the liquor from the shelves. Turns out having more alcohol in your drink than you advertised is, understandably, a major no-no.
Furthermore, this isn't the first time that extra-boozy booze has wound up on the shelves in Ontario. A few moths ago, the province recalled Georgian Bay Vodka because, again, it would fuck you up more than it was supposed to (the vodka, sold at 40 percent, had some bottles with up to 80 percent.)
Next time, just drink a whiskey—you can always blame it on whiskey.
On an all new episode of VICELAND's DEAD SET ON LIFE, Matty Matheson flies out to LA to meet up with a personal hero: Adam Perry Lang, the BBQ king of Hollywood. Though the French-trained chef is pretty busy launching his new restaurant, he and Matty still manage to have a wild time—fishing, boxing, and lighting stuff on fire.
I once ordered a martini at a networking event. “How do you want it?” the bartender asked. I had no idea what he meant but I didn’t want to look dumb. “Uh, shaken?” I replied (because that’s what James Bond says). The bartender smirked. “No, I mean, do you want Vodka or Gin?” I felt like a damn fool. Here’s how to…
Let’s say you’re in the mood for a drink but you have no idea what to concoct out of all the half-empty bottles of booze you have lying around. Recipe site Make a Cocktail has a fun tool that shows you what you can make based on the ingredients you already have.
Growing up in southwest London in the 1980s, my alcohol and drug use was not abnormal. I must have started drinking at 14, because it was at that age I got a criminal record for causing a road accident after too many lagers. At secondary school, we sniffed Tippex from our sweater sleeves, smoked Embassy and Rothmans at lunch, and had the odd aerosol whiff at the local rec. At college, it was stoned chess marathons, LSD, and mushrooms among the trees and some heavy drinking at punk gigs.
Is this weird behavior for today's teenagers? Is "Generation Z," the 12- to 22-year-olds of 2017, getting more or less high than kids in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s? Is Britain headed for another generation of intoxicated debauchery, or one of puritanical sanctuary?
Go solely off what the media tells you, and it's hard to know what to think. There's been a steady drip of articles stating that teenagers are over alcohol—that being a teen today is the same as joining a sanctimonious monk-cult, obsessed with organic food and extreme yoga. Yet, turn the page, and teenage ecstasy deaths are spiraling, laughing gas and Spice are all over the schoolyard, and British girls are the drunkest people in the world.
On the surface, all the conditions are there for a rise in drug use. Illegal drugs are more widely available, online and on the street, than ever before. They are more socially acceptable, and the punishments for using them are less severe. But it's just not happening. All the evidence shows that smoking, drinking, and drug use have taken a long-term nosedive. In the mid 1980s, 55 percent of 11- to 15-year-olds had smoked a cigarette, and 62 percent had drunk alcohol. Today, 18 percent have smoked a cigarette, and 38 percent have drunk alcohol. The proportion of 11- to 15-year-olds who have ever used an illegal drug has halved since 2001, from 29 percent to 15 percent.
It's a similar story among those in their late teens and early 20s. In the history books of the future, 1998 will likely be known as the peak point of illegal drug use among young people in Britain. Back then, when everyone was rich and listening to Britpop, 31.8 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds had taken an illegal drug. Yet, by 2016, mainly down to a gradual drop in cannabis use, that figure had fallen to 18 percent. Despite experiencing a revival since 2012, current cocaine and MDMA use is down from peaks in 2008 and 2001, respectively. And as with the general population, drugs such as amphetamines, hallucinogens, and poppers are all now minority sports among teenagers.
So what's going on here? Why are young people, historically key consumers in the drug trade, foregoing drugs and alcohol?
In search of an answer, I spoke to Chloe Combi. A writer and former secondary school teacher, she interviewed 2,000 teenagers for her 2015 book Generation Z. She spoke to them about sex, relationships, family, school, crime, and health, and how these issues intertwined with drugs. Combi gained a unique insight into what makes the Snapchat generation tick.
First up, she wants to dispel the myth of all young people being sober and boring. "I don't think suddenly we've gone from teenagers being massive party animals to everyone sitting around at home drinking chamomile tea. Drink and drugs are still a prevalent part of teenage life," she says. "For example, there are a lot of upper class kids really into cocaine now. Private schools have a big problem with it. Equally, smoking weed is still appealing to a wide group of kids. It's affordable, accessible, it's integral to a lot of gaming and estate culture."
Even so, Combi's interviews give some pointers as to why drink and drugs are increasingly being rejected. Two decades of hardcore anti-drugs, anti-smoking, and anti-alcohol education has done its job, she says. "The biggest influence on kids are other kids," she says. "It's not uncool to say, 'I don't take drugs or drink.' It's perfectly acceptable now."
She noticed a contrast to her own school days in the 1990s. "If you were a 15-year-old lad in the 90s, you worshipped Liam Gallagher. Now, you worship Ed Sheeran. I remember the big coke thing with Britpop when I was at school, and I don't think there's that Loaded-style glamour attached to drugs anymore."
In Combi's book, many of the references to drugs are not about the kids' own drug taking, but the often problematic drinking and drug use of their parents. It's acted as a warning to the younger generation: Many have been scared off by the role models in their own homes.
"It was something that came up time and time again. From north to south, hundreds of the kids said they were worried about their parents drinking habits," she says. "Loads of them said their parents drank far too much, from problem drinking through to being full-on alcoholics."
Photo by Jake Lewis
Smartphones have also played their part. On top of an already shrinking number of places where teenagers can meet up and have fun, smartphones have increased what she terms "isolated socializing," which leads to less drinking and drug taking. But one of the most crucial impacts on levels of drink and drug use, says Combi, is that social media has created a whole new level of vanity. "We live in a society that is becoming more vain and image conscious. It's like, don't take drugs, eat kale. Teenagers are thinking that if they don't drink and take drugs, if they sit at home drinking green smoothies and meditating, they'll be beautiful and have really shiny hair." And shiny hair looks great on Instagram.
Most influential, according to Combi, is a social paranoia that has been ramped up by smartphones. Generation Z's social circles are not just a group of friends, but a potential swarm of teenage paparazzi, with even fewer morals than the professionals.
"With everything kids do being filmed, they are very aware that being caught wasted on camera isn't a good look. So it's put people off. There is a culture of drink and drug shaming in the media, and this social embarrassment has filtered down to kids. If they get wasted at a party, the likelihood is that it will end up on Instagram or Snapchat. Kids have always been cruel, and most kids who see someone passed out on the floor having wet themselves are going to take a picture."
Teenagers I spoke to backed this up. Emma, a 16-year-old from Surrey, told me that her friends are way more wary than boys of how getting wasted can backfire on your public image. "Being out of control, throwing up, and becoming disheveled are all things that girls tend to try very hard to avoid in order to seem attractive."
Many of the teenagers I spoke to said they were too preoccupied to get high, not just with social media, but with the task of making headway in an increasingly competitive landscape. It was something Combi repeatedly found in her interviews. "There is no luxury of time—everything is pressurised; it's focused on results and what are you going to do with your life," she told me. "The days of stumbling into jobs that are cool are long gone. It's completely changed the face of university. Once upon a time, if you wanted to go to university for three years and piss it up the wall, so what. But now, if you're going to leave with a bunch of debt, you're gong to use those three years carefully."
Even in the last decade, there has been a perceptible change. Since coming to London eight years ago, Hannah, 26, has noticed a difference. "Compared to when I was 18, it's much more normal to go out and not drink, or to have six months off drinking. It's almost as socially acceptable to say you're not drinking as drinking. With drugs, young people are more aware of their mental health, so instead of wanting to get obliterated, sometimes there's more awareness there and self-consciousness."
So is this downturn a blip for an island nation with a reputation as a breeding ground for partiers? Or are drink and drugs likely to go the same way as cigarettes, which experts predict will be virtually obsolete among teenagers within the next 20 years?
"As people become more educated and health conscious, this sort of trend will continue," says Combi. "Having said that, I don't think the world is becoming a happier place by any stretch of the imagination. People need forms of escapism for what's going on around them. But drink and drugs are also about pleasure, and whatever happens, people will always want to party."
Emma says that, for her, the best way of escaping the pressures of "this world that is waiting for us, the world that supposedly at our feet" is by studying, not by getting drunk and high like previous generations.
"In areas like mine, parents are becoming more and more invested in their children's lives," she suggests. "But we've grown up watching their lives, seeing the exhaustion and discontent they breed as well as the living-for-the-weekend mentality—so we've been forced to look for something else. Excess drinking and drugs do not have a place in the lives that teenagers are living anymore; there's just too much to do."
If a doctor draws a breath slowly and audibly just after you've told them something, it's usually not a good sign.
I'm on the phone to Adam Winstock, a consultant psychiatrist, addiction medicine specialist, and founder of the Global Drug Survey. Fifteen minutes ago, I had a go on Drinks Meter, a free app Adam helped design, which was devised so people could anonymously analyze their alcohol intake and habits and get advice on the damage it might be doing to their body and wallet. The app gives you a score out of 40, which it garners from assessing your drinking in a variety of ways, including using the World Health Organization's Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. I got 18, which is quite bad, and was what piqued Winstock's clear concern. For context: under eight is good. Over eight is a worry. Over 15 a big worry. Over 20 is suggestive of being dependent.
Of course, the reality is that I know I drink too much but had never really flagged it as potentially problematic. Plus, I like drinking! I'm good at it! It's fun! I don't booze at home much, but it's true that pretty much my entire social life revolves around drinking-friendly activities. So at the turn of the year I—for the first time ever—vowed to cut down before I had to give up. And I wanted it to be for good, not just another Dry-ish January stint. So I called up Winstock—for the second time in a week—to find out how to do that.
VICE: When I first read my score, I basically thought, Fuck, that's not good. Adam Winstock: I think your response is probably appropriate, but it's good that you're thinking like that.
I didn't consider my drinking that abnormal. Basically everyone I know is a big drinker. There are certain universal fairytales that we tell ourselves. One is: "I just do what everyone else does; I'm just like my friends, and they're fine." You try to prove to yourself that you have elevated levels of invulnerability. If you think you're special, then of course you don't need to take precautions against yourself. Plus, naturally, you gravitate toward people with similar interests as you.
So should I, and other people who want to cut down, just avoid people we drink with? No. You can't aways say no, and if you do, your life will become miserable. Be honest. Say, "I'm just trying to ease off a bit, so I'm letting you know that over the next few months I'm going to be trying to drink less when we go out." Avoid the really big nights; skip the round of shots when they come out. Instead of going out at 8 PM, go out at 9:30 PM. Don't buy any drugs because that increases the effect of everything. It's common sense strategies. Friends should have your back. I actually think this can be very helpful in starting to shift the norms among your peer group.
Some research last year said that how drunk you feel isn't so much related to how much you absolutely drink, but more to do with how much other people around you are drinking. For example: If you go out and drink five pints, and you're with ten friends, but you drank the second least amount out of everyone—you would actually feel relatively sober. If, however, you went out and drank five pints, but you drank more than everyone else, you'd feel a bit drunk. So that says a group can have as much fun as they normally would if they nudge their drinking down a bit.
One problem, though, is that it's all very well saying "just drink less," but isn't it sometimes about more than willpower? Well, people with alcohol dependence are the least treated group of people with psychiatric problems in the world. Around 10 to 15 percent of people with alcohol dependence are treated, but the majority of people with alcohol dependence are floating out there in the community. Something else we did a couple of years ago is look at whether or not people drinking at dependent levels thought they were doing anything unusual. In the UK, one in three people who were at risk of alcohol dependence thought their drinking was average or less than average. It comes back to the whole idea of thinking you're just like everyone else.
So am I alcohol dependent? Well, I don't know you other than the conversations we've had, but at the level you are talking about, with my doctor's hat on, it might be harder [to cut down] than you think.
Photo by Bruno Bayley
It's strange having this conversation, because work is going better than ever. You work in a high-risk industry. The media, journalism, entertainment, hospitality, and construction industries are all high risk. People are more likely to see this sort of behavior as normal, so there might be a Friday night culture of going out and getting trashed. Or, if you were in advertising, you might have a job where you were expected to take clients on boozy lunches twice a week. These things are normalized. You think you're not doing anything out of the ordinary. But you are.
I mostly love my job, but what about people who are really stressed in theirs and rely on drinking at night to unwind? I had one patient—a single professional in her early 30s—who was a successful businesswoman but would drink three big glasses of wine at home most week nights, then go out on a Friday, then have a boozy lunch on Sunday. She loved cooking, so most of her drinking was done in conjunction with food, and she was a pretty functioning human being, but was drinking four times the recommended amount a week.
We devised a strategy where she didn't give up entirely, but instead had four alcohol-free days. She went to gym classes two nights and did activities with another friend who didn't want to drink. She got down to two bottles a week, which is still a bit much but a huge improvement. It's actually only a few minor tweaks, but the effect on her life has been huge.
What about the effect of relationships on drinking habits? I feel like dating and Tinder-ing lends itself to drinking. We haven't got any data, but I think you are probably right. If you're not out with your girl, you're probably out with your friends. There are fewer nights getting cuddly on the sofa. But then, of course, there are people whose relationship is based around taking drugs and getting drunk. Or conversely, if you're in a terrible relationship, maybe that will lead you to drink.
Is it all a matter of happiness or peace with one's self? Well, people who develop drinking problems are much more likely to have underlying mental health conditions. If you're in an unhappy relationship or you're drinking too much at work, you can justify drinking too much as a way of dealing with that. But there's also the truth that as you drink more, there's the chance of you developing depression, anxiety, and impaired relationships. But then I see a lot of patients who say they're drinking because they're depressed, but give up for a few weeks and improve immeasurably because they're brighter, they sleep better, they look better, they lose weight. But I also think Drinks Meter has huge value. It makes you sit back, take notice, maybe for the first time, like you have. Also: It's not asking you to quit. It knows you like drinking, and it still wants you to enjoy drinking, but just challenges those fairytales you tell yourself.
I've worked behind bars on-and-off for much of my adult life, and while serving booze to different sections of society I've noticed that, generally, each has an unspoken drink of choice. At rock and metal gigs it'll be lager and craft ales; at Soca nights it's brandy with a single block of ice; for TV production company Christmas parties it's endless gin and tonics.
Trying to guess what customers are going to order is always a fun way to break through the monotony of pouring liquid into a glass for eight straight hours, and it makes you wonder how these drinking patterns emerge. Surely the same people don't head home after the club and eat the exact same food, smoke the same cigarettes and use the same toothpaste?
Dr Thomas Thurnell-Read, a lecturer in Cultural Sociology at the University of Loughborough, edited a book called Drinking Dilemmas: Space, Culture & Identity, which covers the drinking habits of various chunks of the population. I caught up with him for a chat.
VICE: Firstly, how much research has gone into group drinking habits? Dr Thomas Thurnell-Read: There's a long history of interest in this in academia, and anthropologists have long been fascinated by how alcohol plays particular roles and functions in different parts of society. In the 1930s there was a study by [research organization] Mass Observation where they sent out observers across a northern city they called "Work Town"—which we later found out was Bolton—to study the habitual nature of drinking and what it tells us about a community and how they live their lives. There was a deep interest in the minutiae of the drinking setting from a social perspective. In the last few years the world of sociology has been increasingly drawn to returning to these themes of collective drinking and social habits around alcohol.
How much of what we drink is linked to socioeconomic factors, beyond, say, only super rich people being able to afford expensive bottles of wine? Academic interest, media interest and political debate is often focused on working class drinkers and how they drink, and middle class drinkers have long been invisible in these debates. You can trace a lot of this concern with working class drinkers back to the 19th and 20th century, with mass industrialization and urbanization. The ruling classes had concerns with how productive the labor force was—as in, if they're spending all their time in the pub drinking, is this going to be a threat to factory work and productivity? I think gender and social class have long been the most important divisions in our understanding of how we drink and the role alcohol plays. There is still a double standard where we widely accept that men drink heavily, or that drinking heavily is a particularly masculine thing to do, but women drinking heavily or drinking in public tends to challenge our binary notion of gender. Women who drink heavily, or in a particular way, may be subject to social taboo or social pressures.
Are we social chameleons when it comes to drinking? I think it's true that we change our drinking habits depending on our context. Drinking is always socially contingent; there's a lot of conformity involved. If you go home to your old village and drink in the local pub with old school friends, you drink in a particular way that you might not with colleagues from your work. We are increasingly adept at being able to change our habits and tastes depending on context.
Is everyone pretending they like the same drinks for a sense of belonging, or do they genuinely like it, in a kind of mind-over-matter way? Drinking alcohol, just like any other activity, is a learned, socialized process: we are taught how to drink at a certain age. I think we learn how to drink and, within that, our tastes and predispositions are shaped.
The book you edited touches on the extreme metal music scene in Leeds. Are music tastes indicative of alcohol tastes? The author of that chapter, Gabby Riches, was doing a wider ethnographic study of that subculture and she noticed how set and patterned the drinking habits were. It had to be real ale, beer or cider at these metal gigs. In certain subcultures and youth subcultures, alcohol can be as important as clothing in linking people together, and can symbolize an attitude—a sense of belonging to that subculture. We want to use all aspects of consumption to give ourselves a sense of self or identity, whether that's food or clothes or alcohol. This is central to my approach to studying alcohol.
Yeah, that whole real ale and craft beer scene doesn't seem to be going away. The interesting thing about real ale is when you look at the branding it draws on images of the industrial era; small breweries often focus on local heritage and incorporate famous landmarks or local figures that are associated with the town or city they're from. They're using that, in a way, to offer a sense of reassurance; they're depicting the "glory era" of industrial Britain. People are clearly drawn to those types of ales in our current time of uncertainty and dislocation because these ales can give us a way of consuming locality in an interesting way. There's a growing trend of people liking the idea of something being made locally, instead of big companies that might feel faceless and corporate. In many ways, it is exciting and new, but it's a return to how things were historically, where the vast majority of the British population would have once been drinking what was local to them.
Where does drunkenness and the amount that people drink come into it? Drunkenness has become really politicized over time. If we look at the contemporary situation, drunkenness is seen as threatening to the stability of society. The media has a fascination with portraying young people—and particularly working class drinkers—as deviant and problematic. In tabloid newspapers they'll have two dozen photos of 18-year-old students drunk and falling over, which pushes the idea of drunkenness as chaotic, disorderly and destabilizing. At the same time it perpetuates the idea that young people are irresponsible and naive. What is lacking from that is that some universities themselves encourage frosh week and frame it as alcohol-centric. Local pubs and bars will exploit that, too. The "studentification" of British towns and cities means that a lot of them are dependent on the student body to bring money into the town, usually spent in bars and clubs. It's a complex picture that is wider than simply blaming the individual for drinking too much, or too little, or in the wrong way.
What does this view of drunkenness say about our society? Norbert Elias talked about a civilization process, where European societies have tended to move towards greater self-regulation and self-control. Arguably, the concerns about binge drinking are concerns about how society thinks about controlling itself. They are different things, alcohol and drunkenness. Modern societies develop out of a sense of control, rationality and bureaucracy; they tend to be ordered; and there tends to be high degrees of social control. The appeal of drunkenness is that it offers you a way out of that, a momentary escape from the mundane, the everyday.
I think the lives we lead when we are not drinking have an intimate relationship with how we approach drinking and whether we get drunk at the end of the week. It could be that the jobs available are increasingly precarious and poorly paid—in that case, who wouldn't want a drink on a Friday night to get some sort of release from the working week? If we continue to hammer this drum of "there are problem drinkers and it's their fault, it's their problem" I feel it doesn't get us very far. There are obviously some people who don't drink and some people who drink heavily, and every shade in between, but we can't abstract that from the social context.
How much responsibility has the industry got for encouraging excessive drinking, or shaping drinking habits? The industry is hugely important; the managers and owners of bars, and different alcoholic brands, they take conscious steps to keep people drinking. We talk about "high volume vertical" drinking, which is when a bar owner consciously takes out the tables and chairs from a bar or club because people will drink at a more rapid pace if they can't put their glass down and get lost in a conversation. Or the owners play music loud enough so that the drinkers can't have a conversation at all. The industry's branding of alcohol is selling it as something more than it really is. Carling as a brand has long positioned itself as a beer that is somehow a totem of male friendship. Their successful campaign of "You know who your mates are" was selling a moment with friends, homo-sociality, all males having a laugh and being part of a group. It should be quite clear that it is not the only strand and cause of changing drink practices, but it is significant and often forgotten about.
Big companies capitalizing on these types of things isn't anything new, right? You're right, but I think we can benefit from reinstating it sometimes. Also, in some ways the industry actually struggles to have an influence. Over the years, with the closure of pubs, people try to pinpoint different reasons for this. Statistics show that young people are drinking less and there are more abstainers from alcohol now in the cohort between 18 and 25 than there have been in generations. Young people will use social media to promote the fact that they've just been to yoga class and are drinking a smoothie, rather than showing themselves getting drunk in a pub. They also may be limited by their finances.
How linked is the sociology of people's drinking habits to their eating habits? I think there is a link there. When I asked real ale and craft brewers where they think the trend came from, they thought it was linked to people's move towards a different kind of eating. With many showing an interest in local produce, provenance, quality, artisan food, caring about what you eat, the flavors... the brewers thought that approach had seeped into their drinking habits. A lot of high street venues where you just stand and drink, they're struggling. The profits and the interesting developments in that field are at venues where they successfully combine these two trends: what people are drinking and eating.
What do you think the next trend in drinking will be? I think craft beers will continue. In terms of changing trends and practises, people aren't going out as much—they're drinking at home and binge-watching box sets on Netflix, in the same way that when televisions first came into the living rooms of British homes it had an impact on regular pub-going. If I was to be brave I would say that the drinks industry, having watched the trend in healthy eating and clean living, might not be able to resist coming up with some beer that's maybe fortified with Goji berries, or green tea extract. I can see "smart booze" or fortified beer coming out, which is actually a return to how beer was historically seen, as wholesome and almost like a foodstuff. We could be going back to a "Guinness For Strength"—alcohol as nourishing and sustaining.
However, I can't see it working. A lot of people drink because they want an escape from control—a blowout at the end of the week where they don't have to worry about counting calories or how many kilometres they've walked on their Fitbit. I think alcohol will retain that appeal. It offers a space of spontaneity and fun, and for many people that isn't on offer in other areas of their lives. There's a common discourse that we're not meant to talk about the pleasures of drinking. I want to state unequivocally that there are huge dangers and damages that can be caused by heavy drinking—it ruins lives. But for many people, if we put the friendships, fun and pleasures of drinking against their struggles to get by in the world, I think they're very difficult to untangle.
Maybe it was because I'd just hit 15, or perhaps it was a direct result of the show, but when Skins came out in 2007, the house parties I'd been going to changed. Where they had previously involved drinking a bottle of Jacob's Creek stolen from your mom and hopefully getting fingered behind a sofa, they suddenly escalated to the point where people were doing coke and having actual full sex, very badly, surrounded by K-holing kids from schools other than my own.
We might not have been as hot as Tony Stonem or Cassie Ainsworth, and rural England wasn't as cool as Bristol—where, according to Skins, 17-year-olds can tick three ounces of "spliff" off legitimate drug traffickers—but everyone there was cut from the same cloth, or at least aspiring to be.
The E4 show, which premiered a decade ago today, made Britain's teenage parties look sexy, sweaty, and confident in a way TV had never really attempted before, let alone succeeded in doing. And radically, while asterisking the potential dangers and aftereffects of drugs, the show made using substances look like a lot of fun. While it wasn't without its cringy moments, it also wasn't Hollyoaks, where characters got "addicted" to weed and smashed up gravestones; it was as close as any show had come to representing how teenagers really use drugs.
Naturally, out of that first season came the phenomenon of "Skins parties"—house parties that aspired to be every bit as nasty as those on the show and in its ads: an American Apparel look-book made flesh, with just as much nudity, lots more vodka, and a fist full of pills.
For some, the term "Skins party" was pure irony; a knowing nod to the fact you'd bought some MDMA for a house party and that there would probably be some dickhead there waving glow sticks about. But for many, it became part of the common lexicon. The infamous party thrown at Rachael Bell's house, in which 200 people turned up and caused like $30,000 worth of damage, was advertised online as having a Skins theme. So, of course, the tabloids picked up on this and jumped on the idea of cause and effect: that British teenagers had suddenly ramped up their partying because they'd been directly inspired by the casual sex and drug use they saw on Skins.
Of course, this is slightly ridiculous: Teenagers have been having sex and doing drugs for decades. But you could argue that the show exposed a generation of underage small-towners to the kind of party culture they might not have encountered until university. Either way, the term is now immortalized on Urban Dictionary as "a huge party in someone's house where nearly everything is broke, lots of people are having sex and almost everyone is either drunk or drugged up," and that "self consciously aspires to be infamous, preferably on the evening news."
This was the era in which social media was really starting to come into its own, and it was via Myspace that all those kids heard about Rachel Bell's party, flocking to her home in a town near Sunderland from as far afield as London and Liverpool. Seven police vehicles, including a dog van, turned up to find "yobs" having sex in every room and curtains ripped down from windows. As Bell's mother, Elaine, put it dramatically to the Daily Mail: "The house has been raped. Every carpet's burned where they've stomped out cigarettes. They've urinated in wardrobes, pulled my clothes out and stubbed cigarettes on them. The beds have burns, food has been smeared everywhere, and messages scrawled all over the walls."
After being arrested and released on police bail while a criminal damage inquiry was underway, Bell's defense was that her Myspace account had been hacked and that someone else had posted the open invitation.
Another infamous "Skins party" started out as a quiet "get-together" advertised by four female students from Bournemouth, and ended up being attended by more than 300 guests, who vandalized the house and took part in "alfresco urination," according to the Telegraph. The party got so out-of-hand that one quick-thinking entrepreneur set up a stall selling alcohol in the middle of the road. It was broken up by 20 police officers and an air-support helicopter. Which is nothing, really, compared to the "Roman-style orgy" at a house in Sussex the week before, which ended with teens drugging the family dog.
It wasn't long before the trend made it overseas. By 2009, French students were going to "Skins parties" described as the "craziest thing in French nightlife, where girls are loose and drugs roam free." Except, by this point, they had become more legitimate club nights than parties that destroyed people's homes—a phrase promoters tacked onto posters and Facebook event pages to imply their parties would be decent. A "Dance Until You Drop" for the Myspace generation.
They were rowdy versions of new rave fancy dress nights in Oceana or Coalition, full of European frat boys and girls wearing neon glasses and hot pants. "Authorities are keeping tabs on them, sponsors are showing up, top DJs are part of the line-up and there is tighter security," one 19-year-old French student told a publication at the time. "I'd say there was too much security; at the last one I went to they were kicking out people who rolled joints."
Crucially, though, minors weren't allowed into these nights, defeating the beauty of what happened on TV, in a show that explored what teens too young to go to clubs or bars do to escape.
Looking back at Skins on the tenth anniversary of its first episode, it's hard to say what long-term effects it had on partying. Since 2007, going out in the UK has become both more expensive and just more difficult to do, thanks to the closure of half the country's nightclubs, so young people are undoubtedly staying in and more and more, and bringing the party to them. That said, to me, it's not since the mephedrone craze of 2009 and 2010 that UK house parties really felt like the debauched nights in that Skins featured in its season one ads.
What's certain, though, is that there's been no British teen drama that's caught the attention of the average suburban 15-year-old in the same way since. It wasn't the best written show, and it wasn't, by many people's standards, an exceptionally brilliant program altogether, but the only thing that's come close to achieving what it did in the past decade is The Inbetweeners and its bumbling troupe of middle-class virgins. Four guys who represented a very different type of teenage experience.
Skins, on the other hand, taught a very specific type of Bombay Bicycle Club–loving, NME-reading British teenager how to party, and for that, I doubt it will be forgotten anytime soon.