HIGH NOTES: People Share Their Favorite Music-Drug Pairings

Just as some wines are meant to be paired with certain cheeses and some shoes look perfect with particular outfits, some drugs go inexplicably well with certain kinds of music. Many report that drugs enhance their music-listening experience by drawing out the meaning of the song or helping them get lost in the sound. These effects are different but equally fascinating for everyone. To get an idea of the vast array of strange and compelling drug-induced musical experiences, I asked people for their favorite music-drug combinations. Here are some of their responses.

“When I was first getting to know who and what I wanted to be, I would drop acid occasionally to meditate on it. I would almost exclusively listen to the songs my dad and I would listen to on his old turntable: Joplin, anyone from the British Invasion, anyone who played at Woodstock. While I was tripping on acid and listening to an oldies soundtrack, I felt comfortable in the familiar while able to focus on the visions and creativity flashing before my eyes. I grew up reliving the ’60s through music, movies, and documentaries, so taking acid in that setting makes me feel so much deeper than just popping a tab, but really understanding where we, it, and everything came from. It’s a super therapeutic and connecting experience.” — Melissa, 25

“I smoke weed daily and usually run through full albums while enjoying it, often ones I’ve heard hundreds of times. Top of the list for me are anything by Childish Gambino, Frank Ocean, J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar, or The Knocks. I’ll mix these in with Broadway musical soundtracks and a Disney playlist. I’m obsessed with Disney and like that cannabis calms my mind and allows me to memorize much of what I’m listening to. Mushrooms are usually reserved for more outdoor activities, but I’ve found a small dosage is perfect before a party.
While I’d like to say I go for more earthy sounds while on mushrooms, for me it’s more about melodic deep house beats, playlists that have limited words and great bass. I like feeling my body reverberate with the sound on mushrooms and feel the deeper the bass, the better the high. LSD gives you a major energy boost, so I usually find myself dancing when on it. The mix of sounds for my trips I prefer are usually in the synth/techno house/tropical house variety. Morning sets from Burning man are great for LSD, especially mixes by Lee Burridge, NSR, Bedouin.
I rarely find sassafras, but when I do, my sound goes more the direction of sexy, sultry vocals. Kat Cunning is currently a favorite, but I also love Bob Moses and will listen to them whenever I’m rolling. For ketamine, the mixes I prefer fall under a category I call sex house. It’s similar to deep house but with song choices that include sexually provocative lyrics and beats that are just perfect for getting sexy or just cuddling.” — Daniel Saynt, 35, founder of NSFW

“Though there have been many songs that I’ve enjoyed while under the influence of marijuana, here are a few that stand out as particularly gratifying for me. When I was younger and in college, a few that I remember really standing out in that mindset were ‘Dark Matter’ by Porcupine Tree, ‘3 a.m./Voices in the Fan’ by Devin Townsend, and the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Later, when I experienced smoking marijuana years later again, a couple that stood out were ‘Love Letters to the Soul’ by Entheogenic and ‘All That Makes Us Human Continues’ by BT.” — Jason, 30

“Lemon haze / sour tangie / blue crack for the drug, paired with the Young and Free Spotify playlist.” — Steve, 29
“I like a lot of combinations with drugs and songs, but I made the best memory with the combination acid and Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond.’ Acid makes your brain very active, and for that reason, you will hear sounds in this song you never had heard before. The whole song is a big fantastic journey in a fantastic beautiful world.” — Patrick, 24

“Carbon Based Lifeforms. I feel very peaceful and loving when listening to them. Combining it with mushrooms is amazing for me.” — Marianna, 29

“‘Cups’ by Underworld with MDMA and LSD. LSD demands music with long, sustained tones that is packed with subtle sound events. The song starts with electronically-generated violin sounds but very quickly a bass line drops. That is where the synergy kicks in with the MDMA, which wants fast and exciting music you can move to. In combination, you get an explosion of excitement and joy while flying in psychedelic space, forgetting the world completely and finding a unity, blurring of lines between yourself, the music, the space your body occupies, and the universe beyond the physical real.” — Dutch, 43

“It wasn’t until I was 21 that I first tried cocaine, but was instantly hooked. I was in Minneapolis at a SYSTEM party submerged in techno and the genuine community that comes with it. Rather than dancing and enjoying the music, friendly desire consumed me. Towards the end, James Patrick was closing out the night. I remember conversing with a lovely pink haired woman and out of nowhere, I turned against her abruptly ending the conversation. JP was mixing in the track ‘Doin Ya Thang’ by Oliver $, and it was that track that had me getting down for the remainder of the night.” — Brayden, 26

“MDMA — house/techno. Been loving the Cityfox Foxcast 26: Anja Schneider (September 2018) track. Would love to roll to that. Cannabis — seriously that’s too hard. Everything sounds better on weed. A favorite entire album is Nightmares on Wax’s Smokers Delight (top song: ‘Nights Interlude’). I love a good dreamy indie rock song like Blouse ‘Fountain in Rewind’ or Japanese Breakfast ‘Road Head,’ or something more upbeat like Bonobo ‘Kerala’ or ‘Samurai.’ Shrooms I like actually being outside and listening to the sounds of nature. I did do it at a Six Flags Adventure Park… I probably won’t likely do that again, but you never know. Ketamine — music doesn’t sound so good compared to the other drugs to me, but usually it’s an at an afterparty after a night of rolling so the chiller house/techno.” — Phillia, 40

FILM/LIVE REVIEW: Nightmares On Wax @ Santos Party House +N.O.W. Is The Time


In line with the cult of anniversary, Ibiza via Leeds mastermind Nightmares On Wax is celebrating his 25 years in music by popping all kinds of career champagne. On top of releasing Feelin Good on Warp Records (with whom he’s been signed for 20 years), he’s been all over North America for the last month on his biggest tour ever. It doesn’t stop there. Warp has also dropped N.O.W. is the Time, a best-of retrospective full of new jams, old hits, and plenty of remixes on two 12” records.  As a supplement to the retrospective, an eight-minute mini-documentary of the same moniker came out mid June recounting N.O.W’s history.  The man’s been damn busy.

Born George Evelyn, Nightmares On Wax (aka DJ EASE) has been integral to the British house and hip-hop scene since the late 80s. But before he was Nightmares, Evelyn was a Northern B Boy with a hunger for the latest sound.  He met his eventual partner in crime Kevin Harper, aka Boy Wonder, in 1985 at a house party in their native Yorkshire:

“I walked into this guys house and he’s scratching on his mom’s Hi-fi with this big volume knob, right in front of my eyes and I was just like: “you’ve got to teach me that man.”  So Kevin taught me to scratch and the rest of that day I met the rest of the guys and I became part of this crew called Solar City Rockers.”

When they weren’t winning dance competitions, Evelyn and Harper were making beats, hunting for rare records, tuning in to John Peel, and dropping their mixes at clubs around Leeds.  Obsessed with having “the freshest shit” the duo was preoccupied with the obscurity of their sources, and used to soak their vinyl in the bathtub so that the labels would peel off…thus protecting their trade secrets.

The story of Nightmares On Wax is a truly endearing one.  Interested only in making music for the sake of having fun, Evelyn’s screen presence in the documentary matches his mission.  Laid back and jovial the entire film, he shows the viewer his recording space, which is seemingly built on a foundation of mixers, synthesizers and a behemoth record collection, which he admits, has no order whatsoever.  In a moment of nostalgic reflection he presents his first-ever sampling keyboard- a Casio SA1-which allowed for only 1.6 seconds of sampling time.  He’s since moved on to bigger and better equipment, but the SA1 is a sort of career milestone.

Being privy to this history of the man behind the wax made Wednesday’s N.O.W. gig at Santo’s Party House all the more enjoyable…though prior to the headlining performance, I wasn’t so sure how the evening would play out.  Santo’s is never a place of extreme comfort for someone who only dances in front of her kitchen stove, and has no passion for men in flip-flops.  Throw my guest into the mix-one of my more reticent, mumble-prone chums-and you have a recipe for extremes: this could go really well, or really badly.

The opener was DJ Que Bajo, who, I’m sure would suit a house party very well.  Unfortunately, when you’re a DJ the appraisal of your live performance is not as codified in formalism as a rock band; that is to say: your sound alone will not save you.  The quality of these sets relies entirely on the reaction of the crowd, and this crowd wasn’t feeling it.  Dance music-at least live dance music-is dependent on contagiousness, and quite frankly, whether or not people are dancing.  People, were not dancing.

This pre-headliner span of time always becomes the observational period of a show for me.  So I leaned against the bar, sipped bourbon, and surveyed the audience.  There was a grand total of five people dancing, a few couples sucking face, six people not smoking hash, and one balding gentlemen in Bermuda shorts giving me a nod of approval, perhaps for my non-Bermuda length cut-offs.

After Que Bajo’s set we made our pilgrimage towards stage right, hoping that N.O.W. would live up to his colossal reputation.  It was a silly concern, because the moment Evelyn walked on stage the crowd rejuvenated.  Holding down the beats was drummer Grant Kershaw. Vocalists Mozez and Ricky Ranking supplied textural R&B harmonies, and Evelyn volleyed between manning the dials, rapping, and singing.  Whatever his given task at any moment, N.O.W. never failed to pump up the crowd.

“Feel Good” is not typically a phrase I assign to things I like, but when it comes to this show, it’s difficult to find a more fitting expression.  Projected on the back of the stage were sunny, kaleidoscopic montages of flowers blooming and bursting orbs of color.  N.O.W. was conjuring a range of sounds reaching from reggae and soul, to old school hip-hop, house, and funk.  Newer songs were tossed in with early hits, and there was a steady balance of instrumentals and tracks with vocal accompaniment.

N.O.W. interspersed anecdotes between songs, taking time to plug his friend’s charity organization (Last Night a DJ Saved My Life) which filters proceeds into digging wells for drinking water in impoverished South India.  I’m not surprised one bit that Evelyn has a passion for philanthropy, given that his livelihood is based upon lifting spirits.  Expounding on why he makes music, he’s said:

“The real heartwarming sort of thing about doing this project, and celebrating this project, is that everybody I asked to do a remix was honored to do it. This is what this has been about is really, really getting back to why you even make music, what is this relationship to music. Because it is fun and I love it. Full Stop.”

You can’t blame a man for that.

Check out Now is the Time: The Documentary below: