Sun, 28 Dec 2003 19:15:11
written by Phil Cheeseman for DJ magazine
It’s been ten years since the first identifiably house tracks were put on to vinyl, ten years which have changed the technology behind the electronic music revolution beyond recognition but left the basic structure of house intact. It’s seven years since it was being said house couldn’t last, that it was just hi-NRG, a fast blast that would wither as quickly as it had started. But then the music reinvented itself, and then again and again until it gradually dawned on people that house wasn’t just another phase of club culture, it was club culture, the continuing future of dance music. The reason? It’s simple. People like to dance to house.
In truth, acid house had already started long before 1988. Amongst the scores of Chicagoans who were buying equipment and trying to learn how to make tracks was one DJ Pierre, who’d started out playing Italian imports at roller discos in the Chicago suburbs, and who had joined Lil Louis for his notorious parties.
“Phuture was me and two other guys, Spanky and Herbert J.” remembers Pierre. “We had this Roland 303, which was a bassline machine, and we were trying to figure out how to use it. When we switched it on, that acid sound was already in it and we liked the sound of it so we decided to add some drums and make a track with it. We gave it to Ron Hardy who started playing it straight away. In fact, the first time he played it, he played it four times in one night! The first time people were like, ‘what the fuck is this?’ but by the the fourth they loved it. Then I started to hear that Ron was playing some new thing they were calling ‘Ron Hardy’s Acid Trax‘, and everybody thought it was something he’d made himself. Eventually we found out that it was our track so we called it ‘Acid Trax‘. I think we may have made it as early as 1985, but Ron was playing it for a long time before it came out.”
Explanations for the name of ‘acid’ have been long and varied, but the most popular, and the one endorsed by a number of people who were there at the time was that they used to put acid in the water at the Music Box. Pierre though, stresses that Phuture was always anti- drugs, and cites a track about a cocaine nightmare, ‘Your Only Friend‘ that was on the same EP as ‘Acid Trax‘. ‘Acid Trax’ came out in 1986 but made little impact outside Chicago, as was the case with another acid track, Sleazy D‘s ‘I’ve Lost Control‘, which slapped a deranged laugh and some geezer repeating the title over the 303 squelching. ‘I’ve Lost Control’ was made by Adonis and Marshall Jefferson and was certainly the first acid track to make it to vinyl, though which was created first will possibly never be known for sure. It wasn’t until well into 1987 that the acid sound began to infiltrate Britain, fuelled by another track that was getting a lot club play, and which fitted into the sound Bam Bam‘s ‘Give It To Me‘, and a diversion of the regular acid track which put vocals into the equation, developed by Pierre’s Phantasy Club with ‘Fantasy Girl‘. The house scene in Britain had faltered following the commercialisation of the poppier end of the spectrum, but towards the end of 1987 the underground was taking off with new LP compilation series like ‘Jack Trax‘ and the opening in London of seminal clubs like Shoom and Spectrum and the move of Delirium to Heaven where the main dancefloor became exclusively house. Delirium’s Deep House Convention at Leicester Square’s Empire in February 1988 which featured a number of seminal Chicago artists like Kym Mazelle, Fingers Inc, Xavier Gold. Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles was a depressing event because of the poor turnout. But the people who did go were to be become the prime movers of London’s house explosion. The next week a warehouse party called Hedonism was rammed and the soundtrack was acid. Acid house UK style had begun.
As acid tracks like Armando‘s ‘151‘ and ‘Land Of Confusion‘, Bam Bam‘s ‘Where’s Your Child‘ and Adonis‘ ‘The Poke‘ began to flow out out of Chicago, the scene grew at a rate of knots with Rip, Love, Future, Contusion and Trip opening in London, and the legendary Nude in Manchester. DJs suddenly discovered they had a year’s worth of classic house which hitherto they’d been unable to play. When WBMX in Chicago closed down, signalling the end of radio play for the music in the city, it was clear that the emphasis had switched to the UK. Acid house became the biggest youth cult in Britain since punk rock a decade before as British house records like Bang The Party‘s ‘Release Your Body‘, Jullan Jonah‘s ‘Jealousy & Lies‘ (later used as the backbone of Electribe 101‘s ‘Talking With Myself‘), Baby Ford‘s ‘Oochy Koochy‘, A Guy Called Gerald‘s “Voodoo Ray“, and Richie Rich‘s ‘Salsa House‘ became huge club hits, before the chart UK house records emerged with S’Express‘ ‘Theme From S’Express‘, D-Mob‘s ‘We Call It Acid‘, which popularised the ridiculous but funny club chant of ‘Aciiieeeeed!’ and Jolly Roger‘s ‘Acid Man‘. Opinions differ as to the effect on the scene of the relatively new drug ecstasy, but there was little doubt that the sudden rise in availabilny of the drug was directly related to the growth of the club scene. Before the tabloids discovered what was going on with their inevitably lurid headlines about ‘Acid House Parties’ and drug barons, it was easy to see people openly imbibing the drug in any club.
Like Chicago radio was to prove crucial to spreading house in Britain. But this wasn’t any kind of legitimate radio. Save for a few token shows, you couldn’t hear Black music or dance music on legal radio, and eventually the demand turned into supply in the form of numerous pirate stations, mostly in and around London but also in a few other big cities. Most of them were on and off the air in months or even weeks, but the more organised stations managed to keep going, supplying hungry listeners with the music they wanted to hear – reggae, soul, jazz, hip hop – and house. Steve Jackson’s House That Jack Built on Kiss and Jazzy M’s ‘Jacking Zone‘ on LWR pumped out the new music week in, week out.
“When LWR was what you call the boom, it was on half a million listeners.” says Jazzy M. And we knew that because the surveys were actually being published in newspapers The Jacking Zone was getting 40-50 letters a week and I was broke because all my wages went on new tunes. Once that plane had landed with the imports, I was getting the new records on the show the same night. It was unbelievable.”
1988 wasn’t just acid it was the year that house first really began to diversify. For a start, there was the ‘Balearic’ business, an eclectic style of DJing which at the time encompassed dance mixes of pop artists like Mandy Smith and quasi-industrial music like Nitzer Ebb‘s ‘Join In The Chant‘ Championed by Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway, Paul Oakenfold and Johnny Walker who’d all been to Ibiza, Balearic was an integral part of the club scene at the time, but after the gushing media overkill it all became a little farcical as people attempted to make Balearic records There was, of course no such thing
Then there were the anthems. A year’s worth of inspirational Chicago deep house, which went back to the Nightwriters and took in Joe Smooth‘s ‘Promised Land‘ and Sterling Void‘s ‘It’s Alright‘ along the way became some of the biggest club records of the year, while Marshall Jefferson took the music to new highs with Ten City‘s ‘Devotion‘ and Ce Ce Rogers ‘Someday‘. Marshall was on a roll in ’88, picking up remixes and linking up with Kym Mazelle for ‘Useless‘ It was the deep house that spawned the first two house LP’s, which naturally came out in Britain first – Fingers Inc‘s benchmark ‘Another Side‘ and Liz Torres with Master C & J‘s excellent ‘Can’t Get Enough‘.
Ten City were an important stage in the development of house. With self-conviction unusually high for the time, they snubbed the Chicago labels which by that time were losing their artists more quickly than they could sign them, and headed for Atlantic records in New York where Merlin Bobb promptly snapped them up. Where nearly all the house that had gone before them was strictly producer created, Ten City were an act, and they could be marketed as such. Plus, they returned some of the soul vision to house, a tradition that went all the way back to the Philly sound it was no coincidence that ‘Devotion‘ was one of the first records from Chicago to really do well on the East Coast, which always had much stronger r’n’b roots in its club music. After another huge club hit with ‘Right Back To You’, they broached the UK top Ten in January 1989 with ‘That’s The Way Love Is‘ Even Detroit was discovering songs. Though the new techno sound was by now at full tilt with Rhythm Is Rhythm‘s anthem ‘Strings 0f Life‘ Model 500‘s ‘Off To Battle‘ and Reese & Santonio’s ‘Rock To The Beat‘, it was Inner City’s ‘Big Fun‘ a techno song with vocals by Chicagoan Paris Grey that was to propel Kevin Saunderson into the big time. Originally a track recorded for Virgin’s groundbreaking ‘Techno! The New Dance Sound Of Detroit’ LP, ‘Big Fun’ was just too commercial to hold back, and Sa
underson suddenly found himself in a virtually full-time pop duo making videos, follow-up singles and EPs like any other pop act.
Chicago however was still finding new things to do with house, though the next trend wasn’t to be anything like as significant. There had already been raps put down to house tracks as early as 1985 with ‘Music Is The Key‘ and more recently with M-Doc‘s ‘It’s Percussion‘, The Beatmasters‘ ‘Rok Da House‘ and New York’s KC Flight with ‘Let’s Get Jazzy‘. But it was Tyree Cooper (who’d already had a big club record with ‘Acid Over’) and rapper Kool Rock Steady who defined the hip-house style
with ‘Turn Up The Bass‘, a galloping track which somehow combined Kool’s rap with the classic Chicago piano sound and Tyree’s trademark 909 roll. It wasn’t long before Fast Eddie, also at DJ International, expanded it with ‘Yo Yo Get Funky’.
But the biggest new producer of 1988 was someone who didn’t come from Chicago at all. Or Detroit. New York was beginning to flex its muscles, the city that had always regarded itself the world’s capital for dance music wanted some of the limelight back. But it wasn’t an established figure in the New York or New Jersey dance scene that broke through, it was a kid from Brooklyn who was showing an incredible alacrity for the new form of sampling that had been co- developing with house – Todd Terry. First it was those Masters At Work tracks, but after that Todd hit house in a big way with ‘Bango‘ (at which Kevin Saunderson was highly miffed, because it heavily sampled one of his records), ‘Just Wanna Dance‘, Swan Lake‘s ‘In The Name Of Love‘, Black Riot‘s ‘A Day In The Life‘ and ‘Warlock‘ and the one that was almost certainly the biggest club record of the year – Royal House’s ‘Can You Party!’. Though in New York Todd’s sample tracks were firmly categorized with the Latin freestyle house sound that the Hispanics were developing, in the UK Todd became the toast of the house scene. In a by now familiar scenario, ‘Can You Party‘ hit the Top 20 in October on a wave of club support, closely followed by another track on the new Big Beat label out of New York, Kraze’s ‘The Party‘.
As it became more and more apparent that Chicago was grinding to a halt, New York was getting it together, with more labels like Cutting (who’d already released Nitro Deluxe‘s classic ‘Let’s Get Brutal‘ in 1987) and Warlock turning to house and new labels starting up. One of these was to prove more important than all the rest – Nu Groove.