Back to the Phuture
Rave on: clubbers in the early 1990s
Rave on: A Guy Called Gerald, maker of Voodoo Ray. photographs: phil dent/redferns/getty and david tonge/getty
Club culture as we know it today, not to mention pop’s multifacted sound, owes a big debt to the 1980s acid-house revolution
They called it acid. Or acieed, if you were the British dance producer D Mob. A sound minted in Chicago clubs and warehouses in the mid to late 1980s, acid house, with its flurry of squelchy synths and hypnotic sci-fi sounds, quickly found a home from home in British, Irish and European clubs and fields, and the rave movement ignited.
It was a very strange trip. Who knew that the sounds produced in Chicago through experimenting with Roland TB-303 synthesisers would cause social mayhem across the Atlantic? But those experiments by Marshall Jefferson, Larry Heard, Phuture and others, using a piece of kit that its Japanese maker originally pitched as a machine to produce basslines for guitarists, had many unforeseen side effects.
Club culture as we know it today would probably not exist without acid house, and pop’s current multifaceted sound owes much to acts’ addition of 303 squawks to tunes like Beat Dis, by Bomb the Bass, Voodoo Ray, by A Guy Called Gerald, or Theme from S’Express, by S’Express.
The early Chicago tracks that kickstarted it all still sound good. Soul Jazz’s forthcoming compilation Acid: Mysterons Invade the Jackin’ Zone collates two dozen or so beefy tunes from the golden age of acid house.
You can feel the progression, and the confidence build, as the compilation roams from 1986 to 1993. Even some of the very early tracks, like the majestic, melancholic Can You Feel It, from Larry Heard, aka Mr Fingers, originally recorded in 1984, sounds remarkably timeless.
Five years before Heard made Can You Feel It, something he did on the day he bought his first Roland synth, an event called Disco Demolition Night put the city on the map for more anti-dance reasons.
Organised by a local DJ and anti-disco campaigner, Steve Dahl, this involved thousands of anti-disco fans descending on a city baseball stadium in July 1979 to watch Dahl blow up a crate of disco records. As far as those White Sox fans were concerned, disco sucked as badly as their own team did at the time.
There was another side to Chicago, though, and this one was a lot friendlier to music that contained grooves. The New York DJ Frankie Knuckles had established a healthy scene at the city’s Warehouse club, and local record stores began to rack the records he was spinning in sections tagged “house”.
But the home-grown house that began to emerge from Chicago within a few years sounded a lot different from the disco, new-wave electro and Italo disco Knuckles was spinning at the time. The music that was to become acid house was a lot more alien, futuristic and other-worldly. It was music that sounded as if the machines had taken over.
Chicago’s producers weren’t the first to fall for the synth. Robert Moog, Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Afrika Bambaataa and even the Mumbai musician Charanjit Singh, with his Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat acid album, from 1982, all predated the Chicago school.
Yet Roland’s musical arsenal, particularly the TB-303, devised by an engineer named Tadao Kikumoto, empowered reams of eager producers to produce the vivid squelches and squawks they were hearing in their heads.
A similar revolution was taking place four hours away in Detroit, where techno began to take flight thanks to craftsmen like Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. But, in Chicago, it was house that ruled the roost.