TB-303The iconic Roland TB-303, the piece of gear that’s been there since the start.
There has been a constant debate in electronic dance music circles about new DJs and producers not knowing about the history of DJing or the inception of the music. The question is – do they really need to know?
Do you know the background of acid house music? Do you care? Beatport asked me to write about ‘Why the Acid House Spirit Lives On.’ After thinking about it, I felt awkward writing several paragraphs about why I simply love this genre, or why I think it is still relevant today.
Acid house as a musical style has had such a profound effect on me as a producer and a DJ that I felt that it was my responsibility to share some words on how I found acid house – or how acid house found me. I also wanted to share some of my favorite compositions at the time, as well as those that helped express my feelings of the movement.
The acid house movement took shape in the UK in 1988 during what was regarded as the ‘Summer of Love’ and fueled by music being produced by artists from the Chicago house scene. I did a little research into why it was called ‘acid’ and it’s a bit vague. Some say because of LSD (acid) taken while listening to the music, or some say it’s simply how the Roland TB-303 synthesizer (used in making the music) was described.
Whatever the reason for the name, the modern-day disco hippie of the Summer Of Love – complete with baggy neon-colored clothes, smiley faces and whistles – was born. Dark clubs with fog machines and psychedelic visual projections were the new haunting grounds for this emerging musical style and culture. This was documented in magazines and the hype and exposure spread across the world, eventually finding its way to me, in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly love.
I can’t remember what song I heard that made me fall in love with acid house, as I believe it was both the movement and the music that got me hooked. I was unable to get into clubs or bars due to the age restriction, so at 18 I got a job at a club called Memphis in 1988 being a bar back as a means to get into the nite-clubs that played the music I loved.
During this time I was also working as a bicycle messenger and met a fellow kindred sprit named Blake, who also happened to be a DJ.
We instantly became friends. He was six years older than me and was part of the club music scene in Philly. We used to talk every day about life and music in between delivering packages. Strangely enough, we were both mentioning articles we read on acid house in UK publications like NME and iD.
NME acid crackdown – The infamous cover of UK music magazine NME from November 19, 1988.
During one of our conversations, he told me that he knew the bouncer at a venue called The Bank, which was hosting a new night called “Revelations” (or known as Acid House Wednesdays). It was a weekly party thrown by two DJs, Jett and Stefan, who instantly became my inspiration for learning and going deeper into this new alluring sound. Blake was confident his friend could sneak my underage self in, due to the fact I was working at Memphis. Immediately I was ready and psyched and couldn’t wait to experience this music.
After being snuck into the club, I was instantly hit with it all. The movement and spirit of acid house struck me at full force. A huge 14-foot-high neon painted black lite TV was constructed on the dancefloor, allowing people to dance inside. Elementary single red and green lasers shot through the air, zig-zagging in and out of the crowd’s frantically moving hands, trying to touch the beams. I was lucky to see at all due to the countless strobe lights and dense fog infinitely pouring out of who knows where.
Then there were the day-glow smiley faces, Timothy Leary-quoting artwork on walls, painted dancers, racially and sexually mixed clubbers and psychedelic eye candy everywhere. Then there was the music! I was in love. I was inspired and moved, and I said to myself, “This is the music I want to make.” This was one of my musical epiphanies and it’s clear as day in my memory. I wanted to make and DJ this form of music.
Now I had been DJing for several years already – buying, collecting and spinning all kinds of music from hip hop to house, from New Wave to reggae and from soul to alternative and pop. I craved it all. Diversity. In my mind – then and now – good music is good music, regardless of the genres or labels given to it.
So, I was familiar with Chicago house music in the mid ‘80s, from artists like Frankie Knuckles, Lil’ Louis, Marshall Jefferson, Mr. Fingers, Shep Petibone and Virgo. Then there was this new mutation of house music pioneered by the Chicago producers Phuture (who are credited for making the first acid house record broken and championed by the legendary Ron Hardy, the DJ from the Muzic Box). Hopefully this inspires you to get online and do some research and go deeper into the history, as I imagine you can get more accurate information than my accounts.
I would like to share with you some of the tracks, labels and artists that metaphorically planted the seed in me. These tracks guided and influenced me, into who I am today, as a DJ and as a producer. Tracks that were played indirectly to an 18 year old who was snuck into Acid House Wednesdays.
I was first inspired by the originators in Chicago and then motivated by the English producers who took the sound and gave it their own twist, creating a worldwide phenomenon with its own fashion, culture and global movement.
Chicago producers like Phuture, who gave us “Acid Tracks” and “The Creator”; Armando with “151” & “Land of Confusion”; DJ Pierre’s “Box Energy”; Sleezy D’s “I’ve Lost Control”; Adonis’s “No Way Back” & “The Poke”; Spanky’s “Acid Bass”; Farley Jackmaster Funk’s “The Acid Life”; Mike Dunn’s “So Let It Be House”; Jack Frost’s “Clap Me”; Bam Bam’s “Give It To Me” & “Where’s Your Child”; Robert Armani’s “Ambulance”; Ten City’s “That’s The Way Love Is”; Mr. Fingers’ “Acid Attack”; Gherkin Jerk’s “Acid Indigestion”; Maurice’s “This Is Acid”; Chip E’s “Time to Jack”; Steve Poindexter’s “Work That Motherfucker”; Tyree’s “Acid Thunder” remix & “Acid Crash”; Fast Eddie’s “Yo Yo Get Funky”; LNR’s “Work It To The Bone” and Mr. Lee’s “Pump Up London.”
The list can go on, as there are countless gems and tracks I played and own. However, these are some of my ‘Chicago acid house anthems’ and tracks that I heard non-stop in Philly. These tracks were released on the smallest – yet most influential – independent labels in Chicago. Labels like Trax, DJ International, Underground Records, Bam Bam’s Westbrook Records, Armando’s Warehouse Records & Musique, and Jesse Saunder’s Dance Mania Records. Once again, there are more, but this is simply what I recall and those that clearly influenced me.
DANCE MANIA24 classics from seminal Chicago label Dance Mania featured on this 2014 compilation.
During that time all of these artists and labels traveled by the power of vinyl distribution to the world, being championed by the mighty island of England, where they were energized to make their own form of acid house.
This new sound also had an influence on me, especially Baby Ford’s “Oochy Koochy” & “Chikki Chikki Ahh Ahh”; 808 State’s “Pacific,” “Flow Coma” & “Let Yourself Go”; A Guy Called Gerald’s “Voodoo Ray” & “Tranquility on Phobos”; D-Mob’s “We Call it Acieeid”; Humanoid’s “Stakker Humaniod”; Longsy D’s “This is Ska” & “Dance Fever”; The Garden of Eden’s “The Garden of Eden”; S-Express’s “Theme From S-Express” and Adonis & Charles B’s “Lack of Love.” UK labels like Rhythm King, FFRR, Desire Records, Creed and Rham were all influenced by the Chicago visionaries. Truly amazing.
Quickly the music spread and influenced producers and labels in Europe where DJ Miss Djax who operated Djax Records in Holland started licensing and signing Chicago originators like Mike Dunn, Steve Poindexter, Armando and Ron Trent. The sound grew and grew and progressed. As the music became more popular, many of the artists were getting signed to major labels, capitalizing on the acid house craze.
It then came back to the USA and influenced New York City – labels like NuGroove, Idlers, Underworld Records, Warlock, Vendetta, Fourth Floor Records, Cutting Records, Breaking Bones, and artists like Todd Terry, Frankie Bones, Lenny Dee and MAW. The sound then squelched its way to Detroit’s Techno City on Derrick May’s Transmat label as well.
WINK_20TO20COVERThe cover of Wink’s 2003 album was all about the acid.
The cause for all this acid house ruckus is due to Roland Corp, a Japanese electronics company that for two years made 10,000 of these TB (transistor bass) 303 bassline synthesizers boxes, which were marketed for guitarists who wanted to practice guitar without a live bass player to backup. The units flopped as their original marketed intended use. Yet the 303 magically found its way to Chicago house producers, who made a terrific rendition of what the 303 was meant for.
I would love to plunge further in the archives of how the sound advanced, mutated and developed into the 90s and 2000s and who carried the acid house torch, but I won’t. I will leave this up to you. I implore you to find out, as the history of the ’90s and 2000s is the continued diaries of why acid is still relevant today. The spirit of the original acid house movement was never lost.
In closing, I go back to the initial premise of this piece: ‘Why The Acid House Spirit Lives On.’ Thinking about it now, I guess it was so difficult for me to describe, because to me acid has never left. The spirit still lives happily inside me, ever since that momentous Wednesday night in 1988.