We take a look at the origins and history of one of electronic music’s wildest genres: acid house.
It started in Chicago
There could be no acid house without Chicago house. Created in impoverished areas of Chicago by music lovers who bought up cheap but effective gear like the TR-808 drum machine and various turntables, Chicago house was an entirely new kind of dance music. Harder edged than the funk and disco that came before it, but perhaps even more suited to the dancefloor, house music was pioneered by such DJ greats as Frankie Knuckles, Marshall Jefferson, Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, and of course the entire Trax Records roster, headed up by Screamin’ Rachael.
Tracks like ‘Move Your Body’ and ‘Jack Your Body’ had already combined music, technology and danceable rhythms in ways no one had ever imagined, but as always in electronic music, the producers and DJs did not settle in their ways. They still wanted to push the boundaries and make new sounds.
The first acid tracks
In 1987, Marshall Jefferson teamed up with DJ Pierre and the late Spanky to produce a record called ‘Acid Tracks’. Written by Pierre and Spanky, produced by Jefferson and released on Trax Records, ‘Acid Tracks’ is the release after which the entire genre was named.
The track makes extensive use of Roland’s recently released TB-303 bass synthesiser, programmed to play a short sequence with a slowly varying EQ cutoff filter, creating a distinctive squelching sound.
‘Acid Tracks’ was an underground hit, and it had several DJs acquiring 303’s of their own to join in this new sound experiment. Phuture went on to release more acid house work, as did each of the members individually. Marshall Jefferson and Sleezy D’s ‘I’ve Lost Control (Space Mix)’ is a stellar example of early acid house from Chicago. Armando’s ‘Confusion’s Revenge’ from 1988 features a pitch-shifted rap about a fictionalised version of acid house’s origins. In fact, for a more melodic, less detailed version of this article, just listen ‘Confusion’s Revenge’.
By this point, producers were really exploring the possibilities of the 303. As you can hear on this track, the instrument sounded like nothing that had ever come before it. The slower, more brooding ‘Where’s Your Child’ by Bam Bam showcases another side of the 303. As does Larry Heard’s ‘Acid Attack’, which features a riff that is uneven in length, and thus moves around over the top of the drum pattern.
Though most of the examples we have listed so far came out of Chicago, acid house spread quickly across the continent.
Acid house in the UK
The story goes that Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway, Paul Oakenfold and Johnny Walker brought acid house back to the UK with them after their legendary trip to Ibiza in 1987. Rampling and co. heard DJ Alfredo play acid house fresh from Chicago alongside pop hits, and this inspired the English DJs to set up parties of their own that featured acid house in their playlists. Rampling’s Shoom and Nicky Holloway’s Trip being the primary examples.
Rampling’s work after 1987 certainly helped kick-start the acid house trend in the UK, and in particular the rave culture that followed it, but as pointed out in this acid house guide from Dummy, there is 1986 footage of acid house being played at a Manchester party to the delight of the predominantly black audience.
Before long British acid house productions began to appear. ‘Release Your Body’ by London-based Bang the Party was an early example. And, of course, there was legendary Manchester group 808 State, counting A Guy Called Gerald among its members. The group produced a more densely layered version of acid house than their Chicago peers, as exemplified by their 1989 classic ‘Pacific State’. But it was A Guy Called Gerald’s more minimal ‘Voodoo Ray’ that went on to be the UK’s biggest acid house hit.
Forever acid house
As the police became involved in London’s acid house scene, clubbers were increasingly pushed out of traditional venues and into empty warehouses or outdoor spaces. As the venues changed, so did the music. But acid house had a huge influence on all electronic music that followed, and as Danny Rampling’s recent Forever Acid House mix demonstrates, there are plenty of modern artists making acid house today. And even putting these younger artists aside, many of acid house’s originators are still DJing today, keeping the spirit alive.
Book Marshall Jefferson, DJ Pierre, A Guy Called Gerald or Danny Rampling to bring acid house legends to your venue.