Acid Rain SleeveNotes:ParTs 1 – 4
IN THE BEGINNING
In the beginning there was Jack. And Jack had a groove. But that groove was not house; it was disco from Italy, punk funk from New York, new wave synth pop from Britain, edits of disco standards from Philadelphia, and more, much more. Mixed together then brought to the boil by fertile imaginations on the dancefloors that formed the melting pot that was the club scene of Chicago in the early 1980s, from which house music was born.
But, the seeds of what to become a global music phenomenon were sown during the dying days of disco, in the club that gave house music its name The Warehouse.
Robert Williams was a New Yorker and club goer, frequenting the popular discos in the Big Apple, including the likes of Nicky Sianos The Sanctuary, Tee Scotts Better Days and David Mancusos Loft parties. On these dancefloors he would have crossed paths with two young friends and dancers, Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan, who were spending more time in nightclubs than they were at school. Williams was unaware of the two young tearaways, but that changed when he first became their juvenile officer, (after a late night donut-purloining incident had them in trouble with the police) and then, through their mutual love of New York nightlife, their friend.
Williams relocated to Chicago in the early 1970s and ran a series of after-hours clubs with a group of like-minded souls, the last incarnation of which was in an industrial space that quickly became known amongst its clientele as The Warehouse. Williams continued alone after the group split, setting up his own party in a new space and taking The Warehouse name with him.
Richard Long and Associates, the company responsible for the legendary sound system at Paradise Garage in New York, installed a custom-built sound system; so with near perfect sound, a juice bar and none of the opening hour restrictions associated with an alcohol license, the foundations were laid for what should have been a great party venue. But, having lost the previous incumbent in the split with his former partners, Williams was missing one element, a DJ, or more to the point, a special DJ that would pull a crowd to his nascent party venture. To fill that void he looked east; to his hometown of New York and to his two young friends from his days clubbing in the city.
By this time, Larry Levan was the more established DJ, having held down successful residencies at the Continental Baths and Reade Street, before being offered the slot at the new super disco, the Paradise Garage. Williams approached him first but Levan, happy with his lot in Manhattan, was unwilling to come Chicago.
Williams then turned to Frankie Knuckles, who having been given his break by Tee Scott at Better Days, had filled the vacancy left by Larry at the Continental Baths before the venue had gone bankrupt that summer. Therefore, Knuckles was more amenable to the idea and travelled to Chicago for The Warehouses opening party in March 1977, before agreeing to take up the residency. After an initially lukewarm reception and poor attendance, Knuckles slowly started to establish a reputation for himself in the Chicago disco scene; the dancers began to come and the parties at The Warehouse really took off.
However, something happened to Knuckles during his time at The Warehouse. As he became integrated into the Chicago scene, his slick New York musical style began to meld with the more electronic , synth pop and post-punk new wave styles championed by the likes of Herb Kent. These styles could be heard on Kents Punk Out radio show, and by the Hot Mix 5, (a team of five technically gifted DJs: Kenny Jammin Jason, Farley Keith Williams, Mickey Mixin Oliver, Ralphie Rosario, and Steve Silk Hurley), on their hugely influential WBMX show.
This style of music was also favoured by many of the younger, often straight, kids that were beginning to attend The Warehouse parties, as well as their own regular haunts like The Playground. At this venue, a young DJ by the name of Jesse Saunders played alongside Hot Mix 5 DJ, Farley Keith Williams, or Farley Jackmaster Funk, as he was later to become better known. One of the young DJ duos favourite tricks was to use a drum machine to add an electronic four to the floor beat over other records a sound that would become the hallmark of house music.
Frankie Knuckles may not have been using a drum machine in his live sets, but increasingly he was mixing more modern music by the likes of Skatt Brothers, B-52s, Yello, and Gino Soccio, with another of his trademarks – re-edits which had been made solely for his use at the Warehouse. Knuckles had been schooled in the discos of New York, where pioneering DJs like Walter Gibbons had started using two copies of the same record to extend rhythmic break sections to work their dancefloors into a frenzy. This in turn saw the development of remixes by the like of Gibbons, Frankies friend Larry Levan, and his mentor, Tee Scott, that took short album tracks and transformed them into longer, percussion driven tracks designed for the dance-floor.
Edits were essentially a lower cost, more rudimentary, extension of this idea; a halfway house between live mixes and remixes, using spliced sections of tape to extend drum breaks and loop particular lyrical refrains. With the help of his friend and sound engineering student, Erasmo Rivera, Knuckles rebuilt popular records, stretching out the percussive elements, making them more in keeping with the modern electronic music, which he now played alongside. This allowed him to tease his dancers with looped snippets of tracks the dancers felt they knew, building the anticipation and tension, before satisfying their need by hitting them with the song they knew and wanted.
Some would argue that these re-edits were actually the first house records, and soon the original versions of many of these tracks, along with the new electronic music Knuckles was playing, started to appear on the wall of his favoured record shop, Importes Etc, with the label As Heard At The Warehouse. Shop staff, like Brett Wilcotts and Chip E, began to shorten that description to Warehouse Music and then further still to House Music. Thus, the name was born not to describe a specific genre of music, but more a DJing style: Knuckles DJing style.
In 1983, Knuckles left The Warehouse to set up his own club, The Powerplant. The hotchpotch of different records that sound-tracked those heady nights and hazy mornings at The Warehouse had already made their mark on many kids that had danced to them – kids who were just about to become the first wave of true house music producers and create the music to fit the name.
RISE OF THE MACHINES
Technology, or more to the point, affordable technology, made a critical contribution in the perfect storm that created house music. Of course, there were kids on the dance floors of the big disco clubs of the 70s who would have loved to make music like that which they danced to at the weekend, but in the 1970s, that meant big studios, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of kit, professional engineers and producers, and quite possibly, a fully blown orchestra. This changed in the 1980s with the advent of affordable electronic studio technology. Two young men who were quick to take advantage of this opportunity were Playground DJ Jesse Saunders and his friend, aspiring producer and lighting man at the club, Vince Lawrence.
Vinces father ran a small record label with which Vince had already had a local hit with a quirky 142bpm new wave-ish track, Fast Cars the previous year, but in 1984, influenced by the music he and Jesse were hearing in clubs, he wanted more. Then they met Duane Buford, who could actually play the piano and enlisting the help of local punk Screamin Rachel, they set about making music and produced a series of tracks for release under the moniker Z-Factor. However, Vinces father took a few months to put these tracks out. This was a few months too long in the eyes of the boys; frustrated by the delay they recorded another rough and ready beat track, based on an old disco mega mix that Jesse owned by Mach, called On and On. Utilising parts of the tracks they had already recorded, Vince designed a hand written label and the young men took it to the local pressing plant, Precision Records, and paid the owner, a man called Larry Sherman, a dollar a copy to press a thousand copies of their version of On and On.
Being faces on the scene, the boys hustled, getting the record to club DJs and onto local radio, therefore when they turned up at Importes Etc to try and sell a few copies for a couple of dollars each, the shop bought all one thousand copies for $4 a record, in the blink of an eye. Now the record buying public could finally purchase a genuine Chicago house music on vinyl.
Another track that was doing the rounds in the clubs, but on tape rather than vinyl, was Your Love by an artist going by the name Jamie Principle. The music sounded so polished and exotic that no one thought it could possibly have been made in Chicago, and assumed it was the output of a European producer. This was soon followed by the equally polished Bad Boy. But, whilst the local DJs and dancers were in awe of Principles slick, professional productions, everyone thought they could make a track that sounded as good as the more basic On and On and they all wanted to get in on the act too.
Marshall Jefferson, then a Post Office worker, explains how he and many like him got involved, I got into house music from listening to the Hot Mix 5 on the radio, seeing various house DJs like Leonard Remix, Rroy John, Lil Louis, Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles. I started making house music when I drove my friend, who was a guitar player, to a guitar store, The Guitar Centre in Chicago. And the salesman tried to sell us this thing, it was a sequencer right? He said, With this sequencer you can play keyboards like Stevie Wonder even if you dont know how to play. So my friend was like, You cant do that man, you gotta take lessons, you gotta practice. But I listened to him and believed him, so I said, I wanna buy it how much? He said $3,000. And I was like I dunno man, thats a lot of money. He said, Well you gotta job?, I say, Yeah, he says, Where?, I say, Post office. So he says, Lemme try and get you a line of credit. So he gets me a line of credit, $10,000! I said, Oh man Im gonna buy it! My friend was like, Why you gonna buy that, and I said, Man, I wanna play keyboards like Stevie Wonder. So, I bought that and the salesman says to me, You dont wanna have this sequencer without the keyboard do you?, and I says, No. So I bought the keyboard. And then he says, You dont want the sequencer and the keyboard without the drum machine do you?. So I says, Ah yeah, youre right. So I bought the drum machine. He says, You dont wanna have the sequencer, keyboard and drum machine and not have a mixer to play it all through do you?. And I was like, Oh yeah, youre right!. So I bought a mixer, I bought a TB-303, I bought an amp and I bought a 4-track recorder. You know, bought all kinds of cool stuff – I run up $9,000 on the tab!
I took it all home and about an hour later all my friends are over looking at all the stuff I bought. And man, they really took the piss out of me man. They really wound me up about it and made me feel two inches tall when they were through with me. What kind fool buys all this stuff without even knowing how to play it? AAAAARGH! you know, man?! I wrote my first song two days later and the next year, hand on my heart, DJs all over the world starting hiring keyboard players and telling them to play keyboards like Marshall Jefferson. And basically, what the sales guy explained to me with the sequencer like that, playing stuff out of like 40 bpms , when I sped it up to 120, it sound like I was Elton John man! I mean, the power that I had was, uhhh, intoxicating. I was slowing this stuff down then speeding it up and I was sounding brilliant at keyboards! Oh man, I mean, it was great.
But like the reaction to On and On, people thought they could match Marshalls efforts too, A lot of my friends saw me playing keyboards and slowing stuff down and speeding it up and they played it too, right? It was this whole, Im smarter than Marshall, I can do better than that you know? A lot of them started doing the same thing and to this day, most of the early Chicago guys played all of their own keyboards. We couldnt afford keyboard players because we didnt have the big budget like the New York guys and stuff. Thats cool, everyone had their own sound and their own style and you could tell the difference between a Marshall Jefferson record and a Steve Silk Hurley record and you could tell the difference between a Steve Silk Hurley record and an Adonis record and you could tell the difference between a Jamie Principle record and a Larry Heard record. It was distinct! You could tell between all of us, it was wonderful really.
Those that did not have the credit line that Marshall had still wanted a slice of the action: Steve Poindexter famously made an entire track using just a Casio RZ-1 drum machine and its tiny sampling capability; Gene Hunt pieced together his first tracks on Larry Heards living room floor using the same machines Heard had used for Fingers Inc.; Chip E started using a Roland 909, borrowed from Frankie Knuckles, who had bought it from Detroit techno producer and Chicago visitor, Derrick May; and Marshall Jefferson helped get Tyree Cooper started, [My friend] would go to the Power Plant and he had a mix tape of Frankie with the original version of Your Love on it and I thought, Hell, I can make a record like that. My sister was always singing around the house and she was putting a band together with Adonis, so I figured she could sing for her brother, but I did not have a drum machine. So, has fate would have it I met Marshall Jefferson and we became friends, one day he had to get all his equipment out of his house and stored it at our club [Sheba Baby], we asked him if we could borrow his 808 drum machine, now being from the south side we didn't have much money and gave him 20 bucks for a weeks rental – we turned that into 6 months and made ' After the night. After that I went into DJ International [record label], I didn't know much about a mixing board I just knew the record had to have a lot of bass for the systems it would be played on, and when my record came on, I wanted everyone to go crazy.
Tyree was not the only producer Jefferson helped; DJ Pierre, Spanky and Herb J, collectively known as Phuture, borrowed his Roland TB-303 bass-line synthesiser and whilst trying to figure out how to operate the manual-less machine by tweaking the parameter control knobs, they created the wild, warped, undulating electronic bass-line that became the basis for the legendary Acid Tracks, a track that was to change the face of house music. Pierre and Spanky took a tape Ron Hardy, who played it at the Music Box. The first time he dropped it, the crowd did not take to it. Not only did it sound like nothing else being played but it was long, clocking in at over 12 minutes. However, Ron persevered that night and played it again. And again. And by the fourth time he played it the club was going crazy. It became such a signature tune for Hardy, truly tapping the energy of the LSD fuelled dancefloor of Music Box, that it was colloquially known as Ron Hardys Acid Track long before the true identity of its makers was revealed.
Regardless of how much new music was being produced, house music may well have withered on the vine if there had not been an outlet for it. Fortunately, for the young producers of Chicago, Larry Sherman, the owner of the only pressing plant in town was also a shrewd businessman and he saw an opportunity in house music.
After the success of On and On Vince Lawrence approached Larry and suggested they create a record label to act as a home for the slew of new tracks being produced in the city. Lawrence was a fan of electro-industrial label Wax Trax! and this influenced both the name of the new house label, Trax Records, and the design: a bold white font on a black background that featured on all the early releases, before the now iconic red labels came into being.
The sharp business practices employed by Sherman form the bedrock of most tales about the early days of Chicago House, with accusations of unhonoured contracts, unfulfilled payments and illicit releases. Sherman infamously explained to young producers upon signing of a contract that given the opportunity, he would, screw them over, because it was a business. In many instances, he was true to his word. The customer also often got a raw deal because the most infamous cost reduction measure Sherman employed was to use recycled rather than use virgin vinyl – badly recycled vinyl. Boo Williams, one of the second wave of Chicago house artists in the early 1990s, remembers working at the Precision plant, smashing out the centres of old discos records before they were melted down. Somewhat ironically, given the name of Shermans business, this was not a precise process and often bits of the centre labels found their way into the molten vinyl too, which led to already poor quality getting poorer still, with sand paper surfaced records often containing chunks of paper too. Regardless, Shermans view was he delivered the best record you could make for a quarter.!
Quality control issues aside, Trax were vital in the development of house music. And whilst there is still some animosity about how Sherman handled his business, artists such as Eric Lewis and Merwyn Sanders of Virgo Four, and Marshall Jefferson himself, (who went on to work for the label signing artists), have argued that without Trax, the music would have never been pressed and certainly would have never made it out of Chicago. Sherman put money into the pockets of young producers and got their product into the racks of record shop in fairly short order.
In essence, Larry Sherman and Rocky Jones, founder of rival label, DJ International, provided the fuel for the house music machine.
BANG THE BOX
When Frankie Knuckles left The Warehouse to set up the Power Plant, Robert Williams moved the party to a new location in an industrial space but yet again, he was without DJ who could help him fill the room. Ron Hardy was a local DJ had made his names spinning disco records at Den One, a local gay black club in the late 1970s, before leaving the city to work in Los Angeles. He returned in late 1982 and Williams turned to Hardy to fill the DJ vacancy at the relocated party, which had also been renamed Music Box.
In the early days, Hardy and the Music Box struggled, as the dancers followed Knuckles to his new club, but in 1984 Williams moved venues once again, setting up camp in a basement space at 326 North Michigan Avenue. The new venue had a different vibe to The Warehouse and previous space: sparse, raw, bare brick walls painted black, hot, sweaty and loud. Really loud.
Ron Hardy played differently to Knuckles and the new space provided the setting for him to impose his style on the ever-growing crowd; playing harder, faster and more experimental music. He would famously open the night playing Frankie Goes To Hollywoods Welcome To The Pleasurdome, before gradually cranking the tempo up, mixing New York disco with more electronic styles like Italo disco, proto-house records by the likes of Kebekelektrik, Alias, and Alessandro Novaga, and now he was adding the emerging home grown house sounds being produced by the kids that frequented Playground and Warehouse.
And these kids now started coming to hear Ron play too. Whereas the Warehouse had attracted a slightly older, more refined, predominantly gay crowd, the Music Box was more mixed in terms of sexuality and was more ghetto too, or as Gene Hunt, Hardys DJ protg, succinctly puts it, Frankie had the people wearing their furs, Ron had the people out the Projects!
Hardys influence on this younger crowd quickly grew, as he would take the tracks they were making and play them repeatedly in the club. He had the power to make stars in the nascent house scene, breaking records like Marshall Jeffersons Move Your Body by playing it six times a night from cassette tape, and turning records like Adonis No Way Back and Sleezy Ds Ive Lost Control into Music Box anthems.
Many of these records captured the high octane atmosphere in the club: dark, packed, sweaty bodies jackin and slam dancing, with the infamously loud bass pounding through the chests of the dancers. And people were not just high on the music, Everyones on the same level, Gene Hunt explains, If youre drinking the water or youre eating the fruit, somebody, naming no names, would spike it, so we would all be on that level. The effects of this enhancements, coupled with Ron DJing style, feverishly working the EQ, driving the dance floor harder and harder, was too much for some, as Gene Hunt recalls, One night, Ron played I Lost Control and this lady passed out with her titties hanging out her shirt! We just laid her outside to get some air and someone asked whether she was dead and we said, Nah, she just lost control!
On another occasion, the speakers caught fire and people carried on as if nothing was happening a young Robert Owens was one of those caught up in the moment, I was actually near it and it didnt really dawn on me, I just thought, Hes beating The Box so hard the speakers are on fire! It still didnt hit me what was going on!
Hardy also played edits, but again he played them differently to Knuckles. He would not just stretch drum sections to tease his dancers; he often completely disregarded the main body of a record, taking just snippets, a few bars, the odd vocal refrain, looping them for minutes on end in a highly repetitive way, transforming a fully blown disco number like Nightlife Unlimiteds Peaches and Prunes into dervish like trance, or Kikrikos euro disco glitz Life Is A Jungle into a bass heavy hypnotic house track. The more extreme nature of these edits meant they were arguably more influential than many that went before; with his rework of Issac Hayes I Cant Turn Around providing the inspiration for one of house musics first hits Love Cant Turn Around, and both DJ Harvey and Theo Parrish paying homage to his tape splicing skills many years later by releasing Black Cock and Ugly edits based on Hardy reworks. Many of these facsimiles have become highly sought after, but at the time Ron kept his re-edits for his personal use, a means to a dancefloor end, rather than a vehicle to promote himself as a producer. Hardy was a DJ first and foremost, someone who connected with his crowd through the energy of the dancefloor, and this may explain why he committed hardly any recordings to wax while he was alive always looking for new ways to move dancers, splicing edits, and searching out new music.
One such source of new sounds was Detroit, as a young Derrick May and his friends were now paying regular visits to Chicago and the Music Box. Motor City techno legend Eddie Flashin Fowlkes was living with Derrick at the time and recalls the cross pollination of ideas between the two cities, Derrick would get these 12s from Chicago because thats where his mum lived at the time. He knew how to get things out of Chicago. Derrick made friends with these cats. That was our inroad into Chicago. They would send Derricks records to play. Jesse, Chip E, Larry Heard and those boys would do this. Chip E used to call the crib when Derrick and I were living together.
Derrick May, who went on to become an international techno superstar DJing across the globe, described the magic of Ron Hardy as voodoo with dance music. With regard to the impact and legacy of the Music Box, May tellingly asserts that all other clubs since pale into insignificance when compared to what Ron Hardy and Robert Williams created in that blacked out Michigan Avenue basement.
In late 1986, UK record company London Records released a compilation record called The House Sound of Chicago, which stayed in the album charts until early the following year. The first single release from the album, the Vince Lawrence, Jesse Saunders, and Farley Keith Williams collaboration Love Cant Turn Around, which used Farleys new Farley Jackmaster Funk moniker, reached number 10 in the singles chart in September. Another of the artists featured on the album, Hot Mix 5 star Steve Silk Hurley, followed this up by reaching number 1 in the singles chart in January 1987 with Jack Your Body.
House music certainly had a foothold in the charts, yet the experience in the clubs of the UK was a very different to what was happening in Chicago. As Marshall Jefferson remembers, when he first visited the country in early 1987 as the headline act on the Chicago House Music Tour, There was no acid house then. The first time we went, it was people in suits and ties man. For the most part, people being like, What the fuck is this? in their suits and ties and stuff. The only place, the only club, that really got where we were coming from was the Hacienda. And there was another place – our best gig was at this place called Rock City in Nottingham. That wasnt even a proper club.
Frankie Knuckles also remembers London having not acquired a taste for house when he spent two months in the city in 1987, During that period, the most popular music in the UK was anything by James Brown. Anything by James Brown, the JB All-Stars, anybody that worked with him, if you played anything by them, it was on. House was working in really, really underground, deep, off the beaten path clubs But for the most part, you went to places like The Wag and it was anything by James Brown.
However, things were about to change. In the autumn of 1987 a number of clubs were opened and attended by DJs and clubbers who had spent the summer in Ibiza, where house music was being played alongside synth pop, industrial and pretty anything else you could dance to by DJs like Amnesias Alfredo. Wanting to carry on what they had experienced in the Balearics that summer, Danny and Jenni Rampling started Shoom, Ian St Paul opened Future with his friend and DJ Paul Oakenfold, and then as crowds swelled, the larger Spectrum.
The following year Nicky Holloways large scale London acid house party The Trip, and in Manchester, Hot at the Hacienda opened in the summer and ushered in the second summer of love, as parties and raves sprung up all over the country. Now not only was there was club scene, but fashion to accompany the music and people learnt quickly, as Marshall Jefferson witnessed, When I came back 6 months later after Acid Trax had come out, thats when we found our place, T-shirts and all that shit. And I was like, What the fuck is going on here? Aciiiiiied Aciiiiiied! The genie was well and truly out of the bottle – and acid house was providing the soundtrack.
Tyree Cooper came to London in 1988, London was off the chain in 88 that mutherfucker was hot, it was really a mixed audience culture wise, Chicago is a very segregated city so depending on where you are in the city you either get all black, all white, all Hispanic or a little sprinkle of salt n pepper but in London everyone had a different way of doing things. I was so wet behind the ears, so I couldn't tell you whether someone was on acid or whatever but the atmosphere was fucking amazing it was like being in Chicago but on a different scale. London had House music pumping out in supermarkets, hotel lobbies, that shit was everywhere and they would play all the different styles in one night. I had no idea how popular my records were in London. I went on Top of the Pops but I didn't know shit about that. I took it seriously but very surreal, I met Donna Summer, it was real bugged out, I'm thinking to myself, Is this a real TV show – they got me on national TV?
The explosion in acid house in the UK had an impact back in Chicago, as more and more producers got acidic, Man, they caught on pretty quick when they found out money was coming in remembers Marshall Jefferson, Everybody started making acid tracks, and I was like, I dont wanna make any more. I sold my TB-303 for $1000, I only paid 150 for it so that was a good deal.
House music was now big business in Chicago but was rapidly becoming an export only business. By the early 1990s, the Warehouse was a distant memory, the Music Box had also shut down, Ron Hardy had sadly succumbed to illness and passed away, and Frankie Knuckles had packed his bags and returned to New York. But these trailblazers had made an indelible mark, helping create and nurture music that had broken out of the underground dance clubs of Chicago and spread across the world; filling clubs, theme tracking new youth movements, topping charts, and eventually, providing the soundtrack for everything from wedding receptions to the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
This compilation catalogues some of the pivotal moments on the first steps down that path. Not the music that filled the pop charts but the real deep house sound of Chicago. Music made to jack to on the sweaty dancefloors of the Windy City music that went on to conquer the world.
Words by R$N home boy and all round good'un Monsieur Miles Simpson.