Thursday, 14 May 2015

Acid Trax volume two (1988)

I'm not sure quite where I first heard the term acid house, aside from that it was definitely absolutely nothing to do with fucking Porridge. The name intrigued me given its being such a peculiar juxtaposition of concepts, but made sense when my friend Carl played me a Serious label compilation album - a mixed DJ set of the Chicago-originated material which appears in full on this double. It was weirdly minimal, just a drum machine and a funny noise for the most part, and a funny noise which suggested diarrhoea or weird chemistry experiments, the sound we hear on that episode of Tom & Jerry where Tom is accidentally sucked into a mad scientist's labyrinth of pipettes and test tubes. Subsequent investigations in darkened rooms helped make the narcotic association, but I still believe that particular angle was somewhat overstated in terms of the actual music. Of course on the other hand, D-Mob's somewhat ludicrous defence of how you thought it was a drug, but now you know you're wrong probably stretches the point a little too far.

For anyone who has only just been born and who can't be otherwise arsed to look it up on their internet, acid house - the original Chicago version as spewn forth from the Trax label - was mostly based around a drum machine and the mighty Roland TB303, or else boxes pretending to be the mighty Roland TB303. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of using the mighty Roland TB303 - as is my own proud boast - will be able to tell you with confidence that it represents the very zenith of musical technology, if not actually western civilisation. Some of what we have here sounds like random patterns of squelchy notes, the TB303 equivalent of a keyboard smash given form by repetition alone. They're not even tunes as such, just hypnotic grooves which draw you in - something to do with the fascination of a form of repetition which constantly mutates as the lads twiddle those filters back and forth.

As with anything of electronic derivation, acid house attracted the usual criticism from music bores, namely that anyone could do it because all you had to do was press a button innit, and where's the fackin' talent in that, can't compare it to Clapton man naaaaah, my kid coulda done that etc. etc. - all erroneously predicated on the notion that any given art form must prove its worth by garnering the approval of those who actively dislike that art form, and would rather we all just sat around listening to them bang on about Jimi Hendrix.

The thing is with acid house, whilst anyone may well have been able to do it, not that many did, or at least not that many did with any degree of success, and mainly because everyone missed the point and assumed it to be mostly just variations on the template used for Acid Man by Jolly Roger: drum machine - bass, hi-hat, snare, hi-hat, bass, hi-hat, snare, hi-hat over and over, squelch squelch squelch and usually a sampled phrase in which someone uses the word acid, or dance, or makes some corny reference to taking a very, very lot of drugs. It maybe wasn't quite so dad gets down with the kids by wearing baseball cap twisted backwards as Porridge's bewildering cargo cult version of acid house, identifiable as such only by what was written on the record sleeve, but you listen to this stuff, and it becomes obvious how far off the mark everyone was in terms of this particular bandwagon. Out of the sixteen tracks here recorded by a handful of guys under different names, there are barely two which sound the same, and not one with that Jolly Roger beat that became so ubiquitous during the nineties; and they nevertheless all somehow sound like part of the same family. I think this is probably the key to why this stuff still sounds so good, namely that nothing quite like it has been done either before or since. Working with such a limited, minimal palette, you can really tell that no effort has been spared to get the most out of each groove, building up an atmosphere with hardly anything but a bass boom, a ping, and the sound of a farmer in wellington boots making slow progress through a muddy field; or the frankly breathtaking Jackin' Tall by Lidell Townsell which is the sound of a robot in wellington boots making slow progress through a muddy field on his way to a piano-smashing competition.

This is some of finest electronic music ever made.

Whilst we're here, I find it somewhat amusing to note the aforementioned Porridge of Psychic TV has somehow managed to insert himself into wikihistory as the man who invented this shit, as opposed to - ooh off the top of my head - just being some clapped out performance artist breaking out the drum machine in a desperate bid to appear relevant, the logic being here, let me have a go - I'm an artist you know, so once I apply my genius to this thing - whatever it may be - the results are sure to be ground-breaking. I will show these housey fellows what they were probably trying to do, but couldn't through lacking the vision. Why, I'll bet they've never even heard of William Burroughs - ha ha!

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