3.1.8. Acid House

18 June 2021

In 1985 a young suburban DJ Called Nathaniel Jones, aka DJ Pierre, who, like many others, was changed when he visited one of the other nightclubs that opened after The Warehouse in Chicago called Music Box, owned by DJ Ron Hardy. However, Pierre only went there after his college friend Earl “Spanky” Smith seriously encouraged him to go. After Pierre heard how Ron Hardy played and the crowd shouted “Ron Hardy, Ron Hardy, Pump that Ron Hardy”, Pierre, Spanky and a friend Herb Jackson attempted to make tracks for Ron Hardy (Bidder, 2001, p. 43). In DIY ethic style, they fiddled around with second-hand equipment they had at home, but the inspiration was lacking, and it was not until they went to a friend’s house named Jasper that they came across a Roland TB - 303. Spanky bought a second-hand Roland TB - 303, and it came without a manual preventing him to program it in any way. The Roland TB - 303 had been used already on other tracks. However, it was through sheer luck and frustration that Pierre’s twiddling of the knobs, without knowing what they did, that he mutated its tones into something completely different to any other track the Roland TB - 303 had featured on before. He created a sound that synaesthetically was like a devil's tail wildly shifting in space, creating a mountainous landscape of angular peaks and troughs meeting the constant pushing of the kick drum. They recorded the sound onto a tape and gave it to Hardy to play. Hardy played it five times at Music Box. The fifth time when he played it in the early hours of the morning, it sent the crowd wild; people were on each other shoulders or lying on the ground kicking their legs in the air. It was like a Dionysian frenzy. The track was unlabelled, and the more Hardy played the track, the more people wanted to know its name. As Ron did not make it, he could not tell people the name of the track. People, therefore, started to call the track “Ron Hardy’s Acid Track”. The LSD, also known as acid taken by many young club party-goers, seems the most likely explanation it was called “Ron Hardy’s Acid Track”. However, Spanky thinks otherwise: “the name ‘acid’  came from the streets, because, if you listen to it, it sounds like acid rock music” (Bidder, 2001, p. 44). With such success with the track, Pierre needed a producer and met Jefferson. They teamed up to become ‘Phuture’. Pierre would twiddle the knobs in the same fashion, and they went on to make a track called “Acid Tracks” that defined a musical revolution on the other side of the Atlantic in the UK. 

Looking at how the first ‘House’ track emerged and how it evolved to become ‘Acid House’. Through the subculture theories of the Birmingham School and the Chicago School, what can be seen are correlations in the social-political times that academics observed those theories with the social-political times leading up to and after the first ‘House’ track, which created the environment in which the first ‘Acid House’ track arose. 

The political climate of the early Reagan era in America created such high levels of unemployment, affecting the working classes and poorer classes of people in Chicago. It caused an environment in which the ‘House music’ subculture arose. That is evident in the following observations: The younger generations separated themselves from the pre-modern ideologies of their parents by attending clubs like The Warehouse and later Music box or playing with new technologies to produce music that identified the subculture of oppressed, poor working-class Americans. The music, fashion and clubs symbolised the subculture and developed the environment in which it evolved. It was different from anything the parents of the ‘House music’ subculturists had experienced before and created a greater divide between the parents and children. Those eccentric few such as Larry Leven, Frankie Knuckles, Robert Wilson, Jefferson Marshall, and others inspired by the environment in which ‘House music’ subculture arose had a strong inner compulsion that shaped, invigorated, and unleashed the subculture. The affective quality of the music played or produced was measured in response to the dance floor. Producers started to inform the music they made from the feedback of the dance floor. Leading towards producers influencing and pushing each other creatively, they fought for the attention of the dancing crowd. The DIY ethic style the music initially created is further evidence that the subculture started within working and poorer classes, correlating it with the Birmingham theory. With a greater interest in ‘House music’, it became clear that it would be commodified and capitalised by those who produced the music, DJ's and owners of the clubs. ‘House music’ became a way of financially surviving, and it offered a modernist opportunity to escape the social strata and milieus for the DJs, the producers and club owners. It was an entrepreneurial way to escape governmental governance that created a recession in which 11% unemployment was reached, the highest since the Great Depression (Augustyn, n.d). ‘House music’ and 'Acid house’ offered the producers and DJs a way out, but what about the people dancing, what did it offer them, a way to forget their financial, racial or sexual oppression and segregation from the political, social and cultural hegemony of the time? 

3.1.9. The Dance Floor