Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A global dance virus created in Chicago clubs early-to-mid-'80s. The name probably came from the Powerhouse, where black disco records (especially the '70s Philadelphia variety) were subjected to treatment by the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), which was already putting musicians out of work; with this computer, a keyboard and a drum machine, anybody could make dance records. Pioneer DJ Frankie 'Godfather' Knuckles (d 31 March 2014 aged 59; he was diabetic), postal worker Marshall Jefferson, Steve 'Silk' Hurley, Andre Hatchett, Ron Hardy and Jamie Principle were among the perps; the result was a loud, hard bass-heavy style without substance whose only purpose was to shake your ass off. Hurley's 'Music Is The Key' started as a home-made product to play at parties and became a world-wide hit; the DJs knew nothing about music but everything about moving a crowd. Jefferson was inspired by Hardy and composed 'Move Your Body' on a sequencer, with an insistent and memorable riff; Jefferson only found out later that a real keyboardist would have had to go against all his training to play it. The hits included a five- track EP Funkin With The Drums by Farley Funkin Keith; Hurley's 'Jack Your Body' and Farley 'Jackmaster' Funk's 'Love Can't Turn Around' were UK top tens '86-7, but these had all been ignored at home. When Belgium's Jo Bogaert heard 'Love Can't Turn Around' he became Technotronic, whose 'Pump Up The Jam' was a world-wide hit (Funk complained that Technotronic had lifted a bass line from another of his records; 'It's like they say in the movies: ''Don't let this weapon get into the wrong hands.''') Finally Britain's Soul II Soul won two Grammys '90, and everybody was surprised that a new world-wide basic dance currency had come from the south side of Chicago.

There was the occasional hint of gospel (Knuckles would mix in pulpit recordings) and sparse Kraftwerk-inspired electronic textures, but it was basically a pulsating wallpaper of sound, apparently bereft of form, melody, lyrics or anything except a thunderous machine-made bass. The pursuit of transcendence via spiritual and sexual abandon was the opposite of rap's frantic self-assertion, and found a mass audience in UK via Northern club DJs '86-7 (in a strange reprise of the Northern Soul tradition). Chicago DJ Pierre's experiments with the eerie squelching bass sound of the Roland 303 (a bass synth) '86-7 pioneered the sampling technique called acid burning, leading to the term acid house, which in Britain conveniently referred both to the wobble bass sound and the Ecstasy drug culture of which the music was an integral part. Pierre's Phuture produced the 'Acid Trax' landmark '87, ushering in the Second Summer of Love, 20 years after '67. Acid house parties were an unparalleled hedonistic upsurge in the UK, resulting in comedy: ravers found their own huge venues in the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere, having been denied places to hang out for generations, while the police and others tried to figure out what was going on; the government of the day tried to suppress it all in a new edition of the Criminal Justice Act, stupidly politicizing a generation that only wanted to dance.

It was all a massive influence on much subsequent UK pop, cf. Happy Mondays, and Primal Scream's classic psychedelic dance/rock crossover landmark Screamadelica on Creation, UK top ten '91. Homegrown House/RAP pastiche attempts made a vibrant UK dance hybrid: DJ-centred ad hoc chart-toppers 'Pump Up The Volume' by M/A/A/R/S, 'Beat Dis' by Bomb the Bass and S-Express's 'Theme From S-Express' were all UK no. 1 singles '87-8. There was the biggest music industry shakeup since punk as major labels struggled to get into the rapidly shifting market, and the sampling technology broke the barrier between the singer and the song as well as spreading its net wider; there was a massive variety of UK dance music, from the string-drenched opulence of Soul II Soul ('Back To Life' and Club Classics Vol. 1 were no. 1 UK single and album '89) to the tinny subversion of KLF (The White Room made top three UK, top 40 USA '91). House spread Europe-wide and mutated into an ever-accelerating series of dance trends, from grim Belgian Nu-beat to the gleeful keyboard sounds of Italian House; Frankfurt was another centre of machine-made music. Black Box's 'Ride On Time' (on aptly named deConstruction label) was six weeks at UK number one '89, featuring a model miming to the sampled soul vocals of Loleatta Holloway over a backing track. The Orb, a duo formed '89 by DJ and ex-Killing Joke roadie Alex Patterson and KLF guitarist-to-be Jim Cauty (replaced first by ex-Gong Steve Hillage, then teenage innocent Thrash), did the unthinkable by making Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream fashionable via 'ambient house'; 'Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld' '91 was a UK top 30, then the half-hour single 'The Blue Room' top ten '92 (Orb played chess on TV's Top Of The Pops instead of miming) and LP UF Orb UK no. 1 '92; their '97 hit single was remixed from French synth-merchant Jean-Michel Jarre. By the time of the Shamen's UK no. 1 'Ebeneezer Goode' '92, featuring black singer Jhelisa Anderson, dour Scotsman Colin Angus and Dickensian North London rapper Mr C (b Richard West) in a controversial paean to the joys of Ecstasy, the boundaries had been well and truly blurred (see Techno and Jungle).