I’ve always had a problem with genres; I usually fail to grasp what it is that distinguishes one from the next. It took months for me to understand that hardcore rave was different to techno because of the breakbeats. To me it all sounded like a unified thing that definitely wasn’t hip-hop or jazz, and I wasn’t really motivated to get a grip on the finer details. I loved it all.
So how do you define “acid house”? So much has been written already and I’m surprised FACT hasn’t already had an acid top twenty from someone with more cred than me. For the sake of this list I’m using an arbitrary definition of “house music with acid in it”.
Acid: it’s the sound made by a Roland TB303. Zillions of articles and compilation sleevenotes have held forth on the history of the little silver box designed in Japan by Tadao Kikumoto that accidentally spawned a whole genre of music. So I won’t go into that too deeply, you probably know what a 303 is and what it sounds like, if not then listen to any of the records below and feel the squelch.
As far as “house music” goes, I mean music characterised by a four-to-the-floor kick-drum beat, made to be played at Chicago’s Warehouse club, and music directly descended from that stuff. For me, 99% of acid house is from Chicago. I won’t include earlier TB303 tracks like Alexander Robotnick’s ‘Problems D’Amour’ or Ice T’s ‘Reckless’, nor will I include Belgian new beat tracks, which I see as coming from a slightly different lineage. Because of my own feeling of what constitutes “house” I won’t include banging techno tracks with distortion such as Richie Hawtin’s early classics on Probe or the awesome acid bangers that constituted a good deal of Underground Resistance’s early catalogue. But I do include one UK track that was inspired by the Chicago sound, and there would be more UK stuff if this was a top fifty instead of a top twenty.
Acid: it’s the sound made by a Roland TB303.
In an important way, acid house was a UK scene. Again, many words have been written about the summers of 1988 and 1989, and you can Google “second summer of love” if you need a refresher. Even though nearly all the best records were made in Chicago, the music took off in a big way over here, it was massively popular, much imitated, loved by clubbers and ravers and misunderstood by the media. Lots of Chicago tracks were only released over here. Sometimes amazing tracks (like Pierre’s ‘Box Energy’) were only available as album cuts on poorly-pressed UK complations, others like Charles B’s ‘Lack Of Love’ got proper 12″ vinyl pressings in the UK but were never released in the USA.
My first acid house record was a UK one, Perfectly Ordinary People’s ‘Theme From P.O.P.’. I wasn’t really aware of the distinction between UK & Chicago tunes or the geographic origins of the sound. I knew some Chicago house hits like Steve Silk Hurley’s ‘Jack Your Body’ but it wasn’t until early 1992 that I got educated about original acid house on a trip to Brick Lane Market in Bethnal Green. In those days Brick Lane market was mostly a place to find people selling things like a single shoe, or a dead person’s dentures, or possibly a nicked mountain bike, but nestling among all the junk I came across two boxes of brand new dead stock records selling for a couple of quid each. In one box were copies of the Jack Trax compilation album Acid House and in the other, the Westside double LP We Call It Hallucinates. I snapped them up, took them home and got submerged in the sounds of Phuture, Armando, Liddell Townsell and the rest. The music was similar to the UK acid stuff I knew but with all the cheesy “commercial” elements removed. Stripped-down, mind-numbing repetition made tiny changes in the beats into a highlight, and all the 303 tweaks and burbles took centre stage because Chicago guys hadn’t seen fit to swamp their productions in piano and strings and so on. Sometimes it’s what you leave out that makes a track heavy.
It was hard to narrow this list down to twenty tracks and of course lots of classics had to be left out but these are definitely twenty of the all-time top forty! I gave myself some arbitrary limitations as detailed above, and didn’t include anything more recent than 1989, not for any good reason, but just to help me narrow down the selection. The track descriptions get a bit repetitive but that’s the nature of the sound.
Nearly all these tracks were released in 1988, and I could easily have listed another fifty. Can you imagine if this many great records came out in 2009? Imagine how much money you’d spend if you found yourself in a record shop in 1988 with a couple of hours until the time machine brought you back to the future…
Ed DMX is best known as boss of Breakin’ Records and for his work as DMX Krew, releasing on labels like Rephlex and Ersatz Audio. Visit dmxkrew.com for more info and to download his brilliant radio podcasts.
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