Acid House: Fluke, Innovation, or Both?
Risk-taking, failure and resilience can lead to success, but not always. How did the out-sound of acid house become the in-sound of a generation.
Dave Swindell was in London in 1998 at the emergence of rave. As a nightlife photographer for Time Out magazine, he stumbled upon a nascent movement which would come to define a generation. When I read The Guardian’s review of his book of photos from that era, I was reminded of my own wonder and excitement when I learned about the “second summer of love” and its accompanying soundtrack. The article’s headline sums it up well: “‘It changed lives and opened minds’: a visual record of the birth of acid house.”
But what is acid house? According to Wikipedia, the Chicago group “Phuture’s seminal ‘Acid Tracks’ is considered to be the first acid house record and [it’s] credited [with] inventing and defining the genre.”
How did Phuture invent the sound of a generation?
In the mid-1980s DJ Pierre, Spanky, and Herb J (the members of Phuture) began experimenting with a cheap synthesizer that had generally been cast aside. The strange, squelchy sounds produced by the Roland TB-303 Bass Line didn’t sound produce the sort of bass lines that most producers were interested in. But the members of Phuture weren’t afraid to embrace those outside-the-mainstream sounds, and eventually took the risk of releasing their 303 experimentations on vinyl. “Acid Tracks” could easily have been a failure but through a coincidence of events the record made its way to London where outside-the-mainstream what just what the doctor ordered for underground DJs looking for new sounds. Their experimental risk-taking, along with a sprinkle of luck, became a unique spark that defined the sound of a generation.
The line between fluke and innovation can be very thin, or non-existent. As successful as “Acid Tracks” became, there were so many other experimental tracks that failed to gain any recognition. The keys to innovation include an openness to things never before appreciated, experienced, or imagined stemming from the risk of radical creativity; an allowance for serial failure; and the resilience necessary to keep trying until luck lands on your side.
Dave Swindell and others provided propulsion in the form of media coverage, while DJs and producers (many of them white, and some of whom became much more famous than the black Chicagoans who invented the sound; a theme that may sound familiar if you’ve followed the history of rock and roll) rode the wave, along with their fans, to build a movement from a spark. Perhaps it was a fluke but it was certainly also an innovation.
The Funk So Rubber
Here’s a DJ Mix I made in 2011 documenting some of the places where the acid sounds of the TB-303 ended up going over the 15 years following the emergence Puture’s groudbreaking Acid Tracks.