‘Biting, severe and even unpleasant’… NME introduces indie kids to acid house [February 1988]
Rock and dance have always made for uneasy bedfellows, yet back in 1988, even the most die-hard indie enthusiast can’t have been oblivious to the fact that a ‘new sound’ was emerging from the warehouses and underground club nights… acid house.
On this day in 1988, NME, the bible for suedeheads and shoegazers, published its first proper appraisal of this nascent genre, under the heading New Acid Daze, by celebrated rock journalist John McCready.
“Acid house, a development which threatens to hijack the beat and send it speeding across Europe until it crashes into a warehouse full of old Roland SH101 synthesisers in Japan, is the new sound of Chicago,” McCready wrote in the article, which also graced the cover of the 6 February 1988 edition, alongside alternative Leeds-based songsters The Wedding Present.
“The term Acid comes from the assumption, often denied, that those making the new generation of terror tracks are taking huge amounts of LSD before they hit the studio.
“Although that may be true, it’s strange that people like Kraftwerk responsible for such acidic masterpieces as ‘Numbers’ and ‘Pocket Calculator’ have never been associated with the drug. Acid House makes more sense if you consult the dictionary definition – biting, severe and even unpleasant. The theory of some Northern DJs who have been playing House since before its current high critical and commercial profile makes even more sense…”
The full article, which has been archived on the excellent Rock’s Backpages website, is part introduction, part putdown, as McCready pulls no punches in how he describes some of the genre’s biggest tracks: Armando’s Land Of Confusion features “an electronic loop as relentless and as disturbing as a dentist’s drill”, house is referred to as “disco rubbish” by an unnamed London DJ, while Bam Bam’s Give It To Me is described as the “kind of dance music Les Dawson’s late lamented Cosmo Smallpiece might produce after a heavy night on the brown” [No, we have no idea either].
“Acid is a spaced-out hypnofest which sounds as if it might never end,” McCready explains. “It’s the music of abandonment which lends itself to House’s sadomasochistic jack till you drop ethic.
“House pushes the body endlessly to its physical limits, and Acid tracks, usually constructed from a simple sequence of notes put through a basic synthesizer like the Roland SH 101 (a box of cheap tricks the Rick Wakemans and Trevor Horns of this world wouldn’t be seen dead with) lend themselves to the spiritual stamina idea which was at the heart of James Brown (‘Doin’ It To Death’) and Northern Soul (the punishing all-nighter).”
But is there a way out of this monotonous racket? Later in the article, McCready examines the influence of Detroit, specifically Derrick May’s Strings of Life and Nude Photo – “electric funk tracks which put a fire cracker into the Acid bath”.
Alongside the work of Model 500, he muses, the success of tracks like these “will influence those currently toying with the Washing Machine sound and curb the potential indulgence and excess of the noise from an electronic hell. Turn on, tune in and dance till you drop.”
EDIT: Since 909originals posted this article, John McCready has kindly come back to us via Twitter to clarify that the negativity portrayed therein may have been served up with a large side plate of irony…
very nice of you but your analysis misses the irony high in the mix here- no intention to put down- merely to find new ways of describing these things. and brown is or was slang for smack.— john mccready (@only1jmccready) February 6, 2019
Thanks John! We’re still glad that the music had a longer shelf life than one of the late Les Dawson’s comic creations… 🙂
[Article snippets taken from Rock’s Backpages, full article can be found here]