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WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE ACID WARS DADDY?  

By Phil Thornton

 

You young uns don’t know yer born, it used to be all fields round here. Fields and acid house clubs, that’s all we had to entertain ourselves back in the 80s and 90s. Ask yer dad or yer trendy uncle who still reckons he can throw some shapes at family parties, the one who brings along Playing With Knives just to show you a few moves from back in the day and bores you rigid with tales of wild partying in places as exciting and glamorous as Blackburn, Burnley, Widnes and Stoke. Them were the days, alright. Twenty years ago? Fuck’s sake, that went quick!

 

Can it really be two whole decades since the second summer of love? It doesn’t seem ten minutes ago that I was playing my own small and insignificant part in documenting the emerging acid/Balearic/baggy/Madchester scene via my own outstandingly inept fanzines (Hang Loose, Cuckoo) and scribbling equally appalling nonsense for the likes of Boys Own, The Face and Mixmag. It doesn’t seem five minutes since I was lambasting writers of the stature of Matthew Collin (author of ‘Altered State; the story of ecstasy culture and acid house‘, 1997 ) Jane Bussmann (author of ‘Once In A Lifetime‘, 1998) and former Face editor, Sheryl Garrett for creating a false sense of nostalgia and sentimentality with ’10 Years Since Acid House’ debates at trendy Manchester art venues. This wasn’t what we fought the acid house wars for, to sit around pondering on the socio-political imortance of repetitive beats in a post-industrial landscape. Fuck art, let’s dance! (and all that empty anti-hippie bourgeois baiting art school sloganeering).

 

So, here I am another decade later penning some 20 Years Since Acid House piece for Clash.  What went wrong Mr Hypocrisy? Well, most people become more mellow with age whereas I get more angry; angry with you lot, you young uns, you whippersnappers and your nu-rave-punk-funk-no-wave-karaoke-sing-a-longa-max-n--paddy non-committal irony-free moral and cultural confusion. We didn’t die in the trenches of Hot and Shoom for you to sing every word to the fucking Hoosiers or even Bloc Party, The Killers, Lily-Amy-Katie-KT-KP peanut pop-on-a-stick shite. We expected better of you. Blow us away, make us feel old and useless and hopelessly out of step with a youth culture we can’t get to grips with. Don’t, as my 17 year old daughter did not so long ago, sing tarted up old Bon Jovi tunes in the car when I’ve got Moodymann, Shackleton and Ceephax in the glove compartment. Modern music. Music that could only have been made after 1988; our year zero.

 

1988 changed everything (and nothing). When you’re in the middle of a party you don’t worry about the hangover or comedown to come, you don’t fret about your long-term physical and mental wellbeing, you just enjoy the moment. Acid House was a great party while it lasted, but realistically it was all over within a year, six months if you’re being cynical, three months if you’re me. June, July, August 1988. As soon as The Sun and the Mail and ITN and Inspector Morse got ‘on one’ the death knell had been sounded and the smart money moved into garage, proto-jungle, balearic, techno and dub-hop.  Still, it WAS great for that brief moment in pop-cultural time.

 

However, there are a few myths that need exploding about acid house.

 

1          The British Deserve All The Credit 

 

Without Chicago there would’ve been no house scene, acid or otherwise. Like northern soul before it, house struck a musical and emotional chord with mainly white British working class youth. Like northern soul, the labels and the artists were obscure, even within their own cities. Yet we took to these djs, artists, labels and made them feel welcome, important and valued.  Things had been building for a few years, little scenes were coming together, disparate cultures were overlapping and colliding…there was a sense of  momentum, a feeling that something was about to happen, although we didn’t quite know what. With the arrival of the Happy Monday’s raw-Salford funk, lads I’d seen in the same clothes stalls as me in the Arndale, I first sensed a shift in the musical sands. 

 

In 1986 house music, like hip hop before it, was rejected by  the self-elected ’soul establishment’ of Djs, promoters and label owners. As a bit of a soul puritan myself in those days, I preferred good old fashioned northern soul, funk and go go to house but gradually I began to understand that music must progress to survive and house music was taking a step forward, not like rare groove or northern soul, taking six steps back to an idealised and romanticised past.

 

When I first heard Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s still awesome minimalist masterpiece, ’Jack Your Body’ it was a Road To Damascus moment. From the moment that Jack Your Body went to number one in the UK charts, house music began to steadily overtake and overwhelm every other type of music played in clubs.  We didn’t invent it but we did popularise it, commercialise it, allow a few people to get rich off the back of house, which still remains to this day a rather specialist, gay black scene in the US. 

 

With ‘acid’ house, the divide between the new and old, between  notions of ‘authentic’ and ‘manufactured’ between ‘soul’ and ‘energy’ became a chasm. The old ‘soul mafia’ couldn’t or wouldn’t come to terms with music so devoid of recognised human emotions and interactions. The voices were either non-existent or strangulated, tortured and the music was pre-programmed, computerised and to many ears, sterile. Lyrics were slogans, demands, bizarre dislocated fragments of thought (to get all pretentious).  A tune like Bam Bam’s terrifying ‘Where’s Your Child’ (1988) or Sleezy D’s equally disturbing ’I’ve Lost Control’  (1986) marked a clear boundary between what so-called ’black’ or ’dance’ music could be; something that’s not confined to the patronising parameters imposed by mainly white journalists and djs. Play either record today and they’re both remarkably modern, despite the relatively basic technological tools to hand. No, Bam Bam, no Aphex.

 

We take a lot of credit for acid house and indeed techno, which is why Derrick May famously got so pissed off with Tony Wilson at the New Music Seminar’s ‘Wake Up America You’re Dead’ debate. It’s an attitude that only deepens resentment by black American pioneers such as May and Underground Resistance who see their experimentation and cultural values being absorbed and commercialised by less gifted but more photogenic or economically solvent ’white’ artists.   

 

2          Acid House Brought Everyone Together

 

Maybe it did…..for as long as the Es lasted. The story goes that E made white boys dance and this resulted in black and white, gay and straight, male and female, rich and poor people uniting under the common banner of acid to dance away all the artificial barriers of race, religion, sexuality and class. What a load of wank that is. As someone who dressed like a typical football fan believe me, you were not welcome at clubs such as the oh-so-progressive Hacienda before the acid era. Funnily enough, as someone reared on northern soul, I could also cut a rug without a tablet to loosen my ‘white boy’ inhibitions. 

 

Club culture, such as it was prior to 88, amounted to a handful of decent venues in the entire country. However, this encouraged a sense of exclusivity and elitism and dance music was riven with internecine squabbling and snobbery.  For small-town soulies like myself, the usual scally rituals never really extended any further than the match, the nearest sports shop and the alehouse. A few of us would venture into Liverpool and Manchester to hear decent music and guess what, nowhere would let us in. This was the shirt n’ kecks dark ages and it was indie kids and fashion victims only at The Hass or The State. After years of hassle and knock backs, finally with acid house, the rules and restrictions changed and these ever-so-charming scallywags were welcomed with open arms. Fantastic chaps for generating a bit of atmosphere but keep your hand on your wallet Barnaby! 

 

Problem being now all the studes and pseuds had got on the case and began dressing like K-Stand gurners, the queues were fucking massive! I couldn’t even get into the Hass for that ridiculous episode of The Hitman & Her but my mate managed to squeeze his bony frame in and became famous for his pony tailed podium trance dancing.  This lad was once yer typical Barney from New Order attired Indie Kid and now he’s bouncing around to Voodoo Ray.  The indie kids from our town were now on the groovy train and we bagged lifts, windowpane and draw from them en route. We HAD come together but soon enough we went our own separate ways. 

 

Who got rich from acid house? Who really benefited?  What really changed? A handful promoters, Djs, musicians, label owners did OK for themselves and most of them were already well established long before acid. Drug dealers of course launched themselves headlong into this vibrant exciting scene and virtually destroyed it within a few years. As with the 1st summer of love, there was a lot of spiritual bullshit spouted about the second one but essentially all it boiled down to was an excuse to take lots of drugs, hopefully have lots of sex and escape from the mundane grind of everyday life for a few hours, a few weeks, a few years. Turn on, tune in, slop out! Once In A Lifetime?

 

3          Acid House Destroyed Football Hooliganism

 

There were many factors in the demise of football hooliganism in the late 80s, acid house being the least important of them. Like many lads of my age group (I was 23 in 1988), I’d been regularly attending the match since being a young lad and been on the periphery (and sometimes in the centre) of hooliganism throughout the 80s. Football grounds have always been the catwalks where new youth fashions are displayed and disseminated and it’s not only clothing but behaviour that comes in and out of fashion. After the Heysel tragedy and the riots at Luton and Birmingham of 1985, after the Bradford fire of the same year and the subsequent clamp down by the Police and the authorities on football fans, things were always going to become more difficult. Plus we were all getting older and other things began to become more important.

 

After Hillsborough, the introduction of all seater stadia and vastly hiked up ticket prices, resulted in a whole generation of young potential fans being priced out of the sport. Hooligans got older and fatter and slower. It was not only uncool to be a hooly but almost impossible to be one, what with CCTV, hooli-vans, helicopters, tanks, surface-to-air missiles and weapons of mass destruction at the ready to stop 30 scousers and 30 Mancs having a bit of a bitch-slap session.  Alternatives were sought. Some hoolie faces got into dealing E and coke. One or two of them may well have been at Amnesia in an altered state. Three ICF heads hugging Danny Rampling does not a LuvThug generation make. Others realised the potential for more rewarding avenues for violence and bullying. Some became djs, some became dealers, some became doormen, some became dead.

 

Acid House didn’t really impact on football hooliganism at all. A few top faces from various clubs, mainly London, Manchester and Liverpool based got into ’the scene’ started club nights and record labels, some shifted parcels to pay for it.  Acid house provided the catalyst for this and in some respects may be seen in the same way as punk, in that musically it was quite narrow and short-lived yet made a massive cultural splash. It encouraged people to become writers, photographers, djs, entrepreneurs, musicians and artists. It was essentially CREATIVE. So never mind the bollocks and don‘t believe the hype, that’s what’s really important.

 

An edited version of this piece appears in the current edition of Clash magazine 





 

 

 


 

 

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