Various Artists – Acid Rain (Harmless Recordings)
12th August 2013
Our man wallows in a new compilation of ‘definitive original acid and deep house 1985-1991’ from legendary dance music maven Terry Farley, and loves being reminded how fresh it all once sounded.
You could fill Valles Marineris on Mars (the largest know canyon in the solar system) with compilation CDs of old dance music, all of them packed with the undisputed classics from the late 80s and early 90s that are regurgitated with disappointing regularity. It is a testament to Terry Farley’s time in the game that ‘Acid Rain’, a five-CD collection of deep and acid house out this week on Harmless Recordings, has few if any of what has ossified into the usual canon, and as a result it sounds like the future even though every tune is 20 years old.
Farley has of course been there and done that, with a clubbing career that spans the 80s London soul scene, through acid house and rave, all the way up to today’s ongoing deep house reawakening. As part of the epically hedonistic Boys Own label / magazine / way-of-life crew he partied hard through the peak days of the second Summer of Love and beyond, and has somehow remembered just enough to pick some of the key records that made it a joy to be alive in those times. And Farley’s love for these tunes and those times shine through this compilation; this isn’t a random shuffle through a few productions that made it big, this is a selection from someone who knows, from someone who was there, from someone who feels it all the way from their rapid-firing synapses down to the soles of their dancing feet.
It kicks off with ‘Bird in a Gilded Cage’ by Jungle Wonz (aka hugely influential Chicago DJ, Marshall Jefferson), beginning sparse and spacious, but soon filling with jungle ambience, hand claps, synthesized strings, and strange half-spoken vocals from Harry Dennis. Next up is ‘Bad Boy’, by Chicago house originator Frankie Knuckles, featuring Jamie Principle on vocals, from way back in 1987. It’s really sleazy 80s synthpop, but something about the low-slung groove points forward not back. The unashamed soul vocals are a recurring theme through these records; why wouldn’t you sing out, they seem to ask, singing, dancing, music, it’s all a means of escape…
‘Lack of Love’ by Charles BB takes us even deeper and deeper, exploring the space between the notes and the joy of simple repetition. It’s full of perfect percussion and has a tweaking little acid line, the original unfiltered noise of the 303. It’s a huge range of sounds that, to these ears at least, sound immaculate, like they just popped into existence because we needed them, because the world needed to hear the heartfelt, disorientating, squelch/swoop/growl that can only come from that enigmatic little silver box. Decades down the line these sounds. sampled and re-sampled, are still the currency of pop music, the mainstay of dancefloors, and the foundations of a thousand careers. Hearing them here and being reminded of how they sounded first time round actually feels quite profound, like listening to something being born, with all the mess and emotion that entails, but secure in the smug hindsight that this is actually only the beginning.
There are so many ground-breaking tunes in this set that I really want to mention all of them. A handful of legendary releases, including ‘We are Phuture’ by Phuture, and Bam Bam’s parent-terrifying ‘Where’s Your Child’ (‘…Do you know? Look around… Nowhere to be found…’), sit alongside more obscure, but just as banging gems like ‘Without Makeup’ by Marcuss Mixx where you can hear these new machines being stretched to their limits, strange echoes looping away from your ears as the world pans from side to side around you. ‘Let Your Body Talk’ by Ace & the Sandman, for example, sounds almost surprised at the breadth of noises that can be dragged from the Roland TB 303, with its tight little acid line that wraps around the beat like a snake round a lamb.
And all the time, among the earnest vocals and occasional-dud synth stab, you get those foundation sounds. The clank and the thump, the rim-shot and the cowbell, the tom-toms and the hi-hats, the squelch and the squeal. It is a thing of beauty to hear them in their original incarnations, fresh and unsullied, enthusing their users to ever more intricate acts of musical worship.
It’s a sign of our ongoing musical retromania that these sounds are, yet again, the palette of much of the current underground dance music, and ‘Acid Rain’ shows that twenty years down the line it is difficult to beat the heart and soul of the originators. From a punters point of view nostalgia can be an insidious and limiting state of being, but when the nostalgia is this good, fuck it, why not wallow for a bit. Farley’s selection can’t be faulted, with tune after tune from way back in the day that are full of forward thinking future sounds. Listen to this compilation to hear the first steps of the music that grew up to take over the world.
Terry Farley can be found on Facebook.