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Acid house

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Acid house

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Acid house is a variant of house music characterized by the use of simple tone generators with tempo-controlled resonant filters. It began in the mid-1980s, when producers of house music discovered that they could create interesting sounds with the Roland TB-303 analogue bass synthesizer by tweaking the resonance and frequency cut-off dials as they played. Acid house music became a central part of the early rave scene in the U.K., and the yellow smiley became its emblem.



There are conflicting accounts about how the term "acid" came to describe this new style of house music. The explanations that have surfaced include the following:

  • It is a celebratory reference to LSD — some feel that early producers of the new style of house music, as well as people at nightclubs where the music was played, enjoyed the drug and its interaction with the music. No citations are available to confirm or deny this explanation. Genesis P-Orridge, principal member of the experimental music collective Psychic TV, is believed by some to be a primary source of this claim. P-Orridge made various claims of responsibility for inventing the term and the style of music, but at least one former member of Psychic TV disputes all of the claims[1], and in an interview in the 1999 documentary Better Living Through Circuitry, P-Orridge admitted that it was a clerk in a Chicago record shop who used the word "acid" to describe the most experimental, bizarre house records that were on hand and that P-Orridge asked to be shown. In the interview, P-Orridge reported having an epiphany, while listening to those records, that the music was not very psychedelic, except by virtue of its tempo. Afterward, the music and imagery of Psychic TV records was very deliberately influenced by the acid house style and was quite celebratory of LSD in particular. P-Orridge later claimed to have been the first to introduce psychedelic elements to the music.
  • It is a celebratory reference to psychedelic drugs in general — some feel that Ecstasy (MDMA) was more popular and prevalent than LSD among musicians and nightclub patrons in the mid-1980s. No citations are available to confirm or deny this explanation. There are many citations of Ecstasy being prevalent in post-Chicago U.S. nightclub and UK rave party scenes of the late 1980s, but acid house had already been named by then.
  • It was used in Chicago, at the time, to describe the squelchy sounds of the TB-303 bass synthesizer — some consider these sounds to be harsh and caustic, like acid, and/or they associate the sounds with "bubbling acid" sound effects and imagery as might be used in cinematic depictions of laboratories. While it is true that the term was applied in the 1990s and beyond to music that used the TB-303 in a similar way to the way the device was used in acid house, no citations are available to confirm or deny this explanation as being relevant to the advent of acid house itself.
  • It was used in Chicago, at the time, to describe house music in the style of "Ron Hardy's Acid Track". — Before Phuture's "Acid Tracks" was given a title for commercial release, it was played at a nightclub by DJ Ron Hardy and was called "Ron Hardy's Acid Track" by some, because it was so "hot" (immediately popular) that it "burned the dance floor like acid". Phuture's title followed, and the term Acid House came into common parlance to describe house music with similar affectations, without regard to possible drug influence. No citations are available to confirm or deny this explanation.
  • It was used in Chicago, at the time, to describe house music that contained many samples of other recordings — the use of such samples was considered unscrupulous by some, so it is believed by some that the term "acid" or "acid burning" was merely meant to have a harsh, unpleasant connotation. This explanation, sometimes including aspects of the others, has been widely repeated in the press[2][3] and even in the British House of Commons[4]. However, there are at least two reasons why it may not be true: 1. Early house music producers did borrow sounds from each other's recordings, but the majority of acid house music tended to consist of fully original compositions. 2. In 1991, U.K. Libertarian advocate Paul Staines wrote, "I made up this explanation at a press conference held to launch the Freedom to Party Campaign at the Conservative Party conference in October 1989. I was attempting to desperately play down the drug aspect in a forlorn attempt to discourage anti-party legislation, reasoning that the British public might accept massive noisy parties, but thousands of teenagers on drugs were definitely not acceptable. This, incidentally, is the most successful lie I have ever told. Japanese music journalists have solemnly repeated it to me in the course of interviews and from MTV to ITN it has been broadcast as a fact. Only once was I caught out, when at a seminar held at the DMC World Disc Jockey Mixing Championships, a DJ from Chicago stood up and told the 1,000 or so people in the hall that I was talkin' a complete load of fuckin' bullshit —which I was."[5][6] However, some feel that Staines, like Genesis P-Orridge, is not a reliable source of information.

Regardless of its actual origins, once the term acid house was coined and began to appear alongside these varying explanations, many participants at acid house themed events made the psychedelic drug connotations a reality[7][8][9]. This coincided with an increasing level of scrutiny and sensationalism in the mainstream press[10][11], although conflicting accounts about the degree of connection between acid house music and drugs continued to surface.[12]

Notable acid house artists

808 State - British outfit from Manchester, formed in 1989. Their first album, Newbuild, was acid house, and occasional acid house influences appear in later tracks.
Adonis - For We're Rockin Down The House.
A Guy Called Gerald - For the single "Voodoo Ray".
Aphex Twin - For his early acid house, with new acid house Analord series in 2005 drawing on the same methodology as early acid house.
The KLF - Pioneers of the "stadium house" sound, which mixes acid house with hip-hop, pop, and stadium rock/chant influences.
Phuture - Chicago-based group of acid house pioneers, formed in 1985 and best known for their classic 1987 single "Acid Tracks", which defined the genre and was its first "track".
Psychic TV - Led by Throbbing Gristle member Genesis P-Orridge, for albums such as Jack The Tab (1988). The term "acid house" appeared on the cover of their 1988 single "Superman".
The Shamen - Psychedelic techno act formed in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1986. One of the first groups to bring acid house and techno into the pop mainstream.
Luke Vibert - Modern acid house using computer emulation in Reason software


  1.   Giannelli, Fred., in an interview for the Family Ov Psychick Individuals (FOPI) Psychic TV fan club in June 2000.
  2.   Rushkoff, Douglas (1994, 2nd ed. 2002). Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Cyberspace. ISBN 1903083249. — Let's leave Toon Town for a moment to get a look at the history of this thing called house. Most Americans say it began in Chicago, where DJs at smaller, private parties and membership-only clubs (particularly one called The Warehouse) began aggressively mixing records, adding their own electronic percussion and sampling tracks, making music that — like the home-made vinaigrette at an Italian restaurant — was called "house." The fast disco and hip-hop — influenced recordings would sample pieces of music that were called bites" so (others spell it "bytes," to indicate that these are digital samples that can be measured in terms of RAM size). Especially evocative bites were called acid bites." Thus, music of the house, made up of these acid bites, became known as "acid house." When this sound got to England, it was reinterpreted, along with its name. Folklore has it that industrial (hard, fast, high-tech, and psychedelic) music superstar Genesis P. Orridge was in a record store when he saw a bin of disks labeled acid," which he figured was psychedelic music— tunes to play while on LSD. He and his cohorts added their own hallucinogenic flavor to the beats and samples, and British acid house was born.
  3.   The Oxford Dictionary of New Words (Knowles, Elizabeth [ed], Elliott, Elizabeth [ed]). Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0198631529. — The word acid here is probably taken from the record Acid Trax by Phuture (in Chicago slang, acid burning is a term for stealing and this type of music relies heavily on sampling, or stealing from other tracks); a popular theory that it is a reference to the drug LSD is denied by its followers (but compare acid rock, a sixties psychedelic rock craze, which certainly was). House is an abbreviated form of Warehouse.
  4.   Bright, Graham, Mr. (March 9, 1990). Quoted in the British House of Commons Hansard, 9 March 1990, column 1111 — "Those who organise such parties, whether reputable individuals and companies or not, object to the term 'acid house party'. The term derives from Chicago slang describing the theft and subsequent mixing of recording tracks played at warehouse parties. But because of its association with drug LSD or 'acid', the promoters prefer to use descriptions such as all-night party, warehouse party, dance party, rave and, I am sure, many other names. I know that one of my hon. Friends may introduce us to some of them later."
  5.   Staines, Paul (1991). "Acid House Parties Against the Lifestyle Police and the Safety Nazis" article in Political Notes (ISSN 02677059), issue 55 (ISBN 1856370399). Also quoted in Saunders, Nicholas with Doblin, Rick (July 1, 1996). Ecstasy: Dance, Trance & Transformation, Quick American Publishing Company. ISBN 0932551203.
  6.   Garratt, Sheryl (May 6, 1999). Adventures in Wonderland: Decade of Club Culture. Headline Book Publishing Ltd. (UK). ISBN 0747258465.
  7.   DeRogatis, Jim (December 1, 2003). Turn on Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock, 436. Google Print. ISBN 0634055488 (accessed June 9, 2005). Also available in print from Hal Leonard. — In the summer of 1988, a hybrid sound called acid house evolved, and critics are still debating what the "acid" refers to. Some DJs say the term came from the distinctive buzzing sound of one of the primary technical components, the Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer. ("Hear that?" Chicago DJs are fond of asking. "That is the sound of acid.") Genesis P-Orridge of Pyschic TV claimed that he saw the description on a bin in a Chicago record store, was disappointed to find out that it meant acid as in "corrosive," and set about making psychedelic music that actually fit the bill. Paul Staines of England's Freedom to Party Campaign admitted the story he told Parliament — that acid house came from the Chicago street slang "acid burn," meaning to steal or sample another piece of music — was concocted in a public relations effort to separate the phrase from its psychedelic connotation (no one in Chicago that I know has ever heard of the phrase). But anyone who's been to a rave can tell you that the connection between psychedelic drugs and acid house is certainly no fiction.
  8.   Donnally, Trish. (October 17, 1988). Article published in the San Francisco Chronicle and distributed via the Los Angeles Times Syndicate to other newspapers and published under various headlines. — British youths, mostly younger than 20, are flocking to members-only nightclubs, taking a cheap tab of LSD ($5) or the much more expensive designer drug Ecstasy ($30) and then dancing all night long, sometimes - with the aid of amyl nitrate poppers — until 10 the next morning.
  9.   Foderaro, Lisa. (December 18, 1988). New York Times News Service article, published in various US newspapers under different headlines. — Most striking is the parallel rise at some nightclubs of a new kind of music called "acid house," which is a stripped-down, highly percussive disco sound -- punctuated by television jingles, spoken non sequiturs and high-pitched beeps — whose overall effect is psychedelic. "The music and the drug were made for each other," said a 22-year-old disc jockey from Hawaii wearing a T-shirt that reads A (plus) E (equals) (Smiley Face) — read as a "Acid House Plus Ecstasy Equals Happiness."
  10.   Takiff, Jonathan. (December 14, 1988). Philadelphia Daily News. — The British media, especially the sensationalist Sun and Mirror newspapers, went on a rampage this summer suggesting that Acid House parties were reeking with hallucinogenic drugs. The BBC obligingly banned all records that mentioned acid, though D Mob's "We Call It Acieed" still climbed to No. 1.
  11.   Hochman, Steve. (November 13, 1988). Los Angeles Times. — Acid House's adopted symbol is the bland, innocuous "smiley face" that adorns many patrons' T-shirts. But in Britain much of the press coverage has focused on a not-so-innocent connection with—as the name implies—hallucinogenic drugs. The death of a young woman last month at a London Acid House club has been attributed to the drug known as Ecstasy. Moore, 23, acknowledged that both Ecstasy and LSD have been big parts of the Acid House scene in Britain. … Moore did describe Acid House music and club designs as being intended to create and/or enhance psychedelic experiences.
  12.   Leary, Mike. (November 24, 1988). Philadelphia Inquirer. — All around greater London in recent weeks, there has been a crackdown on acid-house music. The police have been swooping down on underground acid-house parties in vacant warehouses, busting, and sometimes beating, revelers. They have been egged on in semi-hysterical tones by the tabloid press, foremost the Sun, which said the discos were "evil" drug dens, and the dancers' trances the result of ingesting LSD (long known as acid in street slang) and the designer drug Ecstasy, an amphetamine derivative. "Hell of Acid Kids, Pushers Laugh as Teenagers See Terror of Bad Trip Boy," shouted a deck of headlines in the Sun, which is several cuts below America's National Enquirer in quality but enjoys considerable influence as Britain's largest-circulation newspaper. Two deaths were attributed to the dance craze. … Nobody denies drugs have been a part of the acid-house scene, as they have been a part of the disco milieu for years. But after the tabloids reported that Scotland Yard was setting up an "acid buster" team, senior police officials felt compelled to minimize the problem. They said that there was no need for such a team and that the use of LSD and Ecstasy was no epidemic. "The great majority of these parties are simply part of a style of music and dress and don't present a problem at all," said Cmdr. John Robinson, director of Scotland Yard's Public Order Branch. "At most of them, there is no heavy involvement with drugs."
  • Collin, Matthew; Godfrey, John. (1st edition, April 1997; 2nd edition, November 15, 1998). Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House. Serpent's Tail. ISBN 1852423773 (1st edition); ISBN 1852426047 (2nd edition).
  • Shapiro, Peter (ed.), et al. (October 15, 2000). Modulations: A History of Electronic Music: Throbbing Words on Sound. Charles Rivers Publishing Co. ISBN 189102406X.

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