The Roland TB-303
Welcome to a day devoted to acid house. The best acid house music can best be understood as a very pure and intense form of psychedelia, one that conjures up an army of brain-bending phantasms simply by twisting the knobs on a little silver box. This post will explain some of the genre’s history and provides you with a few examples of significant acid records. There are some who would have it that all the good acid came out of Chicago in 1988, but maybe this post will persuade you otherwise. Acid spans cultures, continents and eras. See what you think, and don’t be afraid to jack your body…
The Genesis of Acid
The Roland TB-303 Bass Line is a bass synthesizer with built-in sequencer manufactured by the Roland corporation from late 1981 to 1984 that had a defining role in the development of contemporary electronic music. The TB-303 (short for “Transistorized Bass”) was originally marketed to guitarists for bass accompaniment while practising alone. Production lasted approximately 18 months, resulting in only 10,000 units. It was not until the mid- to late-1980s that DJs and electronic musicians in Chicago found a use for the machine in the context of the newly developing house music genre.
Roland engineer Tadao Kikumoto’s machine is a happy accident: not great at doing what it was designed to do (simulate the sound of a bass guitar), but brilliant once it got into the right (wrong) hands. Production stopped in 1984 because the target audience was disappointed with the lack of realism. But its thrilling, squelchy, endlessly tweakable sound was perfect for the emerging house and techno scene – check Phuture’s Acid Tracks from 1987 – it could only have been written on a machine.
Phuture –Acid Tracks is surely up there with the most influential records ever made, to be filed away alongside your Velvets and your Pistols in the big canonical magazine lists. This inspired misuse of technology is where it all began.
DJ Pierre: ”Phuture was me and two other guys, Spanky and Herbert J. We had this Roland 303, which was a bassline machine, and we were trying to figure out how to use it. When we switched it on, that acid sound was already in it and we liked the sound of it so we decided to add some drums and make a track with it. We gave it to (Music Box DJ) Ron Hardy who started playing it straight away. In fact, the first time he played it, he played it four times in one night! The first time people were like, ‘what the fuck is it?’ but by the fourth they loved it. Then I started to hear that Ron was playing some new thing they were calling ‘Ron Hardy’s Acid Trax’, and everybody thought it was something he’d made himself. Eventually we found out that it was our track so we called it ‘Acid Trax’. I think we may have made it as early as 1985, but Ron was playing it for a long time before it came out.”
Bassline Baseline is a video essay that investigates the invention, failure and subsequent resurrection of the mythic Roland TB-303 Bass Line music machine in the last two decades of the 20th century. The narrative seeks to invite thoughts on technological mediation within product innovation and creative expression. The dead-panned ‘documentary’ video attempts to explore how and why creative tools fail and how increasingly more options, parameters or intermediaries devised during a tool’s research and development phase don’t necessarily lead to increased expressivity or virtuosity during the tool’s lifetime of actual use, unless the super-structure of its cultural context is dramatically reconsidered.
A few examples of canonical acid house records:
Sleezy D – I’ve Lost Control
With the incessant burbling of the Roland TB 303 bass synthesiser underpinning a heavily treated vocal, this Marshall Jefferson production helped to define the intense acid sound. An uncannily accurate depiction of a bad trip, it ushered in a new age of dark side psychedelia.
Bam Bam – Where’s Your Child
Review by J-TEC: “Where’s Your Child” is a classic acid track with some verry nice and scary vocals in it. The original version is very strong, minimalizing the Track on its instrumental basics + a nice acid base line and adding a really “deep” flair. Recommended if you like the Acid 😉
Jaquarius – Love Is Happiness (Acid Rain)
Kenny sent this to me yesterday, and my mind has not yet fully recovered. From 2:50 to 3:15 is pure insanity! Also feeling that ROCKING logo.
If you lived in Chicago in the 1990s, you couldn’t get away from Armando Gallop. As a DJ, producer and promoter, he was everywhere in this town. From his “School Daze” parties at the Hummingbird on 86th and Ashland, to Medusa’s and the Warehouse up north, where people from all races came together, he absolutely owned it. Internationally, he was an almost mythical figure: a single name on a slab of vinyl with the sickest beats and a 303 sound that has never been duplicated.
And then one day he was gone. Tragically, Armando was taken away from us at the age of just 26 – usually, an age when a young artist is just getting started.
Armando – Pleasure Dome
Taken from the New World Order LP on Trax Records 1994 Armando Gallop was one of the original Chicago pioneers of acid house and sadly passed away in 1996 aged 26, RIP Armando!!!
Marcus Mixx – You’ve Got No Right
Review by Chilli_Fingers: My House Music Holy Grail. When *IS* this gonna be pressed up again or the un re-released tracks made otherwise available. You’ve Got No Right must be one of THEE best Acid Trax EVER and Shake That Thing is just a work of utter brain-melting genius (not reflected on that rather pointless European remix 12″). The Armando track was put out on some Chicago comp 12″ a few years ago and other tracks came out on that ‘Underdog’ bootleg but , alas, not the two above. Along with Larry Heard & DJ Rush, Marcus Mixx I truly feel is another artist who took house into another area never replicated and has never received the acclaim he should.
James ‘Jack Rabbit’ Martin – Only Wanted To Be (Acid Mix)
The title of the release is ‘There Are Dreams And There Is Acid” and both tracks features a very high level of sound quality and production compared to other acid house records of the time, with individually effected drums – heavily flanged hihats, and reverbed claps. ‘Only Wanted To Be’ has a dark evolving acid line, ethereal howling voices and a pitched-down melancholy spoken vocal. Whereas a lot of acid tracks are just quick jams knocked out in an afternoon (and it’s true that if you gave 100 monkeys 100 TR808s and 100 TB303s, you’d probably get more than 70 decent acid tracks) this track stands out as a seriously thought-out song with fantastic sounds and structure.
Ed DMX, 20 best: Acid House: http://www.factmag.com/2009/09/22/20-best-acid-house/
Some pre-acid acid
In recent years, record diggers have unearthed some examples of 303 usage that predate Phuture’s seminal Acid Tracks:
In 1982, (Charanjit) Singh did something unusual. Inspired by the sound of disco imports from the west making waves among Bombay’s hipster cognoscenti, he went into the studio with some new kit – a Roland Jupiter-8 keyboard, a Roland TR-808 drum machine and a Roland TB-303 – and decided to make a record that combined western dance music with the droning ragas of Indian classical music. Recorded in two days, Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat garnered some interest, excerpts finding their way on to national radio, but it was a commercial flop and was soon forgotten.
In 2002, record collector Edo Bouman came across Ten Ragas in a shop in Delhi. “Back at my hotel I played it on my portable player, and I was blown away. It sounded like acid house, or like an ultra-minimal Kraftwerk.” But it was the date on the record that shocked Bouman. Released 1982, it predated the first acid house record – often regarded as Phuture’s Acid Trax – by five years. Bouman tracked down Singh to Mumbai. “He was most friendly and surprised I knew the album. I remember asking him how he got to this acid-like sound, but he didn’t quite get my point. He didn’t realise how stunningly modern it was.”
William Bennett of Whitehouse on record collecting:
Archaeology in music seems to me shamefully under-researched. I see the concept as the recognition of specific themes or motifs… followed by a retrospective exploration into their origins. One that I became fascinated with was the electronic acid sound, when I began collecting underground house 12″‘s whilst visiting Chicago in 1986 and 1987 – at a time when very few people in the States (let alone Europe) were familiar with the whole thing (of course that changed quickly from ’88 onwards). Once again, there was precious little information about this, even though I heard an interview that said DJ Pierre (of whom I had a couple of fantastic maxis) claimed to have invented the sound accidentally whilst (mis)using a Roland TB-303 – then I wondered who used the term first, on what record, and especially, who used this special sound first? Later I made the incredible discovery of earlier examples of this sound on Italo disco records from as early 1983, in one case by Alexander Robotnick, but then also by Barry Mason on the extraordinary ‘Body! (Get Your Body)’ which clearly, to my ears, not only contains a middle eight with the acid sound, but the singing and piano too must have influenced Marshall Jefferson (‘Move Your Body’) and others on the early house records. It now seems unlikely that highly obscure Italian electronic music could have been so influential, but remember that disco (thanks to the deep conservatism of rock music) had become pretty much taboo in the USA in the early eighties and many gay nightclubs and black disco DJs had to import music from Europe, where the scene was still vibrant.
The acid sound would eventually spread to Holland.
Bunker records: Set up in 1992 by three white and Eurasian middle-class nerd punks who had just moved into the squat zone of central The Hague from the suburban new towns of Zoetermeer and Alphen a/d Rijn (where Rude 66 also hails from). Since no label was interested to release the music of Unit Moebius, their (now legendary) ‘acid planet’ squat parties in The Hague, with twelve hours of non-stop comatose acid-house music, no lights but heavy strobes and a very freaked out audience (partially due to the strong and pure LSD sold by one of the Unit Moebius members) of punks, squatters, junkies and patients from two nearby psychiatric institutes, made it possible to release Bunker 001 and 002. The next two releases were paid for with money made from selling LSD (silver surfers!). Soon the fucked up standards for The Hague’s hard, dark and crazy industrial techno music were set and the acid scene exploded.
A few contemporary exponents of acid:
Legowelt (real name Danny Wolfers) is a Dutch electronic musician who describes his musical style as “a hybrid form of slam jack combined with deep Chicago house, romantic ghetto technofunk and EuroHorror Soundtrack.”
James T. Cotton
Following several 12” releases, James T. Cotton makes his first full statement. A psychedelic album in every sense, The Dancing Box pays respects to classic Chicago acid and leftfield Detroit techno, but does so with its own force and verve. Cotton has crafted a sonic maelstrom, at once vibrant and eerily troubling, with the eerie sensation of slowly deepening grooves. The Dancing Box finds the Cotton persona channelling historic jack tracks and late night radio frequency energy to complete his mission.
Jamal Moss aka Hieroglyphic Being
As minimal techno plunders the ashes of Chicago’s jack track aesthetic, Jamal Moss represents another deviation of the classic house sound. Mentored by Chicago legends Adonis and Steve Poindexter, Moss’ tracks recall the sort of wild experimentation that can only be achieved through limited resources. Armed with little more than a couple drum machines and budget mixers, the typical Hieroglyphic Being 12″ stands in stark contrast to the clinical style of laptop production. Squashed, clipped, noisy, and raw, Moss’ work serves as a reminder that musical evolution can come from unlikely sources.
Finally, here’s a few useful online resources. I hope this day’s been an enjoyable one. Happy jacking, everybody!
Explore: Acid House | AllMusic
Acid House on Discogs
Acid-House.net: The Complete Database of Real Acid House:
From the electronic music forum Robouts For Robots:
The big chicago house topic…….chi-house………
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Happy you share my enthusiasm for her films. Everyone, If you visit FaBlog today you will find Mr. E riffing on Mr. B. Right here. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Surprise! Or I assume so, re: today’s post restoration. It was too good to leave lying there. Thank you again for it from the future (now). Awesome about putting her name forward to the Dundee Critical Forum group. Thanks for it all. ** Barkley, Hi, Barkley! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and her stuff. Oh, wow, that is so cool! Your drawing/the sticker I mean, obviously. You’re super skilled. I’m very appreciative to be housed within your talent. Thank you so much. I’d love to see more of your drawings and whatever other work if you want to share things or give me/us a way to peek at it. A belated very happy birthday to you! I hope the occasion had a glorifying effect. I’m doing okay, working on stuff and trying to be patient about other stuff I can’t control. The usual. The gallery show seems to be going well, thank you. One more big thank you to you, and I hope to see you again soon. ** Steve Erickson, It’s nice when the conventional is startling. A rarity, that. I think it’s much, much more ugly and nasty and petty and heavy-handedly aggravating and cynical and paranoid in the current circumstance, if memory serves. ** Okay. Today I am happily bringing back to life a fine post from the blog’s murdered past that is still as potent as the day it was made by the one, the only Ben ‘_Black_Acrylic’ Robinson. Hit those vids/sounds and give yourselves some much deserved escapist joy today. See you tomorrow.