Given the strength of British house music over the past two decades, it’s strange to think that the country was a relatively late developer when it came to the genre. While there were DJs scattered around the country – particularly up North and in the gay clubs of London – playing Chicago house in late ’85 and early ’86, it arguably took until late ’87 and early ’88 for house fever to grip the nation.
The story of the development of British house music has long been the cause of many drunken arguments. Those in London swear they were first to adopt the genre and see its potential, but there are many elsewhere – in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Sheffield, in particular – that strongly disagree. Either way, in the early days of the UK house scene, there were only a handful of musicians making music inspired by the sounds of Chicago. Some of these – the likes of Mike Pickering, DJ Parrot and A Guy Called Gerald – were northerners who had been playing house in their eclectic sets for years. Others, such as Kid Bachelor of Bang The Party fame, were born-and-bred Londoners who threw themselves into house, and particularly acid, with something approaching religious fervour.
It’s a commonly held belief that early British house music was largely pretty poor – a pale imitation of Chicago jack and deep house. Of course, there were plenty of duff records – and silly, disco-sampling crossover house hits such as The Funky Worm’s “Hustle (To The Music)”, a minor top 40 hit in 1988 – but between 1987 and 1991 British producers delivered some fantastic house music. Here, Strut have decided to prove this with the help of serial digger, Padded Cell man and longtime acid aficionado Richard Sen. This Ain’t Chicago aims to tell the story of the first five years of underground British house, digging deep to unearth the long-forgotten gems that soundtracked Britain’s blossoming love affair with house. And, of course, Ecstasy.
Sen has largely chosen to ignore some of the more familiar UK house records of the period – “Carino”, “Voodoo Ray”, “Hustle (To The Music)” etc – in favour of decidedly underground cuts. It was probably a wise choice; the 23 tracks here have arguably stood the test of time better than all of those records, despite their far-sighted nature. From a purely historic point of view, it’s a fascinating collection. Sen mines a particularly rich seam of deep house, showcasing a string of tracks that are every bit as magical as those that trickled out of Chicago and New York during the period. Check Jail Break’s delicious “Mentality” (an E-muncher’s touchy-feely take on New Order’s “The Beach”), Baby Ford’s irrepressibly gorgeous “Crashing” or Julian Johan’s brilliant “Jealousy & Lies”; all stand up to the original Chicago deepness delivered by Mr Fingers and Virgo Four.
Then there’s the acid tracks. By and large, these British 303 tweakers are as raw, powerful and gritty as those originally delivered by Chi-town pioneers such as Phuture. For proof, check the ragging tweakery and hands-in-the-air pianos of the SLF’s “Show Me What You Got”, Annette’s bubbling “Dream 17” or the industrial-meets-acid vibes of J Saul Kane’s remix of “Iron Orbit” by Static. Even better, perhaps, is “We Were Born In The North”, a tough acid roller designed by its producers (including A Guy Called Gerald) as a two-fingered salute to the Jonny-come-lately adoption of house by the chattering classes in London.
Yet this period was also one of great experimentation, as British house producers pushed to find new places to take the sound and stamp their mark on the genre. Some, such as Andrew Weatherall, embraced the Balearic ideal (see his remix of Sly and Lovechild’s “The World According To Sly & Lovechild”). Others, particularly those in the North of England, developed bleep techno – a genre that blended heavy acid house and Detroit techno influences with the dub pressure of soundsystem culture. Sen doffs his cap to this with the inclusion of Ability 2’s brilliant “Pressure Dub”, 10 minutes of alien melodies, heavy bass and delay-laden vocal samples. See also Return of the Living Acid’s 1991 cut “Twin Tub”, a ‘post-bleep’ banger that fused acid with the far-sighted melodies of Yorkshire bleep and bass. This Ain’t Chicago, then, is a pretty authoritative document of a period of great creativity for British house music. Frustratingly, the sleeve notes by Dave Swindells talk mostly about the London scene and not the records themselves, but this is a minor grumble. As an introduction to the early days of UK underground house music, This Ain’t Chicago is superb.
1. Bang The Party – Bang Bang You’re Mine (Full Vocal Remix)
2. Window Smashers – Free To Be
3. Julian Jonah – Jealousy And Lies
4. Baby Ford – Crashing
5. Man With No Name – From Within The Mind Of My 909
6. Rio Rhythm Band – Cuba Jakkin’
7. Playtime Toons – Shaker Song
8. Jail Break – Mentality
9. Exocet – Safety Zone
10. Return Of The Living Acid – Twin Tub
11. Cxx – The Comfort Of Strangers (Mix By Rhythm Doctor – Richard Sen Edit)
12. Julie Stapleton – Where’s The Love Gone (Remix)
13. Rohan Delano – Inflight
1. Sly And Lovechild – The World According To Sly & Lovechild (Andrew Weatherall Soul Of Europe Mix)
2. Ability Ii – Pressure Dub
3. Static – Iron Orbit (J. Saul Kane Mix)
4. M. D. Emm – 1666 (Pyro-Maniac Mix)
5. Colm Iii – Take Me High (Mansion Mix)
6. S.L.F. – Show Me What You Got
7. Paul Rutherford – Get Real (Happy House Mix)
8. Bizzare Inc – Technological
9. Us – Born In The North
10. Annette – Dream 17
A Guy Called Gerald – Specific Hate
This Ain’t Chicago – Ride The Rhythm