For the first time in decades, Acid House creators DJ Pierre and Spank Spank are touring together as Phuture. They want you to know that it all began in Chicago.
Acid House emerged from the streets of Chicago fully formed in 1987, when Phuture’s “Acid Tracks” graduated from Ron Hardy’s Music Box sets and was first released on commercial vinyl. The squelchy sound became a phenomenon around the world but especially in the United Kingdom, where a generation raised on stifling Thatcherite Conservatism was looking for something free of convention to call their own. The distinctive sound of Acid and the rough and raw claps and kicks of analog drum machines rolled out by Phuture pulled House Music into its second phase, where it would draw on sources beyond Disco and its synth-based cousins for inspiration.
Nearly 30 years later, Phuture has reunited with DJ Pierre and Spank Spank as a live act (and as a trio with Rio The Musician in the studio). The new chapter opened, once again, in Chicago, at the 2014 Boiler Room show at Primary where Phuture made their first live appearance in years. To say they’ve been “doing well” is an understatement: I spoke with DJ Pierre just after Phuture’s live set at the legendary Glastonbury festival in the UK.
How was Glastonbury? Had you played there before this year?
Amazing. You know, Glastonbury is Glastonbury, which means it was wet. [laughs] It’s always wet. I don’t know how they deal with the rain every year, but they do. This was my second year. I DJ’d the Genesis Stage last year and Phuture performed at the Genesis Stage this year.
When we first spoke you were on your way to soundcheck. It made me curious what gear you’re using for the Phuture live show? I can’t even think of Phuture without imagining a real 303…
Yeah, it’s a 303, two TB-3s, and the new TR-8, and we have this thing called a MX-1 that we plug everything into. It also has all kinds of effects and you can loop things and filter things… We have two voice synthesizers that make our voices deep. And then Ableton Live kind of runs the show. I also use two CDJ-2000-NXSs and a DJM-900.
How long does it take you to set up everything? How does it compare versus the set up from the ’80s?
It takes about 40 minutes. When you add the computer in there and stuff it’s a lot more gear. You could set up a lot more quickly back then, but it stays on beat better. If I need to stop and start any individual device, I can stop and start it and it’ll sync right up on beat.
It’s been close to 30 years since “Acid Tracks” was released. How do you feel about the stature of Acid House overseas vs. the reception back in Chicago?
When it comes to Acid House in Chicago, it has always been the stepchild to House Music. I’m not saying it should be above House Music. House Music is the mother, it’s the big daddy of it all. I get that. But it was never truly accepted in Chicago the way it was in Europe. The Europeans – they think there was an “Acid House scene” in the United States. I have to tell them, there was never really an Acid House scene in the US, especially not back in the ’80s. You’d hear an Acid track being played here and there a couple of times at a party, possibly, but not something that you heard a lot.
But overseas? It was like everything. It was a social awakening for that generation. They talk about how they were going through tough times – there were a lot of riots and brawling going on after their soccer games and stuff like that. There were economic problems. It was a dark period. House Music was already there but when Acid House came in, people gravitated to it. The government cracked down and said they didn’t want people playing it. When you say something like that to youth culture – you’re not going to tell kids what to do. So they started throwing secret Acid House parties where there was only Acid House played, and secret rave parties and that whole thing brought in the rave culture. It was due to Acid House. I’ve had people tell me they just stopped fighting because of the impact of these Acid House parties.
5 Magazine’s Czarina Mirani & Terry Matthew with DJ Pierre, Spank Spank and Rio at The Apple Store, July 15 2015. Photo by Mia TallAsianGirl
It was really important, that music. It was a cultural movement in the UK that ushered Acid House to the forefront of the cultural movement of that generation. If you look into European and British publications, when they do the top songs that changed the world from their point of view, Acid House is in there. “Acid Tracks” was #8 on one list of 100 songs. It’s up there with the Beatles and Bob Marley and all of these people! That’s “Acid Tracks” from Phuture. That’s us! That’s from Chicago!
The city never even realized this. I mean, hey, listen – some of your own sparked a cultural movement through music and no one is hearing about it. No one really gets that. You know how your hometown never really sees you the way other places do? Everywhere else they see you a different way. It’s been like that with Acid House and Chicago.
I was reading a post where a writer that didn’t have a good grasp of history mentioned that Phuture made some records that “helped develop” Acid House. I called bullshit on that: it didn’t “lead” to Acid. Acid House came out fully formed when you guys made “Acid Tracks.” Period.
Right. People had 303s before us and used them before us, but they never thought to use them the way we did. They never thought to do that with the sound. If they heard anything that sounded close to Acid, they wouldn’t think it sounded good. They thought it sounded like noise.
But I liked the fact that Acid didn’t sound like a bass guitar, which is what the 303 was supposed to sound like. I just liked it. When I twisted the knobs, I said, “Wow! I love the way that sounds too!” But we thought it sounded like music. It was about making a choice and deciding that what we were doing sounded good.
People often say that it was an “accident.” We didn’t just walk down the street and trip over a 303 and it started making a sound and it somehow got recorded. We made a conscious, intelligent, educated decision. It wasn’t a mistake. It’s just hard for people to grasp that and give us credit for that. In fact they’d rather try to give the credit to somebody else. They’d rather say that since this person used a 303 before us, well, they made Acid. They didn’t make Acid. They just used a 303. But once we identified the 303 as the machine that makes Acid, they wanted to go backward in history and claim that anyone that used the 303 was therefore making Acid. There was no Acid. It hadn’t even been discovered or identified as a sound or a genre or a thing.
Pierre, Spank and Rio in conversation with 5 Magazine at The North Michigan Avenue Apple Store, July 15 2015. Photo courtesy of Apple.
Historically, there’s really no question about it. Armando and Jack Rabbit and Josh Wink and all the guys that came later didn’t hear Charanjit Singh’s “10 Ragas To A Disco Beat” before they bought 303s and started making Acid House. They were inspired by “Acid Tracks.”
Yeah. Originally, Acid was when you tweaked the knobs. But now, anything that’s made with a 303 is basically said to be “Acid.” Even if you use it to make a bassline, people will say it’s an “Acid bassline.” It’s almost as if they believe that the 303 makes Acid by itself. “Oh, that’s the Acid box.” Like it was made to do what we made it do. Although now, Roland has come back with a new line of them, and they’re engineered from the start to do what we did with them.
It seems that history is turning, though, in Chicago at least. Phuture is playing SummerDance on July 17, a week after Marshall [Jefferson]. And have you seen the Move Your Body House Music exhibit that the City of Chicago created at the Cultural Center?
Have I? Man, that exhibit is amazing. That right there is incredible. To be honest, out of everything we’ve done, that has really humbled us and made us feel good. I’ve never been so happy to be from Chicago before.
The city here is like your parent recognizing you. No matter what anybody else tells you, it does matter when your parents acknowledge you and praise your accomplishments. It’s incredible for us. And it makes total sense for Chicago to do this because we are the parents of this EDM music. It started in Chicago, this music that’s taken the whole world by storm.
We should grab hold of House Music the way Detroit has grabbed hold of Techno. They have car commercials – like the GM commercials – and the industry is connecting to it. We don’t have an automotive industry in Chicago but the point is that Detroit recognized that Techno is their culture, that’s their thing, that’s what sets them apart. It’ll be a true blessing if it just grows from here and the city gets even more behind it.
I mean from my background, I have to tell you – I remember when the city was even trying to kill this back in the ’80s. That’s why I ended up moving to New York. But I’m so honored that they’re recognizing us and our role in this music.