Although me and my mates would occasionally take the bus into town for a night out, my social life basically revolved around the what was happening in Yate. We had quite a few pubs in the area, but the main focal point was Spirals Laser Disco, situated in the main shopping area. Thinking about that place now, it pretty much represents everything that I now detest about mainstream clubs. It was basically a 'cattle market' where the music was just a soundtrack for a bunch of young people to get pissed-up on lager and try getting off with a member of the opposite sex. But it was the only place you could go out drinking late and still stagger home on foot. Plus I was actually into drinking and pulling birds anyway, same as all my mates were. The music at the club consisted of the latest uptempo hits of the day (anything from Wham!'s "Wake me Up Before You Go-Go" to Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", which was a massive Spirals tune) plus a few hi-energy disco numbers, a bit of New Order if you were lucky etc, etc. If the club had an anthem at that time it was probably Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me", which I freely admit dancing and singing along to when trying to gain the attention of females. And yes, it was one of those clubs that always ended with a couple of slow ballads at which point all the young lovers paired off, clasping each other tightly in a drunken embrace, swaying inelegantly whilst crudely groping each other and munching each other's faces off. Some nights I was one of the lucky ones playing tonsil tennis, but other nights not so lucky, reduced to standing awkwardly at the side of the dancefloor nursing a pint along with all the other sad bastards who failed to score.
But it all seemed so innocent looking back now. Back then, nobody in Yate knew anything about ecstasy or even marijuana. Alcohol and tobacco were the strongest drugs on the menu. We all got dressed-up for a night out at Spirals - the girls in their little frilly dresses, tottering on white stillettos, with freshly permed hair, the boys in a regulation uniform of white shirt, tie and dark trousers (you weren't allowed in with jeans and trainers!). I found this old photo of me taken one night in '88 just before heading out to Spirals (see left) , which kinda sums up the image. Ghastly, innit?!! Looks like I was still pretending that I didn't need glasses back then, too. I think the reason why white was such a popular colour to wear was cos it would go all fluorescent-purple when the laser lights were on. You became, in effect, a human glow-stick. Cool or what?! But the fact remains that whilst a cultural revolution was taking place elsewhere in the country, I was worlds away in this shitty little dump, locked in a depressing cycle of booze, birds, smart white shirts and Simple fucking Minds.
Yet strangely it was this scenario that facilitated my House Music epiphany. I was already well into various forms of electronic music by that stage, following a lonely path through Hip Hop, Industrial, EBM etc, but it actually took me a little while to really warm to this new Chicago sound that everyone was getting excited/annoyed about. I was appreciating some of the early crossover hits like Steve 'Silk' Hurley's "Jack Your Body", but at that point it was still a sort of novelty thing - nobody yet knew just how important those early signs were. The 'moment of clarity' hit me on the dancefloor one night. The fact that I was wankered on booze at Spirals rather than E'd up in a field is fucking irrelevant as far as I'm concerned. To be honest I never bought into that whole Rave dream anyway, I've always been more of a cosmopolitan clubber; more of a drinker than a pill-popper. But what was the track that triggered the thunder-clap in my psyche?
I dunno what possessed the resident DJ to start dropping that tune, but it was the first big House anthem at Spirals and all the kids went nuts when it came on. Imagine all those fairly 'straight', naive, exclusively caucasion youths, dressed in their posh clobber flaring fluorescent purpley-white, bouncing around excitedly to House Nation's relentless 4/4 throb for the first time, with the laser's emerald green beams tracing weird scribbles across the dancefloor, penetrating through thick clouds of dry ice, flashing in time to the electronic handclap rolls and mind-bendingly repetitive "ow-ow ow-ow-ow-ow 'owse nation!" sample. That first volley of four crash cymbals leading into the closed hi-hats on 1/6ths still takes my fucking breath away. And the bassline just sucks me in everytime. Maybe it's not one of the most widely revered of the Chicago classics, but in terms of impact on me personally, "House Nation" is up there with the greats.
Maybe this was the start of a whole new attitude at Spirals, but if so I didn't get to see it. Within a few months I'd left home to live in a damp, freezing flat above a hairdressing salon in central Bristol and start building a life for myself. A few years later, having risen to middle management in the civil service, I took a young lad called Paul under my wing. He was a Yate boy too and only about five years younger than me, but during our occasional conversations I learned that in the intervening years since my departure, Yate had become a total Skunk hole, with all the kids smoking huge amounts of weed and listening to Ragga. Spirals doesn't exist anymore. Last time I was in Yate, I noticed that the building was now a Pool Hall or something. It's gone forever, which is hardly important in the grand scheme of things, but it was a small part of my life that I now have very fond, if slightly hazy, memories of.
Looking through my collection of early House, Techno, Jack Trax etc, I'm ashamed to admit it's nearly all compilation albums/cassettes and UK re-presses. My limited 'beer and vinyl' budget back then didn't stretch to buying expensive American imports, plus I had no serious interest in djing at that time. Since then my obsessive music collecting habits have never reached the point where I have to own original pressings, so it doesn't bother me too much. Consequently I don't really have much in the way of classic, collectible releases from that period. But here's one I'm currently in possession of:
I'd love to claim that this record is mine, but it actually belongs to my mate Mike (who I mentioned a few weeks ago). I taped it off him many years ago, but was going through some of his records in his loft a few months back looking for anything worth ripping, came across it again and persuaded him to let me borrow it. I think it looks better in my collection...hope he doesn't ask for it back!
I met Mike through my first proper job, when we both worked as junior admin. staff in the Department Of Environment in the late '80s. Although he's now somewhat removed from the whole underground scene (basically, he grew up!), back then Mike was a bit of a mentor. Although only a few months older than me, he was an inner city lad, born and raised, and seemed so much more 'switched-on' than most people I knew from the days in Yate. He smoked weed regularly, already had an impressive collection of tunes, and vaguely knew some of the people who would go on to revolutionise Bristolian music (Massive Attack, Roni Size, etc) . We'd sometimes go out vinyl hunting together on our lunch break (often spending our entire monthly budget on pay day!) and we eventually invested in some cheap decks and a mixer (the same gear that I was still using until very recently) planning our rise to DJ stardom. Although broadly similar, our tastes weren't exactly the same - Mike was more focused on hip hop and smoother House tunes, whilst I was into darker, more experimental stuff, but that was part of the fun - the exchange of viewpoints and ideas. Also bare in mind that back then Electronic Dance Music was nowhere near as segregated and compartmentalised as it is now. It was a very healthy, exciting and open-minded time.
But back to this record...I believe it's a genuine, original imported Trax release from 1988 (although the label is printed in inverse colours to the one shown on Discogs?!). It's still got the price sticker on it, which shows how much Mike paid for it at the time:
Doesn't seem much now, but nine quid was pretty expensive back then. I've no idea what it's worth these days. It's an eight-track various artists LP featuring classic cuts from Armando, Mr. Lee and Pier's Phuture Pfantasy Club, with the whole of side two by Jack Frost & The Circle Jerks. For years I had no idea that Jack Frost was actually Adonis (most famous for the brilliant "No Way Back") but I always loved these incredibly primitive, ultra-repetitive acid workouts. As far as I can tell, only "Shout" has been re-issued in recent years (on "Acid Classics" in 2004), so can't resist sharing a couple of the others...
I was already formulating this post when someone at Dissensus linked to this Pitchfork article. It's a fascinating series of quotes from some of the big names in the early Chicago and Detroit scenes which significantly expands on what is already known about the relationship between the two cities. I was particularly interested in the section on Roland drum machines, as it's an area that I've sometimes pondered on. Just listening to the records, you can tell that the TR-808 was quite popular with both communities, yet the TR-707 was very dominate in Chicago whilst the TR-909 was favoured in Detroit, and this article goes some way to explaining that. For those who might not know the difference, on the above Jack Frost tracks "Cool & Dry" uses a TR-707, whilst "Two The Max" is driven by an 808, with just the right amount of gated reverb on the snare.
One thing that isn't addressed is Roland's TB-303, the bassline generator used to create that distinctive squelchly noise, first discovered by DJ Pierre, which is the basis of the Acid sound. I sometimes wonder why it wasn't used much by the Detroit crew. Presumably they didn't want to emulate the Chicago sound, but when you consider that Alexander Robotnick's 303-driven Euro hit "Problemes D'amore" was such a massive influence in Detroit it seems curious that they didn't at least embrace the unique swooping accented basslines that only the 303's onboard sequencer could create. Maybe someone else might know about loads of Detroit 303 tunes (I certainly don't claim to be an expert), but the only one that immediately springs to my mind is this one:
Recorded in March 1988, this Saunderson tune fuses a perfect 303 acid squiggle with the kind of busy 909 beats, emotionally charged arrangements and structure that could only have been made in the Motor City. Wonderful stuff!
Before I go, here's another one from Kevin, recorded the previous year under his Reese guise. It's was an attempt to bring in an eerie soundtrack vibe to Detroit's tuff funk grooves and paved the way for some of the darker tracks that were to follow. The reason I include it here will be made clear in a later retro post. I just wanted to make sure everyone was familiar with it for comparison purposes...
"The way I interpret music is different from other people. I think a lot of music sounds great basic. I try to keep it simple. It's not weird to me but for some people it's so different, they say it's weird. It's electronic dance music."