26 April 2005


Way back in October 2003, I was ranting about the lack of re-issues of classic Chicago House and Detroit Techno. I'm pleased to see that the situation appears to be changing for the better. Certainly in terms of vinyl, there's been quite a few interesting compilations and represses of late. To be honest I feel like a bit of an old fart going on about this stuff, but it's in my blood and defines my youth, as well as my age. I guess bigging-up re-issues is the Dance Culture equivalent of the 'Byrds-Bore', harking on about how great music was in the old days and kids today don't know jack-shit about quality etc etc. And whilst I have little or no interest in the scene currently termed as 'House Music', I'll go down fighting the cause of the Chicago Originators. There's a brutal simplicity about these artifacts that probably comes from the conditions under which they were created. Without any of today's processing power, people like Adonis, Pierre, Fingers etc (spot the quote!) built their beats using what was then regarded as antiquated/discarded Roland machines like the TR-808/909/707 rhythm composers, TB-303, MC-202 etc. Since then of course, these machines have become highly sought-after by those who like to keep their sounds 'authentic', in the same way that rock groups prize certain types of guitars, amplifiers and FX pedals. This is entirely accountable to the way that the Chicago and Detroit artists pushed these devices to their limits in the late '80s. The 909 open hit-hat. The 808 snare. The 303 acid squiggle. All have become cliched, formatted sounds that continue to drive dance music to this day.

Not only do those old records define a sound and a culture, they also define a generation. I doubt anyone born before 1966 ever felt the urge to 'Jack'. I pick that year for it's symbolic significance, rather than accuracy, as it represents a watershed year for the previous generation in the same way that '88 means something to their children. The '77 revolution was a half-generation hiccup - my dad liked Punk when it came along. He started coming home with strange 7 inch singles by groups like X-Ray Specs and declaring them the best things he'd heard for years (to his credit he always hated Prog). But a decade later he couldn't understand House music, or Hip Hop for that matter. He'd hit a certain age where his senses were unable to assimilate something that different. And I believe it's absolutely crucial for a young person's development to be into something that your parents cannot comprehend. Fuck The Beatles and The Stones. Fuck Elvis. Fuck Hendrix and fuck you too, Pops. I'd rather Jack.

It's a funny thing: even though it was an awful cash-in record concocted by Pete Waterman and his cronies, the Reynolds Girls' "I'd Rather Jack (than Fleetwood Mac)" has become something of a personal manifesto. True, over the years I have explored many records from the 60's and '70s, yet still I resolutely refuse to listen to Fleetwood Mac to this day, and it's all due to that bloody song! Perhaps because, if I did embrace the Fleetwoods, it would be the final admission that I am no longer A Young Person (or at least young at heart). Actually, there is a Fleetwood Mac CD in my house ("Tango In The Night"), but it's my wife's. She hasn't listened to it for years. I bet if I threw it in the bin she wouldn't even notice.

A few weeks ago, my good friend A. came to stay for the weekend, on one of his rare visits to Bristol. We spent a whole evening going back-to-back on the decks in my living room, just taking it in turns to play a tune to each other, seamlessly cross-faded, with our mate Dave and my eldest son for an audience (although Gutter Jnr. soon got bored and decided to watch a DVD with the headphones on). One of the first things A. played was some bloody obscure Fleetwood Mac album track! Obviously I didn't recognise the song and made some derogatory comment about it sounding like REO Speedwagon. Suffice to say I was not converted. But the night did throw up some fascinating soundclashes, like Jimmy Edgar colliding with Ornette Coleman. Best of all was when A. decided to break out his "Anthology of American Folk Music" box set. As the grainy sounds of a bygone age enveloped our senses, I felt suddenly compelled to mix-in Armando's "151", a brutally minimal slice of first-generation Acid House. The effect was amazing. We all just freaked-out at how brilliant the two sounded together. We then tried it with several other tracks and the result was the same each time: crucial! It was two different forms of American Folk music, 40 years apart, coming together in total harmony. I know we were all a bit pissed by that point, but I swear it was incredible. As Dave commented: "You guys really ought to be taping this".

"151" can be found on "Jackin' The House Vol.1", a double-vinyl set released on JTH Records in 2003, although I only discovered it myself a couple of months ago. It features some wonderful Acid/Jack music from the likes of Adonis, Phuture and Mr. Fingers and it's great to hear them on freshly-cut vinyl, rather than the crappy old C-90s that most of my Chicago collection is stored on. Points deducted for using the 'Martin Luther King' version of "Can You Feel It", but otherwise it's all class. Available at Warpmart and Boomcat.

Volume 2 arrived last year and continues the quest to unearth all those forgotten gems. Includes a crazy Latin percussion-drenched tune called "Cuban Jackin" by the Rio Rhythm Band that was previously unknown to me. Points deducted for: printing Phuture's utterly awesome "Your Only Friend" on the label, but not actually cutting the track. I was fucking devastated when I found out. I spotted this collection at Warpmart a week ago and ordered it straight away, but now it appears to be out of stock everywhere. Sort it out, Marcus!! I think there might be a Volume 3 out there somewhere too, but I haven't tracked down a copy yet.

Venerable re-issue label Soul Jazz have also finally realised that the Chicago sound needs to be re-assessed, with the imminent release of "Acid: Can You Jack" in May. Although it covers a wider period (up to 1995) the tracklist looks intriguing. Includes Phuture's "Phuture Jacks", which was a featured MP3 at the Gutterbox a few weeks ago. Unlike the JTH releases, this will also be available on CD, so even if you're one of those who disconnected their turntable years ago, there's no excuse for not supporting this venture.

The equally innovative contemporaneous sounds from Detroit are also beginning to get re-pressed too. I came across TNO Records' excellent "Rare Techno: Classics From Detroit and Beyond 2" at Boomkat a few weeks ago. This is just totally essential, featuring Ron Trent's epic "Altered States", Rhythim Is Rhythim's "Nude Photo" as well as a bit of Brit-Techno from Musicology (aka B12). Not forgetting two offerings from Carl Craig in his Psyche and BFC guises that serve as a timely reminder of just how great he was on those early records. This is deeply spiritual shit - nourishment for the fucking soul -the Gutterbreakz equivalent of Gospel music. Damn, I really must track down volume 1!! Also included is a wonderful cut from the Originator: Juan Atkins aka Model 5oo. I notice that Tresor have re-issued a couple of his other tracks recently: "Off To Battle" b/w"Alleys Of Your Mind" ( which was the very first track he released as Cybotron way back in 1981). Cornerstones, mate. Fucking Cornerstones.

Although not quite of the same vintage, the recent re-press of the Underground Resistance 1998 triple-vinyl set "Interstellar Fugitives" is another must-have. I must admit it completely passed me by first time around (my head was in a completely different place back then - but I don't want to talk about that). I came across it by chance in the racks at Replay Records recently, but it's also available at Boomkat. Although I'm not a fan of everything that UR have released, this particular collection of Militant Techno beats hits the spot, featuring choice cuts from Drexciya, Suburban Knight and of course UR head-honcho Mad Mike. Of all the second-wave Detroit labels, it's UR that have most fervently mined the Juan Atkins 'Black Kraftwerk' blueprint, with Chaos's "Afrogermanic" being a perfect example of the Detroit-Dusseldorf interface in full effect.

I'm probably just scratching the surface of the current re-issue market - but it's all I can cover with my limited resources for now. Its interesting that in nearly all cases the music is being re-pressed on vinyl, rather than CD. This suggests that they're not aimed at 30-something males who want a handy collection to pop into their car CD-changer - they're intended to be used. These formally expensive/difficult to find rarities are being freshly-cut so that those classic grooves can find their way back into DJ sets once more. Presumably there is a market for it. If so, where are the clubs that these tunes are getting played?!

I wanna be there...