Acid Over

House music is so impersonal, minimal and repetitive it seems to take effect beneath the level of conscious hearing, sweeping you up by a process of `molecular agitation'. Acid house is the purest, barest distillation of house, the outer limit of its logic of inhuman functionalism. With acid, black music has never been so alien-ated from traditional notions of `blackness' (fluid, grooving, warm), never been so close to to the frigid, mechanical, supremely `white' perversion of funk perpetrated by early eighties pioneers like D.A.F. and Cabaret Voltaire.

Acid house is not so much a new thing, as a drastic, terminal culmination of two tendencies in house: the trance-inducing effects of repetion and dub production; a fascination for the pristine hygiene and metronome rhythms of German electronic dance. Pure acid tracks like Tyree's `Acid Over' recal the brute, inelastic minimalism of D.A.F. - it consists of nothing but a bass synth sequencer pulse reiterated with slight warps and eerie inflections. Other tracs parallesl the obscure innovations of bands like Suicide, the Normal (`Warm Leatherette'), Liasons Dangereuses (very big in Chicago), Die Krupps (proto-metalbashers and an early incarnation of Propaganda). Ex-Sample's `And So it Goes' combines cut-ups (`Heroin Kills'), unidentifiable bursts of distorted, sampled sound, and human cries torn from their context (agonies of ecstasy or distress), in a manner not unlike Front 242. Reese's `Just Want Another Chance' sets a guttural, Cabaret Voltaire monologue of desire over the spookiest of Residents synth-drones, an ectoplasmic bassline fourtimes too slow for the drum track. `Strings Of Life' by Rhythim-Is-Rhythim (a.k.a. Derek May, a prime mover on the acid scene) takes the sultry swing of Latin disco and clips into a spasmodic tic that's deeply unsettling; his `Move It' is a perimeter of trebly rhythm programes that restlessly orbit the black hole where the song should be, and strangely recalls one of those lost, desolate Joy Division B-sides.

Weirdest of all is `Acid Trax' by Phuture, the record that started the whole fad off. The `Cocaine Mix' starts with a treated voice midway between a dalek and the Voice of Judgement that announces, `This is Cocaine Speaking'; spectral eddies of a disembodied human wail (reminiscent of nothing so much as PIL's `No Birds Do Sing') simulate the soul languishing in cold turkey; then we're launched on a terror-ride that again reminds me of PIL's `Careering' or `Death Disco'. `I can make you like for me/I can make you die for me/In the end/I'll be your only friend.' If disco was always ment to be about escapism, acid is about no-escapism.

In this, acid house takes after the white avant-funk of the late seventies/early eighties, its concept of disco as trance, a form of sinister control or possession. The flash and dazzle of disco classics like Chaka Khan's `I'm Every Woman', Micheal Jackson's `Off the Wall' album, or anything by Earth Wind and Fire, is replaced by a clinical, ultra-focused, above all inhibited sound. Expansive and expressive gestures are replaced by a precise and rigorous set of movements, _demands_ on the body; flamboyance and improvisation by a discipline of pleasure. Perhaps there's a kind of `liberation' in submitting to the mechanics of instinct, soldering the circuitry of desire to the circuitry of the sequencer programmes.

As for the connotations of `acid', all involved in the Chicago scene deny that hallucinogenics have anything to do with the sound. The name comes from the slang term `acid burn', which means to rip somebody off, steal their ideas (i.e. sample their sound). However many club-goers take Ecstasy, a drug related to LSD which provides its euphoric sense of communion (and aphrodisiac effects) without causing hallucinations.

House has been bordering on the psychedelic for some time anyway, with the spaciness of its dub effects, its despotic treatment of the voice and its interference with the normal ranking of instruments in the mix (encouraging `perceptual drift'). On one mix of Nitro Deluxe's `On a Mission', a single phrase of female voice is vivisected, varispeeded and multitraced into a sychedelic babble of sub-phonemes and vowel-particles, becomeing an airborne choir of lunatic estasied, a locust swwarm of placeless peaks and plaints spirited free of their location in a syntax of desire.

On the Kenny Jones mix of Ralphi Rosario's `You Used to Hold Me', stray sibilants from Xavier Golds's vocal flake off to bob inhumanly in their own parallel slipstream, until her vocal is absorbed into the backing track, with one spasm of passion turned into a jack-knifing rhythm effect. On the `Devil Mix' of Master C & J's `In the City', Liz Torre's voice is distored and distended in a manner uncannily akin to the The Butthole Surfers!

With pure acid house, however, it's not really a question of acid-rock's 24-track techinicolour overload, of a dazzling, prismatic opening of the doors of perception , but more like a contraction or evacuation of consciousness. Not a matter of being saturated by TOO MUCH but of being compelled to focus on TOO LITTLE, reduced to a one-track mind. If people do drop a tab or two to `acid house' they must have strage digital visions, enter Mondran phantasmagorias, Spirograph inner orbits.

What the berserk strobe-flicker of acid house is most reminiscent of is an episode from `Star Trek': miscreants are punished by bing subjected to a strobe-like flaing lightbox which clears the brain, leaving them suggestible and capable of being literally re-formed. But one deviant is left in the machine, brainwashed but unprogrammed, lost in a terrifyingly blank catatonic limbo.

Like D.A.F.'s new savagery, like psychedelia's orgiastic utopianism, house incites a superhuman/inhuman insatiability. With the jettisoning of the song/storyline, sex loses narrative and context, becomes asocial and fantastical. There's no sense of trajectory (courtship/seduction/foreplay/union), no sexual healing, no communication, no sense of `scene' in Baudrillardian sense (dramatic relations between human agents). Instead there's an ob-scene explicitness, a a graphic depiction of a fantastical algebra of pornotopian configurations. Sex turns in to a series of quadradic equations, flesh becomes spectral. Nothing is ever resolved: house is the beat that can never satisfy or be satisfied. The stutter-beats, the costive basslines, sound neurotic: the music's a repetition complex, a symptom of some unstaunchable vacancy of being. Every bar of the music becomes an orgasm, making the idea of climax meaningless.

And where acid rock imagined utopia as a garden of pre-modern innocence, acid house is futuristic, in love with sophistication and gtechnology. Acid house imagines a James Bond/Barbarella leasure paradise of gadgetry and designer drugs. House is a kind of pleasure factory (an orgasmotron, in fact) and as Marx wrote, the factory turns human beings into mere appendages of flesh attached to machinery.

If house, acid, new beat, etc, are radical, it's a radicalism that's inseparable from their simple effectiveness, pure pleasure immediacy. Here's a pop culture based around the death of the song, minimalism, repetition, departure from the stability of the key and harmonic structure in favour of sonority and sound-in-itself. No need for interpretation, context or rhetoric, all the things that people turn to the music papers for. No delay, no mediation, but a direct interface between the music's pleasure circuitry and the listener's nervous system.

Nobody even cares who made the music, which is why the personal appearances of the `stars' are so farcical (most clobgoers continue to dance with their backs turned to the stage, while the band mimes to the record). Does this make the scene dehumanized and impersonal? You could argue, as some do, that it's a realizaionton of one interpretation of punk: not `anyone can be a star' so much as `no more stars', a deconstruction of stardom (most new beat or house `stars' are merely fronts for the producer). There's a similar kind of deconstruction to that wreaked by seventies glam: the gestures and iconography of showbiz are exaggerated amplified and disconnected untile nothing is signified but a style that can only be sustained here...There's just intensity whout pretext or context (just the music).

And this is a blank generation if ever you saw one, sucked into house's void and left adrift, prettily vacant. But if the scene is `democratic', it's with a capitalist inflection; the music is pure product, consumer-tested on the dancefloor, with an inbuilt obsolescence factor. Some tracks are monumental constructions, Brutalist ziggurats you could gaze at in wonder for a lifetime. But in a club, it's compatibility rather than difference that rules, with a seamlessness that has you happy as a nodding dog.

by Simon Reynolds, with Paul Oldfield (1990)