Review : Various Artists - This Ain't Chicago
PopmattersDuring the 1990s, the American music press was bracing for the electronic dance music invasion that never came. Magazines and websites were full of breakdowns of the various genres and subgenres of “techno” music, often created by British producers and DJs. But, except for some notable big hits from Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy, and Fatboy Slim, “techno” remained for the most part an underground concern. Artists were snapped up by major labels, hyped, and then dumped when their records didn’t sell.
Thirty years earlier, British artists had taken uniquely American musical forms, blues and rock’n'roll, turned them into something sharper, edgier, and cutting-edge, and then sold them back to America by the millions of units. But history did not repeat with techno. House music, the forbearer of techno, was invented in Chicago and refined in places like Detroit and New York. But in England, it made forays into the mainstream much more readily than in the States, starting with Chicagoan Steve “Silk” Hurley’s Number One hit “Jack Your Body” in 1987. While none of the two dozen tracks gathered here were big hits in the UK, they helped lay the groundwork for breakthroughs by 808 State, LFO, and others.
The title of This Ain’t Chicago is telling. It begs listeners to compare and contrast its contents with the Chicago and American standards. It also reveals the fact that, while American house music was very much centered on notions of place, in the UK it was relatively rootless. Based on the evidence there, that made for more diversity, but it also made for a lack of true identity. What is the classic “UK House Sound”? Well, it ain’t Chicago, or Detroit, and that’s about as close to an answer as you’ll get....full text
Xlr8rLondon clubgoers of the mid-'80s at first met the house sounds coming out of Chicago with hesitance. Despite certain DJs' best efforts, it initially remained very underground, but eventually, both house and acid would catch fire in a big way, and the aesthetic innovations of these early producers would prove instrumental in the way UK dance music unfolded in the years that followed. This two-disc compilation, put together by producer Richard Sen of Padded Cell and Bronx Dogs, is precisely what the title (taken from the name of the group behind 1988's ecstatic "Ride the Rhythm," featured here as a digital bonus track) suggests: a collection of early house and acid out of the UK, documenting the moment when producers there began making original tunes, inspired by the Chicago tracks that tastemaking DJs were already bringing to the dancefloor.
Sen proves to be a terrific tour guide—making no claims at being comprehensive, he instead samples a wide range of sounds, including better-known producers and personal favorites that happen to sit quite neatly next to one another. These efforts, whether more ambient and tripped out or soulful and hard hitting, may not sound terribly groundbreaking now, but the quality of the tracks manages to overwhelm how dated certain components of these songs may feel. Julie Stapleton's "Where's the Love Gone," for instance, has a certain production sheen that wouldn't fly today, but it's a great song, as is the similarly of-its-time "From Within the Mind of My 909" by Man With No Name, a heavenly house track tastefully colored by squelching acid synths and over-the-top keys.
Appearing early on in the collection's second half, Ability II's "Pressure Dub" is a wonked, keyboard-heavy house excursion, grinding through 10 bleary minutes of bliss. This disc continues on a heavy, disorienting tip with the J. Soul Kane mix of Static's "Iron Orbit,"
and peaks with an underrated early track by Bizarre Inc, 1989's "Technological." Highlights of this compilation will depend on who's listening, but "Technological" is undeniably rapturous—the dry, interlocking analog rhythm tracks are pulled skyward by measured, dark yet sublime keyboards, resulting in a most transcendent cut. A Guy Called Gerald is, suitably enough, represented twice on this compilation, between "Born in the North" by Us (his collaboration with Edward Barton and Chapter and the Verse) and the digital-only track "Specific Hate."...full text
SpectrumcultureDance music has long had a tenuous relationship with its audience, its critics and the mainstream. From trance to house, techno, acid and disco, many dance music genres pride themselves on their inclusiveness; dance is about the body, and unlike, say, the collection of cultural capital that’s part of legitimizing yourself as part of the rock audience, the movement of the body represents an all-inclusive behavior. The tension lies in the fact that dance clubs in the ‘80s and ‘90s were notoriously exclusive; significant divides based on gender, class and ethnicity, especially in the UK, defined the scene. Over time then, dance music has undergone much of the same “this-is-a-serious-art” legitimization process as rock did in the 1960s, as academics have linked dance music with issues of power imbalance and class conflict. Thus, the discourse on dance music has created its own canon and its own narrative of progress (eg. disco moved from a widely lauded – but also highly successful, at least commercially – genre to one worthy of academic study and nostalgia-fueled legitimacy.
The problem with this discourse though is that the music largely gets left behind. In order for a dance music genre to be considered legitimate – worthy of a higher form of dialogue that distinguishes itself from a low, body-centered form of art – it normally has to be tied to some social/political undercurrent. Disco gets studied in relation to AIDS and homosexuality. Rave culture gets studied because of its relevancy to youth movements and the political scare tactics in regards to the use of ecstasy. So when you put on This Ain’t Chicago: The Underground Sound of UK House & Acid 1987-1991, there’s something refreshing about being able to focus on the music itself, on the sounds that started out in Chicago but transformed as they moved across the pond to the UK underground....full text
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