In the manner of slightly nerdish geek/date tie-in craziness, such as May the Fourth being Star Wars Day (May the Fourth, May the Fourth be with you? Geddit? Yeah? God, I wish I didn’t) it seems that the Third of March (3/03) is now some sort of acid house day, at least according to some people on the internet. While I would imagine we are still a while away from Hallmark enshrining the occasion with a range of tasteful greetings cards (although as made up holidays go it’s definitely better than royal weddings and births) I see no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate the glories of Roland’s Little Silver Box on these here pages – particularly as a recent survey showed that 85% of all house and techno records are released by producers who think they are Phuture.
That last bit is false. There was no survey, and I reckon that number there is probably a bit on the high side – although not by much. I love acid house, I love the fact that the Roland TB303 still sounds like no other instrument ever played by a human being. It has an alien quality to it that hasn’t never quite been captured by any digital plug-ins or even by a hardware emulator (although some builds of X0Xbox come close) – a quality that is exacerbated by the fact that no two 303s will give you exactly the same sound. Some are warmer, some harsher; but all sound like they’re processing the language of an outsider race trying to make contact through squawks and warbles and growls. I know of few instruments that can sound so angelic and yet so deeply, utterly filthy at the same time.
It is also one of the most over used and abused instruments in any musical form. I’m not so much talking about its use in various genres I don’t personally like (acid trance – I’m looking at you) but the fact that so many people seem to be under the illusion that acid house is a simple thing. Bang out some drums, add some toms and set the 303 to babble mode. It reminds me of people on a creative writing course aping Hunter S Thompson’s style: So easy to mimic but so incredibly hard to do properly; the copy cats, struck by the twisted poetry of the words, so often fail to pick up on the cadence and the thrum of the thought processes and experiences that led to Thompson writing like that. So many of the records that try to emulate the classic acid sound have a similar problem, and so many of the little nuances that made the music of Phuture, Armando or Adonis so special go out the window in exchange for a purely mechanical take, the sounds taking the place of acid’s attitude and spirit.
Part of this is down to people wanting to emulate what they think of as good music from a time before they were around. On the surface there is nothing wrong with an homage; emulation is one of the ways in which many of us learn how art works. The problems come when people fail to move on, refuse to let the sound evolve. In a sense, many people seem unable or unwilling to appreciate that as wonderful, as important and mindblowing as the works of Phuture or Armando were, they were the first words in acid house, not the last.
I’ve chosen DJ Pierre’s Box Energy for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is one of my favourite acid house tunes of all time. Hell, it might well be my favourite. But I’ve also chosen it because there is something different about it, something that sets it apart from the rest of the scene, even Pierre’s own catalogue. It’s stripped down to its barest essentials and built back up, weaponized into a crazy, pulsing, bucking tune that proves house music can show the darkest of techno exactly what a brutal groove can do to the human body any time it wants. The 303 simply dominates, pushing on past the clichés of a genre and scene that carry more than a few to deliver a sound, a vibe and a funk that simply demands you dance. Exceptional and virulent. Acid house producers, one more time: It’s the groove and not the sounds that makes it great. And if you don’t get that, all the TB303s in the world won’t help.