RICHARD SEN PRESENTS THIS AIN’T CHICAGO.

RICHARD SEN PRESENTS THIS AIN’T CHICAGO.

When I first received Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago released on Strut Records in June 2012, I was instantly transported back to 1985, when I first heard the first wave of Chicago House music. Straight away, I realised that things were about to change. This wasn’t just a musical fad, this was something very different. Fast forward two years to 1987, and the Acid House scene was exploding in the UK. For the next few years, the old order was overthrown. Frankly, it was about time. People were fed up of the exclusive and sometimes, discriminatory policy of certain soul and rare groove nights. Trying to get into some of these nights, was akin to getting a camel through the eye of the needle, if you’re face or race didn’t fit with the “door policy.” Given that these clubs were playing soul, funk, R&B and rare groove, this was somewhat ironic. Irony, was something certain organizers didn’t quite get. Soon, things would change, soon there was a changing of the guard, soon there would be a revolution, a musical revolution.

The revolution came with the Acid House explosion. Now the tables were turned. This was a musical, social and cultural revolution. Not in the faux revolutionary sense of punk and post punk, with  public school boys masquerading as musical revolutionaries. Quite the opposite. There was a sense of inclusion, togetherness and being part of a scene where the rules were made up as you went along. There were many welcome changes. Gone were selective door policies and the clubs that perpetuated this form of discrimination. They were replaced by an inclusive come one, come all policy. Suddenly, race, wealth or social position didn’t matter. Everyone was welcome, everyone danced side by side, with the music policy truly eclectic. 

Unlike the soul scene, with its constant petty bickering about whether a track was too Northern or Modern, music like people, was equal. Anything and everything was played, with a new breed of UK producers making their own unique brand of Acid House. These nascent producers took their lead from the Windy City, Chicago, the spiritual home of House. 

These tracks produced by new producers were inventive, imaginative, unique and would provide the soundtrack to many a memorable Acid House night. However, even then, Acid House had its critics. Fans of rock music clutched their Prog Rock albums, whining that: “these aren’t real musicians, playing real instruments.” Other music fans music fans complained the tracks had no soul. Critics and embittered DJs who’d lost their venues to Acid House nights smugly said, Acid House was a passing musical fad. In their opinion, it neither had a future, nor would it enjoy longevity. Well, twenty-five years later Acid House is still alive and thriving, with twenty-four of these tracks, recorded between 1987 and 1991, featuring on Strut Records recently released Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago.

Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago is a double album of twenty-four UK House and Acid House tracks recorded between 1987 and 1991. These producers were among the first wave of UK producers. Unlike nowadays, there were no Apple Macs running Logic, Ableton Live or Pro Tools. Instead, it was all very different, with the equipment much more basic or lo-fi. Drum machines, synths, samplers and sequencers were all you had. Either you recorded these tracks onto a basic four-track recorder, or if you had the money, hired a recording studio. Sometimes, a vocalist was used, but all too often, samples were all the producer had. 

Like the early hip hop pioneers, they scoured charity shops, record shops and dank, dusty warehouses for vinyl, borrowing many a sample. These were added to their productions, and for the lucky few, picked up by a DJ and played at an Acid House night. Sometimes, this resulted in the track being picked up by hungry record companies, desperate to get a slice of this new, underground scene. Often, contracts were hurriedly drawn up, all too often signed, in haste by an artist desperate for their track to be released. Their idea was, grab a slice of the action before it’s all over. Despite people saying UK House and Acid House wouldn’t enjoy longevity, people still are hungry to discover or rediscover the heady sounds of twenty-five years ago. Step forward Richard Sen, whose new compilation Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago will sate the appetite of either veteran or newcomers to the UK House and Acid House scene. So settle down, relax and enjoy a return to the heady glory days of Acid House, as I pick my top ten tracks from Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago.

DISC ONE.

On Disc One of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago, Richard has chosen thirteen slices of UK House and Acid House. These are from the period between 1987 and 1991, and are the fruits of UK producers. These new, young producers were among the pioneers of this new scene. They were based throughout the UK, ranging from Manchester in the North West, Birmingham in the Midlands and London in the South. Among them, are Bang the Party, Baby Ford, The Man With No Name, May and Julie Stapleton, these will bring back memories of clubs like Manchester’s Hacienda and Heaven in London. They’ll also be the soundtrack to many a forty-something’s clubbing days. However, twenty-five years after some of the tracks on Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago were released, how do they sound? Have they lost any of their magic and sparkle, or do they still evoke the seem feelings and memories?

My first choice from Disc One of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago, is the track that opens the album Bang the Party’s Bang Bang You’re Mine (Full Vocal Release). This was released in 1989 and was written, arranged and produced by Lawrence Bachelor and Leslie Lawrence. Crispy beats, a myriad and synths and  a haunting, tortured vocal from Lawrence “Kid” Bachelor is combined. The vocal, wrapped in delay, melts into the distance, while pounding beats and washes of synths combine with percussion. Listening to the track, it’s hard to believe it’s twenty-three years old. It has a contemporary, dramatic and dynamic sound and is a perfect reminded of the glory days of Acid House.

Julian Jonah’s Jealousy and Lies, released in 1988 is a track that takes its reference points from Chicago House. This is apparent from the track’s opening beats. While it hasn’t the drama of Bang the Party’s Bang Bang You’re Mine, it’s a track that leaves an impression. From the opening bars you’re hooked. Handclaps, percussion and pounding beats give way to squelchy synths. Stabs of synths signal the track to reveal its secrets and reference points. A moody, broody vocal is enveloped by beats, percussion and layers of synths. Suddenly, you’re transported back to the late eighties, remembering dark warehouses on the edge of cities, with tracks like this providing the soundtrack to many a memorable evening. It’s like having you’re own time machine, one that takes you back to when you were younger, before reluctantly, you had to grow old up and grow older.

The Man With No Name sounds like a gunslinger from an old Western movie, rather than Martin Freeland, who back in 1990 released From Within The Mind Of My 909. Released on Spiral Cut, the track supported the Freedom Party, who were opposing politician’s plans to change legislation stopping all night raves. Here, Martin combines pounding beats, dark synths and percussion, before gradually revealing the track’s subtleties. Flourishes of synths compete with a piano house inspired keyboard solo and drumbeats that test the tolerance of your speakers. Squelchy synths are dropped in, before dramatic synth solos unfold, with beats and percussion constant companions. His production style sees layer upon layer of complex, dramatic and joyful music unleashed. This only serves to remind you just why you loved this music all this years ago.

Safety Zone released in 1989 on Catt Records isn’t quite unleashed like an Exocet thankfully. There’s no devastation, instead, just old school Acid House. There’s squelchy synths, beeps and bleeps aplenty. It meanders along, before gradually the tempo increases, becoming deceptively fast. Eventually, the stabs and washes of squelchy synths and crispy beats create a futuristic sounding soundscape, while the tempo reaches a 122 beats per minute. As I listen to this glorious sounding track, with its unmistakable Acid House sound, I can hear the crusty old hippies stroking their beards and saying: “this isn’t music.” To them I say, it’s all a matter of opinions, and thousands or ravers can’t be wrong.

May’s Love Me Baby (Garage House Mix) is my final choice from the tracks on Disc One of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago. Released on Rhythmbeat Records in 1989, and produced by P. Mac, this track is different in style, more garage-house than Acid House. Amongst the surprises May spring during the track’s five minutes, are an ethereal vocal. Crashing hi-hats, pounding drums, dark broody synths are all there, before a sinister male vocal assails your senses. Then comes that ethereal vocal from Mavis Clarke, soulful and sassy. Bursts of dramatic synths, crunchy beats and percussion accompany Mavis, whose vocal, along with P. Mac’s production make this one of the highlights of Disc One.

While I’ve only picked five tracks to tell you about, another day it might be different. The reason for this is that the quality is consistently high throughout Disc One of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago. Sometimes, it’s hard to limit yourself to just five track. Inwardly, I’m debating the merits of one track over another, constantly considering which tracks to tell you about. I could just as easily mentioned Window Smashers’ Free To Be or  Rio Rhythm Band’s Cuba Jakkin’ recorded in a garage using just the most basic equipment. Then there’s Playtime Toons’ Shaker Song, a favorite in clubs like Land of Oz, Trip and Shoom. Choice, choices indeed. Hopefully, the quality of music on Disc Two of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago will be just as high and my choices just as difficult.

DISC TWO.

After the thirteen quality tracks that made Disc One of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago such compelling listening. It was like being transported back in time, to the heady days of Acid House. You remember its carefree, inclusive, come one, come all attitude, dancing in dank, dark warehouses after spending half your evening traipsing up and down motorways, A roads and dimly-lit side-streets. Eventually, you arrived, following the noise of the P.A. and the stream of up-for-it ravers. Once there, you danced to a soundtrack similar to that on Disc Two of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago. Here, Richard Sen has only room for eleven tracks, with producers like Sly And Lovechild, Static, Colm III, The E.L.F. and Annette entrusted with bringing back hazy memories of hedonistic nights, where anything went and usually did. Among the backdrop for your night of hedonism, chaos or carefree fun were tracks live the five I’ve chosen from Disc Two of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago.

Sly And Lovechild’s The World According To Sly And Lovechild (Andrew Weatherall Soul Of Europe Mix) is my first choice from Disc Two of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago. Released on 1990 on the Heavenly label, it’s certainly designed to grab your attention. Opening with the sampled sound of a half-spoken vocal and subtle jazz-tinged piano, Eastern percussion adds to the moody sound. Soon, you think,  the track is ready to explode. Drums pound, swathes of synths unravel, with the vocal central to track’s sound and success. Percussion enters, with Andrew Weatherall fresh from mixing Loaded, remixing the track. Things get even better when a diva-esque vocal enters, adding to the dramatic, dynamic sound. You’re hooked, swept along by a track that although over twenty years old, still has a contemporary sound.

Static’s Iron Orbit (J. Saul Kane Mix) was released in 1989 on the Static label and demonstrates a much heavier, industrial sound. This is apparent when the drums pound so much your speakers complain at the punishment. Layers of synths maraud along, while a pulsating bass, percussion and a myriad of industrial sounds join the fray. They produce a sound that’s abrasive, industrial and pulsating. It was perfect for the cavernous warehouse and clubs that were the cathedrals, where Acid House followers came to give thanks to its sounds and delights.

Show Me What You Got by S.L.F. was released back in 1988, and has taken as its inspiration two different musical genres. Keyboards are inspired by Italian piano house, while squelchy, synths crispy, pulsating drumbeats give the track its Acid House sound. This is a combination that works seamlessly. Hypnotic beats, a myriad of bleeps, beep and squelches are at the heart of the track’s sound. Unlike many tracks from this era, the track still has a contemporary sound. It’s aged well, like a bottle of fine wine. Drop this track in any club and the place would explode.

Bizarre Inc.’s Technological (Detroit Mix) is another track that owes a debt of gratitude to the spiritual home of house and techno music Chicago. Released in 1988 on Blue Chip Recordings, the track mixes 4/4 beats with a synth sound that sound not unlike Mr. Fingers’ classic Chicago House track Washing Machine. Maybe this is just Bizarre Inc. paying homage to the Chicago House pioneer, but you can’t mistake the passing similarity. This was a groove designed with some hard jacking in mind. Just the beats, with the Detroit sounding marauding synths is all it takes to create a track that fuses house and techno seamlessly. 

The last track I’ve chosen to mention on Disc Two of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago is US’ Born In the North. This was the brainchild of a collective of Manchester based musicians, poets and artists. It’s a track that’s full of satire and political comment. Released in 1988, on Wooden Records, during a time when politicians, media and social commentators were fixated with the south of England, and London in particular. Here, US cock a snook at the London fixated politicians and media. Using a mixture of layers of synths, percussion, pounding and punchy horns, US fuse satire and sarcasm. Edward Barton’s dark, calm, but angry vocal articulates the feelings of everyone North of Watford, while a female vocalist parodies then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The result is a track which isn’t just satirical and sarcastic, but was one of the first protest songs of the Acid House era.

Having posed the question whether Disc Two of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago would match the quality and consistency of Disc One, I can say that not only does he manage to do so, but in some cases surpasses the quality on Disc One. During the eleven tracks, you rediscover the delights of Sly And Lovechild, Static, S.L.F., Bizarre Inc and US. These five artists are joined by artists of the calibre of Ability 2, Com III, M. D. Emm and Rohan Delano. Add these eleven tracks to the thirteen track on Disc One of Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago and you’ve twenty-four classics from the dawn of UK House and Acid House scene. Whilst writing this review, I was horrified to realize that it’s now twenty-five years since some of these tracks were first released. It doesn’t seem so long ago when these tracks were part of something very special, something new and something where everyone was equal. No longer were you turned away at the door because your face or race didn’t fit. Quite the opposite. During the Acid House years, it was all inclusive, with rich and poor and all colors and creeds dancing side by side. Friendships were made that lasted the next twenty-five years, while those that said the whole dance scene wouldn’t last long, have been proved wrong. Not only did Acid House prove to have longevity, but proved to be the springboard for new scenes. House music became one of the biggest, most important musical genres during the nineties and beyond. For those who were there back at the birth of UK House and Acid House, then Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago will bring back magical, heady memories of the whole scene. For newcomers, who weren’t around back in 1987, then Richard Sen Presents This Ain’t Chicago will introduce you to some of the best tracks from the glory days of UK House and Acid House. Standout Tracks: Bang the Party Bang Bang You’re Mine (Full Vocal Release), Julian Jonah Jealousy and Lies, Sly And Lovechild’s The World According To Sly And Lovechild (Andrew Weatherall Soul Of Europe Mix) and S.L.F. Show Me What You Got.

RICHARD SEN PRESENTS THIS AIN’T CHICAGO.

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