Several years ago, for the 20th anniversary of acid house and Britain's "second summer of love",
I interviewed some of
the main players of those early days for the Observer Music Monthly magazine. It was a brief oral history, weaving together snippets from the main DJs, promoters and original ravers. "No one's really told the story of acid house like this," Hacienda DJ Mike Pickering told me. When the 25th anniversary came around, it felt like the right time to speak to those people and others to pull together all their stories, many of which had never been told, for a book. I interviewed more than 80 people, from DJs such as Sasha, Paul Oakenfold and Andrew Weatherall, musicians such as Boy George and 808 State, to promoters, ravers, dealers and police. Everyone had a slightly different take on proceedings, depending on where their initiation came. Each had experienced their own epiphany. "That's why acid house spread so quickly," DJ Terry Farley told me. "Whenever it hit a new town, the first people in that town felt like they had the best secret ever. But they had this desperate itch to tell everyone and spread the word."
"It's the closest thing to mass organised zombie-dom," frowned BBC Radio 1 DJ Peter Powell, when acid house first arrived. "I really don't think it should go any further."
Powell couldn't have been more mistaken. The acid house revolution that started in basements and warehouses has gone much further than even the most evangelical early devotees could have imagined. The music originally came from Chicago (the term "house music" comes from Chicago club the Warehouse) defined by the squelching sound of the Roland TB-303, but remained an underground music in the US at first.
In the mid-80s, the UK embraced acid house, together with the new drug, ecstasy, with gusto. A new scene grew up around it that changed the social and cultural habits of a generation. It was the biggest youth revolution since the 60s and, as with the mods and rockers before, fell victim to what sociologist Stanley Cohen called "moral panic" in his landmark 1972 study, Folk Devils and Moral Panics. As the media sensationalised the dangers of acid house and ecstasy, the movement became a challenge to authority, prompting parliament to pass new laws aimed at curbing the revolution and the police to establish a unit dedicated to stopping unlicensed parties. A movement that had been pro-hedonism rather than anti-authority became political by default.
Before acid house, nightclubs in Britain were mostly depressing places where revellers went to get drunk and perhaps meet someone of the opposite sex or fight someone of the same sex. Acid house, aided by the introduction of ecstasy, turned nightclubs back into what they were supposed to be all along: a place to dance.