Today's young millennials weaned on a lifetime of electronic music can hardly imagine how futuristic and positively alien acid house first sounded to listeners in the '80s.
In contrast to the mostly pop and disco-based dance music of the time, the hypnotic, hard-hitting machine beats and trippy synthetic bass squelches of acid house more or less made it the stuff of science fiction. And behind this sound was Chicago's DJ Pierre, who through sheer technical ingenuity was first to discover the otherworldly sounds that could be coaxed from a Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer, the stock-in-trade instrument of acid house.
Following the 1987 release of Pierre's seminal EP, Acid Tracks (as one-half of Phuture), acid house would catapult across the Atlantic, sparking a global rave culture that still rages on today. The legendary DJ Pierre is still going strong himself, as New Times found out ahead of his Miami Music Week gigs.
New Times: As a member of Phuture, you have the unique distinction of having produced the very first acid-house record — 1987's Acid Tracks EP. How did you develop this unique sound, unheard of at the time?
DJ Pierre: Well, Spanky and I were determined to find a sound that defined us. We produced a few tracks but did not find that one we knew someone like Ron Hardy would play. Ron Hardy was our local hero, who captivated a lot of us at the time. He played at the legendary Music Box club in Chicago, and that's where our story began. Our goal was to make a track that he would play. So I was over at a friend's house and heard a bass line with a unique sound to it. My ears perked up, and I asked what he used to make that, and he said the Roland TB-303. I immediately called Spanky and said, 'This is it — we need that 303.' He was the one with a real job at the time — I was DJing locally, but mainly he had the funds. So he picked one up at a secondhand store — they had been defunct at the time because they did not sell as expected, and Roland stopped distributing them. So we got our hands on one, and we had a jam session, myself, Spanky, and Herb J. We didn't know how to use it. We did know we wanted to do something interesting with it. Spanky had a beat going, and I started twisting the knobs. Spanky said immediately, 'Pierre, keep doing that!' I kept at it, and we jammed for over an hour. The end result was Acid Tracks. We loved it.
We knew we had heard nothing like it before and we knew it would either fly or die. We knew it was that different and that good, but we did not know if others would feel the same. It was the result of just wanting to do something different. We didn't plan it out. It was divine, man. I am convinced it was spiritually-influenced — God has his hands in that process. We just went with our guts and trusted our instincts. So we managed to get it to Ron Hardy to play, and he basically broke the track. The first time he played it, the floor cleared. Second time, it cleared. Third time, people figured Ron was not giving up on it, so they stayed on and opened themselves up. Later that night, he played it a fourth time, and by then we were all ready for it and lost our minds when we heard the cowbells coming in. We put it to record with the help of Marshall Jefferson, and acid house the movement came later, after the kids in the U.K. took it and ran with it. Rave culture followed suit. If there were no acid house, not sure if we would've been pushed into the rave era. Pretty wild when I think about it.
What was it like coming up as a DJ/producer in the house birthplace, Chicago? What are your fondest recollections of that time and place?
As a DJ/producer in Chicago, you had to bring your A-game every time. Chicago was filled with great talent. House music as we knew it began there or was defined there. Lil' Louis, Marshall Jefferson, Hot Mix 5, Farley, Hurley, Jesse Saunders, Tyree Cooper, Fast Eddie, Armando, Adonis, Fingers Inc., Felix, Roy Davis, Cajmere — and I can go on. This is the environment we thrived in. Each person took what came before and tried to make it better, so there was always creative development going on organically.
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How do you feel about today's dance music and the influences it took from the sound you originated?
This music, our music, is artist-driven. Well, it used to be, before the commercial aspect kicked in. We would lay in wait for our favorite producer to drop his next track, and whether it was a hit or not, if he was your favorite producer, you went and got that vinyl. I know a sector of people who would just wait for my next one, no matter what. So there was this very underground feel to the growth of house music. We, the artists, and fans had a major say in its development. That's what separated it from the mainstream... That's my beef with the music now — it's no longer about what comes from the soul; it's about capitalizing on what the kids are eating up right now. If we had thought that way back in 1985, we never would have created Acid Tracks, because we would look to do what was hot at that moment. And we did not want to do that.
And what's next for you personally on the production front? Any forthcoming projects or releases we can look forward to?
I'm working on a few collabs with Get Physical out of Germany. We are releasing soon, so keep an eye out. I'm also working on a major project — can't discuss yet, but you will be in the know pretty soon. My album is also on the table — I can't say much but I'm almost in that sweet spot.
DJ Pierre with François K, Joey Beltram, and others. 10 p.m. Thursday, March 24, at Do Not Sit on the Furniture, 423 16th St., Miami Beach; 510-551-5067; facebook.com/DoNotSit. Tickets cost $27 plus fees via eventbrite.com.