Subtitled “The Underground Sound of UK House & Acid 1987-1991,” it’s
a nigh-comprehensive 2-disc overview of a crucial scene at the height of its
influence. The collection is out next week on the Strut label. Listen to a special mix, below.
By Carl Hanni
This Ain’t Chicago overviews the nascent UK
house music/rave scene – long overdue for a worthwhile archival treatment – as
it picked up speed and achieved lift off between 1987 and 1991. Featuring
twenty-three tracks by twenty-three acts over two discs, This Ain’t Chicago is a lot to get your head around, but well worth the effort.
Compiled by UK producer and DJ
Richard Sen (Padded Cell, Bronx Dogs), This Ain’t Chicago inevitably
reflects the taste of its archivist; fortunately for us all, Sen has broad
taste and an appreciation for some of the more unheralded corners of late 80s
era dance music as well as the more well-known tracks of the time. If DJs are
the immediate, ground level arbiters of taste and flow, the compilers have to
take that mandate and expand it out to present it to the world at large, and
Sen does a savvy and satisfying job of tying it all together, both in his
selections and in the copious liner notes.
Anyone under the impression
that most contemporary dance music was codified and formulaic from the get-go
should take a listen to This Ain’t Chicago. Catching the scene before it
entered it seemingly endless phase of mass produced, generic,
paint-by-numbers “dance music” (essentially from sometime in the ‘90s until
now), This Ain’t Chicago reminds us how nascent music scenes – whether
it’s punk rock, hip hop, house music or whatever – always start off fueled by
originality and diversity and inevitably degrade into predictably. You can hear
the DJs and producers here feeling their way into new hybrids, inventing it as
they go, as-yet formula free. It was an exciting time, when dance culture was
in the ascendant and before mass popularity and the tsunami of global techno
swelled the lowest common denominator into cottage cheese with a steady
Disc one highlights includes
the almost poppish “Bang Bang You’re Mine” by Bang The Party, the percussion
heavy (all digital, natch) Latin workout “Cuba Jakkin'” by Rio Rhythm Band, the
deliciously jumping groove by “Safety Zone” by Exocet and the dubby/glitchy
“Return of the Living Acid” by Twin Tub. Only a handful of tracks here – “From
Within the Mind of My 909″ by Man With No Name,” “Inflight” by Rohan Delano,
“Where’s The Love Gone” by Julie Stapleton and “The Comfort of Strangers” by
CXX – use the metronomic, heart-beat drum machine beat that would become
positively oppressive in years to come.
Disc two features the
crazy-cool proto-diva number “The World According to Sly & Lovechild” by
Sly & Lovechild and the super rocking “Technological” by Bizzare Inc. and
“Dream 17″ by Annette.” Both the dark and sorta doomy “Iron Orbit” by Static
and “1666” by M.D.EMM work the industrial side of the groove, while “Show Me
What You Got” by S.L.F. and “Get Real” by Paul Rutherford sound like prototypes
for much of acid house that was to soon follow them down the rabbit hole.
Everything else is worth grappling with as well, and there are no full-on duds
in the mix, a rarity for the compilation-minded.
Sen backs this all up with
extensive liner notes putting the birth of the whole scene in perspective and
elaborating on each individual act and track. Catching modern dance music at
the moment of conception through
birth and into childhood, This Ain’t Chicago does exactly what it’s
supposed to do: make you wish you were there.