|Manchester: Acid House Remembers|
|Clash Magazine, Issue 29
By James Masters
(Edited from original text)
Revisiting the Manchester scene of two decades ago it’s impossible not to be reminded of “bliss that was to be alive but to be young was very heaven” yet even Wordsworth would have found it difficult to capture the all conquering, all comers style and panache of Manchester’s unique cross cultural explosion in the late 80’s and early 90’s which sprang from The Hacienda, Oldham Street’s early bohemian chic, an avid record shop culture, a good few older heads cum social misfits and a whole variety of circumstances and events.
Combining a multitude of influences and nuances, Manchester took on the influences of the small US scenes and early doors Ibiza, then breaking bands and new dj talent, plenty of narcotics and the odd conspiracy theory, namely that the army ran all the E’s, the whole scene was down to the kids of the Sixties getting into positions of power, and that it represented a whole new anti corporate, anti capitalist reaction to Thatcher and the scourge of Eighties yuppie-dom, to name but few.
Put this against the artistic background cultivated by the likes of Factory Records and The Royal Exchange Theatre and the rebellious traits of the city and the scene is classically set for a pivotal, revolutionary moment.
Not that Manchester prior to 88 was always the cultural wasteland which it has been far too lazily characterised by some, yet the shoe-gazing, wrist-slitting indie dominance of the local scene meant the Manc acid house phenomenon grew incrementally from what was a very small network. A part of The Hacienda’s sound-track from 86 onwards, house and acid culture slowly came to fit the sensibilities of the independently minded city which became internationally famous for not only the clubs, the music (and the football) but also for it’s buccaneering, wild, untamed spirit of adventure.
Yet whilst Manchester was cementing its world-wide reputation as one of the foremost musical cities around as acolytes and disciples spread the vibe, Manchester’s compact, village-y city centre made it an intimate, social culture where “in yer face” doesn’t describe half of it. The scene expanded from not only the Hacienda but from now mythically treated haunts like Afflecks Palace, Eastern Bloc and Dry 201 as Manchester began to lay claim to both the true working class art forms, music and football.
So. The Acid House Years, which in Manc terms is more a generic term from 87 to 90, as FAC 51’s Citadel and Manchester’s politics of dancing rejuvenated and regenerated the city, the city’s fame and influence on the developing scene rippled across the north, the country and as Italian house records were latterly to remind us, to everybody all over the world.
With the Hacienda a central but not solitary hub of the scene, Manchester had taken in Detroit, Chicago and New York and spewed out its own sauntering, surly Mancunian most monster as records, fashion, clubs and town’s café culture coincided in an uncontrived blend of time, art, place and characters which I’ve often liked to compare as the closest thing to live theatre I’ve ever been immersed within. At 15 in Manchester in 1988 (and just about able to blag into the Hacienda, certainly Dry was never a problem), there was some luck in landing in a happening that even then felt like it rivalled Paris or San Fran 68, London 76 for an authentic, the rules do not apply, standing in the way of control, getting away with it youth revolution.
So here, pieced together as an extensive oral history, is a whole rogues gallery of DJ’s, club owning rock stars, artists, singers, and industry bods, listed below in “role call” which takes in many major Manc acid house faces riffing on the city, the clubs, the tunes, the parties and the cultural shift that was Manc Acidica in a “you’ll swear you were there” deconstruction.
Expect a not atypically Mancunian tale of establishment baiting, piss-taking, risk-taking, camaraderie and untold shenanigans, yet within all the devil may care, throw it to the all hedonism, I can’t escape the fact that there is and was a very special something about Manchester back then, something to fall in love with, something to believe in, something independently willed that made the world look to Manchester and something that at times made us feel like the coolest bastards on Earth.
So why Manchester?
“Manchester was very Eighties back then. The thing that we liked about it was coming out of that horrible naff Eighties thing, that Eighties culture of big hair and acid house sounded like nothing to do with that. It was a kind of an alien type of music. When you heard that in a club, you could pledge your allegiance to this new thing.”
“There was an open mindedness about it all. People like Graham Massey. The Hacienda was a massive catalyst cos people would go socially and it would just change everything that they thought. Massey was in a band called Biting Tongues who were signed to Factory at the time and one day he just came into Spirit Studio and said he was making house now. He’d been to the Hacienda and literally 808 State was born overnight.”
“There was an enormous civic pride at that time. You would be supported almost like a football team if you managed to get something going and there was a general energy about the place that encouraged that kind of thing. It was a very inclusive culture and it gave you a sense of self empowerment. There were a lot of people around to support you and there wasn’t really any jealousy about.”
FAC51 - The Hacienda
“The Hacienda was a very levelling place and very mixed. If you went to Hot or the Hacienda on a Friday night, the cultural mix of people was really diverse. You’d have people you wouldn’t think would be into the scene, like taxi drivers, nurses, doctors….”
The Manchester Scene Beyond FAC51
“Konspiracy was an heavy club, volatile would be a good way to put it. It was like the Thunderdome, it should never have happened, that shouldn’t have worked, being in the middle of a council estate just outside the town centre but it was more about that it could have been anywhere once you were in there, than where it was actually, a real rough arsed part of Manchester but the fact that it worked it meant a lot to the people that were actually in there. Like the atmosphere was awesome.”
“It wasn’t all about the Hacienda. Thunderdome was very important to us cos we had a connection to it. Darren and Andy used to do the Saturday night there. There was a different kind of music which came out of the Thunderdome which I think led onto what became jungle and that kind of thing. It was a much more urban, darker music and it wasn’t party music. Thunderdome was about heaviness and a dark atmosphere.”
The Proto Northern Quarter
“Well Eastern Bloc started as a stall in Affleck’s Palace and they were a very anarchistic bunch from Bolton. I think if you talked to all the record shops in Manchester there was a huge rivalry going on that energised it all. Eastern Bloc were arch rivals with Spin Inn, arch rivals with Piccadilly Records. There was a classic Eastern Bloc story when one of the Smiths albums came out. They went and superglued Piccadilly Records’ doors together. It coincided with a Smiths convention in Manchester and somebody was sent out to superglue their doors. They’d ordered about twice the stock in.”
“They did it when the Roses’ “Sally Cinnamon” came out as well. Don’t forget there were people involved in Eastern Bloc who were borderline psychopathic. They should have been on the Burmese border in the 50’s and 60’s them lot.”
“They were from quite an anarchistic background. Eastern Bloc wasn’t an unfriendly place though, in spite of all the madness.”
“Eastern Bloc had attitude, a very Mancunian attitude but Spin Inn also had it in spades. You could be shamed out of Spin Inn for not knowing your onions. I never used to shop in Spin Inn because it felt intimidating and I’m sure a lot of people used to feel the same way about Eastern Bloc.”
“Eastern Bloc was a very important shop. If you were “in” there, you got the hot records and if you weren’t, you kind of got scoffed at. It was a bit like that. Some of the characters in there though. Justin Robertson was working there at the time, Nick Grayson, Mike E Bloc, Moonboots famously laughing at people asking for records that they had no chance of getting. I think that was part of the shop’s mystique, some people daren’t go in there. It was one of those places where you could lose all your street cred by asking for the wrong record.”
“Eastern Bloc was a massive eye opener for us, we bought amazing records from there from Moonboots and everyone. Then we just became friends with a lot of people and then when Most Excellent came along we felt very much a part of that and we were just hearing good music all the time.”
“Eastern Bloc did become the place, mainly cos it was the best record shop in town. It was the only one that had the right attitude, the only one that wasn’t sneering at you for not liking indie. Eastern Bloc was quieter at the time because it wasn’t cool to a lot of people and you could spend the time in there and you could play what you want. They also held a huge back catalogue and you could pick out stuff. That’s where I found that bootleg The Virgo Mechanically Replayed, Siedah Garrett “Kissing” and SLY “I Need A Freak” which all went on to become huge Hot tunes. I wouldn’t have found them otherwise but they had a policy of keeping things in stock. With Dry Bar it just became the perfect circuit for any DJ. Bar, Record Shop, taxi rank, there you go, life is sweet.”
“Eastern Bloc was really my place. I did a little bit at Manchester Underground but I had a closer relationship with the guys at Eastern Bloc. I actually had a credit card ripped up in front of me once in Manchester Underground and it sort of put me off from ever going back there again. I used to be a right pest at Eastern Bloc, if there was a certain record I was after I would go in there every single fucking day and I’d pester them until I could get hold of it. Things would come into Eastern Bloc in very limited quantities, like test pressings, there would be only ten copies and they wouldn’t be pressing them up for another three months.”
Manchester's Own Acid House
808 State On Newbuild and Pacific State
“We definitely had a confidence about what we were doing. I wouldn’t call it an arrogance but there was definitely a confidence about what we were doing. Having a great engineer in Graham, having a producer and having all these pheripherals and having Martin as a figurehead bringing half a dozen people together. There was a confidence about the whole collective that naturally Newbuild was gonna happen, like they say the Hacienda must be built, well Newbuild should have been written.”
“Our attitude towards that music was that it was pretty disposable. I don’t think we thought we were making history, we thought we were making an acid house record and its importance would last two weeks, a month at most. We didn’t think long term with it.
“The way Pacific State happened was that we were trying to do something like Marshall Jefferson’s “Open Your Eyes” and we wanted to do a track with sort of that kind of mood. We were going to all these acid house raves that were going on in Store Street and all the places like that, there were a lot of illegal raves going on and that record was huge. Put that on at like three in the morning and it was something else, completely off the scale.”
“Once again, it was that thing, could we come up with something better, a completely killer end of the night tune.”
“You wanted an atmospheric, kind of warm, sweaty, tropical thing. “We’re gonna make a warm, sweaty tropical record” and we started doing that for a John Peel session. John Peel used to come in to a café that I used to run opposite Eastern Bloc John Peel came in there after shopping at Eastern Bloc, Alice and Martin who ran Red Alert, she used to bring John Peel up and take him round the record shops and he used to come in so we gave him white labels. He got really into it and started playing Newbuild and Let Yourself Go, those records and then he was like do you wanna do a session. We were like “yeah” and then he went “you’ll have to come down to Maida Vale” and we were like “whoah, we can’t make that kind of music with the BBC staff. We’ll have to make it in our studio.” John Peel was like “oh, I’ll have to see about that, I think we can do it, I’ll try and get a special dispensation. I’m sure it’ll be okay”. So we just booked the studio and started recording and then he rang up and said that it had got to be unionised and by that time we’d started about three tracks, one of them was Pacific but it was pretty basic at that point, pads, a bit of drum programming, not a lot really and it was kind of left on the shelf that one. Then we returned to it at a session when nobody had turned up I pulled a sax out because my mate had left his sax at the studio and I can play a bit. I thought the tune needed a bit of melody so I got the sax out and played over it and it sort of came together.”
Voodoo Ray – A Guy Called Gerald
“Voodoo Ray was totally designed for the Hacienda. That’s was the sounding ground for everything we were doing, even when I was working with 808 State, we always had the Hacienda in mind. It was kind of the place where you thought if we can play it in there that’d be really cool. I actually always wanted to bring the studio into the Hacienda, that was one of my ambitions but it was definitely a place where you’d look towards trying to make one of your tunes work there.”
“The first time we heard A Guy Called Gerald “Voodoo Ray” that haunting melody and the sparseness of it all. All these records nowadays are fodder for Now That’s What I Call House Music compilations but people forget that at the time they were unbelievable, hairs on the back of your neck, never heard anything like it records.”
“Playing and hearing Voodoo Ray for the first time, that was a moment. Manchester got its first real record of its own.”
“Voodoo Ray, that was one of the records I absolutely pestered Eastern Bloc into submission until they finally found me a copy. It was that record at The Hacienda for so long because no-one else had it. It was the record at the Hacienda, it was one of those defining records. It was that, Ce Ce Rogers “Someday”, there were a few records that really defined that 88 to 90 period and they were really hard to get hold of and I remember just craving those records so much that when I finally got hold of them, I wore them out.”
The Role Call Of Contributors
Graham Massey, 808 State
One of the finest studio engineers in the country if not the world, Graham’s responsible for creating and developing 808 State’s sound throughout the 90’s, including being the first to recruit indie type vocalists to sing over techno (Bjork and Bernard Sumner on Ex.el). Still cutting edge sonically speaking as his recent Toolshed excursions and remixes have demonstrated. Check out his recent re-rub of The Whip’s “Blackout” which is as ever superb.
Darren Partington, 808 State
The energetic, bundle of fun frontman of 808 State. An Eastern Bloc regular from the mid 80’s and one half of the infamous 808 State radio show, Darren still plays with 808 State and dj’s throughout the world as one half of the Spinmasters, the offical 808 State DJ team.