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Various Artists

The Kings of House -- Compiled and Mixed by Masters At Work
BBE

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Various Artists

 

Can You Jack? -- Chicago Acid and Experimental House 1985-1995

Soul Jazz

 

In the beginning -- that being Chicago, early 1980s -- there was Frankie Knuckles and there was Ron Hardy; the Warehouse and the Music Box; Knuckles' deep and soulful post-disco (i.e. Ware-"house" music), and Hardy's drug-addled (i.e. "acid") robotic speed-funk. In his liner notes to Soul Jazz's highly listenable document, Can You Jack?, dance-music historian Tim Lawrence sets up this dichotomy between the twin founding-father deejays (and respective birthplace-clubs) of house music, taking to task the long-established dogma that house music was simply, as Knuckles put it, "disco's revenge."

 

And on these two new releases -- one from supreme archivists Soul Jazz, one from BBE's "Kings of ..." series, with house legends Masters At Work at the helm -- listeners can get a taste for that split. Can You Jack? sifts through the commerce-driven deluge of acid house to prove that acid's original gloops and glops, born of misread bass-synth instruction manuals, are as powerful and exciting now as at their mid-'80s creation. Kings of House shows the way those early 808 handclaps and minimalist disco vocals led to the grandiose four-on-the-floor club-fillers of the '90s and '00s. And the two combined seem to prove Lawrence's point: That, almost from inception, house music's evil, acid-drenched twin became a musical genre separate from its brother; a darker, experimental music closer to Detroit techno and British synth-pop than its Chicago clubland relatives.

 

It's all so, so much more than black and white, straight and gay, clear-headed and tabbed-out. On Kings of, check Knuckles and Jamie Principle's "Your Love" for the obvious influence of British new-romantic and electro-pop bands -- Human League to Spandau Ballet. Pump up the volume on Hercules' "7 Ways to Make You Jack" for Italo-disco's minimal beat and maximum sweat -- and, of course, for the bizarre, ubiquitous house demand that you must jack. Blast Derrick May's classic "Strings of Life" (under the Rhythim Is Rhythim moniker) for the intersection of Chicago acid house and Detroit techno, and for the patience and subtlety that house isn't necessarily known for, but perhaps ought to be.

 

On Can You Jack?, Larry Heard (a.k.a. Mr. Fingers) plays with the same atmospheric washes and dubbed-out drum sounds that have become government-issue in big-room club music, 20 years on. Phuture's genre-naming "Acid Tracks" and "Phuture Jacks" are warped enough to warrant spiked punch even in 2005. But it's Marshall Jefferson's "I've Lost Control" -- which Ron Hardy would play on cassette at the Music Box before Jefferson even considered making an actual record -- that defines the DIY-punk glory of house. Thrown together in a matter of hours by an amateur who'd done no more than gone into debt purchasing a drum machine and synth, "I've Lost Control" is still biting, dark, and fresh today, two decades on. Leaving behind the million-dollar studio sound that house has become, this document is of a time when dance music's sensibility was raw, powerful, and purpose-driven: Jack, or else.

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