Music News

Failing the Acid Test

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Oblique references to stimulants are found in many singles, such as the "Let me take you higher" chorus from "Superfly Guy." That track also reflects Acid House's fascination with the sleazy side of Seventies culture. "Superfly Guy" and another of S-Express' tracks, "Pimps, Pushers, and Prostitutes," feature the same kind of heroic portraits of superstud hustlers as Seventies black-exploitation flicks.

The narratives of bad-ass dealers and coked-up whores on some A.H. tracks are wed to samples from old Commodores or Taste of Honey records. The result often sounds like a frightening mutation of Seventies disco, which is why some listeners are turned off. "A lot of it is just old disco redone," says Billy Long, a deejay at one of L.A.'s premier A.H. hangouts, Catch One. "Sometimes the bass is brought up and there are a few other changes, but the overall sound is the same. But I'm not talking about all the singles. Some are really creative."

It's true enough that Acid House has produced a handful of solid singles like Bomb the Bass' "Beat Dis." Still, an offshoot of A.H. that emerged recently called Deep House, with its emphasis on soulful vocals, may prove to be more interesting. Another possible successor to A.H. is Garage House, which is tougher, less discofied music that takes its moniker from the one-time Greenwich Village nightspot Paradise Garage.

This explosion of club sounds has meant that in cities like New York and London, discos have actually become places for dancing--not just for fashion parades. Some U.K. clubbers even conform to a scruffy A.H. uniform: frayed Levi's, a tee shirt and a bandanna or shmatte wrapped around the head to soak up sweat from all the violent frugging. The trendies also sometimes opt for a Seventies smiley-face pin, the emblem of Acid House. Forget about rock couture; A.H. has made dressing-down fashionable.

SO WHO'S TO BLAME for the Valley's dearth of underground dance music? Unadventurous deejays? Uncool clubbers? Well, if you ask the honchos at some local niteries, they tell you that they couldn't be the culprits behind the hicksville dance scene. They claim to have little control over music formats. Vinnie Guifre, owner-manager of Six Feet Under, claims that it's the deejays and the clubbers who are the final dictators of his playlist.

Local deejays also plead innocent, saying that when they experiment with a more alternative mix, all they get is an empty dance floor. "People are always saying Phoenix is never going to go anywhere, yet when you play new music, they don't dance!" complains Jackie Selby, a KUPD-FM radio jock who's served two stints behind the turntables at Six Feet Under.

That criticism of unhip clubgoers is echoed by Marilyn Whitelaw, who handles deejay chores at UM's boogie basement. When she took a chance and began spinning Acid House tracks late last summer, audiences were markedly unimpressed. "It's the same with any new music," laments Whitelaw. "If they haven't heard it on the radio, then they can't identify it, and they don't want to have anything to do with it."

There's no disputing the correlation between Phoenix's relative lack of underground dance dens and the absence of alternative radio. Considering that the city is bereft of black or progressive stations, listeners aren't exposed to the new Acid House rhythms from London or the current go-go cuts from Washington, D.C.

Even if local radio stations were satisfying hip-hop- and house-hungry listeners, it still would be nearly impossible to buy the stuff. Many Phoenix deejays complain that unsupportive labels are thwarting bigtime success for Acid House by making it difficult for people to get their hands on the music. "There's no service or distributor, so how the hell are we supposed to get it?" bitches Selby. Flores has sources in San Francisco and Chicago, while Whitelaw smuggles in hits of hard-to-find Acid House from Minneapolis.

The record companies seem uncertain how to market the new sounds. Acid House is basically a deejay's dance product, and labels don't know how to hustle a band that has an anonymous deejay at the forefront instead of a star singer.

WHEN IT COMES to trends like Acid House, Phoenix is about as with it as Bullhead City. Still, the news from clubland isn't all bad. The Valley's dance scene got a sorely needed kick in the butt last spring with the run of Big Payback, an L.A.-style "floating" club. This very underground (i.e., unlicensed) danceteria changed venues as often as every week during its two-month existence. This was an exciting concept in clubbing not only because of its downtown locations (abandoned warehouses usually) and its interesting mix of partyers, but also because of its music, which on one of its two dance floors was nonstop house and hip-hop.

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John Blanco