Magazine article The Spectator

Acid House, 30 Years On

Magazine article The Spectator

Acid House, 30 Years On

Article excerpt

Arthur House celebrates the rise of rave culture

In 1988-9, British youth culture underwent the biggest revolution since the 1960s. The music was acid house, the drug: Ecstasy. Together they created the Second Summer of Love -- a euphoric high that lasted a year and a half and engulfed Britain's youth in a hedonistic haze of peace, love and unity. At the end of a decade marked by social division and unemployment, acid house transcended class and race, town and country, north and south. Amid the smoke and lasers, an entire generation came up together.

How did it happen? The story starts in Ibiza, which by the mid-1980s had outgrown its roots as a hippie commune and was attracting beautiful people from all over the world. The island's carefree, all-night parties and eclectic music impressed a young DJ called Paul Oakenfold on his first visit in 1985. Oakenfold was determined to bring this blissed-out scene back to rainy London, with its exclusive dress codes and judgmental door policies. Although his first experiment at a Balearic club failed, another trip to Ibiza in 1987 convinced him to try again. 'I brought a few friends over for my birthday and 30 years later we're still talking about it,' he says.

Oakenfold and his friend Danny Ramp-ling each started Balearic nights in London in the autumn of 1987. The Future and Shoom were wildly popular, not least because they coincided with the first major influx of Ecstasy into Britain. 'The drugs were better than any before or since,' says James Delingpole, an early convert. 'Everyone was loved up in a way that subsequent generations haven't experienced.' The empathy-enhancing properties of Ecstasy saw people from all walks of life become best friends for the night. After years of beating each other senseless on the terraces, even football casuals were putting aside their differences and 'getting right on one, matey'.

Noticing that their baggy-clothed, pilled-up patrons wanted to dance to repetitive beats, the Balearic DJs started playing more of the new acid-house records coming out of Chicago. The 'acid' in the name referred not to LSD, but to Phuture's 'Acid Tracks', a record whose hypnotic, squelchy Roland TB-303 bass sound set the blueprint for the genre. 'House' was already the established term for Chicago's own brand of electronic music, characterised by a 4/4 beat and syncopated hi-hat (say 'boots, cats, boots, cats' out loud and you'll get the idea). It had initially found an audience around 1984 among the African-American and gay communities at Chicago clubs such as the Warehouse, or 'house' for short.

By the spring of 1988, a mere six months after the Balearic clubs launched in London, acid house had become a nationwide phenomenon. 'We went from 300 to 1,500 people a night in six weeks,' Oakenfold recalls of Spectrum, his pioneering acid-house night on a Monday at Heaven. The Trip at the Astoria, run by another member of the 'Ibiza Four', Nicky Holloway, was another runaway success. By the summer of 1988, shrewd young promoters were cashing in on the craze by putting on legally dubious raves wherever they could: abandoned warehouses, aircraft hangars, even a disused platform at Paddington.

One of them, Tony Colston-Hayter, found a loophole in the law by positioning his Sunrise parties as private members' clubs. Another, Tin Tin, would ensure there was always a barrister on site to talk the police around. …

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