Acid House: New York City

By Kris Needs
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For once, with acid house coming from Chicago and techno from Detroit, New York City found itself following rather than directly causing the latest musical revolution. But it could afford to kick back, content in the knowledge it had already set the benchmark for hedonistic clubbing, provided the disco on which house was built (mutating it into electro-boogie) and given Chicago one of its foremost house DJs in Frankie Knuckles.


The roots of modern dance music sprouted in 1970 when David Mancuso started the music-celebrating Loft parties at his Broadway abode, an intimate invite-only affair which numbered Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles among its crowd. While Knuckles went to Chicago, Levan kicked off the Paradise Garage, the ultimate disco inferno on King Street where one of my abiding club memories is The Clash’s ‘Magnificent Dance’ raising the roof. Paul Oakenfold and other Brits abroad witnessed the no-holds-barred, booze-free mayhem which raged until the next morning. The Garage influenced the Hacienda organisers in creating a club’s identity and mystique. Factory even flew over South Bronx funk sisters ESG for the opening night.

“Danceteria on 21st Street was New York’s hottest club between 1980-86, putting on hip-hop, post-punk bands, disco and chillout over four floors

Apart from the Hector Cruz’s underground – and dangerous – House Nation parties in Alphabet City, Danceteria on 21st Street was New York’s hottest club between 1980-86, putting on hip-hop, post-punk bands, disco and chillout over four floors while showing visiting UK groups like New Order how mad a club could be. Pre-club warm-up was the mastermixes on WBLS and KISS FM, with Shep Pettibone’s spectacular edits predating remixes, and DJs including Tony Humphries, Red Alert and Timmy Regisford (a major influence on The Orb).

The Garage and Danceteria had closed by 1987 so parties where house might be played happened in smaller underground venues like lawless after-hours Save The Robots and the aptly-named Riot near Union Square, although there was always Club Zanzibar over the river in Newark next to the dodgy Lincoln welfare motel. New York started emerging with its own brand of the deeper house pioneered by Chicago’s Larry Heard, which David Morales might spin at Red Zone or Bobby Konders dropped at Wild Pitch parties between ’89 – ’92.

As the UK party peaked in day-glo frenzy, something mellower became necessary for the early hours so American deep house became a vital chill factor. While I worked on Tommy Boy Records’ monthly Dance Music Report, I witnessed New York’s quieter revolution with this deeper strain of house music whose reverberations are still felt today. Nu Groove started from a warehouse on 38th Street in August 1988, the next four years seeing both weird (Major Problems’ ‘Oral Surgery’) and wonderful (Konders, Burrell Brothers, Bas Noir). In 1989, Strictly Rhythm started releasing sublime outings like Underground Solution’s ‘Luv Dancin’’ and Logic’s ‘The Warning’, creating a formidable name which seduced UK DJs through the early ’90s and eventually turned into garage. (In 1990, a downtown punk kid called Moby debuted on the Instinct label with the deep house ‘Mobility EP’).

While New York’s major labels searched for their version of what they were calling techno-rave, a techno underground sprang out of Brooklyn with producers including the maniacal Lenny Dee, Tommy Musto, Frankie Bones and formidably-talented Joey Beltram, who created the ultimate E-anthem in 1991’s ‘Energy Flash’. Lenny lit the touch-paper on the early ’90s UK rave explosion with accelerated breakbeats on tracks like ‘Looney Tunes’. As beer-guzzling suburbanites started converging on New York at weekends looking for techno-rave, house pioneers like Morales, Roger Sanchez and Todd Terry went global. In 1988, the city started turning out party anthems which became huge in the UK, including Terry’s ‘Can You Party’ as Royal House and Kraze with ‘The Party’.

One of NY’s first techno exponents was DJ Moneypenny, who ran the Brand X tipsheet but left the city in 1992 dismayed by techno-rave. She threw her farewell bash at the Limelight, a converted church on Sixth Avenue, which now presented techno every night of the week. Underground Resistance, still numbering Jeff Mills, made a rare appearance in gasmasks before a mixture of raved-up nutters and suburban jocks.

After the techno-rave storm had blown over, NY’s electronic scene could develop with labels like Damon Wild’s Experimental, Moby signing to Mute, selling millions of albums worldwide.

In 1990, I returned to the UK and found out what I’d been missing. These DJs, producers and clubs I’d encountered were near-mythical but the whole country seemed to have gone brilliantly insane and the floodgates were open. But still that original spirit which started in The Loft reigned supreme. It seemed like love really could save the day.

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You can visit JUNOdownload.com to listen to and purchase a selection of the Acid House classics discussed in our retrospective.

Click here to visit JUNO.

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