Those of you who have been loyal Ears To The House readers from the early days might remember that we’re basically a bunch of history buffs. As well as dissecting what’s going on in the scene right now, we do love to occasionally cast a magnifying glass on events from days gone by – and given that house music is nearing 40 years of age, there’s plenty to dust off and inspect.
One of the things which always causes debate within scenes is where they originated from. House music is typically accepted to have been a direct descendent of disco – although there’s little doubt this isn’t the whole story. The discussion becomes particularly heated when those who were there cannot even agree on its history. Thanks to the internet, we can now all see it as it happens.
A while ago, this site covered the fallout in Chicago after Jesse Saunders called out an unearthed article from 1986 in which Farley Jackmaster Funk made a number of claims about what he was doing at the time. Saunders, who likes to remind everyone at every opportunity that “On And On” was supposedly the first house record ever pressed to vinyl , frequently gets irked whenever Chicago house history is queried.
Most recently, DJ Pierre – real name Nathaniel Pierre Jones – took umbrage at a now-deleted post on the “I Love Acid” group on Facebook. The post featured a link to “Acid Tracks” – a song released on Trax Records in 1987 by Phuture, a band then consisting of Jones himself, Earl Smith Jr and Herbert Jackson – and said it “wasn’t the first but it’s easily one of the best”.
Suggesting that this wasn’t the first time this had happened, Jones said “people hate (especially when the person is African American) when someone has done something or created/invented a thing that they themselves couldn’t have imagined ‘before’ having experienced that thing that you created”.
Jones does, of course, have a point. The way Black people have been effectively written out of much of the history of the genre they created has been documented on this site before, and no doubt will be again. Yet things weren’t totally harmonious for Jones either – around the time of the discussion, he made a public apology to Herbert Jackson for not mentioning him more often in interviews where the subject of Phuture arises.
But is the claim that Phuture created acid house true? The answer depends on how you read the question. As far as this site can establish, the first acid house track to be pressed onto vinyl was “I’ve Lost Control” by Sleezy D – real name Derrick Harris. This came out on Trax Records in 1986, a full year ahead of Phuture’s debut “Acid Tracks”. And this is where things start to become a little complicated.
These days, you can create a record in the morning and have it out on Bandcamp in the afternoon. Not so in the vinyl era of the mid-1980s. Many of the early house records used to circulate on highly sought after cassettes – some took years before they ended up being pressed to vinyl, and some were never released at all. Therefore, “I’ve Lost Control” was potentially the first to be released to vinyl.
Sadly, we can’t ask Harris about his role in all of this – he died of heart failure back in 2019. Jones claims “Acid Tracks” was produced sometime in 1985 and Marshall Jefferson revealed in an interview with Data Transmission that he helped Harris produce “I’ve Lost Control” back in 1984. And Jefferson himself is on record as stating in “Pump Up The House”, a 2001 documentary series aired by British broadcaster Channel 4, that Harris probably discovered the sound, but Phuture then “did it in a musical way”.
As for claims about Charanjit Singh’s 1982 album “Synthesizing: Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat” using the Roland TB-303 a few years ahead of both? Jones downplays Singh’s work and the idea these songs might be earlier examples of acid house – and whilst cynics could argue he obviously would say that, there are important differences. Singh does indeed use the TB-303, but he doesn’t use it in anywhere near the same way – a quick listen to his album, easily available online, shows these clearly aren’t prototypes of “Acid Tracks”.
And even Singh himself would agree. The man himself passed away in 2015, but in an interview with The Guardian in 2011, he dismissed “Acid Tracks” as “very simple”, saying what he did on the Ragas album had “a lot of variation”.
So what are we to conclude here? Phuture certainly popularised acid house music, not just through “Acid Tracks” but many subsequent efforts. And they clearly took it in their own direction. But to have invented it? The jury’s still out on this one…