Various Artists This Ain't Chicago: The Sound of Underground UK House & Acid 1987-1991
London clubgoers of the mid-'80s at first met the house sounds coming out of Chicago with hesitance. Despite certain DJs' best efforts, it initially remained very underground, but eventually, both house and acid would catch fire in a big way, and the aesthetic innovations of these early producers would prove instrumental in the way UK dance music unfolded in the years that followed. This two-disc compilation, put together by producer Richard Sen of Padded Cell and Bronx Dogs, is precisely what the title (taken from the name of the group behind 1988's ecstatic "Ride the Rhythm," featured here as a digital bonus track) suggests: a collection of early house and acid out of the UK, documenting the moment when producers there began making original tunes, inspired by the Chicago tracks that tastemaking DJs were already bringing to the dancefloor.
Sen proves to be a terrific tour guide—making no claims at being comprehensive, he instead samples a wide range of sounds, including better-known producers and personal favorites that happen to sit quite neatly next to one another. These efforts, whether more ambient and tripped out or soulful and hard hitting, may not sound terribly groundbreaking now, but the quality of the tracks manages to overwhelm how dated certain components of these songs may feel. Julie Stapleton's "Where's the Love Gone," for instance, has a certain production sheen that wouldn't fly today, but it's a great song, as is the similarly of-its-time "From Within the Mind of My 909" by Man With No Name, a heavenly house track tastefully colored by squelching acid synths and over-the-top keys.
Appearing early on in the collection's second half, Ability II's "Pressure Dub" is a wonked, keyboard-heavy house excursion, grinding through 10 bleary minutes of bliss. This disc continues on a heavy, disorienting tip with the J. Soul Kane mix of Static's "Iron Orbit,"
and peaks with an underrated early track by Bizarre Inc, 1989's "Technological." Highlights of this compilation will depend on who's listening, but "Technological" is undeniably rapturous—the dry, interlocking analog rhythm tracks are pulled skyward by measured, dark yet sublime keyboards, resulting in a most transcendent cut. A Guy Called Gerald is, suitably enough, represented twice on this compilation, between "Born in the North" by Us (his collaboration with Edward Barton and Chapter and the Verse) and the digital-only track "Specific Hate."
Every selection here is strong, and though scholars may have heard the lion's share of these tracks already, this is a sturdy, enlightening gateway into a realm that isn't easily penetrable for those who weren't there. Extensive liner notes are provided by English journalist/photographer Dave Swindells, who discusses the early days of house in England (and also took the cover photo at London's The Trip in 1988), highlighting a few of the foundational, E-fueled club nights where everything got started.
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