19 January 2005

Acid Tablets


The Jack the Tab album, Genesis P Orridge, Dave Ball, Richard Norris et al's fake acid house compilation came out in 1988 and, while hailed as innovative (though not at the time and, actually, not in retrospect either by the majority of critics...bugger), it set a trajectory for acid house and electronica which never quite took off.

The album has a DIY amauterish feel to it that seemed to reflect the initial idea that Acid House would become the new punk; meaning that previous structural/ musical limitations would be taken apart or ignored, leaving a clean slate for new forms to slime over. Even the fact that it was Psychic TV pretending to be various other bands - 'Alligator Shear, Pearl Necklace (ho-hum), Wolves of the Sun, King Tubby etc' - reflected an unconscious intent to establish the illusion of an ever growing pulsating worldwide network of synapse-spunked musicians, scrabbling for acid tabs amongst the Ballardian wreckage of abandoned geetar-band studios, broken Roland drum pads and swapped oscillator coils.

We didn't believe. But we wanted to. This might change things.

And in a way, it did. The bedroom musician was being born again all over the place, science nerds abandoning their home-made radio cube sets and CB radios for the sancity of bended circuits and thumb tacked synthesiser patches. Aphew Twin's digeridoo was just around the corner and Orbital were already preparing their own freakbeat spin on Techno by sampling The Butthole Surfers on Satan...

For a while, it looked like everything would merge. Rock, acid, house, techno would open up and come apart. Maybe these categories wouldn't even exist in a few years time - the music would just keep fragmenting, finding new ways to settle briefly before being shaken up again.

Some people even attempted to add Acid to Jazz.

But the opportunity got lost somewhere. While the Jack the Tab record lurched from the fairly straightforward party acid of Meet Every Situation Head-on to the odd, almost bluesy Only Human, taking in frazzled 60s psych pop (this was late 80s PTV after all) and electro-gristles along the way, the other 'acid house' artists seemed content to ride the wave and produce sub-Chicago house standards with uniform bleeping and cursory glances towards words like 'Energy' and 'Flash'.

And, of course, there was money to be made. Aciiiieeeeeed!

From here, we got the sometimes interesting, often formulaic 'ambient' house (which opiumed for the masses) and the patronising Intelligent Dance Music (and it's retard cousin Thick Dance Music / Gabba). Many of the artists adopted a smililar multiple identity syndrome to the Jack the Tab boys and girls with the main difference being that most of the chosen names now often related simply to matters of tempo, while the Jack the Tab monikers seemed to relate to matters of intention or form; each track on Jack the Tab is by a different artists because they're attempting to explore the different directions which 'Acid House' might take.

Jack the Tab didn't really sound like the rest of the late 80s Acid House but it sounded like the music I imagined when I first heard the term 'Acid House' as a power-drained skinny dip of a 16 year old Somerset lad, excited because the music seemed to relate to, gulp, drugs and because it meant I could do my stupid hand waving, spirit fingered, spazz march dance without anyone phoning the St John's Ambulance and asking for a epileptic trauma crash-kit.

For a long while, pretty much every Acid House record I bought was disappointing. None of them seemed to be taking Jack the Tab ecelecticism and hyperdelia on. The covers seemed to hint at mysterious amalgams - remember that Balearic Beats compilation, the one with the Psych-Eye? - but never really delivered past a fairly trite take on 4/4 slap-bassing and dry squelches (and even PTV later when on to make the frankly uninspiring bass-nasty epic Towards the Infinite Beat)...

I only half remember Jack the Tab, having lost the album many years ago now in some Swansea pit, and these memories may be rose-tinted and schematically reworked according to a latent post 30 miserablism / nostalgia but somehow it seems that Acid House was an opportunity missed. I remember it sounding hopelessly disorientating, cluttered with Freak(s)ish movie samples, skewed rhythms, half-spent voices, stuttering beats, brass stabs, psych-fuzz and obscure attempts at real songs...

Isn't that what Acid House says to you?

Two questions: 1)Anyone have this album and like to post a track? I'd love to track it down. 2) Anyone suggest any other music which actually sounds like a combination of Acid and House?


johneffay said...

Most, if not all, of 'Jack the Tab' is readily available on the Psychic TV compilation 'Origin of the Species: Volume Too!' (Invisible Records, 1999).

csa said...

I still have the High Jack comp with some the highlights you mentioned if you want. Don't have server space though. I can get that to you?

any thought of re-investigating Neon Judgement??

csa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marc g said...

This post put me in too chatty a mood, so I had to post the bulk of my comments on my blog.

Net is I have it, ripping it now, I shall contact you when done. Not sure how much of this is represented on Origin of the Species, I'll compare after I rip that as well.

I like your breakdown of what happened to the influence of work like this, but something in me also still yearns for that sample happy, genre confused, we don't know where this is going vibe. Maybe my nostalgia is just triggered by the fact I've been listening to Disco Rigido lately. I thought electroclash might be getting the same feel, but I think Felix Da Housecat and Le Tigre have shown the fate of that genre is with punk and disco finally uniting in marriage. A happy one at that, go figure.

What ever. Nice post.

Atom said...

Shamefully, I left my copy of JTT behind when I moved house years ago.

Slam by (I think) Pfuture (gotta love that extra P) was the acid track that did it for me.

I remember hearing it on a dancefloor in W1 and feeling the whole room spin round as those upper frequencies warped into squelchy bass envelopes.

It really was like 21st century Jazz. For about twenty minutes.


Anonymous said...

try stars by mr fingers, very tripped out house that sounds as if its about to fall apart.
i prefer the second yellow jack the tab record, thats got some amazing tracks on it

Anonymous said...

Jack The tab was the sound of acid house as we saw it...before we'd actually heard any other acid house records. that's why it doesn't sound like any other acid house record.

Richard NorrisX

Dave B said...

I agree with all that you wonderfully wrote. Jack The Tab was perhaps my single favorite album in the 80's and even the 90's. Listening to "Balkan Red Alert", with it's sinister mediteranean tonalities and the proto-acid jazz of "Rapid Bliss", I can't help but be blown away, even in today's cynical world. This was a groundbreaking album that will someday get it's proper respect. I know I have hoarded several copies in anticipation of paying for my retirement home.

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