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In preparation for Bloc Festival this weekend, we delve into the history of one genre which so many others stem from  – the one and only Acid House, and how it was one of the biggest youth revolutions in terms of the way we think, dress and like to party today.

Acid House has had a huge impact on so many different factors within society. The music we listen to today has aspects and influence from what Acid House created, with house, electronic and techno music dominating youth dance floors, airwaves and the ether. And for other experimental musical genres to be created such as gabber, donk, psytrance – all of which have changed the course of music today and given rise to a vast array of events and festivals that are associated with the music. It has also lead to an abundance of new and experimental DJs, with the accessibility to new technology and software.

It helps stamp out social boundaries for a lot of people

With different genres of music, you often get a different scene/style that comes with it – the music, fashion and drug trends are all very much entwined to create something recognisable and relatable to the people involved. It is a tribalism thing, with people choosing what tribe they would like to belong to, and for a lot of people this gives them an identity and makes them feel part of something. This is very prevalent in festivals and free parties, and that feeling of uniting together, embracing the music and having a good time. It helps stamp out social boundaries for a lot of people, which in turn is very healthy for our society because it makes people more accepting of others, which is important for the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world we live in.

As its made its mark in history, it is going to be around or find a way of getting back in.

Acid House proved that young people have the freedom to choose their social activities and opened up a wide range of party choices and types of lifestyle. This has allowed for the way we think, dress and like to party to – develop and continue growing with evolution of people and technologies. There are a number of important changes that still need to be made however, but this will only happen through trial and error and taking influence from what the past has shown, and how we can go and learn from previous events (i.e. Castle Morton and free parties in general and how can this be handled in a reasonable way allowing for freedoms without breaking the law).

The whole drug culture that is associated with the party scene is also another issue that is constantly coming up in the news, and we need to find a way of approaching this that is realistic, responsible and most importantly keeps people safe. You cannot just get rid of something completely, whether that’s drugs or free parties – as long as its made its mark in history, it is going to be around or find a way of getting back in, so the most reasonable approach would be a way of monitoring this and teaching people the facts about what impact this will have on lives most importantly for people’s general wellbeing and safety.

“Loads of bands that were really guitar bands got dance-y”.

The make up of our society today seems to be such a mismatch of influences from previous movements, which in some ways is great for diversity but can also offer problems and conflicts of ideas and attitudes. The Acid House movement proved to be about people power, and with it came a whole new scope of creativity that has very much influenced our lives today and certainly been one of the most influential movements in terms of the way young people think, dress and like to party.

Acid House Lives: A Case Study

Greg and Leila, now in their late 40s and living in Penryn, Cornwall, recited their first hand experiences of the Acid House period. Acid House has been a major influence in their lives, not only in their own personal philosophy, but also in much of what they do, in the way they work and play. Greg now works in a hippy shop. He used to DJ for the Acid House scene, and was always supported by (his now wife) Leila. They both left a conventional upbringing, embracing the party scene to its full extent.

The Acid House story, Cone Magazine, photography by Louise Harrison

“With indie and dance; you’d get a mix off all the football hooligans and indie kids when you went clubbing. It was really accessible and everyone was into it.”

Their Acid House story started at Glastonbury 1995, when a dance tent was introduced for the first time. Greg takes up the story:

“Loads of bands that were really guitar bands got dance-y. That was never the case before; it was now bands like Primal Scream and The Orb as the main acts. Ozric Tentacles, for instance, from the 1980s performed with East Attack, a pioneer in the trance band scene”.

According to Greg and Leila, the dance tent started in the daytime with Armand van Helden playing. “It was one massive crossover”, recalls Greg, “with indie and dance; you’d get a mix off all the football hooligans and indie kids when you went clubbing. It was really accessible and everyone was into it.”

Greg described to me how you could hear the change that Acid House brought to music through the progression of the band New Order (which formed out of the ashes of Joy Division). They feature in the film 24 Hour Party People. When they started going to America in the mid 1980s and taking drugs and then started raving and going to clubs, their music changed as well how they looked. The film explores the journey of a band going through changes during this time. In their first compilation album called Substance, each single was done in order, and you can hear the progression through it with the more drugs they were doing, progressively becoming more and more experimental. Then after that they went to Ibiza and everything changed. Greg elaborated on this point:

“Proper Acid House kicked off in the late 1980s, and party-goers started to go to Ibiza and ecstasy was easily available. The drug really influenced the music. It was legal up to about 1987, and then when people started really enjoying it, it was made illegal”.

The Acid House story, Cone Magazine, photography by Louise Harrison

Greg explained how the acid rave scene, including the fashion, influenced lots of things that were important to the young. If you look back at photos from the Hacienda Club in late 1980s early 90s, this was where it really started. The Manchester scene was really pivotal to how fashion went about, as well as a few clubs in London, as well, such as Shroom owned by Danny Rampling.

“You could get away with smoking cigarettes but you couldn’t get away with smoking a joint.”

“All the original nightclubs like Hammersmith Palais, they were so shiny, exclusive and polished, you had to have right shoes, proper trousers”. Leila also pointed out that the whole scene was not about anything other than having a good time; “no posing, everyone was equal and let through the door, and in a sense anti- fashion”. Greg continued:

Nightclubs in the 1980s were strict; there were certain rules you had to follow to get in. You could get away with smoking cigarettes but you couldn’t get away with smoking a joint.

“People were really into wearing their labels, it was a massive status symbol”

Leila backs up the argument:

That was a big thing with the Acid House fashion; anything goes, you could wear and smoke what you wanted. There weren’t any rules. People literally turned up in whatever, their work clothes. You could just be yourself, and nobody judged anybody. Because it was free you’d have the freedom to go home whenever you want without feeling short- changed. It was all about the dancing and communal feeling”.

Leila went on to explain how designers bought into this new look, and how it was influenced by what was happening at the time.

“When people first started to go to raves and taking Es, I think it was based on the football violence thing, but people were really into wearing their labels, it was a massive status symbol. Stone Island was huge, and that came from Manchester (lots of footballers wore it), and that was really expensive. Half the ravers would be fully decked out in all their labels, and the other half were like ‘crusty’.”

Leila continued:

“Catherine Hammett went from doing the Wham t-shirts to doing the Acid House t-shirts (Smiley face t-shirts). She styled Wham and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Norman Cook collaborated with her on clothing; he was really into Acid House (otherwise known as Fatboy Slim). Gio-Goi became a fashion label in Manchester especially associated with football hooligans and the Acid House scene. Ben Sherman was the label punk and skinheads liked, that crossed over too to football terraces and two tones.”

Warp Records were the forefront of the scene… they make films nowThis is England, Submarine were both Warp films.”

Leila also talked about the liking for crombie coats by ‘rude boys’ and the smart style set by bands like The Specials. “Generally it was best not to wear your best clothes” she said, “… very messy, you’d see people wearing a couple hundred pounds outfits covered in mud and sick.” Greg took up another fashion link:

“There was a subculture that developed out of it – fluorescence. That came directly from Acid House. There was a record label called Perfecto that were at the forefront of that, with Steve Osborne, and a whole subculture that trance formed out of it, ‘perfecto trance”.

Greg and Leila talked about the classic Acid House dance music with Paul Oakenfold mixing all the best tunes. Greg made a stream-of-consciousness summary:

“There was a band called The Grid, two guys, Richard Norris – one of the pioneering Acid House DJs, and Dave Hall in a band called Soft Soul. Not that many bands that made that sort of music and performed live mostly made in bedrooms. LFO was a pioneering act at that time… one of the first artists on Warp Records… went on to produce albums for BjorkWarp Records were the forefront of the scene… they make films nowThis is England, Submarine were both Warp films.”

The Acid House story, Cone Magazine, photography by Louise Harrison

Greg and Leila both agree how crucial the drug scene was to the whole ethos.

“The connecting fashion was the drugs really, it was all about the people and whatever genre of music and crowd they were into. The drugs drew the people to the music. Acid House was all about acid and then ecstasy. Then you get people decked out in their labels and suits snorting coke, all the ‘crusty’s’ into their ketamine. It was the acid and ecstasy that brought people together, because they are communal drugs. That’s why people got on, all different people from all walks of life, all sorts of things they are into, all different sorts of days jobs. With different music you also got different styles of fashions. You can’t say there was one defining fashion; it was likeminded people from different backgrounds and cultures coming together for the dancing.

“The thing about LSD and ecstasy, is that when your in a big group of people it’s like a massive throw back to what we’ve always done, like right back to when we lived in the caves, a very tribal thing and dance. Rave is a tribal thing. There was a whole underclass of people and there was nowhere else out there for them to go and enjoy themselves and all of the sudden they came together.”

The experiences told by these two individuals offers an insight into what really happened during this period and how Acid House bought together people as a form of unification through music, drugs and a passion for partying.

Words by Louise Harrison

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